Senate debates

Thursday, 30 November 2017


Hutchins, Mr Stephen Patrick 'Steve'

4:10 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death on 24 November 2017 of Stephen Patrick Hutchins, a senator for the state of New South Wales from 1998 to 2011. I call the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep sorrow at the death, on 24 November 2017, of Stephen Patrick Hutchins, former senator for New South Wales, places on record its gratitude for his service to the Parliament and the nation, and tenders its sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

When we commemorate the life of a former senator, we take part in an important and solemn tradition of this chamber. It's a tradition that gives us cause to reflect on the varied achievements of those who have come before us to this place from every walk of life and from every corner of our nation. It's a tradition that allows us, in a small but significant way, to pay our respects to these important contributions to public life. But this tradition, while always solemn, is made all the more poignant when we pause to commemorate those of whom our memories are much less distant—the men and women who have been our colleagues and cherished friends in this chamber. Today is such an occasion.

Steve Hutchins left this chamber only a little more than six years ago. Most of us will still remember his valedictory speech. It is still fresh in my mind. I served with him in this chamber for some 11 years. I felt I knew him well but, of course, not nearly as well as those who I know were his close friends in the Labor Party, like Senator Farrell and Senator Sterle and others for whom this must be a particularly difficult day.

Steve Hutchins was born in Sydney on 22 April 1956 and grew up in Cronulla, in the Sutherland shire. He attended De La Salle College, that great nursery of New South Wales Labor politicians, joining the Cronulla branch of the Labor Party while still a schoolboy. After studying for a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Sydney, he later went to Harvard, where he completed Harvard University's Trade Union Program. He worked for a year as a forklift driver and for another year as a garbage collector—perhaps the only Harvard educated garbage collector in Australia—garnering the kinds of blue-collar credentials that would set him apart as a credible and authentic advocate for the rights of workers through his long and accomplished career in the union movement. He was a trade unionist to his bootstraps. In 1980, after two years at that coalface, Steve Hutchins became an official of the New South Wales branch of the Transport Workers' Union. He rose through the ranks, serving as assistant secretary from 1989 to 1993 and then as state secretary from 1993 until his appointment to the Senate in 1998. He also served as federal president of the TWU over the same period.

These were turbulent years for industrial politics in Australia. Steve Hutchins's time at the helm of the New South Wales branch coincided with successive Liberal state governments' attempts at industrial law reform. However, his ire was not limited, nor his opponents confined, to the non-Labor side of politics. Steve Hutchins was an outspoken critic of the creation of so-called 'megaunions' by amalgamation in general and of the Australian Council of Trade Unions in particular.

We know that internecine fights within the industrial wing of the Labor Party can be very bitter indeed, and Steve Hutchins was plainly a very active warrior for his point of view in many of those disputes. He baulked at many of the economic reforms spearheaded by the Keating government. An early profile of Steve Hutchins from the Canberra Times described his heresies in the following terms: he regards mega unions and enterprise bargaining as a sell-out of Australian workers; he regards the ACTU as little better than an arm of government; and he regards most Melbourne based left-wing union officials as power-obsessed failures. Well, I could not but agree. Fighting words, indeed, but there is more than an element of truth in them.

However, Steve Hutchins' reputation for toughness did not obscure his genuine compassion and sense of integrity. One employer with whom he dealt gave pause to reflect that Hutchins can be hard and will use any tactic to get what he wants but, at the end of the day, you can rely on a deal being a deal. I must say, unaware as I was when I served with Steve Hutchins in the Senate, I was not unconscious of his ferocious reputation in the industrial wing of the Labor Party. I always found him a very gentle man.

In October 1998, Steve Hutchins was appointed to fill a casual vacancy in the Senate resulting from the resignation of Senator Belinda Neal. He was elected in his own right in the 1998 election and would go onto be re-elected in 2004. In his first speech to the chamber, Senator Hutchins evoked the lived experience of forgotten Australians, those left behind by the quickening pace of globalisation, those whose interests he thought had been subordinated to the pursuit of abstract economic ideals. 'While our economy is at the heart of our society,' he said, to heartlessly pursue our economic objectives in isolation is to ignore the needs of our community and to undermine the social fabric of our nation. Where some seek to diminish the role of government, I say the need for good government has never been stronger. In a society grappling with the uncertainties of today's world, governments must provide reassurance and direction in the face of an increasing cynicism and disillusionment throughout our community.' I can almost hear him saying that today.

By any measure, Senator Hutchins' contribution to the parliament lived up to his ideal and his values. The first inquiry he chaired on the Senate Community Affairs References Committee examined the extent of poverty across the nation and called upon the Commonwealth to establish a national poverty strategy. However, the inquiry that was to have the most profound effect upon Steven Hutchins was the Senate Standing Committees on Community Affairs inquiry into children in institutional care, of which he was first chair. The inquiry's findings of widespread abuse and neglect left a lasting impression upon him. Of the inquiry process, Senator Hutchins would reflect in his valedictory speech it was one of the most harrowing periods of his time here. 'These people's stories are etched in my memory—the most reprehensible experiences and impossible to forget. We were all shaken to the base of our souls. Our hearts sighed. We were bewildered. We wondered time and time again how adults could do such things to children. How could men and women of faith routinely abuse boys and girls sexually, physically and psychologically? Why didn't someone step in? Why were they able to get away with it?' It was a marked departure from Steve Hutchins' public persona as a hard-nosed factional warrior, a hard man of the trade union movement, and testament to his overriding desire to see justice done to those to whom it had been denied.

As was the case in his former life as a union leader, it was often his own side of politics that felt the brunt of Steve Hutchins' rebukes. He challenged the Rudd government to reverse its policy of not sending ministers to Taiwan as well as labelling Labor's cuts to criminal intelligence agencies as 'pretty lame' while he was the chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission.

A devout Catholic, his socially conservative views often put him at odds with the majority of his caucus colleagues on issues like euthanasia or same-sex marriage. I must say I always thought that Steve Hutchins was more right wing than me—at least on most matters.

I remember very early in my career as a backbencher, I made a speech about the Greens and I made some rather aggressive remarks about the common philosophical roots of radical environmental philosophy and German fascism—

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I remember.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Bartlett, thank you, you remember—a concept caught by the phrase ecofascism. It was a speech that attracted a lot of criticism, but I remember Steve Hutchins drew me aside one day and he said to me—he was sitting in fact in the chair probably during one of these debates—'I thought it was a great speech.' I will also, as will we all, remember him with his friend Mike Forshaw, also from the New South Wales Labor right. They were very much a pair.

He fell out with his faction and was positioned third on the 2010 New South Wales Senate ticket—his defeat all but assured. His term would end on 30 June, 2011. In his valedictory speech to the chamber, Steve Hutchins reflected on the battles fought; of his spectacular falling out with the New South Wales ALP and the opportunism of its leaders; poignantly, of his long battle with the cancer that had overshadowed his parliamentary career and which ultimately was to claim him; and of the countless, vulnerable Australians for whom he had always fought the good fight.

Australia is a fairer country because of the battles people like Steve Hutchins fought. It is his family who have been the closest witnesses to his most courageous fight, his fight with cancer, and must now bear the deepest loss. So, to his colleagues and friends who are in the chamber today, I know what you must feel, because I lost a great friend and colleague of mine earlier this year when Russell Trood succumbed to cancer. I know how you must feel and how sad you must be. So, to you; of course to his wife, Natalie; his children, Lauren, Julia, Michael, Georgia, Madeleine and Xavier; and his grandchildren Jacob, William, Edie, Nathaniel, Rorie and Audrey, I express my profound sorrow and to whom, on behalf of the government, I offer my deepest condolences.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

As senators would be aware, the standing orders provide for general business to be called on at 4.30 pm. I understand it is the will of the Senate for this condolence debate to have precedence and continue. With the concurrence of the Senate, it is so ordered.

4:22 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on behalf of the opposition on the condolence motion for former Senator Steve Hutchins and thank the Attorney-General for his kind words on behalf of the government.

I have often come into this chamber and listened to these motions. Mostly they are about someone who has long since left this place. That's not the case with Senator Steve Hutchins. He's a contemporary of many people in this chamber and had many friends on both sides of the house. I am very proud to say that I was one of those friends.

My history with Steve, though, goes much back earlier than his career in the Senate. I first met 'Hutcho', as he was known in the Australian slang that he so loved to use, as the first snowflakes were falling in Boston in the winter of 1984. Steve had been sent by his union—that great union, the Transport Workers Union—to the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Massachusetts. Living at Soldiers Field Park, we would traipse through the snow and cross the Charles River, often to the sound of a lone Scottish piper, on our way to classes at Harvard Square.

We had the privilege of being lectured by people who had been in President John Kennedy's cabinet. It was during these lectures that I began to understand that, despite his rugged exterior, Steve Hutchins had a brilliant mind, a very brilliant mind. At Harvard, Steve saw firsthand in American industrial relations what would later become Work Choices under the Howard government in Australia. It was at Harvard that Steve honed the keen skills that would make him a formidable state and national leader of the Transport Workers Union on his return to Australia. It was also at Harvard, at the Boat House Bar, with Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York playing on the juke box, that my wife met only her second Australian male—a wild, blue-eyed larrikin called Steve. She said goodbye to Steve last Thursday at his home in the picturesque Blue Mountains, and he squeezed her hand and gave her his trademark wink.

In the 33 years between those events, Steve Hutchins lived a very full life. His friend, journalist Brad Norington, has, over the last few days, written in The Australian about Steve's life. Steve went to school at De La Salle College Cronulla with two life-long friends—John Della Bosca and Michael Lee. At his solemn requiem mass at St Finbar's Catholic Church at Glenbrook, his daughter Lauren laughingly recounted that he had claimed that a stubbed toe was caused by a crocodile bite when in fact it had resulted from Michael Lee dropping a desk on his big toe. Michael, of course, denies this!

After getting a bachelor of arts degree from Sydney University, Steve worked in a variety of jobs, including garbage collection. That qualified him for membership of the Transport Workers Union, where he rose to become the New South Wales state president and the federal president. Many TWU officials paid their respects yesterday, including federal president Tony Sheldon. Steve Hutchins entered the Senate to fill a casual vacancy in 1998. His political skills, his brilliance and his compassion should have seen him rise quickly in this place to become a minister or even a leader, but his first bout of cancer struck and derailed his progress. It was to strike him twice more and, after he had fought bravely and without complaint for 20 years, this terrible disease finally took him in the early hours of last Friday.

He made a significant contribution in his time in this place, which was too brief. Steve leaves behind a significant body of work through Senate committees. In his valedictory speech, in 2011, he was proud but deeply saddened by what had been uncovered in the inquiry into children in institutions, the so-called forgotten Australians. This finally led to an apology by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on 16 November 2009.

Steve was also very proud of his six children—Lauren, Julia, Michael, Georgia, Madeleine and Xavier—and his grandchildren, and they all did him very proud yesterday at the service solemnly led by Father Bob Sheridan. Xavier, Steve's youngest, has also taken a keen interest in politics, his favourite documentary now being the ABC's The Killing Season.

Tributes to Steve have been plentiful. Our federal leader, Bill Shorten, on hearing of his passing, said:

He believed, fundamentally, in the dignity of work, the right to organise and the vital role unions play in improving conditions and lifting living standards.

On hearing of Steve's death, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard tweeted that he was a 'passionate Labor true believer'. A letter from former Labor leader Kim Beazley was read out yesterday. He described Steve as 'having that rare combination of both physical and moral courage'. When I first came to this place Steve gave me some prophetic advice on leadership challenges. He said, 'Choose your candidate early and stick with your decision.' That was sage advice.

Steve was married twice—firstly to Diane Beamer and then to Natalie Sykes. Steve spoke of his love for Natalie in his valedictory:

What sort of person marries a cancer survivor? What sort of person uproots her life, her comfortable existence in Victoria, to venture north? What sort of person acts as a nurse, caretaker, confidant and motivator? What sort of person takes on five stepchildren as friend and adviser? Only one very much in love, and one I love very much.

Yesterday Natalie read her last love letter to Steve to a crowd of about 500 mourners.

Many of Steve's friends travelled to attend his funeral yesterday—Leo McLeay, Mark Bishop, David Feeney, Wayne Swan, Chris Hayes, Craig Emerson and many others, including senators who will no doubt speak in this debate. Also included was Ian Meldrum, who ran the Holy Grail in Kingston, Steve's favourite watering hole. A maudlin Danny Boy played as we left the church. Steve has been awarded a medal by the St Vincent de Paul Society, posthumously, in recognition of his work assisting the poor and the homeless. At 61 years of age, Steve has left us too soon. I will, as he did, quote the book of Timothy:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.

May he rest in peace.

4:30 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to express my condolences to Steve's family and his friends. I first met Steve in about 1988 when I moved to St Marys from the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. I joined the St Marys branch of the ALP when I moved to Sydney, and Steve and his team ran the branch. I must say that I don't think I ever won a vote on anything I moved at that branch! I then moved to the Blue Mountains some years later. Steve lived in the Blue Mountains, and I know that he was very fond of the Lapstone pub in the Blue Mountains. He was a very popular patron of the Lapstone pub.

Photo of Marise PayneMarise Payne (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Better known as 'the Lappo'!

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The Lappo, yes. He was also a member of the ACTU executive when I was on the executive, so I did have lots of discussions with Steve. Again, I don't think I voted at any time in the same way that Steve did at the ACTU executive. But when I came to the Senate, I was voting with him all the time!

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

At least in here!

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, at least in here! Certainly not at the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party! Steve and I had some good set-tos, and he is fondly remembered for that. He was a tough, uncompromising, smart trade unionist and politician. He is sadly missed.

It was unfortunate that, because of circumstances, I and a number of my colleagues could not attend Steve's funeral in the Blue Mountains yesterday. So I just want to place on record my thanks for the friendship he gave me here, even though we were factional opponents. Steve gave me great friendship and a great deal of support. He was friendly and welcoming to me when I came here. It's a sad loss to the New South Wales Labor Party, a sad loss to the federal Labor Party and a sad loss to the Australian public, for which he has done so much in his time in this place. Vale, Steve, and commiserations to Natalie, his family and friends.

4:33 pm

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

I too would like to join in the condolences to Steve's family at his loss. I feel for the loss of Natalie and Xavier and his family because I know the loss we have had in this place. I was in the Senate when Steve joined us here. I didn't know him well from his New South Wales Labor Party days, but he became a very close friend in this place. I regret the lack of opportunity to see more of him since he moved to Melbourne and I regret the inopportunity to attend the funeral yesterday.

'Juanita' was Steve's term for me. It was a very affectionate name. For some reason or another, he did not ever impose on me the trials that he did on some colleagues. Steve loved—

Senator Bilyk interjecting

No, Senator Bilyk, I did sit next to him on many occasions. He loved a good lark, whether it was removing people's notes, pulling on their skirt as they were asking a question or any of those types of things. For some reason, Steve decided to leave me free of those types of larks. We had a very affectionate relationship.

Steve was a strong supporter. I would hear debates about internal opportunities within the Labor Party fed back to me and, interestingly, Steve would be sitting on one side saying, 'No, no, Jacinta's going to win.' It would surprise many people that the caricature of Steve Hutchins was as a hard New South Wales Labor man. He could form relationships that were well beyond that caricature. As Senator Brandis said, he was a gentle man. His respect for people went well beyond what most people would assume. Steve worked not only to support Natalie in the Victorian parliament but also worked with St Vincent de Paul—badgering people like me to make a contribution to assist—and yet he still caught up with colleagues for many years.

People have referred to the Holy Grail as Steve's favourite watering hole here. There was many a night that Mark Bishop and I would share many hours with Steve, mostly assisting Mark Bishop deal with the time difference from Western Australia but also debating the politics of the day.

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Yes, fortunately those days were in opposition and the responsibilities that we carried weren't quite the same as when we moved into government. Steve, as Senator Farrell has highlighted, made an enormous contribution to this place and to the Labor movement more broadly. I hope his legend in this place lives on in terms of more progress in the many issues he worked on.

4:37 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to make a few brief comments on behalf of the Australian Greens on this condolence motion. Steve Hutchins came into this chamber not long after I first came here, and he was here throughout all my time previously in this chamber. Others have reflected on the events that led to him finally departing in 2011. On behalf of all of the Greens, I want to put on the record our appreciation for former Senator Hutchins' work in this place. As a few people have already said, there is that caricature of hard-nosed machine people from the New South Wales Labor Party in particular. I think it is a general caricature of party apparatchiks, which sometimes has some truth to it, but, occasionally, it unfairly narrows people down to a single description and ignores the wider aspects and contributions they can make—and understanding the operations of your own party is often quite a helpful thing.

On top of that, I think Senator Hutchins' work, within this chamber and particularly within the committees, is something that does need recognition. Through that he demonstrated not only his capacity and ability to do the job well but also his ability to recognise, appreciate and get in touch with the human side of an issue and the human impact of policies and legislation. I served with him on a number of committees in that community affairs sort of area. It was clear that he did have a genuine concern for the wellbeing of people, and he demonstrated that in a lot of the additional comments he made in committee reports—often thoughtful and often just extra reflections beyond the position of the party on a particular issue or bill. It is that aspect of this chamber that is often forgotten, because the focus is on the conflicts, the big personalities, the stoushes, the insults et cetera. Often it's the constructive contributions that can make the most long-term impact, even though they get little attention in the short term. Certainly, Steve Hutchins in his time in this place deserves to be recognised for his contribution to that.

I very rarely pass on private side comments that people make to me in the course of my activities around this place—which people might be relieved to know—but in this context there is probably a reasonable one to mention. It goes back to the caricature of the hard man. Some of you who have been around a while may recall that former senator Bob Brown often used to stand up and make points of order about things that he had absolutely zero support on and would get howled down from all around the chamber, including from some of the people in the Democrats seats in those days, most likely. After a few of those experiences, I remember Steve Hutchins saying to me: 'I think I'm pretty tough, but that guy's got seven hides of rhinoceroses on him.' It was a comment of admiration, I might say. I'm certainly not suggesting he was a softy, but as people have said, and I would reflect, his contribution to this place showed that he did have the ability to recognise—that soft side—and people noted that in his valedictory speech in this place. It is an important contribution to be able to have that aspect of your character be able to inform your judgements, your comments and your work in this place.

My condolences to his family, his friends and his colleagues— in particular, in the Labor Party and the labour movement, which he was so active in for so long. I recognise and respect his contribution to this chamber.

4:42 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the National Party to express our condolences to the family and friends of the late Stephen Patrick Hutchins—'Hutchy' to me and our mates. He was a senator for New South Wales and an all-round decent bloke. He was born in Sydney on 22 April 1956, barely a fortnight before I was born.

Steve was a man who never shied away from hard work, and a battle if necessary, to look out for a fellow mate. He was a man in tune with the everyday Aussie. Steve Hutchins prided himself on representing his constituents and fighting with all he had to better their individual circumstances. Steve knew all too well the conditions of transport workers, having worked as a forklift driver and garbage-truck driver early on in his career prior to joining the union movement in 1980. His interest in the conditions of transport workers and his graduate skills from the University of New South Wales unsurprisingly saw Steve make his way swiftly through the union ranks. Eighteen years of hard work in the unions led to a legacy of fighting for what he believed in. He was most renowned for leading a group of six New South Wales unions to defy ACTU policy and pursue a 15 per cent state wage case, resulting in the TWU's split from the ACTU, the union peak body. That battle was won, and on 20 December 1996 the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission awarded what Steve considered a huge Christmas present for the award system, a 15 per cent wage rise to 30,000 transport industry workers.

Steve, if you knew him, didn't mind a bit of Christmas cheer. It is very likely that he celebrated that day with a beer at the local tavern. Where better to hear firsthand the views and experiences of everyday workers? Steve enjoyed sinking a few drinks at the end of the week, as many in this place do, whether it was at the Blue Cattle Dog at St Clair, with his old union mates, or settling in at the Holy Grail in Kingston on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, a place I have spent a fair bit of time in with Sterlo or Bish. It was always a very hard place to walk past: 'Just one more for the road, Nige.'

Described as a 'stalwart of the Labor movement', Steve's talent was recognised, and he was chosen by New South Wales to represent the state in the Senate in 1998. Whilst he sat opposite myself in this chamber, I hold Steve and his 'never give up' approach in the highest regard—a man who never backed down from a fight. In his time in this place Steve prided himself on serving the battler. He did not consider himself a bleeding heart, and trumpeted the ethos of 'a hand up, not a handout', making him a right-wing advocate of his political party. I can't say I agreed with everything he had to say—I can recall particularly him referring to my delightful Northern Territory as a tin-pot operation, when there was moves for self-government, as being one of them—but I knew the man for the great bloke that he was. Steve could be hard-headed in the battles as needed, but I knew him as more jovial in other times, always known for his jokes with colleagues and staff. We've already heard from 'Senator Juanita' about the playing of pranks, amongst them things like giving his staffers, when they joined his office, coupons for the parliamentary cafe. Of course, he'd just made them up, and they were actually appearing—he was just a shocker! He didn't actually take politics or himself particularly seriously. He lived every day with an absolutely unfeigned determination to represent his constituency.

Steve fought a long battle with cancer. All the while he was concerned for others, fighting till the very end, passing too soon, too young. 61-year-old Steve was farewelled by more than 400 this week at St Finbar's Catholic Church in the Blue Mountains. He received a plaque from St Vincent de Paul honouring his commitment to the poor and the successes he achieved for everyday battlers. Australia is better for his contributions. He stands in memory as a courageous, tough and generous man, much loved as a husband to Victorian minister Natalie Hutchins, a colleague in the Aboriginal affairs portfolio to whom I pass on my most sincere of condolences. Natalie, the work of you and your husband is something that your family can be proud of. I am sure he would be so proud of what you have achieved during your time in parliament. He was a great man, and I'm sure your partnership has been a key factor in both your successes. I'm sorry for your loss, and I look forward to our next meeting, when I can convey my personal condolences to you. Steve was a great father to Lauren, Julia, Michael, Georgia, Madeleine and Xavier, as well as grandfather to Jacob, William, Edie, Nathaniel, Rorie and Audrey. I convey the Nationals' sincerest condolences on his passing, forever in our memory and the political narrative of our nation. Let us later, perhaps, toast to his time in this place and his life of service to others: a mate to many. Cheers, Hutchy. Vale Stephen Patrick Hutchins.

4:47 pm

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to offer a contribution to this condolence motion on Steve Hutchins. I met Steve with the then Natalie Sykes in the early 2000s, when Natalie brought him along, as is often the case for first dates in the ALP, to an ALP function.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's the test.

Photo of Kimberley KitchingKimberley Kitching (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is the test, Senator Bilyk. Immediately his warmth, his larrikinism and his laconic sense of humour was evident—also his ability to deflate pomposity. He was the epitome of the lines from Rudyard Kipling's 'If—':

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

…   …   …

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!

And that was Steve.

As Senator Bartlett said, it is often the good and quiet contributions that might make the most lasting impact in politics, and I want to detail one such contribution from Steve Hutchins. As has been noted, he was a New South Wales state secretary of Transport Workers Union between 1993 and 1998, and he was always willing to use his great experience and expertise in union affairs to give good advice to those of us working in the union movement. As many senators know, I was involved in the long campaign to rescue the Health Services Union from the corrupt and incompetent regime which over many years destroyed the reputation and effectiveness of that union and damaged the union movement in general. During that campaign Steve Hutchins was always ready to place his expertise at the service of those of us who were campaigning to clean up that union. I don't think it's too much to say that, without his sage advice, the narrow victory that we eventually achieved over the previous regime would not have been achieved. So not only am I in his debt but so are all of the members of the HSU, including the many low-paid members working in hospitals and other health services who have benefited from the effective representation they now have from their reformed union. He managed, in his calm and laid-back way, to unite many disparate personalities so that a united campaign was able to form. Without him, there would have been a multiplicity of tickets, and with that the incumbent ticket would have won. The wisdom involved in being able to see a way forward, to understand human nature, will be very much missed. I am so sad for Nat and for all of Steve's children. He is too soon gone.

4:50 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I, too, rise to make a contribution in relation to Hutcho—that's what he was known as. When I joined this place in 2005, during my first term I had, some might say, the misfortune at times to be seated next to Hutcho. It was inevitable that if you had a question—

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

Yes, that's what he used to do—you could never put your question down on the desk because it would always disappear. You'd be in the middle of trying to make a very critical political point, and your jacket would be pulling you down. So there were those things, although some may say that it would be inappropriate today. He was a man who was genuine. He was respectful.

I have to say that, when I came to this place, I was very fortunate to come at a time when we were in opposition, to learn the way of the Senate and to be surrounded by people who cared about each other and were there to support you no matter what. If I were to come to this place now, the sad reality is I don't think we are as collegiate as we were then. And, yes, there were the times when we went out for dinner and ended up at the Holy Grail. I used to remark to my colleagues, 'I don't know how Hutcho does it.' He would turn up the next morning, he'd be ready to give you the advice for the day and he would perform his duties as a senator.

But this was a man who thought about others, not just himself. He was a man who believed in the Labor Party and he was a man who believed in the union movement, and that never waned. Even though he was relegated on the Senate ticket, he was still the man who was driven to come here and driven to give other people a better life. I think we're all going to experience the loss. I still find it very hard to believe that he is not going to be on the end of a text message and he's not going to be calling me H, because that's what he used to call me. It was never Helen; it was always H. He was somebody who, I think, contributed a great deal to this place and to the country.

My heart goes out to his family, all of his children, Natalie and his grandchildren. There is one thing you could always say: he was a man of the people, he was a man of the worker, but he was the proudest dad. He loved his children and he was forever talking about them. So, on behalf of myself, the reason that I'm still here is probably, to some extent, Stephen—Steve 'Hutcho' Hutchins—who was there to support me through the good times and the bad times. I'm very grateful for the fact that we had a lot more good times than we ever had bad times. Vale Steve Hutchins.

4:53 pm

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There have been very generous contributions about Senator Hutchins's career. I'll go back to the period of '93 to '98, where Steve was arguably the most successful union leader in Australia. The New South Wales branch had the highest rates, the state awards were higher than federal awards, the owner-driver rates were higher than anything achieved federally and there was a jurisdiction in which they could get resolution were there any problems.

I came into the leadership group of the TWU about '96, and Steve was at the absolute height of his power. He taught us to campaign and win, and the confidence that the man displayed in those campaigns was extraordinary. I was a very junior person in that leadership group, looking for someone to display some leadership, some courage and some achievement, and Steve was the epitome of all of that. In the 15 per cent campaign that was mentioned, we didn't actually believe we could do that, but, with Steve's leadership as federal president, he was able to pull that campaign off.

He had a really interesting leadership style. He knew who he disagreed with. He'd make some interesting comments about people in our different branches—because we were essentially a federation of seven warring branches—but, as soon as the bell was rung, we were all on the same side. Whilst he may have had his differences with other branches, he was so excellent at leading people that, as soon as the battle was started, his enemies were the first ones to go to his aid. He was an extraordinary leader in that respect. The generations that he inspired to follow on from him are still there. Wayne Forno, Tony Sheldon, Michael Kane and all of those organisers that were there yesterday at the funeral. He left behind a legacy in that five-year period which still affects, helps and furthers the interests of all working people in Australia today. I think he made a truly extraordinary contribution to the wider labour movement, and it was driven off his simple principles: a deal's a deal, and you never rat. If you rat once, you'll rat twice, so you never rat. He stuck to his principles and his guns for all his working life. I too add my condolences to his wife, children and grandchildren.

4:55 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't want to interrupt the TWU contribution, but I want to briefly make a contribution in recognition and remembrance of Steve Hutchins. Perhaps this isn't the right time to say this, but there aren't a lot of people in this chamber that I would bother to have a beer with, but Steve Hutchins was one of them. That's unusual for me, because I usually keep my distance from members of the Labor Party but Steve was a great guy, never vicious that I saw. Perhaps he might have been in the TWU, but he was never vicious in his arguments and his approach to the work that we do in this Senate.

I'm sorry circumstances yesterday—timing and place—prevented a lot of people attending his funeral, which I would have liked to do had circumstances been different. But I want to simply place on the record the very high regard I had for Steve Hutchins. Michael Forshaw was one of his mates. Occasionally, after a lunchtime meeting, a visiting delegation or something, there'd be three of us left in the lunchroom making sure that none of the alcohol went back into the cupboard. Steve and Michael and I would then solve all the problems of the world, including some in the Labor Party, I might say, and they probably gave me a bit of advice about how to solve the few problems the Liberal Party might have had at any particular time. But he was a great guy.

I understand from what Senator Gallacher has said and from what others have said—and I have been listening to the debate whilst meeting with other people—that Steve was very loyal to his cause and very loyal to the Labor Party. But I know he was at times disappointed that the party in those days—not those currently here—weren't quite as loyal to him. I remember in one of his early bouts of illness I went to see him in the hospital when he was here in Canberra and he said to me: 'You know, Ian, it's strange. I've been a life-long member of the Labor Party. I've done everything I can for them. I've remained loyal, but the only people who have come to see me in hospital are three Liberals.' I think they were the late Jeannie Ferris, Bill Heffernan and me. He was clearly disappointed, because he mentioned that a group that he had done so much for and been so loyal to hadn't recognised the difficulty he was in right at the beginning—this was many years ago when he was in the Senate. I appreciate that many of those in the Labor Party now were not in the Senate when Steve Hutchins was here. I was for all of the time he was here. He was a great man. I never really knew his wife and family, but I extend to them my condolences. Can I just say that I want to be associated with the condolence motion. Steve, rest in peace. Have a few beers up there in the big palace in the sky or wherever you are. I'm sure we all look forward to perhaps catching up with Steve again sometime in the future, in another life.

5:00 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the first people I met when I came into this place was Steve Hutchins. He came up to me and stuck his hand out and said, 'I suppose you're the new Lefty from Queensland,' followed up very soon after that by, 'And why are you wearing that cross?' And I said, 'Hello?' I found out later that my friend Hughie Williams, about whom I spoke in this place quite recently, had called Steve and basically asked him to look after me. I'm not quite sure who looked after whom, and I'm not sure why these two blokes felt that I needed to be looked after, but it was the start of a really special friendship with Steve Hutchins that I treasured.

I'm not going to go on about being the victim of his various pranks. Not only would he steal your question at question time, as we've heard, but he'd actually make loud comments, while you were preparing to ask it, about the quality of the question and some policy issues you could throw into the question to make it stronger. And when you're first here, as we all know, that can be quite nerve-racking. And we are all laughing. You know that special photograph you get when you make your first speech, of you standing and looking noble? My first photograph is a great photograph of Steve Hutchins. He's sitting beside me, looking as though he is vaguely interested—that shows what a splendid actor he was! The photograph is dominated by Steve's face, and he thought that was a really good result.

But the reason I particularly wanted to make a comment this afternoon is the inspirational and engaging work Steve did on the Community Affairs Committee. We've heard how he treasured his work. But I just want to put some comments on the record, actually stimulated by some people I still keep in contact with who were involved in these inquiries and who wanted their expressions put on the record in this place. Whilst Steve was the chair of many inquiries, the three I want to mention in particular this afternoon include the poverty inquiry, which was the first major inquiry in which I was involved. It went on for a significant period of time and came up with some very important threshold comments about the state of poverty in our nation. But what I remember most about it is the personal way in which Steve talked with the people who had come to us, many of whom were very vulnerable and some of whom had never given evidence to a Senate inquiry before but, because of the nature of this topic, felt that they wanted to come and talk about what their lives were like, suffering incredible poverty and pressure in their communities. And Steve, as the chair, took so much personal time to make them feel valuable, to make them feel important and to get them to share their stories. I watched him with admiration as he spent time before and after they gave evidence, worked with them and made them feel that they were important, and thanked them for their time.

That effort resulted in getting evidence on the record that is invaluable and timeless. Anyone who has the opportunity to have a look at the report from that particular inquiry will see that we found out about things that were happening in our community that I don't think many people really know about, and about the pain and the vulnerability that existed then and still exists now. So, that came to be known amongst us as the Hutchins inquiry. I think it should be renamed that into the future! But his work was so valuable at that time, and, as you would remember, the shadow minister at the time was Wayne Swan, and they worked very closely together during that process. And I think that document stands the test of time.

The second inquiry is one that Steve actually drove. It was one that was very important to him, and it was on hepatitis C in our community—again, an issue that not many people know about. But Steve met some people in his electorate who had contracted hepatitis C through blood transfusions, and it angered him that in the 20th century, when this occurred, and the 21st century, when we were having the inquiry, in Australia, people would be able to contract such a horrific condition, with all the pain and the stigma around it. He was determined that their voices would be heard and that the process would be addressed so that not only in Australia, but across the world there'd be two results: first, that our blood transfusion service would ensure that such a problem would not occur again, and, second, that the terrible stigma around hepatitis B and C in our community would be identified and addressed. He saved a very special anger for people within the medical profession who were not treating people with respect, and he took this not only through the Senate process, but into the wider community. I remember when that report came down, there was a large number of people who were gathered and Steve was in tears as he was delivering his report. He made a commitment that the knowledge that came out of that inquiry would not be lost.

The third inquiry is the one which Senator Brandis so beautifully addressed: the inquiry into institutional care. We worked really closely on that particular committee, and it did have an impact. But Steve did not just leave it at having hearings and coming up with a very strong series of recommendations in that report, which we all know about; he then became patron of the CLAN network—the Care Leavers Australia Network. He didn't talk to many people about that decision, but I can assure you that the people in CLAN respect and love Steve Hutchins. They love him because he cared about them. They love him because they know that he cared so sincerely about their needs and he was always available to talk to. So the inquiry engagement did not end when the report was presented in this place. Steve engaged with the people who were in fact survivors of this horrible time in our history, and they felt that he was there for them from then on. When we heard that Steve—I don't like using that term 'battle with cancer'; it has almost become meaningless. This man had been ill a long time and was often quite ill here, but he just kept on doing his job. When the CLAN heard that we'd lost him, they particularly wanted his family and also the wider community to know about the respect and the importance that Steve Hutchins had for them.

I know that Natalie and the family are grieving greatly. I want them to know that there are many people sharing their grief and their love for Steve. With Steve, as we've heard before, when it came to issues around his family, he lit up. That term is used a lot, but he actually lit up when he was talking about Natalie and his family—all of them. He was so proud of them. When that little boy was born, which was while we were in this place, I have never seen a prouder, happier man. One of the joys is that he was able to be with his son for such a long time, which was at the time something he didn't know. Natalie, to you and your family: know that your man was loved by many others.

5:08 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise as a proud woman of the New South Wales Right to mark the passing of a great man of the New South Wales Right of the great Australian Labor Party. He will be sadly missed. He was an enormous man in our history and in esteem, as we just heard from Senator Moore, that spread right out into the community because of his authenticity and the authentic work that he did for all the communities that he belonged to—the community of the Labor Party as a political party, the community of the Transport Workers' Union as a powerful advocate for social justice for Australians, and then as a powerful speaker and a man of great heart for the legislative journey of this place to try and make change to genuinely improve the lives of Australian people.

I also want to indicate, as Senator Cameron did, that circumstances here in the Senate prevented many of us from attending Steve's mass yesterday—I think it was at St Finbar's Church in the Blue Mountains. I feel we were all represented with vim and vigour and with sadness and remembrance by the senators who were able to attend: Senator Farrell, Senator Dastyari, and particularly Senators Gallacher and Sterle, for they shared two of those communities with him in a very significant way.

As others have indicated, he was a man who loved his family. As Senator Moore said, there was a joy in Steve that was a natural part of his nature, but it was in his reflections on his family and his connections with his family that we saw him at his best. I did not have the privilege of working with Senator Hutchins here in this chamber, but I did, at the time of his valedictory speech, come over and sit with many of our colleagues from the House of Representatives to honour his moving from this place and into a more connected life with his family. And that is what he said to me as I spoke to him that evening—that that was the joy of the moment for him. I think we can all recall the beautiful speech that he gave at his valedictory. He recalled the great work that he'd done and showed such generosity in thanking so many people who made his work possible.

I was not involved with him in the work that he did on committees, which was beautifully described this evening by Senator Moore, but Steve's words in his valedictory speech were very significant in giving the flavour of the level of engagement that he had with the work that he did. I would like to read for the record once more his comments on the inquiry into the forgotten Australians:

It was a very sad and painful inquiry. There were hundreds of written submissions—if you could call some of them written. There were many phone calls, mostly to the dedicated secretariat, led by the avuncular Elton Humphery, who I hope is here today—

he interrupted himself and said, 'There he is'—

along with Christine McDonald and Ingrid Zappe. I read each and every one of these submissions and often cried at what was in them. They were all sad. They were from men and women, mostly in their 70s and 80s, attempting to provide us with an understanding of what for most of them was the nightmare they endured as young boys and girls.

Even now, I think of them and their written words and their courage in coming forward to tell us what happened to them: the abandonment, the fear, the shame, the self harm, the loneliness—problems that exist to this day—and, not least of all, the suicides that resulted. These people's stories are etched in my memory—the most reprehensible experiences and impossible to forget. We were all shaken to the base of our souls. Our hearts sighed.

Steve Hutchins was a warrior for the rights of ordinary hardworking Australians at every turn and in every context, but he was a man who in his closing words said, 'Our hearts sighed.' A special man. May he rest in peace.

5:13 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to say a few words with respect to Steve Hutchins, former senator. How could you sum up Hutcho? He was just a fair dinkum good bloke. I enjoyed working with him and was saddened when I was talking to Piers Akerman last Thursday, who told me that Steve was very ill. On Friday morning, I got a text from former Labor senator Ursula Stephens, another fine person I've had the privilege to meet in this place. You remember the funny things. About where you're sitting over there, Senator Sterle, Julian McGauran was making a speech one day and, of course, Senator McGauran took every interjection going. Senator Hutchins was over here and made some interjection and Senator McGauran said, 'If Senator Hutchinson would be quiet over there.' Hutcho said, 'The name's Hutchins.' McGauran replied, 'If you ever came in here and made a speech, we might get to know your name,' to which Hutcho really returned fire at Senator McGauran. I had to laugh, but it was all in good humour.

I stayed in touch with Hutcho often after he'd left this place. When we had the kerfuffle of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal last year, the first thing I did, Sterlo, was ring Hutcho and say: 'Mate, we've got a problem. Small business are going to suffer.' He said, 'I'll do what I can,' and, typically, he did what he could do. He was just an enjoyable fella. I loved working with him. He'll be sadly missed by many. To Natalie and his family, I offer my sincere condolences. Hutcho, you suffered a long illness. We will remember you and we thank you for your great contribution to this country.

5:14 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to add a few words about our mate Hutcho—not Hutcho the former senator but Hutcho the lion of the TWU and the union movement. My association with Hutcho goes back to the nineties, when I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, know-everything young truckie with a potty mouth who thought he could sort out every problem in the world once—

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

It's changed!

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll take that interjection. Things have changed—I'm not young anymore! I thought I could solve the problems of the world from a truckie's perspective and I had a great distaste for people who'd never come through our side—Senator Gallacher's and mine—as former transport workers, truckies or baggage handlers. I just didn't think they really could be tuned in with truckies and transport workers. How wrong I was about Hutcho! No-one is going to fill those shoes of Hutcho.

I just want to put a bit of frivolity into it. In the good old days in the Transport Workers Union, when Ivan Hodgson ruled with an iron fist—and I mean an iron fist; the transport industry was a tough industry, and it was instilled in us that you could lose a fight but if you didn't have one then look out because you'd get one when you got back to the TWU family—the rules were set out: you couldn't become a TWU organiser or an official until you'd spent at least 12 months in the industry. Hutcho worked his way around those rules but he went off, as we know, as a forklift driver, and then, as Senator Brandis said, Hutcho did some time as a garbo. What Senator Brandis didn't say is that Hutcho fell off the back of the bloody truck in the first couple of days on the job and then was on compo for months with a broken arm. But, anyway, Hutcho got round the rules, and what a dynamo that man was for our movement and for our union!

Another thing I want to say is that Hutcho was a few things that I wasn't. One is that he was a state secretary. I never rose to the dizzy heights of state secretary. I was always the baggy pants organiser in the yards at five in the morning getting told what to do by the state secretary—which I enjoyed immensely! Hutcho was our federal president—as was Senator Gallacher, who is in the chamber. I think you were federal president twice, Senator Gallacher—weren't you, mate? I was never a federal president. And Hutcho was a fair dinkum social conservative, which I'm not and never will be. I remember one day getting a phone call. We were having a debate in this building at the time over RU486, which was very topical at the time. There were some very firm views about who should get RU486. Hutcho rang me and said, 'Sterley, we're going for a walk tomorrow morning.' Hutcho never walked, let alone get up in the morning, so I thought: 'Oh God, I'm going to cop the New South Wales Right. I'll have a blue here with the staunch Catholic argument.' So we walked around the block. But at the end of the day the one word you could use to sum up Hutcho was loyalty. You could have a difference of opinion with Hutcho and he would argue to the nth degree. He had a brilliant ability to put the argument forth. He couldn't win me on the RU486. I voted with the socially democratic view that a woman should have full control over what she puts in her body—what she takes or whatever. I went with the other side—

Opposition senators interjecting

I meant the pill thing—much to Hutcho's disgust, but at the end of the day we were still union comrades and he was still my mate. He's been my mate to this very day and he always will be.

I want to share another couple of things. To Natalie and the family: deepest condolences. It was a huge turnout yesterday—500-odd people, I'm led to believe. It was packed chock-a-block. To the TWU family and Ritchie Olsen, the New South Wales State Secretary—we're all part of Hutcho, we've all come through the Hutcho school of the TWU and unionism—and to his officials, his branch committee of management, staff and members it's a very, very sad loss. From the national office of Tony Sheldon and Michael Kaine—Tony is, once again, a product of Hutcho and his great leadership—through to the whole TWU family we're going to miss you, mate; we really are.

I want to add a couple of light notes to see Hutcho off. Senator Gallacher, Fiona and I had a couple of bevvies for him last night and we could feel him in the room. We couldn't join the proceedings at the Lappo. We had to get back to Canberra and we were driving. But we certainly had a few—didn't we, mate? You're still crook, aren't you? You're still looking a bit crook.

Senator Gallacher interjecting

I've recovered all right. But Hutcho wouldn't have had it any other way.

A couple of other things just quickly. I remember sitting here in the good old days when the old Right was as close as anything. We were a close family of the Right, there's no doubt about that, under the leadership of Hutcho and others—Hoggy. We were sitting here through one of those mind-numbingly boring nights when there were 20-minute speeches going on about a bill that really didn't matter. It didn't matter but someone wanted to filibuster to keep it going because they needed some crossbench numbers or some damn thing. After a bottle of white, Hutcho got up and said, 'I might go do 20 minutes. Watch this.' Hutcho walked into the chamber—it was one of those boring things, a taxation bill or something; I don't know what it was—and said, 'I want to talk about this taxation bill,' and spent the other 19 minutes and 56 seconds talking about the Battle of Waterloo and Nelson, and no-one challenged him. And he came back, sat down and drank another bottle of wine. That was Hutcho.

There's another one I want to share. I wasn't here in the chamber when Hutcho first got his illness, but—by crikey!—I was on the receiving end when Hutcho fought it off. What I mean by 'the receiving end', and Senator Gallacher can remember this vividly, is that we were at a TWU national council in Melbourne, I think it was. Hutcho had been cleared and Hutcho was on the way back. Somehow we all ended up, as we truckies do—we like a beer, you know: a beer or 15 or whatever—in a night club at two in the morning. I've got to tell you: Hutcho was still bopping. I remember saying to Alex and, a great mate, Western Australian branch secretary Jimmy McGivern: 'God almighty! He's come back with a vengeance. How are we gonna keep up with him?' Hutcho lived life, every single second. When young Xavier was born I was here: to reiterate what Senator Moore said, nothing was greater to Hutcho than his family.

We're going to miss you, cobber. There aren't too many people like Hutcho. When he had a vision or a view he stuck to it. You knew, if you were with Hutcho in a blue, you had one of the best mates you could ever have. He never wimped. He never took a backward step. He was an absolutely passionate supporter and promoter of workers rights. It's a shame that there's not a lot more—I'll get in trouble for this, but I really don't care, because this is about my mate Hutcho. If we could turn out union leaders and union officials and turn them into senators with the values that Hutcho carried we'd be in a damn great place. To those young ones coming through: don't worry about what you see from some of the batches that are coming through here nowadays. Go back and read some history books. Read about Hutcho.

Hutcho: rest in peace, mate. We're so glad you're not in pain.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask honourable senators to stand in silence to signify their assent to the motion.

Honourable senators having stood in their places—

The motion is carried.