Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Gallacher, Senator Alexander McEachian (Alex)
[by video link] It is with great sadness that I join with my colleagues to mark the life of one of the giants of the union and Labor movements. Many know Alex Gallacher as a senator, but of course he was also a loving father, husband, brother, grandfather and friend. The statements given in his honour from those in this place and the other place, across the aisle and from all works of life is a testament to his character. A dedicated member of the Labor Party and the union movement, he fought tirelessly to improve the lives of working people. He was a passionate, humble man who could make you laugh with his dry wit. Alex's passing is a huge loss to the parliament, our party and to the state of South Australia. He will be greatly missed.
Over the last few days, I've taken the time to speak with those who worked very closely with Alex over many years before he was in parliament and also while he was in parliament. One of his long-term staff members, Matt Marozzi, told me that the staff always appreciated that they knew where they stood with Alex. He was no nonsense and a straight-to-the-point kind of guy. Matt said that beyond his tough exterior he was a kind man who looked after his staff—evidenced by the fact that many had been with him for such a long time. Matt wanted me to stress that he not only cared for the working lives of his employees but cared deeply about their personal lives too. Matt said, 'For those who worked for Alex, they became like family to him.' This was echoed by those who worked for Alex in the TWU who reflected that, whether it was giving someone a start or helping an employee through family difficulties, Alex was always generous with his support.
Now, many have said that when you won Alex's trust, then the loyalty Alex would show would be replicated in spades. Matt Burnell, Labor's candidate for Spence, worked with Alex for many years and echoed these sentiments about Alex's fierce loyalty. Matt said: 'You had to work hard to get Alex's trust. But when you had that trust he was someone who would always be there for you as a sounding board, providing honest and wise advice and always helping you find clarity.' Ian Smith, the TWU secretary for South Australia and the Northern Territory, and one of Alex's long-term friends and colleagues, repeated those same sentiments. Ian, who has also been battling health problems recently, relayed to me that Alex was by his side all the way through his treatment and recovery, always encouraging him to stay positive. I think Ian would also want me to mention that he was grateful not only for Alex's support during this time but for that of Alex's wife, Paola, as well, who fed him during every visit. Ian told me that he is forever grateful to Alex for so many things, from taking a chance on him and employing him to supporting him in his role as secretary of the TWU, and for being a great listener and a mentor, as well as just a good bloke to catch up with. They say imitation is the best form of flattery, and to demonstrate the esteem that Ian held Alex in, Ian told me that he tries to emulate Alex in his leadership at the TWU.
Many have taken this opportunity to quote from Alex's first speech, but, for me, it was something he said at night in an adjournment speech in 2015 which I think best describes Alex's legacy as a senator. He stated:
For me, South Australia is first, second, third, fourth and fifth. I do not care who I have to advocate for or argue against. Whether it is in my own party, in the opposition or in the government ranks, I will be putting South Australia first, I will be putting South Australian jobs first, South Australian economic opportunities first, and South Australian small businesses first.
Alex was a fierce advocate of the things he believed in, the desire for a better Australia and a better deal for the people he represented in South Australia. That never wavered.
His passion was born from his own experience as a labourer, truck driver and ramp operator, and, later, as a union secretary. The issues of universal super, road safety, better pay and ensuring that the voices of the voiceless were heard are just some of the achievements he added to his legacy. Ian Smith also shared with me, though, that Alex worked hard during his time at the TWU not just to ensure that transport workers had a voice, although he did this very well. He also understood how important it was that these workers had a real influence within political decision-making. The respect that TWU members had for Alex is reflected in the fact that the TWU's new training room at its SA premises is named after him: the Alex Gallacher Training Centre. True to Alex's humble personality, he played down this honour publicly. But it has been revealed that, privately, he was grateful and honoured by this gesture. Alex had an unfaltering faith in members of his union. He trusted workers to be the authors of their own destinies through organised labour. He was known to say to those he worked with at the union, 'The members will always get it right, and, if they don't like what you're doing, then you're probably wrong.'
In his parliamentary work, Alex was deeply committed to making sure that those in rural and regional South Australia had representation. This was evidenced by his work on the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport. He rejected the notion that Labor should only campaign in the cities and spent a significant amount of time being a regional voice for Labor, particularly in the seat of Grey. Importantly, he fed back to the party the thoughts and views of those working people in regional and rural South Australia.
In conclusion, I will share some words from his family. They said that they would like to thank everyone for their condolences and kind words since the passing of Alex: 'We've been truly touched by the acknowledgement of his hard work and personal character. He would be deeply honoured to be remembered by so many from both sides of politics. Our family will deeply miss his love and support.'
My thoughts go out to Alex's family; his wife, Paola; his staff; the team at the Transport Workers Union; and all his friends. We share in your heartbreak, we mourn his passing and we will take time to celebrate his life. May he rest in peace.