Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Gallacher, Senator Alexander McEachian (Alex)
[by video link] I too wish to express my deep sadness and regret at the passing of Alex Gallacher. I pass on my condolences to his wonderful wife, Paola, and his children and grandchildren. We're all going to miss Alex. Alex was a great trade unionist, and I believe that the trade union movement, even though he was in parliament, has lost one of its giants, and so has this parliament.
We've heard over the last couple of days Alex's history and his beginnings. Alex was a worker. He was a blue-collar worker, a truck driver that delivered goods from point A to point B. He never lost that affiliation with the workers movement. He knew what it was like to work in a tough job, in a hard job, driving trucks and delivering goods. You could see that throughout his entire parliamentary career in his speeches and in his communications with his electorate.
He spent 22 years at the Transport Workers Union, where he successfully campaigned for improving workers' conditions and wages. He was a fierce advocate for the industry, for the state that he represented and for his nation. He was dedicated to his loving family. He was dedicated to his wife, Paola, his children and his grandchildren. They're going to miss him so much, as all of us will. His loyalty to industry and workers, and his service and contribution to our state and our nation, will be sorely missed.
But Alex has now left us with another important legacy. I know that, since he was diagnosed with lung cancer, Alex spoke frequently to the people from Lung Foundation Australia, a wonderful organisation advocating for better care and more research into lung cancer. I recently spoke with Mark Brooke, who rang me to pass on his condolences for Alex, as a deputy convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of Lung Health and Lung Cancer. He rang me yesterday. He conveyed to me that they expressed their deepest sadness at Alex's passing. What Mark said to me was that he and Alex spoke regularly over the last few months about the importance of specialist lung cancer nurses. There is an urgent need that exists to fund these roles to support patients like Alex and what they go through in their cancer journey. They also discussed the importance of nationwide targeted lung cancer screening programs to ensure that we catch the disease earlier, when optimal care and treatment can be provided. I'll continue to work with Lung Foundation Australia and parliamentary colleagues to promote this legacy and achieve what Alex was also fighting for in the last few months of his life.
I first met Alex in 1996-97, when he came over from the NT to take up the leadership position of the TWU in South Australia. In 1998, I was the candidate, the first time, for the seat of Hindmarsh. I remember Alex working on my campaign. Alex was introduced to me by another fellow TWU colleague of mine, who I knew very well, Steph Key, and we became friends ever since. Alex was a down-to-earth sort of person. There were no airs and graces. What you saw is what you got. Basically, you knew that if you had his commitment to something, his word was his word. He operated in that manner. Basically, throughout my political career he was one of my greatest supporters, whether he was secretary of the TWU or a senator.
We know Alex's background. He born in Scotland in 1954. He migrated to Australia when he was 12 years old with his parents. He came from a tough life. A working-class life in Scotland in those days was tough. Alex began his working life as a labourer, a blue-collar worker, and was a truck driver from 1971 right through to 1976. In 1976, Alex started at the old TAA, the Trans Australia Airlines, as a ramp operator until 1988. He then joined the Transport Workers Union, the South Australian-Northern Territory division, or branch, as they were in those days, becoming a union organiser in 1992. In 1996 Alex was elected as secretary and treasurer of the TWU SA-NT branch. That's when I met him.
He was involved, as well, in the Labor Party in South Australia. He was one of those people, as I said, who was committed to workers, committed to the labour movement and committed to the betterment of entitlements and workers' lives, because he had been a worker himself. Not many people like Alex are in parliament today, but we know that what he brought to the parliament was an absolute understanding of what workers go through—their trials and tribulations.
In fact, I had the pleasure and the honour of going to Afghanistan on one of the Defence programs with Alex in 2010. We were in Tarin Kowt. Those of you who have been on Defence programs know that when you go there you actually live like one of the defence personnel. We were in a bunker in a dormitory, and I was in the same room as Alex. I'd wake up in the morning fairly early, at 6 am, and I'd look over and Alex was gone. I always wondered: where on earth is he? I'd go off and shower and meet him at breakfast in the mess room in Tarin Kowt, in Afghanistan. I'd say to him: 'Where did you go? What were you doing up so early?' He said: 'I got up early, because I like to go out and talk to the soldiers. I wanted to hear their view. I wanted to hear what they've got to say.' Mind you, while we were there, we had all these meetings with all the big brass and top notches of the Defence Force. Alex wanted to go and speak to those on the ground. He said to me: 'That's how I always operated as a union official as well. I always spoke to the workers to hear what the true story is.' And he would do this every morning. For the 10 days we were there, he would get up at 6 am and just walk out and talk to the different defence personnel that were going to their shifts et cetera. He'd say to me, 'You hear and you learn the most out of those people that are working on the ground.' That's the type of person Alex was. He did that in his union life, he did that in his parliamentary life, and it was a good example—a good lesson to me at that time as well—that you talk to those people on the ground.
Alex was elected to the Senate in 2010 and commenced his position in 2011—I think it was on 1 July when the Senate began its term. He served on many standing committees in that period, and he especially took great pride in the Economics Committee. Alex would say his mind. There was no doubt if he believed something; he'd pick up the phone and he'd say to you: 'Steve, XYZ. This is what's happening. This is what I believe in.' And there were, as I said, no airs and graces. He was straight, his word was his word, and he's going to be missed by us all. In fact, we need more people like Alex in this parliament. He was a true believer in workers, who understood workers, who had actually been a worker himself and who had seen the trials and tribulations and what people go through in everyday life. He continued that throughout his career, whether it was as a trade unionist or whether it was in the parliament—to speak to those people on the ground, just like the example I gave you about Afghanistan. That's what Alex was good at. That's what he did. He understood people at the lower echelons of life and always advocated for them.
To his family, to Paola, to his children, to his grandchildren: our deep condolences. He will be missed immensely in this place that we are in and that we have the honour to represent people and workers in, especially on my side of politics. People like Alex are absolutely the salt of the earth. I pass on my condolences to his family and my deepest sympathy.