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.
Alex Gallacher, Senator Alex Gallacher—I think maybe we should keep these titles. I don't claim to have known him incredibly well. I certainly don't know his family, and my thoughts and condolences are with them. My encounters with Alex come through this job and our interaction as parliamentarians representing South Australia. The member for Kingston just said he had a special interest in Grey. It's hard not to when you live in South Australia. It's a big place, Grey.
My first impression on meeting Alex was: well, he's a genuine kind of bloke, really. Genuine, I think, is a good thing for people that come to this place and the other place to be. I won't point out some that I think maybe aren't as genuine as others, but, in Alex's case, I don't think there was any doubt. He didn't hide where he came from; he didn't hide what he represented. And he was proud of it, and he was proud of being a Scotsman, but he was prouder of being a South Australian. And I think that's a good ground to build any kind of relationship on.
You would wonder what a Scottish born and bred—I always actually get it the other way round; I think we're bred then born—anyway a Scottish bred and born trade unionist and a farmer from Buckleboo would have in common. But when we actually did get to know each other a little bit, we found a lot more things that we agreed about than the things we disagreed about. We had a lot to do with each other through the period when we'd been trying to steer the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility through both Houses of parliament here. And Alex had sat on that committee, and he and I were in full agreement that this wasn't any kind of facility to be feared. It'll be one that'll be prized by the community that actually hosts it, and, as it turns out, it's the community I come from. I appreciated his work within the Labor Party to convince his colleagues to support it. It's not exactly in the form we put forward, and there'll be more to come on that, but we got it over the line and we are progressing down that way. That's where we probably came to know each other best, but it gave us an opportunity to talk about a lot of other things as well, including remote South Australia and obviously his interest in the transport industry, which has great interest to me as well, because the wheels on the road is what keeps an electorate like Grey going. We not only need to bring in goods; we need to send out goods. It is all to do with trucks. So, trucks and the transport industry.
When Alex first made it known that he was battling cancer, I did give him a ring. And it's something I haven't spoken about in this chamber before, but I'm now a close on eight-year survivor of cancer—7½ years. While it wasn't lung cancer—I don't often go out and tell people about it, and I am today because we're talking about Alex—it was a battle that I fought. I fought the law and I beat it, there you go—as the song goes. The reason was I think sometimes those who have been through it, particularly those who are lucky enough to have, God's good will, a good outcome, to share our experiences with those that are dealing with it on a day-to-day basis—that's why I reached out to him. I don't know if it made a difference. He said he appreciated it. I hope it did. I hope it made a difference, but we certainly know that he served to the end, and I think that's an admirable thing to do.
One thing I would say, though, was I thought we'd developed a reasonable kind of relationship and then, just around election time, I'd go to the post office box, get my mail out, and there was something from Alex Gallacher saying something really horrible about me—lazy, useless, out of touch, too old, too young, too short, too fat. I don't know. I said to Alex one day, 'You've been sending out stuff, saying awful things about me again.' He looked at me rather blankly and said, 'Have I? What was I saying?' I suspect he didn't know what he was saying. Maybe he'd signed off on the expenses sheet and it was going into South Australia and he'd ticked all the boxes but he didn't really know what he'd said about me. So I consoled myself with the fact that it wasn't personal.
Just in closing, let me say to his family: I know you'll miss him because—and I pay him about the highest accolade, in my opinion, you can pay an Aussie, because that's what he was in the end—he was a bloody good bloke.
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.
A straight shooter; somebody who said what he meant and meant what he said—that was Senator Alex Gallacher. We all knew him as somebody who was old-style Labor. Senator Gallacher, as we've heard, was born on New Year's Day 1954, in Scotland. I commend the fine words of the member for Makin, the member for Grey and the member for Kingston. Of course, they're all South Australians. I'm not from South Australia; I'm from New South Wales, but my respect for the late senator is no less. Of course, he was also a member of the other place, the Senate, and yet he was fondly thought of in this place, the House of Representatives. I know that the Prime Minister and the opposition leader, amongst others, have also spoken highly of Senator Gallacher for the work that he did and for the part that he played. Certainly, he will be sadly missed. My condolences go to his wife, Paola, his children, Caroline, Ian, Terry and Frank, and his grandchildren.
He had a long involvement in the Transport Workers Union for 22 years. He was a labourer—a truck driver—for several years, between 1971 and 1976. We've just been joined by the member for Flynn. The member for Flynn, of course, has got a lot of experience in the transport industry as a fuel distributor as well. He would also appreciate the importance of the transport industry to keep this country moving. Alex played a big part in doing just that, in fighting for rights for truckies, as an integral member himself in that industry, which is indispensable. In his first speech, he mentioned transport and road safety as some of his priority interests, and he has certainly lived up to what he said. Many people make all sorts of promises in their inaugural speeches, but he lived every word of what he said by his actions and by what he did following on from that.
He was appointed commissioner for the National Road Transport Commission and held that role in 2003 and 2004. He was the director of the South Australian Motor Accident Commission, an organisation he served until 2010. He was acting chair of the Road Safety Advisory Council of South Australia.
Alex was elected to this place, and he made his inaugural speech on 17 August 2011. In that speech, he said:
A lifetime on the road in my working life and capacity as a TWU official has made me aware of the ever-present dangers that each Australian faces every day when they drive their vehicle. I have a real passion for road safety. Our country's prosperity is reflected in our love affair with the motor vehicle. The freedom and mobility achieved by owning a car are tempered with the sickening human and economic cost of vehicle accidents.
I could put it no better myself. He lived that experience. He wanted to make a difference and, indeed, he did. He continued:
I have always believed that we should adopt the Swedish model of Vision Zero, which requires a move from traditional thinking. Vision Zero starts with this statement:
We are human and we make mistakes. Our bodies are subject to biomechanical tolerance limits and simply not designed to travel at high speed. Yet we do so anyway. An effective road safety system must always take human fallibility into account.
Somebody I admire greatly in the road safety advocacy space is Peter Frazer. Peter lost his beautiful daughter, Sarah. She was travelling on the Hume Freeway to Wagga Wagga to begin a university degree, and lost her life. Peter then began Safer Australian Roads and Highways—the acronym, of course, is SARAH—in her honour. He had this to say about Senator Alex Gallacher on social media: 'We are saddened by the death of Sen. Gallacher and our thoughts are with family, friends and staff. Alex dedicated his life to those who are vulnerable, and his passion for justice remains an inspiration to so many, including myself. I was privileged to know him. Vale, Sen. Alex Gallacher.' I could put it no better myself.
Alex was inspirational. He was a man of honour, a man of his word. He contributed mightily not just to this parliament but to road safety measures that will, in the future, save people's lives—people who will not even know that they wouldn't be alive except for the fact that he had done the work advocating better roads and highways, advocating more money for infrastructure, advocating Vision Zero. The sum total of those things have saved people's lives and will save people's lives into the future, and they can thank him for just that. May he rest in peace. My condolences and sympathy go to his family and wide circle of friends, particularly in the Labor Party.
Alex Gallacher was a truck driver. He worked airside as part of the aircrew for TAA. He became a union organiser. Importantly, he was elected secretary of the South Australia/Northern Territory branch of the Transport Workers Union. In 2010 he became a senator of the Australian parliament, representing the great state of South Australia. That's a significant and telling curriculum vitae for a working-class man. He never lost sight of who he was and those he was determined to represent to the best of his ability. Alex was a committed Labor man and fiercely loyal to the people of South Australia.
For those of us that knew him, I think the best words to describe him are that he was down to earth, genuine and direct. There was no pretence about him. He was honest. Those are words that would probably come to mind for all of us who have dealt with him. Alex's great mate is Senator Glenn Sterle. Together they formed a dynamic duo in our Labor caucus, particularly when it came to matters of road safety or matters affecting the road transport industry. They were passionate about those causes.
Alex, as I said, was a working man in a workers' party. He was never slow to remind colleagues if he thought they were straying from what he saw were the key principles of the Labor Party and if we were slow to move to protect workers' rights. He was fiercely loyal to the party itself. He was a strong advocate for improving road safety and the conditions of the road transport industry. By the way, it's an industry which tragically has a fatality rate almost 10 times higher than the average of all other Australian industries, so clearly his passions were well directed in that respect. I remember he once addressed caucus and said words to this effect: 'Truck drivers work hard to make a living, but they shouldn't need to die to make a living.' His contribution was short, direct, considered, but always, always compelling. Alex didn't waste words. He didn't believe in long speeches. He simply conveyed to those who listened what he genuinely believed. It was raw honesty.
One thing is certain, and that is that Alex Gallacher made a difference for the better for workers, particularly those in the transport industry. But, more than that, he made a difference for the better in the way he represented the people of South Australia. To his wife, Paola, and to his children and grandchildren, please accept my condolences and know that Alex was much loved and respected by all who knew him and those who had the privilege to work with him. Alex Gallacher, great man, good mate, rest in peace.
It was a pleasure and an honour to know Senator Alex Gallacher. Sadly, his life came to an end on Sunday, aged 67. I first met Alex on a political trip to Korea and Japan. That's where our political lives crossed, and we became very good friends. It was a lasting friendship to the very end. On that delegation we visited coal-fired power stations and nuclear power stations in Korea. From the start I think we bonded. We had a fair bit in common, Alex and I. Was it the fact that we were both truck drivers and earned our living from driving trucks? He was long-haul; I was more fuel trucks in my area. We both loved golf. We started our lives in Canberra in the latter part of our lives. We both came here in the 2010 election.
I fully support all the accolades that have been bestowed on Alex by members of the House and I concur with the kind words that everyone has to say about Alex. I have not heard anyone say anything bad about Alex. He was one of those types of guys and, I tell you what, if you had something bad to say about him, you'd want to duck. He was a lovable bloke. My fondest memory of Alex was sitting in a bar in Seoul in Korea. He had a beer in one hand and a nine-inch cigar in the other. He said to me, 'Well, that was a great day, Ken, but a better night to come.' He said, 'I just love sitting at a bar and being able to smoke at the same time.' He said, 'You know you can't do that in Australia anymore.' That was correct. Smoking in a bar in Korea was quite acceptable. You walk into a bar over there and you've got to look through this haze to see who's at the other end. My condolences are with his wife, Paola, his children and his family. Rest in peace, my friend.
[by video link] I rise to express my condolences on the passing of Senator Alex Gallacher. We all know that Alex had been unwell, but that didn't make the shock of his passing any easier to take. Many others who knew him better than me have said and will say many great things about Alex, all well-deserved and, I'm sure, better expressed than I could do.
For me, what I always appreciated about Alex was that he was a straight shooter. He always told it like it was. Importantly, he was also happy to share the benefits of his experience, to provide wise counsel and to provide guidance to us newer MPs. I always valued that about Alex, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
Alex didn't feel the need to contribute on every issue and debate, but when he did you listened. His was always a considered contribution. That doesn't mean I agreed with Alex on every point, but I appreciated the way in which he always articulated a well-formed argument. His arguments came with passion, too—a real, heartfelt expression of how things really are and how policies would affect workers.
Alex dedicated his life to the interests of working people both as a trade unionist and as a senator. Politics didn't change him. He was no-nonsense and plain speaking. He wasn't going to let his illness stop him either. He was sitting in the parliament as recently as June. A little thing called cancer wasn't going to get in his way. Alex was a champion of common sense and fairness, and had one of sharpest minds in the parliament. He was, as many have said, a great bloke.
I can't speak about Alex without also speaking about my friend Senator Glenn Sterle, who was such a close mate of Alex's. They were two peas in a pod—or, as many of us thought of them, the Statler and Waldorf of our caucus, not just in demeanour but also in the physical location they took in the room! I must also acknowledge that I know Alex's passing is particularly hard on Senator Sterle. Both were truck drivers before working for the TWU and then becoming senators. They were also flatmates in Canberra.
The caucus, the TWU, the union movement, the Labor Party and, of course, Alex's family are all grieving his loss. Australian workers, especially truckies, and all road users are better off for Alex Gallacher's advocacy and dogged commitment. We lost Alex far too soon. Alex was also a family man who was dedicated to his wife, Paola, his children and his grandchildren. I express my condolences to his family and to his friends. Vale Senator Gallacher. May he rest in peace.
) ( ): I rise to pay tribute to Alex Gallacher. I first met Alex in my first term in parliament, as a young fresh-faced, first-term member, having come out of medicine. I wouldn't go as far as saying I was getting my feet on the ground or being oriented, but committees were a whole new experience for me. Alex and I sat together on the joint standing committee for oversight of the NDIS. Having come into this building from a totally different field, I was preconditioned to think that, between people on that side and people on this side, it was always full of argy-bargy. But, as we all know, that is not the case. We fight the good fight and the principles, but often, after the debates are over, you've got someone who you get on with, and that was Alex Gallacher.
He gave wise counsel to a first-termer, and, as other people have said, he called it how it was. He was a straight shooter. He was the old-school Labor that I knew as a kid; some in my family are from that family, and my father himself was a DLP advocate. But, like many people, the Labor Party moved in one direction and other people went their way. But we're not talking about that; we're talking about Alex. He was a great guy to play a game of golf with. Many times I would have a bad shot, and I tend to internalise my stuff-ups, but with Alex you knew exactly where you stood in golf, as you did in a political argument. The member for Burt mentioned Glenn Sterle. Playing with them, you could see they were mates. They were sort of the yin and yang of a greater thought bubble. They sort of knew by mental telepathy what was going on. And I am sure Glenn is grieving as much as Alex's family.
Alex had an amazing career. Because of my medical background, when I saw how much he'd deteriorated from the lung cancer, I thought, 'Oh, gee, this is not good.' But, look, he bore up, amazingly. He was going to be in this place. He was losing his voice, and he still turned up. I was really honoured to have him be a co-chair with me. He faced the wrath of maybe the factions or the wrath of some of the people who were supporters of his party, who've had distorted and out-of-context views about the capability of nuclear technology to help us in the transition to a sustainable industrial base and a better climate outcome, but he was quite proud and loud about putting his hand up to be a co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Nuclear Industries. I would like to thank him and other members of the Labor Party who have joined this bipartisan group, and we've had some great discussions about modern technology, Australia's involvement in nuclear, and Alex was at the forefront of that. So I really tip my lid to him, because, in the Labor Party, it's sometimes a bit stricter. The National Party—we can go off on our personal ideas about policy without risk or fear of being sent to Siberia.
I would also like to say thank you to other people who, like me, who have stood here and tipped their lid or said a salute to Alex, because he really was a charming fellow. I am sure his family and children, his wife and grandchildren are grieving, because he was a very likeable bloke. I can see his background in the TWU, grounding him in a serious base of reality. I was really impressed that he worked for TAA for a long period of his life—all these things that I'm learning about Alex after his passing. I knew he was a unionist; I knew he was TWA. But I was in the TAA Juniors Flyer Club, and TAA was a great airline. Unfortunately it's no longer here. I thought, 'Oh well, I can see why he worked for them,' because they were seen as the good guys against Ansett and were a big part of my life when I was a youngster.
So many people have things to say, but I would like to express my public and deepest condolences to everyone who was a friend of Alex, his family, his children and his grandchildren. And everyone else is, I'm sure, equally as sad as I am that he's passed.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It's strange seeing you so far away. And this is a surreal experience, really, trying to talk to a parliament through this system, because you can miss all the nuances of the parliamentary theatre, and that's a bit sad, in my view, just as it's sad that we're here to commemorate the life of a good person, Alex Gallacher. I come at this from a slightly different perspective, because, whilst he made his life in South Australia, he actually began his life in Australia up here in Darwin, where I am at the moment, on Larrakia country. He joined the Labor Party up here in 1988, which is a year after I was first elected. I remember vividly his role in the TWU in the Northern Territory and as part of the South Australian division of the TWU. He was involved in the union movement up here at a time when it was a pretty robust place. You were unable to hide. You needed to be a participant and be involved and engaged, and you needed to be able to stand up for your corner. He was one of those people who were able to stand up very well for their corner.
I was reflecting on the fact that he had this huge life and career prior to entering the federal parliament, and thought about what it brought to us—a lifetime of experience, of struggle, of advocacy, of representation, of looking after the interests of others in terms of his union and union membership. He had a particular and, I might say, because of his life, peculiar view of the world which is not shared by a lot, because there are not many of us in this parliament who have had the opportunities or experience that he had and that he brought with him to the place.
As you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker Freelander, when you see people who are straight up, who are not chameleons, they are what they are. When they say something, they mean it. They're straight. They don't change to suit the circumstances or because they might be ambitious and be looking for a promotion. That wasn't Alex. He was just such a straight bloke, and his word was definitely his bond. You knew that if Alex expressed a view he wasn't going to be shifted from it lightly, and when he expressed a view you needed to take notice. Of course, we're a happy little family in the Labor Party, but we do have different points of view at times, and sometimes those differences are reflected in very strong arguments. But I never saw Alex in a position where, despite the argument, despite the difference of opinion, he wasn't prepared to sit down and talk, share a drink or break bread. He was that sort of person. He is someone who we will sadly miss.
I reflected on his role as a TWU official and thought about his experience in the trucking industry, and I reflected on how important that role was and remains for those in the TWU. It's particularly important in the north of Australia, in the Northern Territory, because of our reliance on long-haul transport and the trucking industry. I know that when Alex was representing those workers he did so with a great deal of diligence and, indeed, a great deal of inspiration, which he took from his members but was able to articulate because of his own life experience.
I think those of us who had the great fortune to meet and know Alex would know that he was a unique individual and someone who demanded respect. Others have spoken about his first speech in the parliament and his observations about particular issues. I don't intend to repeat those, but I do want to repeat the words of the TWU national secretary, Michael Cain, who said:
Senator Gallacher was a straight-talking, no-nonsense, and hardworking man prepared to speak truth to power to support workers.
That's a terrific dedication. You could just replace the word 'workers' with 'truth to power to speak for the people of South Australia,' which he did so avidly and so well.
We'll miss him. There aren't many like him. I watched Glenn Sterle's contribution the other day and I was taken by how close those two men were. I say to Glenn: you've lost a mate and a great friend. We in the broader labour movement have lost a comrade—someone who was worth listening to and someone who could take great credit for what he achieved during his working life.
I extend my deepest condolences to his wife, Paola, to his children and grandchildren, and to his many friends. But I say to his comrades in our caucus, in the union movement generally—particularly in the TWU—and to those who may be thinking of him that it's vale, but it's not goodbye, in a sense, because we can continue to celebrate his life and his contribution.
[by video link] It's an honour to have the privilege of saying a few words in commemoration of my good mate—our good mate in the Labor Party—Senator Alex Gallacher. Alex was a true workers' champion: a straight shooter, a person who called it as he saw it and always stood up for workers, their families and their rights. He will be a big loss to the parliament.
Alex, like so many in the labour movement, was a Scottish migrant; he came to Australia in the 1960s. He found work as a labourer and then as a truck driver before going on to work as a ramp services operator at Trans Australia Airlines, or TAA as it was then known. That's where his long affinity with the Transport Workers Union began. Alex was a member of the union at TAA and worked his way up to become delegate. The leadership of the union saw his talent, his leadership and his promise and they made him an organiser before he went on to become the state secretary of the Transport Workers Union in South Australia and the Northern Territory in 1996 until 2010.
Alex was also the national president of the TWU and a bloke who never forgot where he came from. When he was preselected to the Senate to represent the state of South Australia he always cherished his years in the union movement and his work for the Transport Workers Union, and ensured that when he went into the parliament he was there to make a difference for those workers and to improve their rights and conditions at work.
Alex was a good mate of mine. We were elected together to the Senate in 2010. I remember fondly the Senate school that we had at the time, just before we actually took up our Senate seats in July 2011. I immediately took a shine to Alex because he did call it as he saw it and he had the endearing features of a wise bloke who had worked in many industries, had graduated from the school of hard knocks and was street smart. More importantly, he knew how to use that shrewdness, that street smart and those life experiences to advocate for and campaign for workers. That's what he did in the Senate. He immediately set about making sure that workers interests were represented. He pushed to ensure that workers had better rights and conditions at work and, importantly, that their safety was looked after and cared for—particularly in the transport industry.
Alex knew the dangers that truck drivers and people who work in the transport industry faced on a daily basis. He'd rung the members and he'd rung the widows to tell them of the deaths of their husbands on the road. He'd seen the carnage of owner-drivers being forced to work ridiculous hours to make deadlines that were imposed by those whom they were carrying for. That's why he was a champion of safer rates and for the establishment of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal that came to fruition under the Gillard government. It's a great shame that the Abbott government forgot the wise words and the knowledge of blokes like Alex Gallacher and Glenn Sterle in the Senate when they got rid of that important body, because it did have an effect in ensuring that workers weren't pushed to run and drive irresponsible hours, putting at risk the health and safety of workers and causing death to others on our roads. Alex was part of that campaign and an important part of raising those issues.
Strangely enough, Alex loved the Economics Committee of the Senate, and he was very proud to have become the Senate Economics References Committee chair. He brought to the committee not a theoretical perspective about economics but a real-life one, and that is so important. Often we forget about that in the work of committees such as that. Alex brought that reality and that worker's perspective, being someone who had worked for many years in the industry on behalf of workers as a union representative. It was under his chairmanship that that committee undertook some very, very important work, particularly around the notions associated with workers and a living wage, housing affordability, access to quality education and access to training for skills improvement, which are all fundamentally important—and Labor ideals—to advancing the rights of workers and making sure that they have a better life.
Alex was a funny bloke as well. He loved a beer, loved a joked and loved a game of golf. I had the good fortune of travelling to Brazil with Alex in 2018. One Sunday morning when we were due to go somewhere the tour guide said, 'Does anyone know where Senator Gallacher is?' and I said, 'I think you can bet your life that on Sunday morning he's on the golf course.' And, true to form, he was. We were also keen to go to a football game, a soccer game, when we were in Rio, because two of the top teams were playing in a final and we knew it would be something that would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So we asked the Australian embassy staff if they could possibly arrange for us to buy tickets to go to the football game, and the embassy staff said, 'Look, I think that's going to be a bit hard. It's a sellout. It'll be too much. I think you'd better just forget about it.' Anyway, the next morning Alex came down to breakfast and said to everyone, 'Don't worry. I've got us all tickets to the soccer.' He'd managed to work out with the concierge a way to get tickets for everyone, and we all went along and had a great time at that soccer game.
That was Alex. He knew how to relate to people. People like him. They warmed to him. He had a great spirit and a great character that will be sadly missed by all, not only in the Labor Party but in the Senate more generally. I particularly want to pay tribute to his good mate, Senator Glenn Sterle. They've had a mateship that has lasted longer than that any of us in the parliament have had with Alex. It's a deep bond, and I know Glenn has been hurting over the last couple of days. We send our commiserations to Glenn. But, in particular, we also send our commiserations to Paola, Alex's wife, and to his kids and grandchildren.
He was a great bloke—a workers' champion. He'll be sadly missed in the parliament. May he rest in peace.
[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.
[by video link] Tonight's is one of those speeches you make that you don't want to make. We often rise in this place to talk about bills and motions and other things, but tonight we're talking about a mate. When I think about Alex, the only words I can say about him are that he was a mate, a good bloke, straight down the line, honest, as honest as the day is long and genuine. There aren't many people that you meet in this game of politics that you can say that about. I say that because, from the first time I met him at a pizza shop in Canberra on the first night I came here to the very end, wherever you were with Alex, he stopped, he spoke, he was your mate. As Matt Keogh, the member for Burt, pointed out earlier, we used to lovingly call him and Sterlie 'Statler and Waldorf', sitting in the caucus room and always putting in their two bob's worth. But you'd know that every time they put in their two bob, you got 10 bucks worth because it was always genuine gold that they'd give you.
I don't know what I could say that's going to change the pain or the feelings of his family. We think about what we've lost, but that's nothing compared to what they've lost. They've lost someone who was a husband, a father, a grandfather a brother, a cousin. We've lost a friend and a colleague. We look back and we think about what Alex did with his life: coming out here from Scotland, working as a rampie and driving a truck, being involved in the union. His whole story tells you about the genuineness of the person and what he believed in. It's very difficult to find words when you talk about someone like Alex on an occasion like this, which made me think about Linda Ellis's poem called The Dash. The closing lines say:
So when your eulogy is being read, with your life's actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?
It's about the dash between the date of birth and the date of death. I really want to say to Alex's family, you can be very proud of the dash that Alex had. There are not many people who can go through life and just be a genuine, honest, decent person of moral values and integrity. He did that in spades.
As the member for Flynn said earlier, there was not a bad word you could say about Alex. If you did, you'd be wrong and you'd have a queue a mile long of people that would get up behind you to say, 'That's just not right,' because he was a remarkable person to know, to call a friend, to have a beer with, to have a chat with and to get an opinion from. But it wouldn't be fair to say goodbye to a Scottish person without a few words from Rabbie Burns. Rabbie Burns wrote a poem called Epitaph on my own Friend:
An honest man here lies at rest,
As e'er God with His image blest:
The friend of man, the friend of truth;
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm'd,
Few heads with knowledge so inform'd:
If there's another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.
I think that poem sums up Alex perfectly. So vale, Alex. Thank you for giving me the privilege of being your friend. And to Sterlie, I can't wait to see you, mate, all the best. Thank you.
I'm very grateful to have a few moments in the chamber to pay tribute to Senator Alex Gallacher on behalf of the electorate of Macquarie. There's a really strong link between Alex and my electorate, especially the Blue Mountains, which may seem odd for a South Australian. But it's due to his commitment to road safety. Alex was such a proud co-convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of Road Safety, and when Peter Frazer, a Blue Mountains resident and president and founder of the SARAH Group, reached out for support for his yellow ribbon safer driving initiative, it was an absolutely perfect match. Peter established SARAH Group in honour of his daughter Sarah. Her car had broken down, and when a tow-truck driver was hooking up the car, a truck side-swiped the car, collided with them both and they both died. In 2017 Alex described the work of the SARAH Group, which the family set up after Sarah's death. He said:
Peter … has made a personal tragedy into a campaign for road safety. He has done a fantastic job in bringing greater awareness of road safety.
And then Alex quoted the SARAH pledge, and I think you'd agree that the more people who hear this and take the pledge the better. The pledge is:
Drive as if my loved ones are on the road ahead;
Remove distractions, and never use my smartphone while at the wheel; and
I will be aware of, and take care of, vulnerable road users around me.
I know how important it was for Peter and his family to see that work recognised by the Senate, and I want it on the record how deeply Alex's efforts in this area have been appreciated.
Of course, everything he did to promote road safety and to promote safer trucking had implications for the major roads that go through my electorate—the Great Western Highway and the Bells Line of Road. I was in Canberra as a candidate on the day the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal was established. I think that was 2012. I was very pleased to celebrate on the front lawn with the TWU and with those senators who made it possible. We know it wouldn't have occurred without Alex's work.
So my deep condolences go to his family, his Senate and South Australian colleagues, his TWU mates and the people that he got to hang out with here in his years in Canberra. I want everybody to know that his work reached Macquarie and it made a difference.
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?
I would like to thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for the gracious way they have worked together to share some kind words about our fallen friend and comrade Senator Alex Gallacher of South Australia and for the many fine words that have been said during this debate. It's a truism in this place—and 'upstairs'—that some of the kindest and most honest words about our colleagues are said when they depart from this place, whatever the means by which they depart. Many members on our side were truly moved by the words that were offered up in tribute to Alex by members of the coalition parties.
I've had the privilege of knowing Alex since he and I joined this place. We both joined in 2010. I think it was the 43rd Parliament, and we referred to those years as 'the troubles'. And separately we've engaged in our own measure of troubles in the 11 years we have been in this place. I didn't know Alex before he joined this place, but I worked with him in many separate capacities since he joined the Senate. I also had a long association with the organisation that he is a life member of, the Transport Workers Union, and they are a different breed, it has to be said. They are a very tightknit family—the sort of closeness and camaraderie that is only born of people who share an occupation that is as hazardous, has long hours and is risky. They're truly a community to and of themselves. They keep this country connected and they keep it fed and clothed. They supply our industries and offices and workplaces. We are truly thankful to them. It's a risky business, a dangerous business. Too many transport workers in this nation lose their lives in the service of their occupation, something Alex dedicated his 11 years in the Senate to addressing in the ways he could. That was whether it was through the 'Safe Rates' campaign that was kicked off by his union, the TWU, and was continued through the parliamentary representation of people like himself, Senator Sterle and Senator Hutchins before him—Senator Hutchins now deceased—with Senator Sheldon in the other place as well.
I also had the benefit of working with him on the issue of superannuation, something that Alex was incredibly passionate about. He experienced, over his many years in manual labour and transport work, the fact that somebody could have given their entire working life to an occupation, often working in a single business for 30 or 40 years, and then on their last day leave with nothing but their last pay cheque. Superannuation was something that Alex saw could change all of that. In the industries that were organised by the Transport Workers Union. while why we're battling to protect the 10 per cent superannuation guarantee levy and to see it move through to 12 per cent over the course of the next four years, Alex organised for many, many workplaces to enjoy that benefit already. They're going home and retiring with a bigger benefit and more than their last pay cheque as a result of that.
Nobody would ever have confused Alex with a metrosexual! He was an old-style fella—an old-style Labor representative. But it was a great pleasure to have Alex in our caucus because we've always been best when we're a broad and big church. I want to thank his family for giving up a period of their lives by sharing Alex with us. I want to send our condolences to Paola and the family, to the TWU family and, again, I thank all honourable members of this place who have contributed in such a kind and heartfelt way to this debate.
Question agreed to.