‘Jane always stayed
upright, even when
she wanted to fall’
FUNNY, passionate, intelligent, loyal, with an infectious laugh and a terrible singing voice. Those were some of the ways former Brunswick MP Jane Garrett was described at a State Memorial on Friday.
The memorial for Ms Garrett who died on July 2 aged 49 after a long battle with breast cancer was attended by a who’s who of Victorian Labor politics, including the Premier Daniel Andrews and former Premiers Steve Bracks and John Brumby.
In the crowd of 500, which spilled from the main room of the Brunswick Town Hall into side annexes, were the Governor of Victoria, Linda Dessau, union leaders, Federal Government Ministers, rivals from across the political divide including former Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett, even a rock star, and plenty of ordinary Brunswick folk whose lives had been touched by Ms Garrett.
Master of Ceremonies state MP Mark Gepp said Ms Garrett inherited a sense of fairness and equality from her parents Pam, a school teacher, and Graeme, who for a long period was a Baptist Minister at the church in Sydney Road.
“It was commonplace … to engage in lively discussions at the kitchen table, on all manner of serious social issues. Nothing was off limits, including nuclear disarmament, world peace, unions in the workplace, equality for women, and funding for public education just to name a few,” he said.
Prior to entering politics, Ms Garrett worked as a lawyer with Slater & Gordon, and a policy adviser to former Attorney-General Rob Hulls and to Mr Bracks.
Mr Bracks recalled first meeting Ms Garrett in 2000, when his office poached her from Mr Hulls to work as a policy adviser. They then worked together on legal and justice reforms where Ms Garrett proved her political savvy, he said.
But Mr Bracks said apart from her brilliance, his most abiding memory were of Ms Garrett’s laugh that would echo down the corridor to his office.
“Jane knew how to live,” he said.
“She knew every moment mattered. Well before her breast cancer diagnosis she knew life is precious and precarious … Jane knew the secret to meaningful, profound life is to grasp every opportunity to make the world a better place. Jane made that her life’s goal.”
Speakers at the memorial included former Labor MP Sharon Knight (top left); union official Luba Grigorovitch (top right); and musician Tim Rogers (above).
Speakers at the memorial included former Labor MP Sharon Knight, union official Luba Grigorovitch, and musician Tim Rogers.
First elected in 2010, Ms Garrett was quickly elevated to the government front bench, serving as Minister for Emergency Services, Consumer Affairs and Gaming and Liquor Regulation.
But an industrial relations dispute with the firefighters union combined with her ongoing health issues led to her resigning from the front bench and she switched to the upper house in 2018. She announced last year that she would not be seeking re-election this November.
A former Labor MP, Sharon Knight, said Ms Garrett befriended her after they were both elected in 2010 and shared the same office in Parliament House. They remained close friends after their paths diverged, she said.
“Jane always stayed upright, even when she wanted to fall,” she said.
“She always stayed fearsome, even when she was consumed by fear. And she always, always stayed the best, funniest, loudest, strongest, feisty, loyal friend you could ever have.”
Another close friend from the labour movement, former Rail, Tram and Bus Union state secretary Luba Grigorovitch, said she first met Ms Garrett when she was assigned to help on the Labor campaign in Brunswick in 2010.
“It was obvious that Jane was not your typical candidate,” she said.
“Jane was a rock star, an incredibly energetic super campaigner, Labor’s secret weapon in Brunswick, which was a seat becoming more and more difficult to hold.”
Ms Garrett became a mentor, and they remained allies and confidantes for the next dozen years, she said.
Ms Grigorovitch said despite her reputation for political toughness and straight-talking, Ms Garrett also had a vulnerability and generosity of spirit.
“She was fun, she was charismatic. She could literally speak to anyone anywhere. She was the life of the party, and people would meet her for the first time and instantly feel a connection with her … Jane radiated goodness, kindness, optimism, and compassion.”
The service also heard from You Am I front man Tim Rogers, a surprise presence who first met Ms Garrett in her early teens through her older sister, Catherine, when they were both at university.
“Even at 14, meeting Jane and behind that million megawatt smile I had an inkling that she was someone to be watched further, to be respected, and never to be crossed,” Rogers said before performing a solo version of his song ‘Heavy Heart’.
The memorial service concluded with a slide show accompanied by a recording of the Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls song ‘Leaps and Bounds’.
Ms Garrett is survived by her husband James, daughters Molly and Sasha, and son Max.