Janelle Saffin a Page in history

Pages member-elect Janelle Saffin visited Southern Cross K-12 School in Ballina on Tuesday and then Trinity College on Wednesday after Kevin issued a directive for all MPs to visit two schools (both government and non-government) before a caucus meeting in Canberra today (Thursday).

People certainly arent shy in approaching Janelle Saffin.

During the space of a half-hour interview before she makes a flying visit to Trinity College and jumps on a midday flight to Canberra, we are interrupted numerous times by people offering their congratulations.

The barista at Caddies even gives her a kiss.

The moods much lighter, comments a Lismore City Council worker who stops to chat while were taking photos in Magellan Street. Have you heard anything about Bennelong? he asks.

Janelle told him Maxine McKew would wait until the AEC officially announced it before declaring victory.

But shes got it, she almost whispers.

A wise course of action not to be arrogant and count your chickens, remarks the Council worker.

Thats why I waited until nine to give a speech, Janelle tells me. My campaign director said I had to do a speech, but I kept saying: Are you sure Ive won?

On Saturday night Janelle Saffin made history as the first female elected to represent the electorate of Page.

So I asked her about being a woman in the male-dominated world of politics.

A lot of people were very warm about it, she said. There was just one man, at one market, who said I never thought I would see the day a woman would go for Parliament. There were two young men there and they both jumped in and said: Isnt it wonderful. Its about time.

In Grafton she said people would sing out to her in the street: Go Girl!

Im 53, she said. Go Girl is pretty cool. It could have been Go Grandma. I think maybe it says something about my energy too. You need it for this job.

Janelle said she also found people were more intimate with her because shes a woman (and a mother) and men in particular seemed to find it easier to get things off their chest.

She said it had been great to see men like John Brogden, Jeff Kennett and Geoff Gallup speaking out about depression as it was a real challenge for men to open up, particularly in farming communities.

I went to the Lifeline breakfast where John Brogden spoke, she said. It was lovely. I like John. I always have.

She said women in Grafton had told her that what they liked about Kevin was that he was surrounded by strong women.

Good women, effective women. And they liked that.

On the flip side she said there did tend to be a focus on her appearance, which she didnt think men in politics had to deal with.

People commented about my hair all the time, she said. And I did get advice in the beginning to dress this way or that way.

Although attitudes were starting to change, she said there was also tension between being perceived as too tough and therefore not feminine, or not being tough enough (and therefore not up to the job).

Janelle said she would encourage women to be as involved in their communities as they want to be.

I think sometimes as women we dont classify ourselves as leaders, when we are, she said. Politics is about people. And its so rewarding. Its about improving our communities and making a difference.


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