Kon calls it a day

first_img Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram Veteran NT Labor MP Kon Vatskalis has announced he is to quit politics after 13 years in the Northern Territory’s Legislative Assembly.Speaking to Neos Kosmos this week Mr Vatskalis said that he wanted to concentrate on his family. “I achieved many things I wanted to achieve, and 13 years in the NT parliament takes a lot out of you,” he said.“I didn’t see my children growing up, I was always at work, and I’ve decided to change that. Goodbye politics, hello family.”Mr Vatskalis was born in Cephalonia in 1956 and grew up in Athens where he went on to study public sector management. In the Greek capital he first became involved in politics, taking part in the pro-democracy rallies of the mid-1970s that successfully campaigned for the abolition of the monarchy.In 1983 Kon emigrated to WA to find that his Greek qualifications were not recognised. Forced to start again, he enrolled at Curtin University in Perth, gained a degree in environmental health and joined the Australian Labor Party. In Perth, Kon was responsible for creating WA Labor’s first Greek branch and ran as a candidate at the 1986 state elections. After ten years as an environmental health officer and surveyor, he relocated to the NT where – in addition to his work in the health sector – he hosted a Greek community radio show and presented a weekly Greek TV news segment for SBS.Nominated for the seat of Casuarina at the 2001 elections, despite predictions to the contrary, Kon went on to win, giving Labor victory in Darwin’s northern suburbs for the first time. The election saw Labor take the reins of government by one seat after the Country Liberal Party had held power for 27 years. Under Chief Minister Clare Martin he was given immediate ministerial office. Widely respected, he was appointed to a range of portfolios during Labor’s time in office.Mr Vatskalis – who was primary industry minister when his federal Labor counterpart Joe Ludwig suspended live cattle exports in June 2011 – said his 11 years in the NT cabinet was the “hardest I have worked in my life”.The responsible minister during the Montara oil spill in 2009 – when an offshore rig burned for weeks, dumping millions of litres of crude oil into the Timor Sea – the disaster sparked intense debate over the Territory and federal government’s responsibilities over the affair.Mr Vatskalis was also minister for health and child protection – portfolios which he says presented the toughest challenges.“I worked hard and I achieved … a stand-alone department for child protection, putting extra money there, putting more people, because many times I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the sad stories I heard during the day,” he said.“We focussed on Indigenous children. This government has not…” Mr Vatskalis said.The CLP has reversed the former minister’s call on child protection sitting outside the Health Department.Mr Vatskalis describes the federally-funded oncology unit at Royal Darwin Hospital as one of Labor’s most profound achievements in the Territory.“We have the most modern oncology centre in Australia. So good that Western Australia… wants to send people for renal dialysis to Alice Springs. Obviously we did something right,” he said.The Casuarina MP will retire from the NT parliament after this month’s sittings. Kon said that candidates in the ensuing by-election (the electorate numbers less than 5,000 voters) would do well to hit the streets and press the flesh.“You know everybody. You know their wedding anniversary, you know their dog’s name, that’s a very different relationship to anywhere else in Australia,” he said.last_img

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