Moore / For Joan, the community came first

“Joan Kellett was not the flamboyant, in-your-face, out-the-front leader that so often finds their way into politics. Rather, she was a somewhat understated but powerful influence,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE

WE all have the opportunity to build a better society. Some do it through service clubs, school boards, community organisations and building effective businesses. Others look after their immediate neighbours.

Michael Moore

Then there are those who choose to participate formally in political parties or politics.

In the lead up to the 1989 election I was introduced to community contributor Joan Kellett. She also stood for the first self-government Assembly as a candidate for the Residents’ Rally Party.

The philosophy behind appropriate use of the balance of power was developed with Joan and others as we looked for better democratic processes and outcomes.

For stable minority government we adopted “support for the chief minister in a vote of no-confidence” and support for the “government’s right to their Budget”. The exception was reprehensible behaviour on the part of the chief minister.

Through Joan’s influence, the one example of “reprehensible behaviour” provided in election platforms was “cutting the public education budget”. A dynamic was established where the ACT was the only jurisdiction in Australia that didn’t cut the education budget through the 1990s.

The more I learnt of Joan, the more I was disappointed that she was not elected to that first ACT Assembly. It would have been a very different parliament had it included her steady hand, her exceptional intellect, her depth of understanding of social justice and her willingness to battle for a fairer society.

Joan was not the flamboyant, in-your-face, out-the-front leader that so often finds their way into politics. Rather, she was a somewhat understated but powerful influence.

Her community involvement for decades in Swimming ACT, school boards, parents’ and citizens’ associations, Girl Guides, community councils and many others was where she made a difference. She took on leadership roles to ensure the organisations worked efficiently and effectively. Innumerable hours were dedicated to supporting others.

She stood firmly for what she believed. For example, as the P&C representative on the ACT Schools Authority in 1984 she took the teachers’ union to task to ensure that parents’ representatives could have a say in the appointment of principals.

Joan Kellett pictured in 2011.

She had been board chair of her children’s local primary and high schools and was also on the board of Dickson College. She understood the importance of public education for equity and social mobility and fought to ensure appropriate funding.

In 1998 Joan Kellett ran again as a candidate for the ACT Legislative Assembly – joining me on the Moore Independents ticket. The platform for that election included a commitment to openness and effective democratic processes along with remaining “free of ties by being beholden to no one – not unions, not businesses nor any other group”. It was also a commitment to “remain independent of other political parties” and to “vote issue by issue according to our principles”. The manifesto reflected our joint assurance to work towards a stronger, healthier and fairer society.

The ability to put oneself in another’s shoes was key to Joan’s contribution. It also included chairing North Canberra Community Council, on the board of the YMCA, being part of Friends of Albert Hall and being a volunteer for Alzheimer’s ACT.

However, the strongest commitment was to swimming where she served for more than 40 years serving nearly 20 as president. It should be no surprise she was awarded a Medal in the Order of Australia in 2003, Volunteer of the Year in 2010 and was inducted into the ACT Sport Hall of Fame in 2011. She died on June 20.

There are many people in Canberra like Joan Kellett. People who see a need and put up their hand. Many go unrecognised. They serve in many different ways – but what they have in common is a willingness to put the needs of others before themselves. This is the glue for community well-being. In her own words: “I just see myself as someone who sees things to be done and thinks how I can do them”.

There will be a community gathering to celebrate Joan Kellett’s life on Saturday, August 19, at Leumeah Lodge, 48 O’Hanlon Place, Nicholls.


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