John Kennedy remembers hearing his mother say, “all Labor politicians are crooks, especially that Paul Keating”.
As Victoria approaches the polls on November 24, he’s campaigning in the hope of becoming Hawthorn’s first Labor MP since 1955.
With his five siblings, Kennedy was raised on Sydney’s north shore. He says his mother was apolitical and his architect father was a conservative. “He did tell me he’d once voted for Gough Whitlam,” he says. “Over his lifetime that was his big concession to the left.”
Kennedy attended school at St. Aloysius’ College, in Milsons Point, and Loreto Kirribilli, and went on to study arts and education at Sydney University. He became a flight lieutenant in the Royal Australian Air Force in the late 70s.
He was in his teens and early 20s during The Vietnam War. He says it influenced his longstanding commitment to humanitarian values.
“I still remember thinking how unfair it was that I had a guy in my class…who was killed in Vietnam, stepped on a landmine,” he says.
“People like me, because of academic achievement or money or both, we were at university. So we got deferred. Conscription was one of the most unfair things that I’ve ever witnessed and benefited from. I harboured that.”
Kennedy became a humanities teacher, working at independent schools in New South Wales in the late 60s and early 70s.
Kennedy taught a teenage Tony Abbott – Australia’s 28th Prime Minister – for four years at St. Ignatious’ College Riverview.
But it wasn’t until he was 28, when he spotted an ad in The Australian newspaper, that Kennedy’s relationship with Melbourne began.
“I thought maybe I should try and keep myself open to other possibilities in life and there was an advertisement for a deputy principal…in Essendon at a place called St. Columba’s College.
“I applied and before I realised it, I had that job and I was on my way. I didn’t give it much thought, that can be a great thing about youth.”
In Melbourne, Kennedy met his wife, Bronwyn Lane, then an aspiring teacher, who was waitressing at the time.
After four years at St Columba’s, a new school in Watsonia was looking for its founding principal and Kennedy got the job. He was at Loyola College for 29 years.
Now, Kennedy and Lane live in a retirement village in Hawthorn and “enjoy the community, wandering over to Glenferrie” with its university atmosphere.
They have two children. Their daughter, Fionnuala, 30, is passionate about the law, having graduated with law-arts degrees and is now working in the police force. Their son Patrick, 26, is an arts student at Swinburne University, in the heart of the state electorate of Hawthorn.
He was in his early 60s and had lived in the electorate for 15 years when he joined the ALP, becoming the president of the Kooyong ALP Federal Electorate Association. Kennedy “agreed to stand” for state parliament.
“It’s not easy,” he says. “You’ve got to have a bit of time to do this and it doesn’t easily favour young people who are worried about survival and getting a job.
“I thought, ‘oh, well, I’m prepared to do it’. As president as well, you’ve got to give a bit of a lead there.”
Kennedy stood for Labor at the 2013 federal election. In Kooyong, his competition was current national treasurer, Josh Frydenberg. He “enjoyed that experience”.
“We got at least a third of that vote so I was happy with that,” he says.
He hopes this time around, he can appeal to the older generation of Hawthorn voters in the state election.
“A lot of people in this area are in fairly affluent circumstances, but that’s not necessarily true of their children or grandchildren. Many of those are unemployed or live in poor circumstances,” he says.
“I’m saying to these people, ‘just think about the future of your children or grandchildren’. That’s important to me.”
Kennedy says he is concerned with the broader welfare of Victoria, not just the bubble of Melbourne’s inner-east.
“I’m after a Victoria that’s fair, that’s productive and compassionate,” he says, “and I argue that you cannot…have one of those things missing. I’d like to think that Labor values all three.
“It’s no good being very gushy with compassion if there’s no productivity because you’ve got nothing to be compassionate with except a bleeding heart.”
Working in independent schools for most of his career while completing lots of further study, Kennedy has “always had a very high value on education”.
“I’m on the ALP’s education policy committee… Maintaining the effort and qualities of both government and non-government schooling is very important.”
Kennedy is a “passionate” Friend of the ABC and a refugee advocate. He was “so proud” of Premier Daniel Andrews public welcome to refugees.
Poverty, health, climate change and public transport are also on his agenda.
“I’m the age of 70 and I’ve never learnt to drive… I live entirely on public transport,” he says.
“This area is actually very well served by public transport.” He says this effort must be maintained.
But beyond domestic travel, Kennedy is a keen globetrotter. His favourite destinations include Ireland and India, where he’s been five times.
He recently returned from a trip to El Salvador, hitting the ground running with a seven-week political “blitz”.
He launched his campaign in mid-October at the Elgin Inn Hotel in Hawthorn alongside Labor’s Kew candidate, Marg D’Arcy.
He says Labor provides a good “balance” in its approach to management of taxation and use of funds, and a “continuing presence of the ALP in Hawthorn” is really important.
“(Hawthorn has) been very firmly a Liberal stronghold so it would be nice to win the election but that requires a six or seven percent swing… I’ll give it my best shot, but I won’t be frantic.
“I’ll certainly keep working away at it.”