Janet was born in 1960 in Altona, Victoria, and has always lived and worked in Victoria. She is the middle child of 5 – 3 sisters and a brother – and the children were brought up as Anglican, with Janet being a regular churchgoer until her mid-teens. Janet now describes herself as Gaian – with “a sense of spirituality and the power of the earth – but certainly no belief in a higher being”. Janet’s mother was active in the church and in the social and charity and outreach activities of the church, as well as local music and heritage groups. Janet’s father was a radio amateur, and involved as a volunteer in the Wireless Institute of Austalia.
Janet went to the local primary school and won a scholarship to a private Anglican high school, which her sisters all attended. Janet described her school leadership roles as prefect, house captain, sports captain “and involved in every extra-curricula activity that you could be”.
This was the role I played in the family – I was the “good girl” – and I think I benefited from being the third child, with my parents being more relaxed with me. I made a choice to be a non-conformist teenager and not wanting to do the things – staying out late, drinking etc, listening to pop music – that my peers wanted to do.
Janet has a BSc Hons in meteorology, but did not return to meteorology, although she is grateful for her scientific background. I asked Janet where she thought she’d be if she stayed with a science or other more traditional career.
If I’d gone off and had a traditional career, I sometimes wonder where I’d have been. If I’d gone into Local Government, I would probably be looking at a senior management or CEO role somewhere by now. I think I could have been happy in Local Government if I’d found the right niche. I would have of course been hugely better off financially.
I asked Janet whether she feels regretful about this. “At the moment I feel hopeful that I will get an elected position for The Greens, and with that I’d feel in a position of influence and an appropriate level of recompense. But if financial issues had been that important to me, I wouldn’t have done what I have.”
Janet was involved in the Franklin campaign during University, going to the Tasmanian blockade, and protesting in Victoria. Janet describes her first experiences of consensus making at the blockade in the extract below – something which was the beginning of a life-long commitment to collaborative leadership. (apologies for the background noise)
Janet also met long term partner Penny at University and their relationship since has stood up to a range of challenges, including media attention when Janet was involved in local politics.
After finishing Uni, Janet landed a job in 1983 as Nature Conservation Project Officer with the Conservation Council (now Environment Victoria). She was involved in policy and advocacy work in nature conservation issues there for 2 years. She worked on the Victorian Timber Industry Inquiry, where she met Margaret Blakers.
From 1985 til 1990, she was forest campaigner and campaign coordinator for the East Gippsland Coalition, doing campaigning, coordinating and fund raising, during which time several national parks were reserved as a result of EGC action, and the group continued working to get protection for areas outside the parks.
In 1991, Janet worked for 6 months as a consultant for Context consulting until the birth of her first child in August of that year. While on maternity leave, Janet was a key driver in establishing The Greens in Victoria - organising preliminary meetings, and forming and working with the green politics network (analysing the policy positions of parties and candidates standing for election) – in the lead up to the October 1992 Victorian state election. The Victorian Greens was then launched on 7 November 1992.
In doing this work, Janet collaborated with a number of other activists, including Margaret Blakers and Peter Christoff. I asked Janet about the different roles they undertook.
Margaret had a range of different contacts with people in leadership and academic positions, and superb skills at just getting things done. I focused on bringing in local activists and groups, and I was paid for a day a week as Office Coordinator. Peter drafted the constitution for both The Greens Victoria and nationally, and had a major involvement in policy development for the party.
During this time, her baby John was in occasional child care. Penny was working full time and provided help with their son on weekends and in evenings.
I really enjoyed the time being with the baby – nurturing – and this was also a time for me to think. But I fairly quickly became involved in green politics work. I wasn’t being financially rewarded, but I had something important I was working on – which was a good mix with motherhood.
In 1992, Janet started working with Bicycle Victoria where she stayed for 4 years with time out for the birth of her second son. She was the founder and instigator of the Ride to Work Program. In the extract below Janet describes how she moved from her maternity leave involvement in green politics, into the job at Bicycle Victoria.
In 1997, Janet returned to work for Context doing environment and strategic planning work, but increasingly running community engagement processes for local government – “working with people rather than policy or strategy”.
However, during this time Janet also took time off to be part of various Greens election campaigns, making sure that her political work didn’t interfere with her paid work.
You couldn’t hide that I was very involved with The Greens while being a senior consultant at Context. It wasn’t a problem, because the campaigns I generally ran in were local, and didn’t intrude on my work. I didn’t have a prominent media role for the Greens at that time.
In 2003 Janet was elected as Greens Councillor on the City of Maribyrnong and held this position until 2008. This was a very large and mostly unpaid commitment, which included being Chair of the Metropolitan Transport forum, (a forum of 17 Councils advocating on transport issues) and being on the board and Vice President of the Victorian Local Governance Association. Janet was also Mayor of Maribyrnong in 2005-2006.
The Town Hall was right next to the primary school. The kids could come from after school care to have dinner with me at Council , and the Council staff were very supportive. Our life was one juggling act, and calling upon other family and friends, including my Mum , and sharing child care with friends.
It was busy, and I never had time for myself – every minute of the day was scheduled – you had to have your wits about you the whole time, but Penny’s support was pivotal, and the kids were supportive.
I asked Janet how her children responded to her having a media profile. Her response is in the extract below.
In recent years, Janet has continued her work for The Greens in Victoria, standing at state and federal elections in 2010, campaign managing election campaigns, and working for Greens MLC Colleen Hartland. She is currently doing a short term appointment with Hume City Council as their Senior Strategic Transport Planner.
I had a conversation with someone in The Greens some time before this interview, and she had suggested that, now that The Greens across Australia are becoming electable, there will be more men standing, and that the current high representation of women among elected parliamentarians may not persist. Janet agreed that this might be the case – that there is more interest in pre-selection in Victoria – “a Melbourne Cup field” in fact she says about the preselection for lead Senate candidate for the Victorian Greens for the next Federal election for which she is currently standing. I asked about The Greens Victoria’s policy on affirmative action, and Janet said that The Greens Victoria has a commitment to affirmative action, but nothing more rigorous. However, Janet said there are likely to be a range of strong women candidates aiming for Senate preselection.
Bob Brown, Margaret Blakers, Linda Parlane are all role models for Janet, “in showing me that working with the community could be done, and different ways of working with people”.
Janet describes herself as a “facilitatory leader”. She has been a formal and informal mentor to a number of young women, but is currently finding it hard to recruit young women to become involved in The Greens as candidates. Frequently she is told that they just don’t have the time to devote, and are reluctant to make themselves a target for criticism.
I asked Janet about differences between women and men leaders in The Greens:
There’s an ongoing tension in The Greens Victoria between people who are committed to working collaboratively and making decisions by consensus (which I think is a critical part of Greens’ practice), and others who would like to modify this approach – more things going to vote when consensus goes on too long – and most of the latter group are men. … I think that’s because they place more emphasis on the task, and not enough on ensuring that everyone is coming along with them. It’s not a complete male/female divide, but men are more likely to be pushing these sorts of changes.
When I was first elected to Council, I had my first experience of making decision by voting, and I was shocked by the bad decisions that were made, and how, if you didn’t have the numbers, you weren’t listened to – which is a waste of expertise and knowledge.
The community hated the infighting and back stabbing, but for most, Councillors found adversarial processes were more attractive to them.
When I interviewed Janet she was juggling her short term local government contract, voluntary work in the climate change area and campaigning for Senate pre-selection. For Janet, managing the time involved in leadership activities is one of the greatest challenges.
The collaborative leadership model takes time – and you haven’t always got that.
And there’s always the tension of , where you draw the line between trying to change the world, and looking after yourself. So I’m aware of that, and try to schedule time in for other things – I practice yoga and learn the violin, although they’ve largely gone by the wayside at the moment.
I also feel that I don’t spend enough time with my friends, and nurturing my friendships.
But there are things that need doing… I’ve always had a sense that there are things happening in the world that don’t make sense, that aren’t rational, and I’ve got an ability and the skills and resources that I can bring to help change the way things are. I’m motivated by big ideals – you’ve just got to do what you can to, say, turn around climate change. If I wasn’t involved, I’d feel like I was abdicating a responsibility.
Comments welcome below.