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
CAN KELLY VINCENT WIN A BETTER DEAL FOR THE DISABLED?
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”.
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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