Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Gallacher, Senator Alexander McEachian (Alex)
I join other colleagues in paying tribute, with a great deal of sadness, to Alex Gallacher. Greek writer and philosopher Plutarchus is credited with saying some 2,000 years ago:
The whole of like is but a moment of time. It is our duty, therefore to use it, not to misuse it.
It's a quotation that well describes Alex Gallacher's attitude to life—a life committed to making a difference. Alex pursued that ideal throughout his life until the day he left us.
Although he didn't openly discuss it, I very much suspect that Alex's character was moulded by his early years in Scotland. He was born in the coalmining village of New Cumnock. I'm told that Alex's mother passed away when he was just two years old. In the post World War II years, life was pretty tough right around the world, but growing up without a mum in a coalmining community, Alex would have lived the struggles, the hardship, the injustice and the loss of lives all too often seen within poorer communities. It may even have been the origin of the lung cancer that prematurely took his life.
Alex migrated to Australia in 1966 at 12 years of age. Five years later, he began working as a labourer and truck driver. Between 1976 and 1988, he worked at TAA, as I recall it—otherwise known as Trans Australia Airlines—as a ramp service operator. From 1988 onwards he worked for the Transport Workers Union as an organiser and, subsequently, as state secretary for the South Australian and NT branch, rising to be national president from 2007 until 2010, when he was elected to the Senate, taking his position here on 1 July 2011. He became a tireless campaigner, campaigning right through to the very end for road safety and better rates and conditions for transport workers. His efforts did make a difference.
During his time here, Alex was one of the few people with what I would refer to as a traditional blue-collar working-class background. He knew where he came from. He knew who he was and what he stood for. He was not pretentious. He never let his election to the national parliament change him and he never lost sight of his journey to this place.
Alex has been described as a straight talker. He called it as he saw it and he was nobody's lackey. I first met Alex some 20 years ago. I was seeking preselection for the federal seat of Makin and I asked him for his support. After I had outlined my credentials to him, Alex said that he would support me. True to his word, and going against the tide at the time, Alex threw his support behind me. I have never forgotten that. We didn't always agree on internal Labor Party matters, but the mutual trust between us never faded. In parliament, Alex and I served together on the Public Works Committee. Alex's respectful but direct interrogation of public works projects was invaluable, and his presence will be sorely missed.
In Adelaide, Alex lived with his wife, Paola, in Kilburn, an older, working-class and now very multicultural suburb. As testimony to who he was, in recent years, when Alex was in a position to upgrade his home, he did so by rebuilding his home in Kilburn, rather than moving out to a more affluent suburb, which I'm sure he could have done. Sadly, he wasn't able to enjoy his new home. In what I think may have been his last two trips to Canberra, I crossed paths with Alex at Adelaide Airport. On the last occasion, he was accompanied by Paola, who cared for him until the very end. Over coffee, we discussed the political issues of the day and the outlook for the future. It was clear to me from that chat that Alex had lost none of his determination to pursue the issues that he was so passionate about. For Alex, his cancer was a setback, but it was not the end. He knew it was serious, but it was not going to distract him from what he needed to do, nor was it going to interfere with his golf. But, in the end, it did take him.
Alex will be farewelled in Adelaide on Friday. My regret is that, because of COVID, I will not be able to attend his service. To Alex's long-serving and loyal electorate staff, to which the member for Kingston quite rightly alluded and to whom Alex reciprocated that loyalty, I extend my sympathy. You have lost a mentor, a friend and a guardian. To Paola and his children, Caroline, Ian, Terry and Frank, and their families, whom meant so much to Alex, to his extended family and to his close friends, including Senator Glenn Sterle, whom I spoke with recently, I express my personal sadness and sympathies. I say to them all: you have lost a pillar of strength in your lives, but his spirit will be with you forever. To return to the Plutarchus quotation, Alex did not misuse his moment in time in this world. Through his work in parliament and before that in the TWU, he made a difference for the better to the lives of so many. It's a wonderful legacy for a kid who came to Australia as a 12-year-old from the village of New Cumnock in Scotland 55 years ago. Vale, Alex Gallacher.