Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


Steel, Mr Kurt

8:59 pm

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Tonight I want to pay tribute to a friend that I lost this week. Kurt Steel died tragically in a bus accident while travelling on a much-deserved holiday in Bolivia. He was only 25 years old. Kurt was a friend, a colleague and a Labor warrior. I can only imagine the sense of loss that is being experienced by his mother, Jayne; his father, Phillip; and his siblings, Chris and Yasmin, as the sense of loss amongst Kurt's friends is enormous.

A few words in the Australian Senate will never fully capture his life and the contribution that Kurt made and was making to the lives of others. A few words, a few stories will never truly capture the spirit, the energy and the love that he shared with everyone. While I am speaking tonight, there are many others who would want to pay their respects to our friend. Tonight I wish to offer my remarks on their behalf an honour his memory in a small way.

I have had the pleasure of spending the last few days with our countless friends and his countless friends, and it is clear there are thousands of 'Only Kurt' stories. They all start with the same outlandish premises. They all include some unthinkable exploit or achievement and always end with the same words: 'Only Kurt.' 'Only Kurt could have pulled that off' or 'Only Kurt could have got away with that'—always, of course, with his trademark devilish grin. There are thousands of 'Only Kurt' stories and there were thousands more still to come.

The wide-ranging tributes that have flowed over the past few days stand as a testament of the extent that he was engaged in his community and how he worked effectively where divisions normally exist. Opposition leader Bill Shorten, ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, deputy leader Andrew Barr, ACT opposition leader Jeremy Hanson, members of the Canberra press gallery, local sporting and community organisations—all have expressed their condolences for this young man.

Kurt as I knew him was a giant on the university student political scene, ensuring the ACT well and truly punched above its weight on the national stage. For a long time the phrase, 'I'll check with Kurt' spoke volumes about his influence, his judgement and his personality. He was behind ALP wins from university campuses through to territory, state and federal governments. He worked tirelessly for the party that he loved and was determined to see it stronger and always, where he could play a role, to see it in government. But Kurt was not one-eyed; he was a reformer and could be unabashedly critical if he thought a decision or a direction was not in the best interest of the party or the movement. He was both a strategist and a tactician and he was, as one of our close friends described him, 'someone you always wanted in the trenches with you'.

I met him when he went to work for the New South Wales state minister Steve Whan, and that is where we became very close personal friends in the brief time he lived in Sydney during those tough days in the lead-up to the last state election in New South Wales. Kurt is not the kind of person you would easily forget. I would have liked him to have stayed in Sydney—I desperately tried to talk him into it—but his heart was always a little further south. His home was always here in Canberra, and he returned to the capital to work for Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr, where he worked hard in the office, in the party and in the community. As the member for Fraser, Andrew Leigh, said yesterday, it was impossible to go to a committee meeting, a trivia night or a party event without seeing Kurt. Kurt was everywhere.

It speaks volumes about the man that, despite never actually working in this building, there seems to be a Kurt sized hole in this place this week. Things seem a little quieter. We are all a little more subdued. When the American journalist Mary McGrory remarked to Patrick Moynihan after the death of their friend JFK, 'We will never laugh again,' Moynihan responded: 'Heavens, Mary. Of course we'll laugh again. It's just that we'll never be young again.'

Kurt was a burst of energy. He was a flash of light. He was taken far, far too soon. We thank Kurt for his dedication, his service and his passion. Kurt, we will all try to capture and to reflect some of the great spark by which you lived your life. The ALP, the ACT, your family, your friends, everyone you touched—we are all in mourning now. We will miss you, my friend.


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