Janelle Saffin has never been one to give up easily.
As Labor’s representative for Page during the Rudd-Gilliard-Rudd governments, she might have said six years was enough. But the 61-year-old solicitor has decided to have a go at wresting the northern NSW bellwether seat back from the Nationals.
Why not? She’s had feedback from voters who said Saffin was the “best member they’ve ever had and we want [her] back in”.
Who would have thought that the 13-year-old school leaver would leave such an impression.
When she left school, Saffin had few aspirations other than to find a job.
Growing up in an Ipswich housing estate, she began a job at the meatworks because she was too young to work as a hairdressing apprentice. Around the same time her parents separated.
Higher education did not seem an option.
“When I grew up it was really the richer kids, the well-to-do that went to university,” said Saffin.
But eventually, so did she.
After moving to Lismore in her early twenties, Saffin became involved in community projects including the women’s and youth refuges and sexual assault services.
It was her encounter with a local MP that prompted her move toward a career in politics. She approached the MP to ask if a low-rent house could be provided for women escaping domestic violence. But, “he did not see the need”.
His response ignited the fire in Saffin to fight for those that she felt were not well represented.
“We really needed change. We still need it, but we really needed it then because there was not much response to those issues of sexual assault, child sexual assault and domestic violence.”
So Saffin completed a Diploma in Teaching and talked her way into studying law at Macquarie University.
“By the time I did teaching I already wanted to do law. So I knew that’s where I was going.”
She was inspired by social justice argument and wanted change.
“And I saw law as being a very good vehicle for that.”
And nearly 40 years after university, Janelle Saffin has clocked up 15 years as both a federal and a state Labor representative. In between her stints in the NSW upper house and federal parliament, Saffin worked as a political and legal advisor for the East Timor government.
In 2015, she was named in the Australian Financial Review Top 100 women of influence.
Saffin was instrumental in establishing the ‘water trigger’ legislation in June 2013, an amendment that strengthened the Commonwealth’s power to intervene in relation to water resources.
In 2013, after serving Page for two terms Janelle Saffin was narrowly defeated by Nationals candidate, Kevin Hogan.
Hogan had made a commitment before the 2013 election to “cross the floor” on CSG-related matters. But in 2014, Hogan voted with his party to allow the water trigger to be handed back to the states.
Janelle Saffin is a seasoned candidate practiced in dealing with the media. Despite her petite frame, she has a firm, no-nonsense voice and, like many politicians, never misses the opportunity to cast a few barbs in her opposition’s direction.
However, when Saffin talks about representing the community there is genuine concern about helping make local voices heard.
When thousands gathered at Bentley, a small rural community just outside Lismore, to protest coal seam gas exploration, Saffin supported protestors.
“When an issue is unfair, it’s unfair and a representative should speak out if it’s going to affect the community,” she said.
She called NSW’s new anti-protest laws an absolute infringement of freedom of speech and assembly across the board.
When asked to what extent Labor’s leadership instability between 2007 and 2013 contributed to her electoral defeat, a glimmer of hurt appeared in her eyes but only for a split second.
“Well, people say to me it contributed greatly and people say that now.”
Page is considered marginal and with changed electoral boundaries, the Nationals hold the seat with a margin of 3.1 per cent.
“Page is certainly in play and that’s how I see it, but every election is hard”.