Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin.
Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin.

Life lessons a valuable tool as MP speaks up for seniors

SHE may have been State Member for Lismore for less than a year, but Janelle Saffin is no stranger to politics.

In a life of constant learning and changing that has seen the 65-year-old work for the fledgling Timor-Leste government as well as represent the North Coast as both the Federal Member for Page (2007-13) and a member of the NSW Legislative Council (1995-2003), becoming the State Member for the region was probably almost inevitable.

Born in Ipswich, Queensland, Janelle moved to the Northern Rivers at the age of 24.

"I felt called to politics," she said. "From childhood I always stood up for the underdog. Kindness in politics I consider to be essential. My mum says I am kind. That has served me and my community well.

"As a community activist I succeeded in securing and improving services, many non-existent in rural and regional areas. I was surprised at the lack of effective representation by local MPs, albeit nice fellows.

"After leaving school in my early teens I had plenty of jobs, from abattoirs to factories and the checkout. Young people could get a job then. They cannot now, without experience and credentials. This needs to change.

"I went on to gain teaching and law qualifications, educating myself."

After her time in the NSW Legislative Council, Janelle, who had been an official observer at the 1999 independence referendum in the then-East Timor, took up a post with East Timorese foreign minister Jose Ramos-Horta, staying as his chief political and legal adviser.

She served three years, assisting to rebuild the country and staying with Ramos-Horta through his election as Prime Minister and then President, resigning in 2007 to come back home to the Far North Coast.

"My experience in Timor-Leste (East Timor) was like no other," she said. "I learned a lot about leading through crises, state building, governance and humility. I came home ready to take on Canberra and did.

"I secured many services and infrastructure for our local area, long neglected, and many great policy outcomes ... Water Trigger legislation to protect us from harmful coal seam gas mining and much more.

"My extensive and diverse life experience has enabled me to be an effective representative in my constituency and in Parliament."

Janelle is now the State Member for the region she loves - overseeing it at a difficult and changing time.

"The impact of the bushfires is being felt sharply already, with the loss of some business," she said.

"It is compounded by the drought. We just have to pull together and ensure government is supporting our communities well in areas that make an economic difference.

"I am very active in this area, advocating constantly to the ministers and shadow ministers, with some successes.

"We also must determine how we support productive full-time farmers, most older citizens, who feed us and the world.

"Being older with extensive life and parliamentary experience gives me skill and freedom to advocate fearlessly for what needs to be done for my electorate.

"This experience and freedom equips me to work across and around government, with my own Labor Opposition led by Jodi McKay, and with the Coalition Government led by Gladys Berejiklian."

Janelle said she saw many challenges for those over 55 in her own electorate.

"Most people age well, yet there can be challenges," she said. "Age discrimination - that means missing out on jobs and invisibility.

"Preparedness for retirement - superannuation. With super tied to work, it disadvantages many older people, especially women.

"Access to timely, dignified and affordable home and residential care (is another challenge."

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