Jennie George bids farewell to politics

Jennie George will retire at the next election. Picture: Stefan Postles
Jennie George will retire at the next election. Picture: Stefan Postles

Throsby Federal MP Jennie George, the Russian refugee who grew up to smash through the glass ceiling and forge the way for women in the Australian union movement, has announced she will retire at the next election.Ms George, 62, made a short statement in the main committee room in parliament house yesterday but will be given an opportunity to make a valedictory speech next year.She will leave a career during which she became the first female president of the Australia Council of Trade Unions and was recognised by the National Trust as one of the 100 Australian Living Treasures.

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  • George's retirement puts Jones in the hot seatBorn in a refugee camp in Italy and living the first part of her Australian childhood in public and refugee housing, Ms George went on to become a school teacher, join the union movement and serve three terms as a Federal MP."When you grow up in the circumstances I did you can't help but have an empathy for the people who are doing it tough," she said.Her father died when she was a child and she grew up in a "strong matriarchal household", committed to public education. She said her youth helped her form the values that underpinned her work in the working class seat of Throsby and male-dominated Labour movement before that."I think it signalled the turning of a new chapter in the history of the labour movement, it had been a union movement totally dominated by men," Ms George said of her appointment."As I commented recently, I never thought I'd see the day when a new industrial relations package would be moved by a female Deputy Prime Minister (Julia Gillard) after negotiations conducted with the ACTU led by a female leader (Sharan Burrow)."Ms George was prominent in the unions' waterfront dispute involving Patrick in 1998, remembering the Federal Court win as an occasion that stopped the potential fall of unions "like dominoes"."Despite the efforts of the state to demolish and destroy a militant proud union, they weren't successful," she said."As we used to say, MUA here to stay - and it's still there and thriving."A low point of her ACTU presidency was the 1996 Canberra demonstration against industrial relations reforms, when some union members mounted a forceful physical attack on the Federal Parliament that led to a riot.She was parachuted into Throsby, avoiding a rank and file vote to win the 2001 election, and was heavily criticised by some for it."Yes that was hard. But I think once you establish your bonafides and get across to the community ... I was able to build up the seat from a time when it was very torrid and difficult," Ms George said.At the last election Labor's Throsby primary vote was the highest in NSW.She said her biggest successes were addressing youth unemployment with initiatives such as the apprenticeship pilot program, lessening doctor shortages through the new GP super clinic, pushing for dental health reform, moving the Maldon-Dombarton rail link along, working for not-for-profits and the roll out of the new spending on school infrastructure.She points to the success of getting national funding assistance for bandages that helped families with "cotton wool kids", like the O'Briens in Barrack Heights."The small things mean so much," she said."I've prided myself on doing the best I can for everyone who walks through my door.Her plans for the remaining year or so of her tenure include pushing for a Medicare office in Warrawong and negotiating with BlueScope Steel over the emissions trading scheme and the proposed co-generation plant.Most recently, she chaired a national committee that tabled a momentous report on rising sea levels and climate change. However, Ms George was never made a minister or shadow minister. She wouldn't say whether she deserved to be one."That's for others."I'm very satisfied at no time have I ever felt compromised to speak out on behalf of the people I represent - I'm not always popular for doing so but I've never resiled from being a good local representative." Ms George plans to move to a home she is building with partner Dennis near Ulladulla and care for her mother."First of all I'm going to smell the roses, put my feet up, read some books, go to the movies and see friends who sometimes get abandoned when you lead a frenetic life," she said."I think I can do that for about three months and then I'll be itching to do something for the community I'm in."Being the kind of person I am I'm sure there will be issues in the community I will get involved with."I will be watching Throsby from afar. I love the area, the area has been very good to me."