BM: You encountered some things as a teenager that no child should have to go through, didn't you? How have these shaped you?
KM: I haven’t ever spoken much about these two incidents in my early teens.
In 1973 we lost our 12-year-old brother, Chris, in an unfortunate accident in Corryong involving a bicycle and a car. It was traumatic.
Then the next year, as a family, we were spending time with friends on the river at Towong when I witnessed a man killed. It was the manslaughter of a family friend. He was struck over the head with a shovel by a waterside worker from Melbourne, who decamped shortly after and was on the run for several months.
In 1976, as a 15-year-old, I spent seven terrifying hours in the witness box at Wangaratta Court giving evidence and being cross-examined by Jeremy Rapke QC, who later became the head of the DPP.
While it was harrowing and traumatic, it led to my desire to see fairness for my family, which in turn, I think, led me to consider joining the police force as a 16-year-old in 1978.
I have kept a lot of this to myself over the years, not too many people would know all this about me, but in a way I guess it’s part of why I am not afraid to stand up and say what is right and fair.
BM: You're well known as a long-time police officer, councillor and mayor. Tell us something people might not know about you?
KM: I love to see young people succeed, and especially given the chance to find their feet. In 1995, with the support of my old boss George Bedson, I started the Wodonga Police Youth Outdoor Project. We purchased two whitewater rafts, five tents, a trailer and associated equipment and became Swift-Water Technicians (raft guides).
Over the next 10 years we were able to take young men, women, boys and girls from a variety of backgrounds rafting, building respect, teamwork, breaking down barriers and giving them a better understanding of rivers and water environments.
This was a highly rewarding experience and to this day people still remind me of their positive experiences with the program. It was said at the time we were the only police organisation in the world running this type of activity, and I couldn’t be more proud of it.
It ended up being the precursor to “Operation Flinders” and Youth Albury-Wodonga, which still provides a youth leadership experience for young adolescents in the Albury-Wodonga region.
BM: How have you found the transition from police officer to councillor/mayor/politician? Are there parallels between the roles because on the surface they would appear very different?
I think the electorate is crying out for leadership and a voice, which again in my opinion is sadly lacking.Kevin Mack on standing for Farrer
KM: I think the common nexus is people and community. Both police and elected leaders deal every day in community issues and both roles are focused on providing solutions to problems.
Policing and local government are about providing mediation and negotiating better outcomes for people. Ideally, the skills I have attained in policing have provided me with the ability to deal across a wide range of areas, across a wide range of age groups and issues, and it has created partnerships and enabled opportunities for growth.
I found understanding the business of council challenging at first largely due to the elevation into an executive role in my first year. Hence, it was the reason for taking time off from the police when I became mayor and giving the role my full attention. Whilst the role is largely a part-time responsibility by its description, I felt I needed to do this to be able to gain the knowledge and expertise to do the role justice.
It has been very rewarding and I still ‘pinch’ myself when I think of the great opportunities it has provided for me and what we as a team have achieved in the past seven years as a council.
BM: You incurred the wrath of Clementine Ford and attracted some national media in 2015 when you urged women to avoid walking home alone. How did that affect you?
KM:It taught me a lot about myself, and just as much about social media. I certainly learnt that errant words of wisdom can cause personal hurt to others but just as importantly to my close family and friends. The social networks lit up and trolls administered so much vitriol and hate towards anyone who tried to defend me.
It was quite sad and unfortunate. By this I mean I felt sorry for the trolls who harboured so much hate and pent up anger. One post that comes to mind intimated that I had married my daughter and had posted a photo of us together at her wedding, which says a lot about the lack of sensitivity that some people possess.
BM: You're someone who is known for speaking his mind. Was that a lesson around how words can be interpreted, because a lot of people would say the same thing to their teenage son?
KM: My words were personal and heartfelt towards my community and victims of crime. I have spent a lifetime supporting young women and men through myriad ordeals, which was never considered in the context of what I said. I think the thing I didn’t get across properly very quickly during that time was that I’d advise anyone – man or woman, young or old, to take care when alone, especially when it’s dark. Maybe that’s just the practical policeman in me.
The lesson we learn is that in the current environment news is reactionary and waits for no-one, especially on social media. One very strongly viewed media commentator’s network seized on an opportunity to make a point without consideration to a person’s history or good intentions.
The Sussan who spoke in her opening address to Parliament in 2001 is the Sussan they elected, but she’s gone missing.Kevin Mack
I owned the comments and I apologised if I had offended anyone, however I am not the person that the media represented across the various news mediums from here to Iceland. As Julian Morrow of The Chaser fame once said: “97 per cent of people don’t know what happened, 2 per cent do and don’t care and 1 per cent make all the noise.”
BM: Why didn't you stand for the state seat of Albury in 2015 when it could be argued you were on a roll as the mayor and had built a profile sufficient to have a real shot?
KM: I think we can sometimes get ahead of ourselves and do things for the wrong reasons. I felt I needed more experience and did not believe that the time was right. Simple as that.
The work I have done in the time since – such as the knowledge and experience gained across 11 council regions as Chair of Riverina and Murray Joint Organisation (RAMJO) - has placed me in good stead to understand what the needs of the communities are and where my efforts are best placed.
BM: Why do you think the federal seat of Farrer is more winnable than the state seat of Albury for an independent candidate?
KM: I have no pretensions on the “winnability” of any seat. In my various roles as Chair of Riverina and Murray Joint Organisation, Evocities and the Inland Forum of Cities I have witnessed first-hand the plight of regional centres across NSW.
The federal government talks up support for the regions, however nothing ever seems to happen. I see that there are watershed moments in politics right across the world and many of our politicians have lost touch with the people in their electorates. Farrer, I believe, is one of the many.
If I am going to put my heart and soul into running against a major political party I believe Farrer needs it more than the Albury electorate. Albury is a major part of my life and is also a significant player in the Farrer electorate, but it’s not the only one.
In my RAMJO role every council has one vote and Albury is considered a friend of all of the smaller councils in Farrer. I know what the issues are across this vast electorate, I know the people, I feel their frustration and I want to help.
BM: What is the single thing Sussan Ley has or hasn't done to lose support in Farrer?
KM: Sussan has worked tirelessly for herself in her role as a professional politician for 18 years. Has that effort enabled significant change in Farrer? No is the answer, in my opinion. I think the electorate is crying out for leadership and a voice, which again in my opinion is sadly lacking.
People want to feel passion and they need to be heard. They want their elected representative to be seen in their towns and someone listening to their issues with a sincere view to act. The Sussan who spoke in her opening address to Parliament in 2001 is the Sussan they elected, but she’s gone missing.
I look at the fact we have 12 mobile towers in Farrer - the second biggest federal electorate in NSW (was the largest prior to 2016). Really? Is this even close to being good enough?
This in an area that has been identified as having 200 black spots. Of course it’s not good enough, and this is just a small taste of what’s slipped through the cracks for Farrer while other electorates that might be more marginal or have stronger representation have benefited – and I think Indi comes to mind. This speaks volumes about the “why” behind my decision to contest Farrer.
BM: Are Voices for Farrer interested in more issues other than water? If so what are they?
KM: It’s a good question. Whilst the Murray Darling Basin water plan dominates the discussion for many farmers, and rightly so, the flow-on effect to small businesses and townships in Farrer is enormous.
There are of course other big issues that people in these communities are reeling from, such as: Connectivity - Transport and telecommunications; energy pricing; infrastructure funding for roads, bridges and the long-term impacts of indexation removal from the FAG grants; employment decentralisation; regional growth planning – decentralisation; and health. And yes, water allocation under a flawed water plan is crippling towns and people, so it’s a vital issue.
One thing I will say is I often hear people argue about whether something is a state or a federal issue, but in my experience, whatever the problem, if it is a local person with a local problem then it’s a local issue. That’s the way I approach issues with a view to solving them.
BM: What would you deem your biggest success as mayor? And on the flipside, what would you like your time again on?
KM: Two Cities One Community - bringing both Albury and Wodonga councils together for the common purpose of raising funds for shared services and infrastructure is something I am proud of.
Removing ourselves from the ‘us against them” scenario and working for one community was something I was passionate about when I joined council, having worked on both sides of the border. I really believe it will be the genesis for many positive outcomes for Albury-Wodonga.
What would I like my time again on? It’s a personal one. Probably giving more time to my family and less energy to my phone. I have deliberately made myself available to everyone and at times this can be detrimental to family time. So, balancing my family time is important and critical to success in any community or public role.
I make no mistake that the role of representing Farrer would be all-encompassing and I thank my family, especially my wife Jill, for supporting me.
I’ll be working even harder if I get the chance, but my phone will be off at times, and not just because of the blackspots.
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