House debates

Wednesday, 1 September 2021


Gallacher, Senator Alexander McEachian (Alex)

7:16 pm

Photo of David SmithDavid Smith (Bean, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Alex Gallacher was born in New Cumnock, a small coalmining village in East Ayrshire, a village that, despite its name, dates back to the 13th century, with connections to William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and Rabbie Burns. A few miles down the road lived Keir Hardie, a founder of the UK Labour Party and a giant of the trade union movement. While organising in Ayrshire for the miners union, Hardie had a significant influence on a young East Ayrshire union leader and future Australian Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher. The connection between East Ayrshire, the union movement, the Australian Labor Party and this parliament was set in those early days of the Federation. It should then come as no surprise that another son of East Ayrshire would have such an impact on the Australian labour movement.

Alex Gallacher's family, like so many migrants, like Fisher himself, came to Australia seeking a better chance for themselves. Alex worked for the Transport Workers Union for more than two decades, holding key state and national positions, working as an industrial officer, organiser, South Australian and Northern Territory state secretary and also national president. He channelled his early experience as a truck driver and aviation ramp worker into his passionate advocacy to improve safety and conditions right across the transport industry.

In 2010 he was elected to the Australian Senate and brought his staunch advocacy for working people and their families to this place. He fought tirelessly for truck drivers to receive safe rates of pay and conditions and would have been proud to be part of the Senate's landmark report into the road transport industry tabled only last week in the Senate. Despite his ill health, he was still active in supporting aviation workers in their fight against deplorable treatment last year. He was a passionate believer in the importance of superannuation for a just and dignified retirement and he was deeply concerned by the increase in uncertain work in all its forms.

It was through Senator Gallacher's tireless work across committees that I first met him. Before coming to this place, I worked for Professionals Australia and appeared before Alex a number of times in the course of Senate inquiries. He was sharp but understanding and treated inquiry witnesses with respect and, at times, with kindness if we deserved it. He didn't suffer fools, but, in Alex, our members felt they had someone who not only heard them but understood and cared about the issues they raised. Invariably that understanding of issues was reflected in the recommendations coming from committees he was involved in.

He showed me particular kindness and wise counsel when I briefly served in the Senate from 2018 until 2019, and he extended that kindness to my family. I came into the Senate at an unusual time and in unusual circumstances, mid-term, and it's an unusual place; the rhythms of the Senate are quite different than those of this place. But Alex took it upon himself to share his experience and knowledge of all the vagaries of that place, with no agenda other than generosity of spirit. His enduring agenda was advancing the interests of working people in this place, an agenda we share. And he opened up his friendship group with the same spirit of generosity. He was a great example to someone new that there was a place for hardworking, passionate people who could get outcomes across the aisles and through hard work. And I hope I have learned just from observing how Alex went about his business in the chamber, during inquiries and party meetings, with his staff and with constituents. I had hoped to continue learning.

As the TWU national secretary, Michael Kaine, said earlier this week, transport workers, the TWU and the parliament have lost a giant. Senator Gallacher was a straight-talking, no-nonsense, hardworking man prepared to speak truth to power to support workers. Alex was someone on whom workers could always rely and was resolute in his belief that no obstacle should prevent working people from achieving their best. His passing is a significant loss to the labour movement and to the parliament. My deepest condolences go to Alex's wife, Paola; his children; his grandchildren; the rest of his family; his staff; and all those who worked with Alex in the labour movement. Keir Hardie, Andrew Fisher, Alex Gallacher—all 'flowers of Scotland'. When will we see their like again?


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