Selfless to the end

I didn’t know Jaye Radisich that well, but for 15 months between early 2009 and May 2010, I talked to her at least twice a week.

As the chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia (COSBOA), Radisich was a passionate advocate for the small business community, a skilled political operator who worked hard to ensure small business was at the forefront of politicians’ minds during a time of economic uncertainty.

She was practical, smart and professional – exactly what COSBOA needed at that time.

I had only spoken to Jaye a handful of times since she stepped down, but I had heard she was unwell.

I was shocked and saddened to hear on Saturday evening that she had passed away, dying of a rare form of cancer aged just 35.

Most of the news articles about Radisich’s death have focused – quite rightly – on her time as a Labor MP in Western Australia.

She won office in 2001 aged just 23 (the youngest woman ever elected to WA Parliament) and held her seat for the next seven years, serving as minister for energy, resources, industry and enterprise during that period. She was forced to step down in 2008 due to illness.

But as Labor’s new Federal Small Business Minister, Brendan O’Connor, said on the weekend, Radisich also made quite an impression on the SME community during her time as COSBOA chief.

Radisich’s sudden resignation from COSBOA was a shock for us at SmartCompany. It came just weeks after the organisation had enjoyed one of its biggest wins, when it successfully lobbied to prevent Communications Minster Stephen Conroy from extending the Do Not Call Register to business numbers. She’d also helped boost revenue 12-fold.

From the outside at least, it seemed as though Radisich was doing a good job, but the COSBOA board decided otherwise. Speculation suggested that many were unhappy with her lobbying strategy, which favoured direct contact with politicians and bureaucrats over writing a steady stream of media releases.

There was also some suggestion that Radisich’s Labor background rankled with some members who have tended to support the Coalition, although Radisich and her successor Peter Strong always prided themselves on being fiercely apolitical.

Whatever the case, Radisich seemed to have the organisation heading in the right direction. That she was apparently shafted by internal politics of some sort seemed a real shame.

For much of the last few years, Radisich has kept a low profile as she concentrated on fighting her condition.

She suffered from Adult Wilm’s Tumour, a rare cancer that she seemed to beat a few times, only for it to return.

As I read more about Radisich’s passing, I came across her blog, which was all about her search in China for a miracle, experimental cure to her condition.

The descriptions of her treatment are equal parts harrowing and inspiring. She was clearly in great pain, but she managed to be dignified, courageous and funny.

But the blog had a much higher calling beyond being a place for personal reflections. Radisich knew that because her condition is so rare and the treatment was so unusual, other sufferers could benefit from her detailed account.

“I really want to try and document what happens to me here in China in as much detail as possible to give other people considering similar treatment more information about what they might be in for, and up for, if they go forward with such treatment,” she wrote.

Radisich was someone who spent most of her adult life working for others. We shouldn’t be surprised one of her final public acts was so selfless.

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