WHEN Jackie Jarvis relocated from Perth to Margaret River in 1996 with her husband Matt, for what was initially supposed to only be a couple of years, she had no idea that the small regional town would be where the couple would build a thriving business, raise their family and that she would eventually represent the South West region as the Labor MP.
Ms Jarvis started out in the banking industry and has done a lot of things since, forging a career in workforce development for the agricultural sector, working as a policy adviser to Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan and serving as chief executive of the Rural, Remote and Regional (RRR) Women's Network of WA, before beginning her own political career.
Ms Jarvis spoke to Farm Weekly journalist Bree Swift about her journey so far, which is testament to the fact that, sometimes if you work hard enough, you can have it all.
QUESTION: The daughter of Irish and United Kingdom immigrants, your family moved to Australia when you were just 18-months-old. What did you want to be when you were younger?
Answer: English was my favourite subject at school and I considered studying journalism after school, but the economic situation in Australia in the early 1980s was not great.
There was an economic recession and in 1983 - my third year of high school - the unemployment rate was 10 per cent and significantly higher for women and youth.
As a result, most of my school friends were looking for apprenticeships or entry level jobs while still at school and in early 1984 I was offered a traineeship with a bank.
I left school in August 1984 and started full-time work, a month before my 16th birthday.
Q: You moved from Perth to Margaret River when your husband Matt secured a job in the region in 1996.
In 1998 your family planted a vineyard on your property and you became director of Jarvis Estate Vineyard and cellar door until March this year.
What prompted you to start the vineyard and what was the experience like and do you and your family still have a role/own the vineyard and cellar door?
A: Matt and I were both working in banks when we relocated to Margaret River in 1996, with a plan to stay for just two years.
Matt was keen to do something physical outside of his desk-bound job as a bank manager and so in 1998 we sold our house in Perth and put a deposit on a vacant 20 hectare block of land.
The decision to plant vines was based on lots of data showing an increased demand for wine grapes and so we commenced planting in 1998 with a plan to be just contract growers for other wineries.
Matt was still working full-time and we had a young family with our first two daughters born in 1998 and 1999, so it was a very busy time for us.
Our third daughter was born in 2004 and once she was at school, I returned to full-time off-farm work.
Matt had left banking and was running the vineyard and managing the winemaking on a full-time basis.
A role he continues to this day.
Q: What valuable lessons did you learn from owning and operating the vineyard?
A: We still live at the vineyard and this is Matt's full-time job.
Being a self-employed farmer gave Matt the flexibility to take on much of the primary parenting duties while our girls were at school.
He was around to manage after school activities for example, which allowed me to build my career and take on employment roles that required travel away from home as required.
Moving to be self-employed gave us the ability to stay in the region and have the flexibility to live life the way we wanted to.
Like other farmers, we've had years where we've lost crops and had to deal with uncertainty.
Our years in farming have taught us resilience and how to adapt to change.
Q: What is your favourite thing about living in the South West?
A: Once we settled, we never wanted to live anywhere else.
It has been a great place to raise a family, and my favourite thing about living in Margaret River is the community.
People think of 'Margs' as this wine or surf mecca, but when you live here you realise it is still just a country town with that fabulous sense of community that regional people know and understand.
Q: Holding a Certificate IV in Financial Services from the National Finance Institute, you started your career out in the finance industry.
How have you been able to apply this experience in your roles since?
A: I obtained the Certificate in Financial Services as a mature-aged student, after I had my kids, just to formalise my years of experience in commercial and retail banking.
Q: You had a long break from banking while you managed the vineyard and had your three daughters.
When your youngest daughter went to school you re-entered the financial sector in 2010 for 16 months before building a new career in workforce development for the agricultural sector.
What inspired you to work in this area?
A: I have never managed the vineyard in a hands-on farming capacity.
While our daughters were young, I managed the day-to-day bookkeeping and HR matters for our farm business and then I went back to the banking sector once my kids were all at school, as it was the industry I knew.
Things had changed significantly since I had last worked in banking.
I witnessed some poor lending practices and a very sales-focused culture.
Things that would later come out during the Banking Royal Commission.
So after 16 months I was looking to leave banking and I saw a job advertised for an organisation that managed the Commonwealth-funded Harvest Trail program.
I had been managing our onfarm HR and understood the challenges of managing a seasonal workforce for many years and I was able to successfully apply that experience to a new career.
Q: Can you tell me about the Harvest Trail program, which helps farmers find seasonal workers, including migrants, to help on their farms?
A: I was employed by MADEC, a not-for-profit organisation based in Mildura Victoria that provides employment services, including the National Harvest Labour Information Service (NHLIS) as part of the Australian government funded Harvest Trail service.
As the WA/Northern Territory manager I worked with farmers to connect them to workers who were mainly backpackers.
Q: You won the 2014 Rural Women's Award following the development of a pilot program to help refugees and newly arrived migrants find work in agriculture and used the $10,000 bursary to create a series of video postcards to detail the work the resettled migrants were doing in the agricultural sector.
With the worker shortage still a huge problem for WA's agricultural industry, what do you think needs to be done to prevent worker shortages for the industry into the future?
A: Australia has gone from having about 145,000 backpackers living and working here every year for the past five years, to having no new arrivals since March 2020.
The closed Australian border has impacted many industries that use both skilled and unskilled workers from overseas and it is unfortunate the Commonwealth government, that controls international borders and the issuing of work visas, did not make any plans to facilitate the entry of vital workers from overseas.
I remember farming groups raising this as an issue in March 2020 and yet here we are more than 18 months later and the Commonwealth has still not come up with a suitable solution despite the WA government asking the Commonwealth to open up existing facilities such as Christmas Island, that could be used to quarantine international arrivals, including fully vaccinated skilled harvest workers.
Q: You served as the principal policy adviser to the Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan in 2017 and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) manager from August 2019-March 2021.
What were these experiences like and what policies did you help formulate in this period?
A: I worked for DAFWA from August 2016 in the strategy and governance team.
After the State election in March 2017, I was seconded into Ms MacTiernan's office until November 2017 - when I left to take on the position of chief executive officer of the RRR Women's Network of WA.
In August 2019 I was offered a position in DPIRD in the agribusiness development team.
I stepped down from this role in December 2020 when I was preselected as an election candidate and formally resigned immediately after the March 2021 election.
Q: From 1996 until 2016 the Rural, Remote and Regional Women's Network of WA (RRR Reference Group) existed as a Ministerial Reference Group.
You were chief executive of RRR Women's Network from November 2017- August 2019.
What prompted you to join the organisation and what were your highlights working in this role?
A: I was appointed to the RRR Women's Ministerial Reference Group by then minister Brendon Grylls and re-appointed by Terry Redman.
Mr Redman disbanded the RRR as a Ministerial Reference Group and a decision was made to continue the RRR Network as an independent NGO.
In late 2017 the then chair of the newly created RRR Women's Network asked me to take on the CEO role to assist with the set-up of the new organisation.
I thought it was important to ensure the 20-plus year history of the RRR Women's Network was not lost and so I took on the role.
I was happy to provide that governance role in the early stages of the new organisation and am pleased to see the RRR Network go from strength to strength under the leadership of new CEO Kendall Galbraith.
One of the highlights from my time was the work we did with our Statewide survey of women in regional WA which informed our submission to the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces.
Q: Why do you think groups like the RRR Network are important?
A: The RRR Network's mission statement sums it up.
The RRR Network exists "to support and contribute to their social and economic well-being, inspire leadership and drive a better future for our regions and for women".
Women in our regions are a valuable resource that is worth investing in.
They are often the backbone of regional communities and have great knowledge about the issues that matter to their towns.
Q: In 2010 you contested the seat of Forrest in the Federal election but you were defeated by Liberal Nola Marino.
This year in May you were elected to parliament as the Labor member for the South West region.
What prompted you to get into politics?
A: I first joined the WA Labor party in 2005 as I wanted to be part of something that was working to support the aspirations of all members of our community.
I came from a working-class background - my mum was a cleaner and my dad was a builder's labourer - and I saw value in ensuring all workers had secure and safe workplaces.
I also felt the Labor party was best placed to ensure that everyone in our community had the chance to contribute to our society in a dignified and constructive way.
In recent years the Labor party has really focused on identifying candidates that would add strong regional voices to parliament.
When the opportunity arose to be a Labor candidate in the South West I was happy to put my hand up and be a voice for my region and my community.
Q: What do you think are the main challenges facing the South West region at the moment?
A: We have a rapidly growing population in the South West and the 2021 State Budget has recognised this.
We want to keep our region strong and vibrant and provide quality services so the South West continues to be an attractive place to live, work and raise a family.
Access to labour is always challenging for our region which relies on seasonal industries and the closure of international borders has exacerbated this.
Environmental concerns are also prominent in the South West.
I recently presented a petition in Parliament on behalf of my constituents asking for a review into prescribed burning practices.
Our decision to end the logging of native forests has been welcomed and we are working closely with the towns involved to help them transition.
Q: What do you hope to achieve as the member for the South West region?
A: I hope to continue advocating for the people of the South West and using my understanding of regional life to inform the decisions being made that impact people living and working in regional and rural WA.
Q: Of what achievement, professional or personal, are you most proud?
A: My three daughters.
Each is achieving their goals in their respective fields and have grown up to be strong, free-thinking young women.
I'm proud of the job Matt and I have done as a team to parent and run a successful business, while supporting each other's careers.
Q: What is something people might not know about you?
A: When I first moved to Margaret River it was hard to find full-time work and I had five part-time jobs at once.
I worked as a cleaner, sold cosmetics, was a bookkeeper, sold advertising for the local newspaper and worked relief shifts at the bank.
Q: Who has inspired you most in your career?
A: My parents.
My parents took a huge risk moving to Australia in their late thirties with two small children.
They came with basically nothing and managed to start a new life.
They always lead by example with their hard work and their willingness to make the most of any opportunity that presents itself to them.
Q: What is your next goal?
A: My focus is serving the people of the South West.
With my youngest daughter just finished high school, I'm looking forward to throwing myself into this work and taking on new challenges in this next chapter of my career.