There were plenty of tears and hugs. And a toddler and pre-schooler watching their mum from the public gallery as Kate Ellis delivered her final speech today.
The emotional valedictory speech was given as Ellis will officially close her almost 15 years in Parliament at the next election.
During her speech, she detailed the pressure and burden she felt to prove young women and mothers could succeed in politics.
Ellis was elected to Parliament at the age of just 26, and later became Australia’s youngest ever minister, taking on the sports portfolio. She had her two kids during her time in politics, in 2015 and 2017.
“Rightly or wrongly, I felt an overwhelming pressure that it was up to me to prove that a young woman could succeed here and hopefully make it easier for those who followed,” Ellis said today.
22 government MPs stayed on to watch Ellis’ speech, including Julie Bishop, Kelly O’Dwyer and Melissa Price.
Ellis’ boys were also in the public gallery, as was her husband and mother. She told the young kids that she is “leaving a job that I love for me. I am leaving because you have given me something more than I love this.”
The Labor MP announced in March 2017 that she would be leaving politics at the next election because she no longer wanted to spend 20 weeks a year away from her son. She said at the time that the next parliamentary term would commence with him starting school and she didn’t want to miss the important milestones that would follow.
But today she said she felt “mortified” by any suggestions that her decision to depart somehow proved motherhood was incompatible with a parliamentary career — and that she believed she could make the decision to leave because the Labor party has been successful in electing women.
“What changed for me is not that I thought I couldn’t be a woman, a mother, and do my job but actually that the pressure lifted,” she said.
“One day I looked around me and I just saw this inspiring army of passionate, talented, hard working women that we have in our caucus and I knew I could go.”
“There is no shortage of remarkable Labor women who will fly the flag, achieve amazing things, and prove to all that a woman’s place is in the Parliament.”
“And there are more on the way.”
Still, Ellis declared there is work to do for women in parliament. She said, “No boy’s club has every voluntary dismantled,” and that quotas have enabled the Labor party to improve its representation of women and also to maintain stability in the past five years. “To those opposite, this doesn’t happen organically,” she said. “Over 15 years I’ve witnessed the culture in the Labor party change”.
“A party that better resembles Australia itself is always going to be more steady than one dominated by macho men with scores to settle and egos driven by self promotion.”
Ellis also conceded that having starting out in politics feeling “young and idealistic” and hoping she would leave Parliament “old and idealistic”, she never realised she would see so much leadership change, instability, division and chaos during her time in politics. “I continue to witness too many focus on the sport of politics rather than the purpose of it,” she said.
Her legacy includes the significant work she put in to early childhood education policy. “I feel deeply that the job of early childhood reform was my purpose for being here,” she said, but expressed regret at what hasn’t been done.
She said she remained burdened by one unfinished act when it comes to the early childhood education. “There remains much to do,” she said.
“The [system] should be universal, quality and as simple as our school system to navigate.”
She expressed disappointment that many kids’ access to early education has been taken away, and told the Parliament that children are not currently at the centre of decision and policy debates, and they must be in order to ensure the best outcomes for Australia.
“We must recognise the power of the first 1000 days to determine a child’s future,” she said.
Ellis also said that “Parliament must be guided by science.”
Earlier today Ellis did an interview with 2GB, with her young kids involved.
Kate Ellis, you will be missed.
For everyone that wanted a visual of that interview with @KateEllisMP ahead of her farewell speech to Parliament…here it is!
All the best Kate! pic.twitter.com/yGJ0mm2qZF
— David & Will (@FIVEaaBreakfast) February 17, 2019
Gosh @KateEllisMP it’s been amazing to have worked with you. And that valedictory speech was you in a nutshell: insightful, warm, generous, considered, funny, decent and selfless. Our very best side! Thanks for every, and take with you all my best. #loveyourwork
— Andrew Giles MP (@andrewjgiles) February 18, 2019