Labor MP Mike Kelly opens up on the life-threatening health scare that almost forced him to quit

EXCLUSIVE: Mike Kelly has spoken publicly for the first time about his battles with kidney failure - which could force the Labor MP from parliament, triggering a high-profile by-election.

Labor MP Mike Kelly in hospital battling renal failure.

Labor MP Mike Kelly in hospital battling renal failure. Source: Supplied

Labor MP Mike Kelly says he is determined to stay on in federal politics after a life-threatening health scare almost forced him to step down at the end of last year.

The former army colonel has spoken publicly for the first time about his battles with kidney failure, which sparked rumours of an abrupt exit from Parliament. 

His departure would trigger a by-election in the New South Wales’ seat of Eden-Monaro, which would almost certainly be contested by NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who has made no secret of his aspirations to lead the federal Nationals.

Mike Kelly on patrol in Somalia.
Source: Supplied

The member for Eden-Monaro said he will make a final decision about his long-term future in politics after four more planned surgeries.

“I’ve always known that you can only continue in a job like this, in a seat this size, if you’ve got good health,” he said.

“I didn’t realise how long it would take to build up strength again and get everything back in order. But I feel I’m over the worst of it.”

Labor MP Mike Kelly.
Source: AAP

The Labor MP was rushed to a hospital for emergency surgery after collapsing in October last year.

Mr Kelly told SBS News his ongoing health problems stemmed from long-term damage to his renal system suffered through severe dehydration during military tours in Somalia, East Timor, Bosnia and Iraq.

“The agony was just so tremendous. Mainly the concern was can you get rid of this bloody pain,” he said.

“Effectively I had a 14-millimetre jagged monster trying to rip its way through my body.”

The veteran, who spent two decades serving his country, feared the life-endangering kidney and gallbladder failure could place him on a catheter for the rest of his life.

Mike Kelly spent two decades in the army.
Source: Supplied

Speculation continues that Mr Barilaro is considering contesting Mr Kelly’s federal seat of Eden-Monaro for the Nationals in the event of his departure.

This could pose a threat to Nationals Leader Michael McCormack who has already faced one leadership challenge from predecessor Barnaby Joyce on the first sitting day of the Parliamentary year.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro.
Source: AAP

The entire electorate of Eden-Monaro was threatened by bushfires over the summer - an area spanning more than 41,000 square kilometres.

Mr Kelly, first elected in 2007, is now warning volunteer firefighters need to be better protected from the life-threatening impacts of dehydration.

During deployments for the army he faced daily temperatures of some 50 to 60 degrees and is concerned firefighters are being exposed to similar risks.

“You really have to take care of your renal health through extreme heat and conditions,” he said.

Kidney Health Australia’s Chris Forbes said renal health is a commonly undiagnosed disease with most of the more than 1.7 million Australians at risk of chronic kidney failure unaware of their condition.

“It’s such an insidious disease that anyone who has got that reality want to get out and help,” he said.

“It is one of those diseases where you can lose 90 per cent function of your kidneys and have no visible symptoms."

Mike Kelly during his military service.
Source: SBS News

Mr Kelly compared the scale of destruction seen during this summer's bushfire season to a “strategic bombing campaign” but doubted even that could “do this kind of damage”.

He said responding to the “national security” threat posed by the fires and the changing climate driving their severity motivated him to stay on in politics.

“Climate change is one of the big motivators there. And we still haven't finished that job,” he said.

“But of course, your health is a big factor as to being able to continue in a job like this.”  

Published 27 February 2020 at 2:11pm, updated 27 February 2020 at 3:02pm
By Jamie Travers, Brett Mason, Tom Stayner