Member for Lismore Thomas George.
Member for Lismore Thomas George. Marc Stapelberg

Thomas George reveals best and worst moments of his career

WHEN Lismore MP Thomas George stood up in Parliament last night to deliver his valedictory speech, he was grateful.

"Who would have ever thought the son of Christian Lebanese migrants and who was born in the first part of the last century would be standing here in this packed Parliament to deliver his valedictory speech -all the way from Casino in northern New South Wales," he said.

"That is the opportunity that Australia affords you.

"It has been an honour and a privilege working to better the individual lives of families and the hardworking men and women of the electorate of Lismore, our special and diverse region.

"I know now is the time to retire.

"I have worked hard all my life, and given my life in service to our community and to this great State.

"In trying to reduce two decades of public life into this speech, I ask the question: Is the Lismore electorate a better place now than when I started?

"Not only am I confident the answer to that question is 'yes', but also I feel now more than ever the foundation is in place through new infrastructure to allow those who follow me in this important role to focus on projects that create new jobs and new industries and take this great electorate forward."

Mr George was elected in 1999.

In opposition he became The Nationals Whip and once in government, he became the Deputy Speaker.

"One thing I have learned during my career is that sometimes those in the city and the bureaucracy fail to understand how complex small rural communities can be," he told Parliament during his speech.

"The removal of a single bed from a rural hospital, the closure of one small business, the loss of a job or the loss of one young life at a black spot will directly affect an entire community."

And he should know.

He's been involved with countless organisations across the Northern Rivers - Casino Beef Week, Chambers of Commerce; the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service, Our House, Southern Cross University, Australia Livestock and Property Association, the Minerals Council, Lions Club, Royal Australian Show Society and the Mingoola refugee settlement to name a few.

He listed some of his achievements as the Lismore Base Hospital redevelopment, "where we have finally secured the last $280 million for stage 3A and stage 3B".

"I sit in the chair and hear members going crook about their hospitals," Mr George said.

"I have a story that will be hard to beat.

"In 2010 in the Lismore Base Hospital, a patient had to dial 000 to get the nurses to come and see him.

"While it made headlines in the paper, it was an indication of what we were going through in those days with the hospital in Lismore.

"That was at the same time - and it was a tough, a difficult time - that the North Coast Area Health Service cut 400 nursing jobs from that area.

"Over 20 years all hospitals and multipurpose services in the electorate have either been redeveloped, rebuilt, expanded or are in the process of."

Mr George had a long list of 'thank yous' to get through in his speech.

He mentioned his National Party team, current and retired MPs, the Premier and Deputy Premier, the clerks, the Hansard team, security staff, catering and the cleaners.

"Last but by no means least is Team George," he said.

This included Bronwyn Mitchell, Frangi Spilsbury, Kristopher Wall and Dylan Butcher.

"As much of an honour as it has been to serve in this building, it has not been without a personal toll," Mr George said.

"Politics is a bruising sport, and my family, my colleagues and I felt every punch that was thrown during the 2015 election campaign and during the debate over coal seam gas.

"Despite that negativity, I felt that I was always able to hold my head high thanks to the love and support of those around me.

"Stuart and Margaret, Molly and Charlie suffered with us.

"When coal seam gas was an issue, Stuart was working for the gas company and it was bedlam for both families.

"It was tough, but Stuart and Margaret and their two children can, with the love and support of the family, hold their heads up high as they now own the Clydesdale Motel & Steakhouse.

"I acknowledge Brendon, Bel and Imogen and their family... I am so proud of them.

"All of my brothers and sisters are here tonight. I simply thank all of them for the love that they gave us during the tough periods back in 2015.

"Last, but certainly by no means least, I acknowledge Deborah, my beautiful wife.

"She is my rock, my friend. She has been a stalwart. She felt, more than I did, every punch during the tough times, and that is probably why I kept going - to cover up my feelings so that she could be strong.

"I cannot find the right words to thank her.

"Deb, you have been there all the way.

"I know you would love to get rid of the security cameras at home so that we do not have to worry any more, but we will leave them there for a while and see how things go.

"It is fair to say that all any of us truly has, now and when we leave this Earth, is our reputation.

"If I have managed to leave any legacy in this place, I hope it is this: I have always stood by my convictions - I have backed my decisions, even when the loudest voices were saying they were wrong.

"I have never rejected anyone, regardless of their beliefs or their problem, from an interview at my office.

"I hope that at the end of this journey my small contribution has in some way contributed to making the region a better place for our future and the future of generations to come. I will finish today with a heartfelt poem about me that my granddaughter Molly wrote and presented to me on Father's Day last year:

'I get asked are you related

And I get a big grin on my face.

People say nice and bad things about you

but I never listen

No one really knows you like they think they do.

You put your heart on your sleeve

For your community.

Some people appreciate what you do,

You try to make everyone happy

And you do.

No one really knows you like I do.

Your name is the Hon. Thomas George

But to me you're Grandpa.

You have always been there for me

And I try to always be there for you.

I hope after you retire you have no regrets,

Because really you did everything you could

Even with people doubting you,

Every step of the way.

You impress me every day.

Every time I see you on TV

I smile with a grin from ear to ear

I pass your office and see your face

Everyday someone will ask me

Does he even have time for family?

I will always say yes he has an important job

But he always puts family first

We have a lot of good memories

And I am happy I got to have those experiences with you

So I guess what I'm saying

Is that you have done everything you could for the Northern Rivers

I am proud of you and all your accomplishments;

Even though sometimes I don't show it.

You're a politician,

But first you are my Grandpa'."