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Dr Marjorie O’Neill – Labor’s Shining Light

By James and Dan Hutton on May 20, 2019 in People

Dr Marjorie O’Neill, by Jeremy Greive.

On March 23, 2019 the voters of New South Wales headed to the polls to elect their state government. Despite the Liberal Party holding onto power for a third successive term, Labor’s candidate for the seat of Coogee, Dr Marjorie O’Neill, managed a swing of 4.6 per cent to wrestle control of the marginal seat from popular Liberal Bruce Notley-Smith. The Beast caught up with Labor’s shining light at Bronte Surf Club as the dust was still settling…

G’day Marjorie, how have the last few weeks been since you won the state election? To be honest, it’s been an incredibly mixed time for me. Losing my father the day after the election was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with. Can we come back to that?

Yeah, of course, maybe you can tell us a bit about your dad later in the interview. He was aware that you had won the election? Yeah, he was. At about three or four o’clock on the Sunday we knew the count had gotten far enough ahead, that I was going to win. It was pretty much confirmed at about four o’clock, and then he passed away at 7.30.

That evening? Yes, that same evening. So, at four o’clock on the Sunday the last counts were coming in from the big polls and the i-votes and I had gotten ahead enough in the votes for it to be quite comfortable, enough to be able to know that I had won.

What did he say? He was over the moon. My father moved here 41 years ago with my mum. He had lived in Bexley and he loved the Eastern Suburbs more than anyone else. He’s been a really big part of the Eastern Suburbs community and we’ve been involved in a number of big community activist movements for a very long time. Being a part of a movement where we really want to rebuild communities and stand up for people, these are the things that he always valued. When we started our campaign in June last year he was there with us. He was out on the street stalls up until December. January was really when he took a turn but he was out there doing everything he could.
He was over the moon I think. I don’t like to sound corny, but me winning probably allowed him to relax a little bit. He’d been in quite a bit of pain those last few days, but knowing that I had won, I think it made him happy. But, as was said in his obituary, I think the disappointment of Labor losing statewide, I think that was probably a bit soul destroying for him.

When you were growing up around here did you guys speak about politics around the dinner table? Was it his interest in politics that got you interested? The conversations around our dinner table where often around politics, but not just politics, more around your role in a community, about being involved in your community, about standing up for people, standing up for issues that you think are important and about the importance of always getting involved. “Don’t stand back and idly watch things happen,” I suppose. “If you think that something is wrong, don’t sit there and complain. Put your hand up and try and fix it.” Around the dinner table it was always like, “What have you done today? How do you get involved,” or the types of things that you can do. My parents always taught us have a crack. Don’t sit there and have a whinge; if you think that something’s wrong, get up and have a crack and do something about it.

Do you think that communities are falling apart around here and more generally across Australia? Is that something that you’re concerned about? It is. Particularly with younger generations and screen addiction as well. Youth suicide is continuing to rise and there’s the increasing prevalence of cyberbullying, where people are connected to technology and they’re not out there talking to people. All you have to do is look around in the park now, everyone’s got their head in their phone. Whenever I’ve been involved in community activities or community activism, people make real connections with each other and that’s what they love about it. They finally meet their neighbours. They have things to talk about. I think people are actually really craving it.
One of the difficulties for a lot of younger people is working out how to make time for this when you’re also working a 40-hour week trying to pay your mortgage off. It’s becoming quite difficult for people to stay connected to their communities, possibly even more so in rural communities.

We interviewed Tim Minchin for our last edition and he questioned whether there should even be private schools at all. The setup we have now where rich people send their kids to a private school and the people that can’t afford it send their kids to public school divides people from a very young age; do you think that is contributing to the breakdown in communities? I think, when you’re talking about education, the fact that public schools are not fully funded up to the Gonski recommendations is a major factor which is causing these numerous tiers. You’ve got schools like Randwick Girls, Randwick Boys and Rose Bay and these are amazing schools. They’re punching so much above their weight, but you go inside and look at their facilities compared to what your private schools have. You look at what P&Cs are having to raise money for because the state government isn’t forking out money for it. Every single person has a right to a decent education. I believe that education and healthcare are two things that people should have access to. I’m very happy to pay my taxes to ensure that other people who don’t earn as much as me have access to those services, it’s incredibly important. It’s through education and healthcare that you really have social change. So this situation where we’re really getting these tiers here in New South Wales is in part due to inadequate funding of public schools.
I think people deserve a choice when it comes to education. They have a choice of whether to send their kids to single sex or co-ed schools, a choice to send their kids to religious or private schools. But I very much believe in needs-based funding. The fact that public schools in New South Wales are not fully funded up to the Gonski recommendations is a major reason why you’re getting these multiple social tiers and growing disparity between the rich and poor.
You just have a look at the standard of the facilities. I would ask anyone to go and have a look through their schools. You’ve got schools like a Rose Bay Secondary College, they have a marine science lab that the teachers built themselves with no funding from the state. Those students are lucky that they have teachers like that. But what happens if you don’t have teachers like that? Having the option to do marine science is important. These are basic requirements that the state government should be providing.

As the state member, when the rest of your government isn’t in power, can you get things done? How do you go about getting things done when the Liberals are in power but you’re a Labor politician? There are a number of things you can be doing. One is holding the government to account for the things that they have promised. There are two infrastructure upgrades for Randwick Girls and Randwick Boys but the process has stagnated and stalled. These are upgrades that are overdue. My job is to get onto the minister and see where this is going, and continue to make sure that the minister knows that these are important issues that need to be addressed. There is also a need for a new co-educational public high school and the fact that our local governments have recognised it, like Waverley and Woollahra in this area…

Is Randwick Council on board? The issue isn’t necessarily at that end of the electorate, it’s more up this end of the electorate where the need is. Our federal member Kerryn Phelps knows that it’s an issue and Labor recognises that it’s an issue. The only people that haven’t come to the table about this is the current Liberal government.

State or federal? State. This is an important issue, and it’s about priorities, unfortunately. I think one of the core services for the state is education, and healthcare of course.

A good publicly funded education system would contribute more to equality of opportunity than anything else, right?
Absolutely, but also healthcare. Making sure that people have access to free healthcare so that when they are sick, they’re not having to find $30,000 to go and have surgery, they will go to the doctor to check that lump out on their back rather than leaving it too late because they can’t find that cash. You’re now getting into federal issues and why it’s important that we unfreeze Medicare so that you don’t have to pay a gap on that, but they’re the two big tools that really have the ability to change people’s lives.

You’re settled in now and ready to hit the ground running? There are a couple of letters I’m writing at the moment to ministers around particular issues. Actually, education is one, around Randwick Girls and Randwick Boys High Schools. The Coogee stormwater is another one. Until I’ve got an electoral office up and running and I have a phone that people can call me on, it’s actually really difficult.

What were your fondest memories of growing up in Bronte? The area has changed so much. I was born on Hewlett Street, Bronte and lived there until I was 11. My memories of living in Hewlett Street were Friday nights at China Moon on Bondi Road, going to Dr. What at Bondi Junction and picking a video for the weekend with my brothers and sisters, or going to the Pizza Hut restaurant that was across the road and having the all you can eat ice cream. That’s what I remember, until I was about 11. Then when we moved to Yanko Avenue our life moved a little bit further south and we started being around Charing Cross more and going to Charing Cross Pizza for dinner. Bronte RSL became a big part of our life and a big community hub for us. I’m fifth generation Bronte, and we live two streets away from where my great grandmother grew up and they all lived around here. I’ve got uncles and cousins who all live around here, so it’s much more than just the beach or the school or the restaurant. This place runs through my veins and it’s really rare for me to meet someone who doesn’t know someone from my family.
It wasn’t that long ago – probably only a decade – I was sitting on a bus and this old woman turned around and said, “Are you a Favell?” I was like, “Oh no, I’m not a Favell, I’m an O’Neill. My mum was a Spooner and Favell is my grandmother’s name. I’m named after her, her maiden name was Marjorie Favell and she married Tom Spooner.” And that was a random person on the bus! Having memories like that, where your family has had such a long connection to a place that you have those kinds of conversations with people, there’s probably not many people left whose families have lived around here for as long and it’s an honour now to be able to represent them at a place that I love so much.

A very ‘Sydney’ question: which schools did you go to? I went to Saint Charles and St Vincent’s.

Have you got any favourite local haunts? One of my favourite places to have dinner is the Italian place in Charing Cross, Charing Cross Pizza. It’s one of the few places you can walk into after nine o’clock at night and actually get a decent meal. The Garden Court Café too.

The Garden Café Deli? Amen… The Cosmopolitan Cafe at Bondi Junction is also a really great little café. They’re the parts of the Eastern Suburbs that really remind me of my parents and my grandparents and they’re the few things that haven’t changed that much. And they are really affordable. I’m not a very big bells and whistles kind of person.

The birds that work at the Garden Café Deli are characters… They’re lovely.

Can you tell us your favourite things about this area?
The beaches, definitely the beaches. Even though I grew up at Bronte, I’ve spent most of my life swimming at Clovelly and I like the fact that you can go and get in the ocean without touching sand.

You can do that at Bronte if you risk your life and jump off the back of the pool… I love it, and I do a run swim there in the morning, which I really enjoy. I think the diversity too. This area has changed a lot and the character of this place has changed a lot as well. When I’m door knocking, quite often I’ll door knock a grassroots family that have lived in the house for multiple generations and the house was bought for $20,000 and they’re now living next to someone who bought a similar house for $12 million. So you have these really diverse socioeconomics, which has only really changed in the last 15 years. I think it’s that diversity that makes a really beautiful community.

What do you think the area needs to improve on? Overall, and it’s not just this area, I think there’s a level of civility and respect for the earth that is missing. If I go for a walk or run in the morning the amount of rubbish that people have left on the ground, I just find it remarkable. I go for walks with my niece and we started bringing garbage bags with us to pick stuff up because there’s so much of it. It’s quite upsetting and distressing that people think it’s okay to do that when it’s going to end up in the gutter and then in the ocean. We really need to start respecting the environment more, not just in terms of where we put our waste and our rubbish, but really reducing single-use plastics.

Why can’t we just ban single-use plastics? We need to transition, you can’t just do it right away. There’s a whole bunch of changes coming, but it’s about more than just banning it. For example, what are you going to do with the plastic that already exists? Not only do we need to ban it and transition to things that are biodegradable, we also need to figure out what we’re going to do with every piece of single-use plastic that already exists. UNSW has some really great stuff in terms of what we can turn our waste into, but we need government support and funding to be able to really push these things.

Your formal title is actually Dr Marjorie O’Neill, so you’re a doctor of philosophy, right? Yeah, in management and economics.

What was your thesis on? My thesis was looking at older worker career choices and the social and economic factors that influenced their career choices. One of the biggest things that came out of it was the impact of care and responsibilities for older Australians on their decisions around work, and the increased number of older Australians having to care for their grandchildren. This is important because, particularly when you have a look at the lives of women, who do the vast majority of caring, over their entire career trajectory they’re the ones that have been required to care. And older Australians having to care for even older parents. People who are in their 50s and 60s are actually caring for their parents who are in their 80s and 90s. Over a career trajectory, particularly for women, they’re having to withdraw from work to engage in unpaid caring, which is great but the impact that has on their superannuation is really devastating. The reality is that people’s superannuation is an incredibly important part to be feeding into that, to ensure that in later life they have that financial security.

The average age of The Beast delivery team is about 70 years old and they’re all bloody awesome! Bring me all your oldies, I’ll take them all! Older people are the most conscientious, I’ve never understood why they’re generalised as being hopeless… I think the other thing is, when you talk about how much they love work, the impact that technology is having on the way people’s work is changing. We started the conversation talking about access to education and how that changes people’s lives. As technology is making people’s jobs obsolete it’s really important that we allow people to be able to retrain so that they can keep working.

And how do you do that? TAFE is a really important part of that, particularly when the government is not doing anything to stop the destruction of jobs. We need to ensure that people can contribute to the economy where they want to and where they can, and TAFE used to be the world’s leading training facility; it’s meant to be there to give people skills at a low cost so that they can contribute to the workforce. It’s not low cost anymore though, it’s been run into the ground. Courses are now in the thousands, whereas they used to be in the hundreds. It’s nowhere near as accessible, and in rural communities it’s even worse. The lack of access to education for youth in rural communities is really devastating. Youth suicide out in rural communities is much higher than what it is around here, and I think that lack of opportunity has a big impact. If you’re not working, what is your sense of worth? The first thing people ask you when you meet them is, “What do you do?” If you take away work and you take away education, what have you got left?

You started off as a Waverley Councillor in 2017; now that you’re the member for the state seat of Coogee, are you still a Waverley Councillor? How does that work? Yeah, you can do both. I can’t re-elect, but I will see out my time until September 2020. It’s pretty common. Stephen Bali is the mayor out at Blacktown and he’s also a state politician. Paul Pierce and Ernie Paige, they were also on local council. And don’t forget Clover Moore served as the state member for the city of Sydney, as well as the mayor of Sydney for a very long time.

Is it hard juggling the two? They compliment each other, there are similar issues. One big issue for a lot of people on a day to day basis around here is parking, so being involved in state and local government is beneficial to working on improving that.

Do you have any ideas to improve the parking situation? We need to start with better public transport…

Could you let people park right to the end of the street after a certain time as long as they move before a certain time in the morning? I think the solution is better public transport, as well as encouraging people to be more active, like riding bikes and walking more.

Can you make it easier to get a scooter licence? I had to go to bloody Tuggerrah to get my L’s and St Ives for my P’s. It’s a massive pain in the arse, especially when you can go to Bali and drive with no licence… I also think there needs to be regulation. If you’ve also been to Bali and Thailand and seen the hoons that are on scooters and motorbikes there. I’ve got a motorbike licence.

Is the light rail going to help the transport situation at all? There are people that live very close to the light rail and go into specific parts of the city, I think it’ll work for them. However, unlike buses that have 80 per cent sitting and 20 per cent standing, light rail is the reverse. The reality is we have an aging population. How many people over the age of 70 will feel comfortable standing for 45 minutes? The light rail stops aren’t very close to residential areas and the gaps are quite long between them, so unless you live very close to a stop… I think it’s really important that we ensure that our bus services remain, particularly those buses that are going nowhere near where the light rail is, and that people aren’t fed onto the light rail.

The electorate of Coogee would’ve copped the inconvenience of the light rail construction more than any other electorate; do you think that contributed to your win? I don’t think it was just the inconvenience of the light rail, I think it’s the incompetence of the planning process around it. We’re stuck with it now and we need to figure out how to make it work, so I don’t think there’s really much benefit in harping on about how bad it is – we need to learn from the process. When Infrastructure New South Wales and Nick Greiner, the former Liberal Premier, said, “Don’t build this,” why didn’t the premier listen?

Was there corruption involved? I don’t know that, but you need to think about why didn’t they listen to their own department on this. When they said, “Don’t build this,” why did they go ahead with it?

Because they want to be project managers… I don’t know. This is why we wanted to have a judicial inquiry into it, to figure out why these decisions were being made.

Does the racing lobby in New South Wales pull all the strings with politicians? I have no idea. I can’t comment on that. I don’t know what relationship the Liberal Party has with it, but when you have a look at where the stops are, for me it’s very clear that the light rail isn’t about helping us to get to work, it’s about bringing other people into the electorate.

The stop near the hospital is a good one… I think it could have been a great idea, if not for the way the Liberals managed the project.

Why all the opaqueness? Why is there no Federal ICAC? One of the big things during the campaign was the distrust that people were having with politicians. Ensuring that ICAC is properly funded and that a federal ICAC is established will help restore trust because it makes people more accountable.

Does the fact that there is not a federal ICAC mean that a federal politician is beyond any kind of prosecution for anything? Does that mean they just do whatever they want? No, they do have a criminal act.

But is corruption criminal? Is selling off a public asset to one of your mates for lower than market value, for example, actually illegal? Yeah, so you saw that in the state with Eddie Obeid. I think it’s how they are held to account that is the problem. If there is no federal ICAC, whose job it is to investigate it? That’s the issue.

On a similar note, do you think Australia’s democracy would be healthier if political donations were totally banned? I think there needs to be regulation around political donations. In the state, we don’t take money from tobacco or gambling companies, or developers. That’s Labor Party rules and I think they’re good rules to follow.

Why do big companies and wealthy individuals donate money to political parties? It’s to get what they want, right? Yeah, but why do small, everyday individuals donate money? Because they’re supporting a cause or an issue.

But should anyone be able to donate at all though? An individual who doesn’t have as much money as the big companies has less influence, right? Well, with the state regulations there are rules around how much you can accept from a donation. So, in a state as an individual in the ALP I can’t accept more than $2,600 from a single person. So it’s capping it. And I think putting caps around donations is a good way of being able to even that out.

What happens with that money? It just gets used to campaign? Yeah, it gets used to campaign, buy the posters, pay for advertising, etc.

Why couldn’t they just ban political donations? It would solve so many problems… Yeah, I guess, but then the other side of it is if you’re not getting any donations at all…

You’d have to sell fairy bread and chocolate crackles at the street stall… Well, you’d have to be self funded, right? So if you then have to be self funded, that would then push out a whole other demographic of people to be able to participate.

What about the other option: publicly funded? Just all publicly funded? I don’t know how taxpayers really feel about that though.

If they got their democracy back I’d say they’d be happy to; I’d be happy to pay for that… That could result in something like the US system where people are financially pushed out of participating in campaigns and you get really wealthy individuals rolling in with a whole bunch of money.

People who can fund their own campaigns? Yeah, they can fund themselves. Someone like Gina Rinehart, for example.

What were your main achievements during your time as a Waverley Councillor? Our big achievements, as a Labor team, include getting the new DA for Bondi Pavilion – I think it’s really important – and committing to restoring that. I think changing the parking is a really, really big thing. Turning off the meters after six o’clock and taking the pressure off those side streets has been a good way of giving something back to people and taking some of those pressures off, particularly around Bondi Beach and Bondi Junction – places where you’ve got lots of visitors coming in and they push into the side streets where there’s no meters. Turning the meters off means that those residential side streets are now freed up for residents. Also a lot of little achievements that have made people’s lives easier. I’ve been able to get in a couple of refuge walkways, which I’m pretty proud of, so it’s easier for parents to walk the kids to school. These are small problems, but problems that people face on a daily basis nonetheless.

These are things that local government is supposed to do… Yeah, they are. If you can solve problems like that for people, I think that’s a massive win.

Do you have a view on population size in Sydney and New South Wales, or Australia more broadly? I think the issues with population in New South Wales are quite restricted to Sydney, and a big part of what’s happening in Sydney is because we have this vortex of infrastructure that is actually sucking jobs into Sydney and taking jobs and opportunity away from our regions. So when you talk about population growth, I think our regions are actually crying out for people to come there and they want growth. If Sydney is full, we really should be looking at properly decentralising New South Wales.

There’s been quite a bit of interest in your sporting career, particularly your success as a rugby union player… Yeah, I played for Sydney University for more than a decade. I played a year of representative rugby too. I mainly played blindside flanker. I moved to the States, I was playing there for a while, in California. That’s when I also got into refereeing rugby.

Do you still ref or play now?
I try and play. It’s a little bit difficult though because I’m also renowned for getting black eyes. It’s a bit hard sometimes turning up to events with those, a lot of foundation is required! But I also played soccer for a period here as well, for Waverley Old Boys. I grew up in a family that just loves sport. All through high school I played cricket and water polo as well. I was the head women’s coach at UNSW as well. I’ve coached men in the US and I’ve only refereed men’s games. When you’re refereeing high school boys you learn very quickly to show the cheese early and then no one gives you cheek.

What is your party doing to reduce the deficit of women in politics? Affirmative action is a big thing that we’re looking at, ensuring that we have equal representation, which I’m 100 per cent supportive of. The reality is if women were being hired on merit alone, we’d already have that. There are many barriers that women face in politics, and just generally in work life. During my campaign, it was actually really alarming to me the number of people who asked whether I was married or had kids.

Do people really care about that? Some people do. I’d say, “No,” and they’d go, “Oh, thank goodness, because I don’t know how you’d do both.” I then had another guy come up and say to one of my volunteers and to me, “I can’t support you because you’re not married and you don’t have children,” and I said, “You are aware that Bruce is also not married and does not have children?” and his response was, “Yeah, but it’s different.” Why? Why is it different?

Maybe just don’t worry about those people… But the reality is it still exists, people still have these assumptions around women. A man is never asked those questions. The fact that these questions are being asked of women but not men shows this inequality still exists, in terms of what women need to achieve in order to get a seat at the table.
I have lived in this area my entire life, I am a local who is well connected in the community and I have a track record of community activism for a long time. I am a Waverley Councillor and I have a track record of standing up for the community and advocating for what they want. Is that not enough?

You’ve got a PHD! Yet I continuously get told that I’m not qualified, so what do I need to do to be qualified? What does anyone need to do to be qualified to represent the community? The first thing would be that you should live in the area. I think the first thing is being a true blue local with connections; people that walk the streets, who understand the issues. That’s the number one thing that I want to see in my community representative; that they understand the issues we’re facing and what it’s like to live here, the struggles that a diverse group of people have.

Do you have any interest in going to federal politics? No, not at this stage, not at all. I don’t know why anyone would want to live in Canberra when this is your backyard. Sorry, I love this place.

You were described in The Sydney Morning Herald as “Labor’s only shining light”; what do you think were the main factors in your victory? I think the importance of a grassroots campaign that started with a listening exercise. We got out there nine months before the election, we were just asking people, “What are the things that matter to you?” And understanding from people, what are the things on a day to day basis that are impacting their lives? Running a campaign that was grassroots, being out there talking to people, listening to them, and then trying to come up with solutions to solve those problems.

You were out there every day, I felt like there was ten of you…
Someone called me and said, “You’re like Coca Cola, we see you everywhere!”

What are your thoughts on pill testing? Look I’m not a doctor, so I don’t want to be…

You are a doctor… I’m not a medical doctor. In principal I’m very supportive. I think we need to have a drug summit similar to the one that we had in the ’90s, that doesn’t take any practice off the table. I think we need to be looking at best practice to solve this, and if pill testing is best practice that’s going to solve the problem, then let’s do it. We had another two people die at the last festival. Just saying “No” is not working, we have to be looking at other things.

Do you think recreational drugs like ecstasy, cocaine and weed should just be totally decriminalised? I think we should really be looking at medicinal marijuana, and most of the developed world has much easier access to medicinal marijuana, particularly around later life. My father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and one of the things we looked at was access to medicinal marijuana for him to help manage the pain but it was so difficult for him to access it. So I think we should start with medicinal marijuana. That’s something that I have first hand experience in and I was shocked at how hard it was to access it. Even if it’s just for people with terminal illnesses, for pain management.

You can get access to fentanyl, which is bloody hardcore, but you can’t legally get access to a joint… I think medicinal marijuana is something that the state can be looking at in terms of sector and economic growth opportunities as well, which is something that’s getting incredibly important for New South Wales. At the moment we are cash rich and asset poor, and assets that economically underwrote a lot of things before no longer exist. Land titles, for example, were one of the few assets that we had that actually made money for New South Wales. They now no longer exist. So what are the things that we can be actually investing in, and sectors that we can be investing in and nurturing growth in that will actually then ensure economic sustainability for the state so that we can continue to provide education and healthcare.

Speaking of government revenue, would you support taxing the church and making them pay land tax, for example, on some of their commercial land holdings? I haven’t really thought about that as an issue. So, in terms of charities?

Why doesn’t the church get taxed? I don’t think that any not-for-profit charities get taxed currently.

But what about all the commercial activities that the church engages in and all the property that they own? I think it’s complicated. I think that these are things that maybe we should have discussions about, but when you’re talking about institutions that do a lot for the communities in terms of homelessness, trying to tackle domestic violence, etc., you’ve got joint community groups between religious groups like the Sydney Alliance, which are doing really great work in terms of homelessness, housing affordability, climate change, domestic violence… so they’re doing these as not-for-profit charities, as well. I think you need to also recognise the work that these groups are doing that maybe goes unnoticed.

If the church was taxed like any other business, then the government would have that revenue and could provide those services. Anything that the church provided could be deducted as a charity, like any other big business or individual can… I guess the church isn’t a business though, that’s not their model.

Aren’t they? Well, many good people in the churches would argue that they are not a business.

The Beast is actually a religious organisation… They’re not giving money back to shareholders, they’re not giving dividends back to shareholders.

Bronte Surf Club, the most publicly accessible surf club in Sydney, are building a new clubhouse; will you shower them with money? Surf clubs are certainly great local institutions for the work they do, and I’ll be fighting for funds for all of our clubs including Tamarama, Bronte, Clovelly and Coogee Surf Clubs. I will also be advocating for our Council lifeguards and Surf Life Saving Australia to ensure they have the resources they need to help keep our beaches safe across NSW.

In an ideal world, what does the future hold for Marjorie O’Neill? The future holds that we can solve the Coogee storm water problem in an environmentally sustainable way, where we can potentially capture more water and use it for water recycling.

Will you work with Randwick Council on that? Absolutely. I was able to secure a commitment of $7 million, the Libs only put in $2.5 million and what they wanted to do was push it out to Malabar. What I would like to do is secure that money from the Libs. $2.5 will not solve the problem, it’s a much, much bigger problem. I also really hope that we can build a new co-educational public high school, in addition to the infrastructure upgrades for Randwick Girls and Randwick Boys. If I can achieve those things in the next four years I’d be really happy.

Can you tell us about your dad and the influence he’s had on your life, not just in politics? My dad and I were really close. Dad’s influence and my mum’s influence – you can’t separate my parents, they’re that close – has been huge. He and I would pretty much spend our winters going to rugby league and rugby union games together and summers watching cricket. We’ve even travelled to Auckland a couple of times to go and watch rugby. I’m very happy that I’ve been able to share things like that with my dad. His sense of social justice and standing up for people that were less fortunate is something that he instilled in all of us. He taught us how important it is to help other people if you’re in a position where you can.

Was he ever in politics? My dad was a trade union official for the Shop Distributors Association. He always thought it was incredibly important to stand up for people like that, who were some of the lowest paid people in our communities, and advocate for them and their rights. He went on to be the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commissioner.
Following that, he became an academic out at Western Sydney and taught out there. Even up until his last weeks where he was really sick he started teaching at a private college, Wentworth Institute, and he was still talking about trying to get in there and do a class. That’s the kind of person he was, he had a really strong work ethic and understood the importance of contributing to a community and helping people. He placed a huge emphasis on education and that’s probably one of the biggest things that I’ve learned from him; that access to education changes people’s lives.

Nothing contributes more to equality of opportunity… I have a private school education but people shouldn’t have to find that level of money to be able to get a decent education. Education is what changes people’s lives, it’s so important.

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