Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Kite, Ms Delcia
On 21 August, just four days before her 89th birthday, a great Labor stalwart, Delcia Kite, died. Delcia was an institution in the Left of the Labor Party—a party activist always, a factional warrior when required, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council for 19 years, an immensely loyal supporter and mentor to many. I was one of those. I am forever grateful for Delce's support, both personal and political, over decades, but particularly when I was a New South Wales Labor Party official in the 1980s—the toughest of times for those on the Left.
But through all those years, and before, and beyond, Delcia Kite had an extraordinary commitment to, and love for, her family. She was a supportive, practical, generous, and devoted wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother. Delcia Kite was born Delcia Ivy Smith on the 25th of August, 1923. Her childhood home was in the inner-Sydney workers suburb of Rosebery; her family, Labor to the core. And her family and Labor were at her core—but in that order.
Delce joined the Party in the 1950s. By then, she had married Fred Kite, a committed Labor activist. By then, she was living in Granville. By then, the Labor Party was consumed with internal division. The ALP's Granville Central Branch was the battleground where the young couple, Fred and Delcia Kite, took on the 'groupers'—and won. Tom Uren was the first of many to win a seat in parliament with the help and sheer hard work of Delcia.
When I first met Delcia in the early 1970s, she was the formidable Secretary of the Combined Unions and Branches Steering Committee—the then Left faction of the NSW branch of the ALP. She was an intimidating presence; always at the front table; first to arrive; last to leave. Delcia looked as if she had walked off the set of Breakfast at Tiffany's. Any disputed meeting outcome, or ballot result, was easily resolved by Delce. She had the records; she kept the minutes; her word was final. No-one would dare question her authority. No-one would risk the tongue lashing. We all new Delcia Kite had a long memory.
Delce immediately identified me as a Young Labor ratbag whose loyalty to the leadership of the steering committee was very much in question. I recall a heated argument with Delce over my lack of support for a particularly odious individual who was being supported by the leadership of the Left. I was sent to Coventry for months. But soon her views softened, and so did mine. We worked together. We even agreed just how odious that individual was.
After the bashing of Delcia's legislative council colleague, Peter Baldwin, the NSW ALP established a five-member inner-city task force to examine the books of its inner-city branches. I served on that task force with Delcia. We were a good team. Charter after charter was removed from shonky or corrupt branches that had been propped up by the NSW Right for years.
In the 1980 federal election campaign, Delcia worked with me in my Sussex Street office. A desk and phone was moved in, and Delce took up residence for the duration. The hours were long; her work, meticulous; her commitment, obvious to all. And this became a habit. Delce joined me in the federal campaigns of 1983, 1984, and 1987; and the state campaigns of 1981, 1984 and 1988. She handled every imaginable campaign crisis with calm efficiency—as well as bringing in morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea—and scaring the tripe out of every right-wing official who crossed her path. And she did it day in, day out, for weeks on end—except on Friday morning, a time that appeared to be reserved for her hairdresser.
The same occurred every year in the lead-up to the party's annual conference. Delcia, a skilled draughtswoman, would copy every credential by hand and, for good measure, in her copperplate penmanship, address four envelopes to each individual delegate for future mail-outs. By conference weekend, Delce had addressed—by hand—literally thousands of envelopes. All this in Sussex Street where anyone from the Left was treated as a pariah.
In 1981, when I was persona non grata in Sussex Street and deliberately uninvited to the NSW ALP office Christmas party, it was Delce who brought in Christmas decorations, all the trimmings, and a complete Christmas feast, and organised a party I could attend, in my own office.
Delcia, along with then Deputy Premier Jack Ferguson and the entire leadership of NSW joined in. Delce discomfited many in the NSW Right by offering Christmas cake and mince pies to all; the petty noninvitation had backfired.
How do you find the words to thank someone that loyal, someone so important to your life in politics; someone with whom you have shared literally hundreds of Chinese meals and thousands of hours; someone who has been so kind and so encouraging?
For whatever I have managed to achieve in politics, I know much of it would not have been possible without Delce.
My sincere sympathy goes to Fred Kite, to Darryl and Raelene, to Maureen—all of whom are here in the Senate Gallery tonight—and to all the family she loved so much. Like them, I know how important Delce was.