KELLY’S HE­ROES

KELLY VIN­CENT’S PO­LIT­I­CAL CA­REER BE­GAN WITH A FACE­BOOK PAGE TO VENT HER FRUS­TRA­TION AT THE LONG WAIT FOR A WHEEL­CHAIR. NOW OUR YOUNGEST MP CAR­RIES THE HOPES OF THE DIS­ABLED

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - WOR DS S T E PH E N OR R P I C T URE BR E N T ON E DWA R D S

CAN KELLY VIN­CENT WIN A BET­TER DEAL FOR THE DIS­ABLED?

WHEN

she was 10 years old, Kelly Vin­cent watched a doc­u­men­tary about young peo­ple with mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis forced to live among the el­derly in a nurs­ing home. Vin­cent, who lives with cere­bral palsy, had just started us­ing a wheel­chair. “I went and asked my mum if that was go­ing to hap­pen to me,” she re­calls. The an­swer was a re­as­sur­ing no. These were peo­ple who couldn’t get the sup­port they needed at home.

It was a pow­er­ful me­mory that has stayed with her. The mes­sage was clear: spe­cial care for the dis­abled was not a pri­or­ity. They took what they were given, whether it was ap­pro­pri­ate or not. As South Aus­tralia’s new­est and youngest MP, Vin­cent re­cently found that not much has changed. On a visit to a nurs­ing home, she met just a few of the 6000 peo­ple aged un­der 65 who must live among the old, for lack of al­ter­na­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion. “I al­most cried,” she says. “A lot of these young peo­ple have MS and I have a friend with MS and I know one of his great­est fears is end­ing up in a nurs­ing home.” Af­ter the meet­ing she sent her friend a text mes­sage say­ing she promised never to let him end up like that. His re­ply, sim­ply, was: “I be­lieve you.”

This is the job Vin­cent has be­fore her: the weight of ex­pec­ta­tion, the op­por­tu­ni­ties, chal­lenges and of­ten, dis­ap­point­ments. “You get so an­gry,” she says. “You know there are so many peo­ple and you want to fix ev­ery­thing right now.”

There are two Kelly Vin­cents. One, the in­tel­li­gent, ar­tic­u­late, well-dressed 21-year-old sit­ting in the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil. The politician, play­wright, per­former, ad­vo­cate for the dis­abled and pub­lic speaker. Then there’s the other – warm, de­ter­mined, some­times an­gry and of­ten funny – sit­ting across from me be­hind a pol­ished desk in a room ad­join­ing her of­fice. There are leather chairs and book­cases full of statute books, but I get the feel­ing that Vin­cent finds this all slightly amus­ing – like the set for a play she might yet write, a sort of North Ter­race Yes, Min­is­ter.

In her maiden speech to par­lia­ment Vin­cent de­scribed her­self as the “quin­tes­sen­tial ac­ci­den­tal politician”. In the state elec­tion in March she was sec­ond on the ticket for the Dig­nity for Dis­abil­ity (D4D) party. The party’s first can­di­date, Dr Paul Col­lier, died of a brain haem­or­rhage 11 days be­fore the elec­tion. In the days be­tween Dr Col­lier’s death and the poll, Vin­cent quickly had come to terms with the prospect of a fu­ture in pol­i­tics. “Dr Col­lier will al­ways be D4D,” she said at the time. “It’s his vi­sion, his prospect and his dream . . . I am more than happy to wear the name tag of num­ber one even though it doesn’t quite fit.”

Paul Col­lier was left a quad­ri­plegic af­ter a car ac­ci­dent just be­fore his 21st birth­day. He had re­cently mi­grated to Aus­tralia from Kent in Eng­land with his par­ents. Af­ter the ac­ci­dent, dreams of be­com­ing a pi­lot were put on hold and Col­lier went on to be­come a well­re­spected aca­demic and dis­abil­ity-rights ad­vo­cate. He stud­ied at Ox­ford, earn­ing a doc­tor­ate and be­com­ing an ex­pert on wartime lo­gis­tics. Col­lier ad­vised lo­cal and na­tional gov­ern­ments on dis­abil­ity is­sues, and was firmly con­vinced that the lack of fund­ing for the dis­abled was re­lated to their marginalis­ed (and eas­ily ig­nored) po­si­tion in so­ci­ety. He ran for State Par­lia­ment in the 2006 elec­tion and, ac­cord­ing to Rick Nea­gle, a friend, fel­low can­di­date and pres­i­dent of D4D, get­ting elected was his “Ever­est”.

KELLY

Vin­cent was born 13 weeks pre­ma­ture. She weighed 773g. She is still slight, con­fined to a wheel­chair but not de­fined by it; she has cere­bral palsy, a re­sult of dam­age to her young brain, but she is not de­fined by this ei­ther. As with her youth, these things have be­come pos­i­tives. Dis­abil­ity has be­come a prism through which she ex­pe­ri­ences life. Vin­cent lives with her mum, Colleen Hunt, a nurse who ad­mits to some­times be­ing wor­ried about her daugh­ter and who’s of­ten pro­tec­tive but al­ways con­fi­dent that Vin­cent will do well. Then there’s Colleen’s part­ner, Ge­of­frey Hale, and her two broth­ers, Shane, 23, and Cody, 18. She at­tended Un­ley High School (renowned, she says, for pro­duc­ing an­other fiery, red-headed politician) and pros­pered with the help of good teach­ers and sup­port of­fi­cers. There were the mut­tered com­ments and looks from other stu­dents, of course, but in typ­i­cal Vin­cent style she was never fazed, ex­plain­ing, “Who’s not a dick­head at 14?”

The most up­set­ting me­mory she has is of a girl who looked at her and said, “They have peo­ple in wheel­chairs at this school? How cute.”

“It was not per­sonal, and most of it isn’t,” Vin­cent says, ex­plain­ing that there were tears then but how, per­haps, these were for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ences. For a girl who was born with a love of writ­ing, she found en­cour­age­ment from teach­ers who recog­nised her gift to craft prose and di­a­logue. She still re­calls a mono­logue she wrote for her Year 11 drama teacher, Mr Falkai, and an as­sign­ment for her Year 10 English teacher, Mrs Eck­ert.

Asked if she now sees her­self as a role model, Vin­cent says it “messes with your head a bit”. She has found re­spect and ad­mi­ra­tion from a wide range of peo­ple just as much for who she is as for what she rep­re­sents: Tony Abbott, Natasha Stott Despoja, Christo­pher Pyne, mem­bers of D4D, av­er­age South Aus­tralians. Vin­cent had two short-lived stints at uni­ver­sity – once study­ing lan­guages and the other cre­ative writ­ing – be­fore re­al­is­ing academie wasn’t the path she needed to fol­low to re­alise her am­bi­tions. At high school she com­pleted her work ex­pe­ri­ence with the No Strings At­tached the­atre com­pany, a group work­ing with dis­abled writ­ers and ac­tors. Later, af­ter uni­ver­sity, Vin­cent re­turned to No Strings and wrote and per­formed along­side Jo Stone in And I You as part of a suite of four duets en­ti­tled Tempted. She also worked on a move­ment piece A Lit­tle

Bal­le­rina’s Agony, which she per­formed at the New Awak­en­ings Fes­ti­val in 2007 to a stand­ing ova­tion.

This was a real af­fir­ma­tion to an 18-year-old with dreams of foot­lights, grease­paint and en­thu­si­as­tic au­di­ences. From then on she “tried her guts out”, writ­ing and per­form­ing, even­tu­ally be­ing se­lected as one of two win­ners of the State The­atre Com­pany’s Young Guns 10 com­pe­ti­tion for her play Grav­ity. This led to Vin­cent

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