REVEALED: Moment Kate Jones knew she had to quit

The path of the so-called career politician is a well trod and familiar one; the stint in student politics; the ropes learnt working for a councillor; a toe or two dipped in the waters of local elections; perhaps a side step to state politics, or a ministry, or a move to federal government, and hopefully a scandal-free journey all the way to retirement. It is fair to say that Jonty Bush has not taken that path.

The candidate who retiring politician Kate Jones cherry-picked to run in her place in the Brisbane inner-north west seat of Cooper in this month's state election is the polar opposite of the career pollie.

Jonty Bush. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Jonty Bush. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

The path Bush, 41, has trod on her way to the hustings has been a far more eventful and, at times, darker journey beginning, as she says, "with the deaths of my sister and father".

"It's not all of my story, and I am not defined by it, but what happened to them changed everything for me, and it shaped me into who I am," Bush says.

At just 21 years of age, and in the space of a few months, Bush lost both her younger sister Jacinta and then her father Robert to brutal deaths, leaving Bush to not only cope with her grief, but also with the responsibility of bringing up her younger brother Jason, then 13 years old.

Bush was also, along with father Robert before his death, helping to raise Jacinta's daughter, Lydia, just 18 months old, at the time of Jacinta's death.

While her friends from school and university were heading overseas, settling down with partners or setting out on life's adventures, Bush was looking after Jason full-time, and became, for all intents and purposes, a mother. (Bush's own mother was not living with the family at that time).

Jonty Bush with family. Clockwise Jonty Bush, Jason 12 years, Jonty's father Robert, 18-month-old Lydia and Jacinta Bush 19 years.
Jonty Bush with family. Clockwise Jonty Bush, Jason 12 years, Jonty's father Robert, 18-month-old Lydia and Jacinta Bush 19 years.

In the months following her sister and father's deaths, Bush also became an advocate for victims of crime, volunteering for the Queensland Homicide Support Group, and eventually being offered a part-time role in the organisation.

By 2007, she was its chief executive, and the driving force behind the One Punch Can Kill campaign, a highly effective initiative that saw Bush named as 2009 Young Australian of the Year.

Bush holds a Bachelor of Business Management and a Masters in Criminology, and currently works for the Justice Department.

It is, by any measure, an impressive resume, but Bush herself is most proud of her relationship with her brother Jason.

"I am so pleased that considering what he went through at such a young age he is a well adjusted and happy man," Bush reflects.

"Jason is 35 now, he has a job, and a girlfriend and a stable life, and our relationship
is strong.

"When I went from being a sister to more like a mother, he was so grief struck and I was so grief struck that it wasn't easy for either of us.

"I didn't always get it right, and I know I was probably far too obsessed with the criminal justice system for a time there, but somehow we made it through together."

Kate Jones with Jonty Bush. Picture: Peter Wallis
Kate Jones with Jonty Bush. Picture: Peter Wallis

For Jones, who approached Bush to run for Cooper after watching her campaign earlier this year in the local government elections in the seat of Enoggera (Bush narrowly lost to the LNP's Andrew Wines), Bush is "made of the right stuff".

"Watching Jonty campaigning, I know she is a very hard worker, a good listener and someone who can talk to anyone.

"But knowing her story I also know just how resilient she is, and I admire her for how she has managed to overcome extreme adversity."

The seat of Cooper will be one of the most watched in this year's state election, largely because of who is vacating it.

Jones, the Tourism and State Development Minister, has been one of Labor's most high-profile faces since first winning the then seat of Ashgrove (now Cooper) in 2006, and retaining it in 2009.

She famously lost the seat to Campbell Newman in 2012, only to just as famously snatch it back again from the-then premier in 2015.

Touted throughout the years as a possible future premier, Jones, 41, says her overwhelming feeling about leaving the political arena is one of "relief, to be honest".

Kate Jones outside Parliament House with husband Paul Cronin, son Thomas, and daughter Grace, after announcing she would not contest the state election. Picture: Liam Kidston
Kate Jones outside Parliament House with husband Paul Cronin, son Thomas, and daughter Grace, after announcing she would not contest the state election. Picture: Liam Kidston

"It's been a 12-month process, deciding to go, and I have obligations as Tourism Minister which meant I had to stay as late as I could during COVID," she says.

"I think because of my age people might forget that I've contested five elections in a row, and this would have been my sixth, and possibly four more years in the job for my husband and family, and it just didn't feel right this time around.

"If you know you are not going to do this job wholeheartedly, you shouldn't do it at all."

Jones, married to Paul Cronin with two children Tommy, 10, and Gracie, six, says the COVID-19 pandemic did "cause some personal reflection".

"With so many of us working from home more, I did taste a different life," she says.

"Like so many working mums and dads, I was working such long hours that I was often not home, especially at night, and my kids haven't known anything else.

"You can't lament what you can't see, but with COVID, I did see what I was missing out on, and it did make my decision a little easier."

Jones says she has not lined up a specific job post-politics.

"You can't go around saying, 'Hey, have you got anything for me?', when you are a minister of the Crown," she says, but instead she is "laser focused" on getting Bush across the line.

The northwestern Brisbane electorate covers the suburbs of The Gap, Ashgrove, Milton, Paddington, Red Hill and parts of Bardon and Kelvin Grove, and is considered a relatively safe Labor seat.

Bush, who will face off against the LNP's Trent Wiseman and the Greens' Katinka Winston-Allom, says she has "big shoes to fill" in possibly succeeding Jones.

"I've known Kate for a little while, we were catching up one night, and she told me that she was thinking about not running, and then she asked me how I would feel about throwing my hat in the ring.

"It was quite shocking to me, first of all that she was considering not running, but also that she had this trust in me.

"I was a little speechless that she would back me because I've admired her as a woman in politics for a long time.

"She's taught me a lot just by watching her campaigning, how she listens and responds to people, but I'm quite comfortable with that through my own roles.

"Where I need her support is learning about the politics and procedures of politics, and dealing with the media."

Jonty Bush with husband Matthew Bashford and daughter Albie Bashford, 7. Picture: Renae Droop/RDW Photography
Jonty Bush with husband Matthew Bashford and daughter Albie Bashford, 7. Picture: Renae Droop/RDW Photography

Bush, who is married to Matthew Bashford, 47, a chartered accountant, is a stepmother to his three daughters, aged 20, 17 and 15, and together they have a seven-year-old daughter, Albie. The family lives in Kenmore Hills, which is not in the Cooper electorate but just on the other side of its Gap boundary, a geographical blip in her campaign that Bush says, "I'm comfortable discussing".

She's comfortable, too, discussing what happened to her own family all those years ago, calling her entry into politics "the last piece of the puzzle".

"By that I mean that justice for me is a real driver. I've learnt that I can use my own energy and drive for change, and I think all my advocacy work, the time spent helping victims, and educating the public about violence are all transferable skills, ones I can use to affect change for the wider community.

"I learnt from what happened to my sister and my father that when you observe injustice, you do have an obligation to speak up, you need to be pretty gutsy, and you need to be okay with compromise to get the results you need to achieve."

Bush smiles.

"Which sounds a lot like politics to me."

In July 2000, Bush was working in her first career, recruitment, and living on the Gold Coast with her younger sister Jacinta and Jacinta's baby girl, Lydia.

Jacinta had broken up with Lydia's father, and Jonty had moved to the Gold Coast to help the single mum bring up her child while she was studying justice administration at a TAFE college.

Jonty Bush. Picture: Mark Cranitch
Jonty Bush. Picture: Mark Cranitch

"Jacinta wanted to be a policewoman," Jonty smiles, "and I think she would have made a really good one."

Instead, the young mum, then 19, brought home a classmate of hers one night, a young man called Kris Slade.

"Their relationship seemed to evolve very quickly, at first he came home for dinner and then he was around all the time.

"I didn't see the red flags at the time because I was brought up in the era of bus shelter posters of women with bruised faces and I thought domestic violence meant black eyes.

"I didn't conceptualise controlling behaviour as domestic violence but I did grow uncomfortable with his ways.

"I did notice he was possessive and I began to grow really uncomfortable around him."

One morning Jonty witnessed a verbal argument between the young couple that unnerved her, Slade's fury out of control and out of proportion to the situation.

She resolved to talk to her sister as soon as possible, and raise her concerns about Slade.

Jonty Bush never got the chance. That night Slade took Jacinta away for a "special night out" - dinner and an overnight stay in a hotel on the Sunshine Coast while Dad Robert Bush babysat Lydia.

While at the hotel, Slade murdered Jacinta, stabbing her 41 times with a fishing knife.

"I was away at the time and I got a phone call from Dad, saying, "You need to come home, Jacinta has been in an accident".

"I remember opening the door and my father walking towards me with his arms out and tears in his eyes." Jonty Bush had never seen her father cry, and knew immediately that her funny, sweet and courageous little sister was gone.

Funeral of murder victim Jacinta Bush at Sunshine Coast Chapel in 2000. L-R Jonty Bush, Robert Bush and Jason Bush.
Funeral of murder victim Jacinta Bush at Sunshine Coast Chapel in 2000. L-R Jonty Bush, Robert Bush and Jason Bush.

Robert Bush began looking after Lydia, but soon after Jacinta's death, the little girl's biological father, Luke Paterson, got in touch with the family, asking for more contact with his daughter.

"We were not averse to it at all, but we asked for a bit of time as she had just lost her mum and didn't really know him.

"Dad always wanted Lydia to ultimately live with her father, he saw that as the right thing, but he wanted to do it slowly, to not confuse Lydia further after what happened with her mother."

But Luke Paterson, his brother Travis and other members of the Paterson family were not happy with the arrangement.

"Dad and I didn't feel too comfortable in his (Travis Paterson's) presence and we did find them a bit intimidating during handovers.

"We actually went to the police with our concerns but they said unless they lay a hand on him, there was nothing they could do."

On November 12, 2000, Travis Paterson did lay a hand on Robert Bush, punching him twice on the side of the head during a handover of the little girl.

"Dad had gone to the house to retrieve Lydia, and was told, 'Nah, you're not getting her' by Travis, so Dad tried to step around him and that's when he punched Dad.''

Robert Bush collapsed and was taken by ambulance to hospital.

"Dad was in a coma at the Royal Brisbane and you could see just by looking at his face that he had been hit.

"I had to make the decision to turn off his life support, and donate his organs, which I knew he would have wanted."

Jacinta Bush with her child Lydia.
Jacinta Bush with her child Lydia.

Robert Bush was just 47 years old, and his 21-year-old daughter Jonty was now the head of the family.

In the trial that followed, Paterson was acquitted, after Justice Margaret White told the jury that if it was unforeseeable by Paterson that Bush would die as a result of his punches, they should do so.

They did, leaving his daughter "broken".

Luke Paterson went on to care for his daughter who is now 21, and Bush says, "A wonderful person".

"We do have an amazing relationship so I focus on that, I focus on the positive aspects of our relationship."

She was not always able to do so.

"I lost hope there for a while, to be honest, I quit work, I had trouble breathing, getting out, and this went on for about six months.

"And then I pulled myself together because I had Jason to look after and I knew that this was not what my Dad or my sister would have wanted." Instead, Bush threw her energy into helping other victims of crime, joining the Queensland Homicide Support Group, caring for her little brother, and slowly putting the shattered pieces of their lives back together.

It's been a complicated jigsaw, one that Bush feels will be complete should she be elected.

"One thing I have learnt is the power of using my voice to speak up, and the power of listening to those whose voices are not loud enough to be heard," she says.

"Whether someone is a victim of crime or just someone who needs a bit of help navigating something in their neighbourhood, or feels strongly about a particular issue, I would like the opportunity to be that voice."


Originally published as REVEALED: Moment Kate Jones knew she had to quit