Bye George, he's done it
STATE MP for Lismore Thomas George may not agree with all that is asked of him by his electorate, but serve it he will. He's "a community person” and has been all his life.
And he doesn't think that will change when he retires from political life after nearly 20 years in 2019 either.
The plan is to live in Lennox Head with wife Deborah and spend more time with the grandkids, but whatever the next stage holds, he will always remain a "son of Casino”.
The beef town is where he and his family are from, where he started out as a real estate agent and where he was named Citizen of the Year in 1989.
As one of the founders of Beef Week, and having spent 19 years on the board of the Northern Co-operative Meat Company, Thomas' legacy in his home town is secure.
He is the first to tell you, however, his time as National Party Member for Lismore has not always been quite so straight forward.
The time he calls "the CSG period” was "devastating”, not only for himself, but his family and the "girls in the office”.
His ties to agribusiness did not help his image during "The Bentley Effect”.
"It was very personal and aggressive. I had death threats and there were people coming to my house and abusing my family. My father was shattered by it.”
Thomas' parents migrated to Casino (where an uncle already lived) from Lebanon in 1948 while he was still in his mother's belly.
He was educated at St Mary's Primary and Marist Brothers and went on to work as an agent for T&W McCormack and then Barnes and Clarke before going into partnership with Arch Northam and Paul Fuhrmann to form George & Fuhrmann in 1976.
He later took up the licence at Hotel Cecil in the town's centre.
That was when he became critical of how "the government were making it so difficult for business to operate in country areas”.
In 1999 he decided to put himself forward as the National Party's state MP for Lismore and won.
After 12 years in opposition, "I knew nothing would get done unless I was elected as member”.
Of the "CSG period” a decade later, Thomas said what people do not understand is in "2010 no concerns had been raised about coal seam gas”.
His constituents in Casino had been making representations seeking approval for a gas powered station. Transgrid were wanting to put in power lines and they feared energy costs going up.
The Labor government was then elected and gave out the mining licences, by which time the "tide had turned” against CSG. Thomas bore the brunt.
"My father found this very difficult. Mum and dad always used to instil in us how lucky we were to be in Australia because of what they left behind in Lebanon. As the proud patriarch of the family and community, his father couldn't understand why his family was being attacked,” Thomas said.
In the end, "I've always made it my job to serve the will of the electorate and it was through the representations I made we bought the mining licences back,” Thomas said.
It is the same with same sex marriage today. "I've never personally supported it, but if it is what the community wants then I will accept that”.
Apart from his "humbling” time as deputy speaker for NSW Parliament, Thomas cites his three biggest achievements as the work done on behalf of The Kyogle MPS Health, the upgrade of Lismore's police station and the three-stage $400million redevelopment of Lismore Base Hospital.
That's "something I am very proud of... but it isn't the bricks and mortar” that brings most satisfaction.
"I still remember the look on the face of the little boy in hospital for an extended time, I was able to secure a second hand laptop for.”
He describes the period his son, Brendan, a member of The Lone Wolf biker gang in Sydney, spent 18 months in prison on drug related offences, but was later acquitted, as "another difficult time”.
He remembers the story hitting the press without the journalist knowing the background. He said the experience gave him a lot more empathy.
"There are two sides to every story,” he said.
"I try to make my own decisions on gut and consider the feelings of the silent majority.”
He says his son has "now come good and his mother and I are really proud of him”.
Thomas said his job as an auctioneer provided good training to travel a district stretching from Deepwater, north of Glen Innes to Tenterfield and down to Broadwater and up to Murwillumbah.
But, he concedes the demands of the role did cost him his first marriage. He may not be able to be everywhere but "if someone asks me for an appointment, I can honestly say I have never refused one”.
And at no time has this been more important than since the March 31 flood.
"In all my years of living locally I have never seen a natural disaster have such a devastating impact. We still need to encourage the community to keep talking and they must know they can come to my office if they need help.”
As for retirement, Thomas said he will be taking time to "smell the roses”.
"It's my wish to leave the electorate in as good a position as I can. I know there will be people who judge me for the way I handled the CSG crisis but I hope beyond 2019, in some small way, I will be remembered for representing what they wanted.”