News / Politics

‘The Labor movement has lost a true champion’

Premiers lead tributes to former Brunswick MP Jane Garrett, who has died aged 49

Jane Garrett, 1973-2022.

Mark Phillips
Sunday, July 3, 2022

JANE Garrett was Brunswick through and through.

The former Brunswick Labor MP, who died on Saturday aged 49, could trace her family’s connection to the area through six generations to her great-great grandmother who settled there in the late-nineteenth century.

She learnt the values of social justice that she carried through life from her father who was Minister at the Brunswick Baptist Church in Sydney Road when she was a child.

And although she ended her political career representing an Upper House seat far removed from Brunswick, the area remained deeply embedded in her consciousness.

“The seat of Brunswick in many ways is home to and reflects the essential foundations upon which Melbourne was built, and I believe it captures some of the best our community has to offer,” she said in her maiden speech in the Victorian Parliament in 2011, going on to outline the area’s assets as its multicultural diversity, its proud industrial history, and its progressivism.

“It is a community in which activism flourishes, where generations have been committed to making progressive values a reality — to welcome refugees, to stand against discrimination, to fight for freedom of speech and to deliver social justice,” she said.

Ms Garrett died at the Epworth Hospital after a long battle with breast cancer. She is survived by a husband and three children aged between 10 and 19, a sister, and her father. Her mother died of ovarian cancer the year before she was elected.

Her family announced her death on Saturday evening after her cancer returned following a period of remission. She was first diagnosed for breast cancer in 2016 and in December last year had announced she would be retiring from politics and not recontest her Eastern Province seat at this November’s state election.

“We will remember Jane always for her contagious love of life and people; her intense compassion and the drive which made her a very fierce advocate for women and those most disadvantaged,” her family said.

“Her intellect, wit and generosity are irreplaceable, and her loss leaves a huge hole in the Garrett family.”

Ms Garrett’s death has been met with tributes from all sides of politics, led by Premier Daniel Andrews, whose offer of a State Funeral has been accepted by her family. Mr Andrews said she had made a “significant contribution” to the state.

“I cannot imagine the grief her family, particularly her three children, must be feeling at this incredibly difficult time – my thoughts are with them,” he said.

“Jane was a passionate advocate for the rights of working people and spent her career fighting for safer, secure jobs.

“Her commitment to education, equality and social justice for all was clear … Jane lived a life of service to the labour movement, to the Labor party, and to our state.”

Federal MP for Wills, Peter Khalil, whose electorate overlaps with Brunswick said Ms Garrett left “a formidable legacy of service” to the community and the Labor Party.

“Working with Jane in those years I remember a dedicated, principled and passionate woman with a true willingness to serve,” he said.

“She was a good politician and public servant in the truest senses of those words.”

Ms Garrett was the Labor Member for Brunswick from 2010 to 2018, when she switched to the Legislative Council as Member for Eastern Province following a complicated factional dispute.

Ms Garrett was born in Brunswick and her family had deep roots in the area.

Her great-great grandmother Sarah Garrett first arrived in Brunswick in the nineteenth century and her great-grandparents ran building and tailoring businesses in Melville Road and Sydney Road.

During her childhood, her father, Graeme, was the Minister at the Brunswick Baptist Church in Sydney Road, opposite Blyth Street, and she always said her values and commitment to social justice came from the Brunswick area and the work of her parents.

Ms Garrett began her working life as an industrial relations and discrimination lawyer with Slater & Gordon, later working as a senior adviser to former Premier Steve Bracks.

Mr Bracks said Ms Garrett was a passionate member of the Labor movement.

“Jane was highly intelligent and determined to make the world a better place,” he said.

“She did that. She didn’t waste a minute … The Labor movement has lost a true champion.”

Prior to state politics, Ms Garrett served as a councillor and Mayor of the City of Yarra, but she moved back to her home suburb when she was elected Member for Brunswick in 2010 following the retirement of Carlo Carli.

She initially served as a parliamentary secretary and Shadow Cabinet Secretary. When Labor returned to government in 2014, she joined the Cabinet as Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation and Minister for Emergency Services.

However, her political career was derailed by a long dispute over an enterprise bargaining agreement with the United Firefighters Union which led to her resignation as a Minister in 2016. Around the same time, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, forcing her to take extended leave from Parliament.

She resigned as Brunswick MP in 2017 to pursue a seat in the Upper House. Without the her personal popularity to lift the Labor vote, the marginal seat fell to the Greens for the first time the following year.

The current Member for Brunswick, Dr Tim Read, offered his condolences to Ms Garrett’s family and said she was well respected in Brunswick.

In December last year, Ms Garrett said she would be retiring from politics and not seek another term at this year’s State election.

The date for her State Funeral is yet to be announced.