Tribute to Robyn Kemmis
(Private Members' Statement, 3 May 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
It is with great sadness that I acknowledge the passing of the extraordinary former Deputy Lord Mayor of Sydney, Robyn Kemmis, who unexpectedly passed away in December. Robyn's untimely death is a great loss to the City of Sydney and inner city communities. I first met Robyn when I stood for the Clover Moore Independent Team for council in 2012. We doorknocked and ran street stalls together and she proved to be someone I could trust and ask for advice. We became fast friends. Robyn was first elected to council in 2004 when the city was amalgamated with South Sydney council by the then Labor Government which wanted to secure control of town hall. She was on Clover Moore's Independent Team and served until the following election in 2008. I, along with many others, was pleased that she decided to run again in 2012 after a break that allowed her to focus on family matters. She served as Deputy Lord Mayor from her election.
Robyn worked hard for inner city communities, particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged groups. She believed in community building and engaged with people on the ground, making herself accessible to everyone. She wanted to empower people and worked on making community connections. She brought Glebe resident groups together, linking public tenants with other local community groups. She would attend public tenant meetings and rough sleeper barbeques in Redfern and helped link rough sleepers and young people on the street with services including Aboriginal and community health services.
Robyn believed strongly in ensuring that all young people had opportunities and hope. She worked hard to keep the Glebe Youth Service and other youth services that help young people get their lives on track. Her dedication to the Millers Point public housing communities saw her meet regularly with tenants and attend delegations to the Minister with me. She wanted tenants to be a part of the decisions that affected them and wanted those government decisions to be compassionate and fair. We worked together to get the Government to keep some properties for the most vulnerable tenants. I know that the Millers Point communities grieve greatly at the loss of their strong advocate.
Before joining council Robyn had an active career in public service and administration. She was Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration) of the University of Technology Sydney for more than a decade. Robyn's list of achievements would make the most successful among us feel inadequate. Many of these are surfacing only now as we look back on her life, because she was always a modest person and more comfortable with working behind the scenes. She was an active feminist and founded a number of groups to advance the status of women both here and in London. She was part of the group of 14 women, including Anne Summers, who established Elsie, which was Australia's first women's refuge. It opened in 1974—a time when family violence was considered a private domestic matter.
Robyn's values had social justice at their heart, and this was the foundation of her advocacy. She worked for environmental protection; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex equality; Aboriginal communities; housing for disadvantaged people; women's rights; and opportunities for all. She was passionate and effective in her position, always focusing on outcomes. Robyn was greatly respected throughout inner-city communities. She was a champion of Sydney, a voice for our community's most vulnerable, and a compassionate and caring friend for many people.
I was grateful to see Robyn at Carols in Pyrmont just a few days prior to her passing. She was upbeat and happy, and, as always, displayed her great sense of humour. When I spoke with Clover Moore, the Lord Mayor of Sydney, soon after hearing about Robyn's passing, we commented on what a wonderful and full life Robyn had had and how she continued to inspire people. I extend my condolences to her family and friends, especially to her partner, Lyn. It is with sadness that I say goodbye to a loyal and trusted friend. I commit to continuing her work to make the city a fairer and better place.