After 31 years in politics, Shoalhaven City Councillor and former Federal Member for Gilmore Joanna Gash has announced she will not stand at the upcoming September council elections.
Cr Gash has served nine years on council, six of those as mayor, and 17 years as the federal member.
Prior to that she was a Wingecarribee Shire Councillor after working for Bowral Council and as a regional tourism manager in Sydney.
Last week, Cr Gash walked out of a council meeting for the first time in her career.
She says the bullying and personal attacks at Shoalhaven City Council are one of the reasons she has decided to walk away from public life at the age of 77.
“I did a walk out which I never done before, ever in my 31 years,” she said.
“Councillors need to work together - we can all work together - and stop the personal attacks.”
Cr Gash says the behaviour of some councillors was the final straw, coupled with returning health issues, that cemented her decision.
“I had planned to run, but I thought no it’s time to leave and let somebody else have a go.
“I turn 77 this year and I think it’s time that somebody else took my place.
“And I’m hoping that some other councillors will take the same view and give somebody else a go.”
Cr Gash says she would like to see some fresh faces in council.
“We’ve been there a long time, we’ve done our commitments, things have changed and we need to encourage other people to have a go,” she added.
Following yesterday’s March4Justice rallies held around the country, including at Nowra, Cr Gash says she held her own in various political arenas and says she didn’t experience bullying or harassment of any kind during her career.
“In fact, my mentors were both men and they helped me in my career and my future,” she said.
“In life you have those men, who are not as good as they should be, and certainly in politics it happens anywhere.”
She said if men tried to intimidate her, she just put them in their place and said it was not acceptable.
“It’s certainly not acceptable.
“I can’t stand bullies and I don’t like being intimidated.
“These sorts of things that are happening in our council at the moment and shouldn’t be.
“That’s one of the reasons that I decided I’d had enough.
“I feel sorry for the young girls who haven’t had much life experience and are going into politics, or to work in politics, it’s a whole different world. It’s a whole different ball game.”
But Cr Gash is encouraging women of all ages to have a go and throw their hat into the political ring.
“I’d say find and good mentor and go for it. I really mean that,” she added.
“Politics needs young people, but you can’t just expect to walk into politics.
“You have to earn it and you have to have some life experiences and business knowledge, and you can gain those.”
She says she would “really be delighted to help people have a go” if they were considering running for council.
“Women undersell themselves, they don’t think they can do the job,” Cr Gash said.
“Actually, they can probably do the job equally - if not better - than men, because women can do so many things at once.”
Cr Gash says she has many highlights from her career, but the project that stands out as Member for Gilmore was getting Main Road 92 built, providing a link from the Shoalhaven to Canberra.
She said spending three months with the United Nations as a federal member and witnessing the first election in Iraq were also stand out moments.
“One of the best things I ever achieved was when I used to go door knocking, a man told me to P-off because he didn’t want to talk to me but, to cut a long story short, we managed to get him some new teeth.
“One day on a village he came around with flowers. I had changed his whole life and, to me, it was one of the best things I ever did.”
As the Shoalhaven Mayor, Cr Gash said she achieved a lot working as a team and she was disappointed and “very sad” when members of Team Gash moved over to Cr Greg Watson’s Shoalhaven Independents team.
“That was one of things that really hurt, to see some of my team go with Greg Watson’s team, but things happen in politics.
“I think they wanted to be in the spotlight to get things done and joined the Independents, but I have to say I was extremely hurt by that.”
Cr Gash says, with six months remaining in her role, she hopes to “change the behaviours at council” for the next generation.
Once she retires, she hopes to spend more time with her family, including six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, she is also now required to travel to Sydney every three months for check-ups.
Photo Joanna Gash