Tuesday, 12 November 2019
Tillem, Mr Mehmet
by leave—I move:
That the Senate records its deep regret at the passing, on 9 November 2019, of Mehmet Tillem, former Senator for Victoria, places on record its appreciation for his service to the Parliament and the nation, and tenders its sympathy to his family in their bereavement.
We were all shocked and deeply saddened when we heard the news over the weekend that our former colleague Mehmet Tillem had passed away at the very young age of 45. Many of us have served with Mehmet in this chamber. I did not know him well, but I was always struck by the warmth of his smile. And it appears that others noticed his big smile too, because, as I refreshed my memory of Mehmet's first speech in this chamber, there it was: Senators Sterle and Gallacher had reportedly asked him why he always smiled, and his response was telling. He told them that he smiles because it gives him great joy to be in this place, representing the great state of Victoria. 'It's an honour and privilege,' he said. We should all remember those words and we should all smile more, because we are all very privileged to represent our respective states and territories in this chamber.
Like many of us, Mehmet was born overseas. He was a proud Australian who was proud of his Turkish heritage and who was Labor through and through. He moved here from Turkey with his family at the age of two and grew to embody all that is wonderful about our culturally diverse society. Settling in one of Australia's truly great multicultural cities, he embraced Melbourne as his home. In his first speech, he would refer fondly to the smell of coffee in Melbourne's CBD laneways, footy at the 'G and meals on Lygon Street. When he replaced Senator the Hon. David Feeney in this place, Mehmet cited the relaxation of immigration laws under the Fraser government as allowing his father to make a better life for his family in Australia in 1976.
The son of working-class parents and a product of the Victorian state education system, Mehmet had Labor roots grounded in his upbringing, and he understood the value of hard work and community from a young age. Mehmet was passionate about a range of issues. He told the story of how he and his family were welcomed to Australia as refugees during the period of the Fraser Liberal-National government. He was an advocate for the humane treatment of asylum seekers. He was passionate about housing affordability and policies to encourage more organ donations. He loved the multicultural diversity of Australia, which he noted was appropriately reflected in this chamber. We all mourn a life taken suddenly and far too soon, but we should also celebrate a life lived with great gusto and conviction.
Entering the Senate in 2013, 20 years after joining the party, Mehmet became the first person of Turkish origin and the second Muslim to serve in parliament. He joined an increasingly multicultural Senate, being sworn in on the same day as Senator Seselja, the son of Croatian emigrants; Senator Peris, the first Indigenous woman to enter parliament; and Senator Dastyari, who was born in Iran. The make-up of the Senate then, as it does today, reflected a vibrant Australia. The key theme, however, was not lost on Mehmet. In his first speech in this place he said of his fellow senators:
… we are all Australians, sharing common Australian values …
Mehmet counted fairness, equality, solidarity, equanimity and a parliament that serves the people among his values. He fought for Victorian jobs, citing his state as Australia's manufacturing heartland. Strip it all back and Mehmet cared deeply for his fellow Australians. He was committed to speaking out for those who couldn't find their own voice and providing opportunities to those who didn't have them. Mehmet will be remembered as loyal and engaging, and who could forget his sense of humour? When he left this place in 2014, I recall his temptation to declare, 'I'll be back,' in his best Terminator impersonation. Instead, he chose, 'Till we meet again.'
On behalf of the Australian government and coalition senators, our deep and sincere condolences to Mehmet's family: his wife, Ferda; his son, Mikail; and his parents, Ramazan and Fatma. Mehmet's passing is a reminder of how precious life is and how we must cherish and best use the time we have to pursue what is important to us and those around us. His life was one of passion, commitment and achievement, a life with all the hallmarks of a great Australian story. Rest in peace, Mehmet Tillem.
I rise on behalf of the Labor opposition to honour our friend and former colleague here in the Senate Mehmet Tillem. I rise to express the opposition's condolences and our deep sadness at his passing. Mehmet died too young this past Saturday, at the age of only 45, after suffering debilitating health conditions. In accordance with Islamic tradition, his funeral was held on Sunday at Broadmeadows Mosque in Melbourne. At the outset, I again express our condolences to his family and friends. I express our condolences and solidarity with those in the chamber today who were his friend. But most of all I extend our sympathies to his wife, Ferda; son, Mikail; and parents, Ramazan and Fatma.
Mehmet Tillem was the quick-witted, smart, hardworking migrant, whose tenure in this place is measured not by time but by what it meant to an entire community. He served as a senator only briefly but he always recognised the great fortune that is associated with being one of a small number of Australians who have occupied a seat in our national parliament. Beyond the walls of this place, he was a mentor to many, recognising potential and helping to guide the way.
Mehmet Tillem was the first Turkish-born member of the Australian parliament and only the second Muslim. He moved to Australia from Turkey when he was two, in the mid-1970s. His parents risked everything to come here, but the rewards were great. On arrival, they sought work, despite having very limited English-language skills, his father finding employment in the car industry and his mother in everything from biscuit and electronics factories to clothing and footwear manufacturing. That their son was able to become an Australian senator is a tribute to their hard work and the opportunities this provided. It speaks also to the importance of a good public education, affordable housing and accessible health care, and it says something about the best of our community.
Mehmet's migrant heritage would form the basis for his service in the Senate, and he felt the weight of this responsibility, conscious that the Australian political system can be out of reach for many people from migrant communities. But, through his leadership, his community saw that it was possible to have someone who looked like and identified with them in our national parliament. It also showed many that they too could aspire to public office. His cultural identity was an indelible part of who he was, although he was not solely defined by it. In many ways, he represents the broader story that so many migrants identify with—the power of education as a foundation of opportunity.
Mehmet was inspired to join the Australian Labor Party, at the age of 19, by the leadership of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. Just as he would be, in time, a mentor to others, he was fortunate to benefit from the guidance and influence of significant individuals within the party. I note our former colleague Stephen Conroy was one of those, and Mehmet worked with him for some time. Mehmet identified that they would be friends for a long time, perhaps because he knew too much about Stephen Conroy!
It was through the ALP that Mehmet found his identification with the tenets that were moulded through his upbringing. In his first speech he proclaimed:
My values are Labor values: fairness, equality, solidarity, and an economy and a parliament that serve the people.
He was proud of the role he played within the party and even prouder to represent it in the Senate. Mehmet Tillem was chosen by the parliament of Victoria, in August 2013, to fill the vacancy created when David Feeney resigned to contest the division of Batman at the forthcoming election. Unfortunately, in a difficult election, he was not subsequently returned from third place on the Senate ticket. As a consequence, his service in this place was short. But the value of his contribution shouldn't be equated with the length of his tenure. He was a diligent and dedicated senator and he humbly recognised the opportunity he had and set about applying himself to the job ahead. He summarised the honour he felt in taking his place in the Senate in the opening paragraph of his first speech—which my colleague Senator Cormann has also quoted—in which he recalled an encounter with Senators Sterle and Gallacher in which they asked him why he smiled, and, in response, he said:
I smile because it gives me great joy to be in this place representing the great state of Victoria. It is an honour and a privilege.
It is an honour and privilege. He knew what it meant to be here. It's worth remembering that he entered this place at a very difficult time for Labor. Perhaps one might say we've replicated it since! We lost government in 2013. It was hard to regroup. It was hard to put our energy into being an effective opposition, but Mehmet said, 'It is an honour and a privilege.' We should all remember those words always. Amidst the conflict, at times the argument, at times the enmity, it is an honour and a privilege to be here. He knew what it meant to be here and he knew who he served.
Mehmet was at his most compelling when speaking about his values and his experience. As someone from an ethnic background, from a minority and from a group that knows persecution, he knew what racism was. Not long after the then Attorney-General infamously defended the right to be a bigot, Mehmet spoke compellingly in defence of the Racial Discrimination Act. He spoke of the strength that comes from a truly multicultural Australia, woven throughout the community and enduring through the adversity of language barriers, social exclusion and economic disadvantage. He said:
Racial vilification is intellectually flawed, morally bankrupt and socially divisive.
Noting the success of Australia's multiculturalism and steps taken to reconcile our past with our First Australians, he also called on the parliament to show leadership on race. Of course, by his presence but also by his actions he was a leader himself.
He was also a member of the Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and F&PA committees. We all recall the Abbott government's 2014 budget—such an unfair budget. Mehmet, along with all Labor senators and members of the crossbench at the time, applied himself conscientiously and effectively to scrutiny through the budget estimates hearings. Some in his position, with a term soon to expire, might have given themselves a leave pass—it's not unknown—but he engaged enthusiastically in estimates work. He was eager to learn and he put himself to work. He asked the questions, he listened to the answers—an often neglected part of the process—and followed up with those giving evidence. His thoughtful approach is the mark of the character that many have spoken about when reflecting on his life in recent days. He demonstrated a professionalism, a willingness to learn and a willingness to apply himself in the time he was here. Parliament House is not known for having a lot of people who are known for their humility in it, but he was a senator who was often unassuming and quiet. I was sorry that his circumstances didn't enable him to return to this chamber.
Following the conclusion of his Senate term and the election of the Andrews government in Victoria, Mehmet Tillem worked for two ministers in his home state, Phil Dalidakis and John Eren. In a touching tribute, Mr Dalidakis farewelled his friend and former chief of staff as follows:
In politics where friends are harder to come by than winning Tatts tickets, he was the best; loyal, caring, fierce, tenacious & whip smart. Irreplaceable.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Mr Marles, was friends with Mehmet for over 20 years. In his tribute he particularly noted Mehmet's 'engagement and leadership with young Labor activists'. Mr Marles said:
Many of Labor's best and brightest next generation in Victoria have looked to Mehmet as their mentor.
Others have described how he had such great capacity to see people's potential and wanted to help them in their journey. Recognising that Labor politics could be a challenging landscape to navigate, especially for women, he took time to invest in their development. When too many overlooked the skills and insights needed to overcome structural barriers to participation, he recognised that women would be treated differently within our party and always took the extra time to provide extra help. Those who benefited from his knowledge and friendship in this way are and will continue to be his ongoing legacy.
Mehmet Tillem was a dignified exemplar of our great multicultural nation. He loved Victoria, the Tigers and politics. He was devoted to his community and the Australian Labor Party. When people get elected to this place, they don't just get represented as individuals but are also representatives of their community. Through his actions he showed others that they too could aspire to roles in public life and gave many more a helping hand along the way. To those who knew him closely he was an intensely loyal friend. On a personal note, I deeply appreciated his courtesy and kindness to me. He was a respectful and considerate colleague who demonstrated the greatest respect for the privilege of serving in the Australian Senate. We mourn the death of Mehmet Tillem, and I again express my personal sympathies—and, on behalf of the opposition, our sincere condolences—to his family and friends.
There have only been 624 senators of the Commonwealth of Australia. There have been 103 senators for Victoria, and my friend former senator Mehmet Tillem was one of them. He was here for a short time, both in the Senate and, so sadly, in his life. 'Inshallah'—if God wills—said his family at the hospital on Saturday, when they were hoping he would be able to breathe independently. His best friend said to him, 'Let your heart which has touched so many work again.' Sadly, this was not to be. My friends and I were so determined that he would return to fly Labor's flag when his health was restored. We needed him. We need him still. We needed his Zen-like calm; his wisdom well beyond his years; his careful planning; his willingness to call out rubbish—he would have employed another word—and to laugh at the extremes of political correctness; his nurturing of young, ambitious talents; and his deep pragmatism and firm values rooted in his upbringing. We need him now, just like we always did.
Mehmet's lovely wife, Ferda, his son Mikail and his parents, Ramaza and Fatima, were his first love. He lived for them, and they are rightly so very proud of him. He loved this country with a fervour that few would know. He loved the Australian enthusiasms of footy and cricket, and he was a competitive—as in really competitive—backyard cricketer. I record my gratitude here to the AFL's Jude Donnelly for helping ensure that Mehmet and his son could attend their first football game in a while, on grand final day this year, where he saw Richmond demolish its opposition. It meant a lot to him not just because of the result but because he was able to share it with his boy Mikky. He was very keen to go because in 2017 he missed Richmond's first premiership in 37 years by reason of being in a coma during that month as part of his ongoing battle with his health, which left him in a wheelchair. But none of this was going to stop him seeing Richmond win that flag, and see it with his beloved son—a grand final triumph that was to be the very last AFL match he saw.
Mehmet had learnt a lot, he told me, as a patient in hospitals and in rehab and as one of many Australians trying to get sense and support out of the NDIS. My friend the President of the Senate and I were both trying to help him get the support he needed from that rather complex and not always responsive government agency. His involvement in Labor politics was long and ran deep, driven by the strongest of beliefs and the steepest of thinking. He has had and will continue to have, due to the good people he helped preselect, a long impact on politics in this country.
We had many shared adventures due to our participation in backroom Labor politics. We plotted and planned, both before and after Victorian party offices meetings. He played a vital role in helping remove some nefarious characters from a high-profile union in desperate need of saving, despite being emphatically told by various bosses not to be involved. Indeed, they might be surprised, if they hear this speech, to know that he was! He put his job on the line for principle and did so frequently. How many people in this building are, or were, willing to do that?
I do want to mention one incident from a union campaign. I only really feel vaguely comfortable talking about this at all because the statute of limitations for defamation has passed! A letter had been drafted outlining, in helpful and clear bullet points in the same typeface as The Sopranos, some of the more newsworthy and titillating actions of various officials at a particular union. It was sent to Mehmet for redraft, and then to print. So imagine the campaign surprise that some of the dot points that had only really been drafted for Mehmet to have a chuckle at, and then to delete promptly, made it out to about 15,000 members, mainly older women who might have been a little taken aback. Certainly that's what their phone calls to the campaign office seemed to indicate. Mehmet's view was that the original copy made the necessary point.
He had good judgement about political communication and how to reach people and, obviously, how to impress a point upon them. He was tough, principled, fanatically loyal, sensible and pragmatic. He had a perpetual twinkle in his eye, reflecting the fact that he was always up to some great scheme, a grand plan, one big dream or another. He was a centrist, not because he was cautious but because he knew that lasting Labor changes like super, Medicare and the NDIS came from earning trust and gradual wins, not 'issuing woke revolutionary decrees'. Those are his words. He did not believe in shutting down industries and denying workers work in the name of—again his words—'highfalutin inner city causes'. These were not academic issues to him. They were his life; they were real life. He grew up surrounded by factory workers in Broadmeadows. And that big smile! Mehmet loved being here in this building. He loved life, whether it was here, under the trees in his backyard, at various cafes plotting or outside the ALP's head office in King Street, where it was then located.
Mehmet and I competed for a Senate vacancy in 2013. He was backed by his friends and I was backed by mine. It was a family feud of sorts in a group unpleasantly called the ShortCons. The Labor Left sensibly kept out of it. They probably weren't sure whom they liked least! Mehmet won. His grace and generosity of spirit after a tough contest is the perfect expression of what Mehmet was like. We all know people in politics who are not gracious winners, but Mehmet kept it all in perspective and that was Mehmet. When some panicked in a crisis, he was calm. When some flinched at the first sign of conflict, he stood up. When lies were told, he spoke the truth, even if it was going to cost him.
I assumed from that disappointing contest that I should focus on being the best lawyer I could be. I did give some consideration to become managing partner of the law firm where I was, and Mehmet was actually helping me through the office politics there too. I would be involved in politics from a respectable distance, cheering on my friends and offering advice, which, hopefully, was worth more than they paid for it. But Mehmet encouraged me to stay involved. Mehmet was often involved in events that would reach the media, but often his name wouldn't. His achievements vastly exceeded his profile. He moved quietly, stealthily and very, very effectively. He worked for some of the most powerful politicians in all the land, but no power on earth could constrain Mehmet's strategic mind, his passion for politics and his loyalty to his friends. One of his ministers, Phil Dalidakis—now a very senior executive at Australia Post—called him 'the chief'. It was an apt title. And, at the risk of it seeming that former Senator Conroy has never left the chamber, Steve said to me yesterday to mention his deep gratitude to, and love of, Mehmet.
Mehmet emphatically didn't want me to acknowledge in my inaugural speech his vital role in helping me to be preselected when another Senate vacancy came along. In fact, my candidacy was very much his idea, and I took some persuading about whether it was a good idea to run to replace Stephen. When I realised he was serious about it, I realised I had a serious chance. When it came to a democratic contest, Mehmet was a seriously good ally. After the result—he did not like boasting; he didn't like people boasting for him—he didn't seek the limelight, despite a natural, theatrical flair, a schmoozer's charm and a comedic wit that lightened even the most tense situation. Now that he has gone, I very much hope he doesn't mind my acknowledging in this chamber at this time that he very much did play a vital role in that preselection. The simple truth of the matter is that, having been in the Senate before me, with the strong relationships he enjoyed with my predecessor, Stephen Conroy, and his supporters, Mehmet could very well have taken the position I now hold for himself. But he, and others working with him, chose to help me.
When people look at the cause of Labor, the labour movement, and marvel at our strength even in our darkest days, a very big part of explaining our mystery is selfless men like Mehmet Tillem. I was a little surprised initially about the events he'd helped set in train. Selflessness is all too rare in competitive environments; it's all too rare in this building. To paraphrase former President Truman who somewhat cynically said, 'If you want a friend in politics, get a dog,' I can tell you that President Truman obviously never met Mehmet. I have been truly blessed that a group of us, including Mehmet, touched base most days, and some nights, to discuss everything from policy to polling, to a good political campaigning book and to the latest Caesar-like demise. Mehmet was a key member of that group, even in pain in the ICU or at rehab. He would sometimes phone in high dudgeon late at night about something that was happening in the wonderful world of politics. I'll miss those calls.
In the Labor Party, as rough and tough as it can be, that selflessness emerges at many moments. It's why Labor is strong. Even after election defeats, even after being dismissed from office, even after being split in two by a mad leader, even after being outspent 10 to one, we endure. We are still standing and we will always be. The light on the hill will never be extinguished, despite the best efforts of our conservative opponents and our Greens political party enemies.
As his family and friends reel from Mehmet's death at 45 years old, with a son aged 14 years, and as we ache with longing for just one more phone call, one more preselection contest with him leading the charge and counting the numbers, one more wry smile, one more frank character assessment, one more victory, one more deep philosophical argument over latte, this is the perfect time and place to honour him. He was my good friend. I will miss him every day for the rest of my life. I will put up a photo of Mehmet in my office here and in Melbourne to remind me every day why I'm here and how I got here—to speak truth to power, to fight for those being stonewalled by amply paid bureaucrats who won't answer questions at estimates, to fight for the working Australians for whom Labor exists and without whom Labor is worth nothing, and to do my very best in every way I can to be worthy of the trust and support that Mehmet invested in me. Vale Mehmet.
Some people are taken from us too early but their achievements stand out all the more for that. Mehmet Tillem was one of those people. He died at just 45 after a long series of illnesses. His time as a member of the Senate was brief, yet he made history just by being here. As others have already indicated, he was the first senator of Turkish descent and he was the second Muslim to serve in this parliament. As he said in his first speech of this place, his faith was always important to him. But so were many other things that made up the Mehmet Tillem that we knew; certainly the one that I knew. He was a close associate, friend and ally of Stephen Conroy but he worked much more broadly in the Labor Party than that. He was also a very close friend of Kosmos Samaras, the assistant secretary of the Victorian branch of the Labor Party.
He spent a considerable amount of time in my office in various capacities. As a competitor and a person who discussed the future of the Labor Party in Victoria for great periods of time, I found him to be a man of integrity and honesty, and to be trustworthy. These are things that are important, because in this business we have very little other than our reputation. While he might have been a practitioner of the dark arts, as Senator Kitching has indicated—I'm sure he would be very pleased to hear how much of that has now been revealed!—it is the capacity to engage on the basis of integrity about the things that really do matter that one can hold up as one's legacy.
His story is a great Australian story and a great Labor story. It is a great story about the extraordinary contribution that immigration and multiculturalism has made to our country. It is a story about the importance of family and community. It is a story of the struggle of working-class people to build a better life. It is a story about how manufacturing provides jobs, hope and opportunity for communities. It is a story about using the power of government to create a fairer and more prosperous country for all of us. Mehmet Tillem stood for all of those things, and he never wavered in that.
His father, Ramazan, came to this country as what might be called in some circles an illegal immigrant. Those were much more tolerant times. In 1976, the Fraser government allowed Ramazan Tillem to stay in Australia and bring his wife and child here. Although Mehmet was always a good Labor man, he always gave credit to the coalition for that decision. He regarded it as an example of how governments could use their powers to make life better for ordinary people.
Mehmet said that one of the first English words his father learnt was 'job'. The Tillem family worked hard and achieved the better life that they were seeking. Their story is the story of so many migrants who have shaped the northern suburbs of Melbourne. It is very much the story of Broadmeadows. It is the story of Glenroy, where Mehmet's family home was and where he lived. His father worked in the car industry—Toyota, Dunlop, Ford and Holden. Mehmet understood what the car industry meant to Melbourne and to Australia more generally. It not only provided jobs for people like his father but also was a great repository of skills, and it also provided the vehicle for those hopes and aspirations. It was an industry that was a great driver of innovation in the country. It was one of the great manufacturing centres that were so important to the labour movement.
Mehmet entered the Senate at a time when the Abbott government was, of course, taking the decision to force the industry in this country to shut down. In his first speech, he said, 'I was going to say that we could be negligent if we let Holden fall; well, I guess we are negligent.' He understood how many thousands of people would be affected if the manufacturing sector disappeared. He knew that Victoria, the state that he so proudly represented, would be affected most of all. His mother, Fatma, worked in biscuit factories, shoe factories and an electronics components factory. Many, of course, were within spitting distance of where they lived. Many of those are now closed.
He said that what always kept him going was the story about the first English word his father learnt; he said it was what drew him to the Labor Party and what drew him to this chamber. He said that we have a shared responsibility to look after all the citizens of this country, and we cannot do that selectively. He said:
A job gives every Australian immense self-worth and dignity. I will fight for the rights of all Australians: to be able to work, to give our kids the opportunity for an education just like I got, to get health care and to look after those that need our help. These are Labor values and, I believe, the values of most Australians.
They are indeed. Of course, Mehmet Tillem always fought for those values. All those hours we spent arguing the toss about future directions were aimed at that: securing the future of Labor. He continued to do that well after he left this chamber. As has already been mentioned, he was the chief of staff for Philip Dalidakis, the Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade in the Victorian government. I think he always remained, as he described himself in his first speech, a product of the grassroots of the Labor Party. He knew that the Labor Party would lose touch with those grassroots at its peril, and he did listen to ensure that grassroots supporters joined the Labor Party—in great numbers, I might say—and to ensure that they did, in fact, support him as well.
In his first speech—I know a number of senators have referred to this first speech—he told how his young son, Mikail, asked him if he'd made any laws in the Senate yet. Mehmet said, 'Not yet.' Mikail said, 'You should make a law where you make more schools because not all kids can fit on the mat.' For that policy suggestion, Mehmet thanked him and said he was very proud of him. You can be sure that Mikail is proud of him too. My deepest condolences to his family, to his friends and to his community.
I just want to make a few remarks this afternoon paying respect to former senator Mehmet Tillem. It's fair to say Mehmet touched on a lot of us in the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party. I got to know Mehmet through my dealings with him on the Australian Labor Party administrative committee. I got to enjoy many long nights with Mehmet before and after, and the one thing that certainly resonated for me was his ability to deal with issues which, as they usually do, came up at the very last minute and without much notice, and his ability to work through the problems that were before the committee and try and find a solution. He was certainly someone who was able to navigate his way around and also try and provide guidance to many of us in the room trying to find a solution to many complex problems.
As we touched on earlier, it's fair to say he has left us far, far too early. I know his time in this place was very brief, but nonetheless he still made a very strong contribution to many laws in this place and to the many Senate inquiries that he sat on. He also has a story that resonates with many in this place—certainly in my case. I think that a family having come to Australia from overseas and having a son or daughter able to be in the federal Senate speaks volumes of the multicultural society that we live in—such a great country—and certainly Mehmet is a prime example of a success story. We should all be very proud of what he has achieved in this place.
The other aspect of Mehmet's contribution is about education. As Senators Wong, Kitching and Carr have touched on, it is about the importance of education for a number of migrant families who have come to Australia and investing in education so that their children end up having a much more successful working life than they had. My own family went through manufacturing and wanted to see me succeed at university and have a professional job. But I know his mum and dad and his own son looked up to him as a mentor, and he was also a representative of the Turkish community back in Melbourne and Victoria.
Even though he was born in Turkey, I think it's fair to say he was as Aussie as they come. He loved his cricket and he loved his football, and he did enjoy having many beers as well. Mehmet would also love having a chat about whatever sport events were on in Melbourne at the time. His story is certainly one that sounds very familiar to many Australians.
As we mentioned earlier, he came to Australia after his father had come out some years beforehand to make sure that Australia, this great place, was the right place for him, his mum and his other siblings to settle. They started out in public housing and worked very hard to make sure that they were able to own their own home, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Both of Mehmet's parents worked in manufacturing, as many migrants did, especially in the automotive industry. Together, they worked hard to give him and his siblings the best possible start in life, ensuring, as I said earlier, that they all had quality education.
At a very young age Mehmet joined the ALP, and he dedicated his whole working life to advancing its cause. As Senator Carr has mentioned, it was also about ensuring that Labor values were instilled not just within his own family but within those of the Turkish community, and broadly within the community at large. Mehmet was driven to instill into Australian policymaking and discourse the Labor values of fairness, respect, equality and solidarity—values that he spoke of in his first speech, which I won't delve into this afternoon. In his time in the party, Mehmet served Victorian and federal Labor ministers and MPs very well. He was always there as a sounding board—someone to go to for advice. The culmination of his work came in 2013 when he was sworn into this great place, stepping in to fill a casual vacancy after Senator Feeney ran for the seat of Batman.
Mehmet was a recognisable figure. We always used to joke how he sort of looked like Alex Perry—although I think it's fair to say he probably thought he was more like Alex, rather than the other way around! He could be found at all manner of ALP functions, standing somewhere in the room, deep in conversation, or outside, with a cigarette in one hand and a mobile phone in the other and his glasses constantly on the top of his head—always trying to look at a way forward, and dealing with that problem in the hope of finding a solution.
Whilst his term here was short, his impact will go down in history. He made a lot of change. With colleagues who are here and in the other place, we today remember his contributions. He advocated for a strong manufacturing sector, for the dignity of work and for dignified work, for housing affordability and for organ donation, which he was very, very passionate about.
Apart from being the first Turkish-born Australian senator, Mehmet remained a stalwart of his community in Melbourne. That was seen on Sunday at his funeral, where overflowing crowds gathered in Broadmeadows. Mehmet's death has come as a great shock to the entire Victorian Labor family as well as to colleagues in this place. Colleagues and friends have shared their sadness at his passing—over Facebook, at many social events and in the media. Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles has said he remembers Mehmet for his work in mentoring a whole generation of Labor Party activists. It's these activists and their triumphs that will always remain as Mehmet's legacy.
He was also a passionate Richmond Tigers fan. As Senator Kitching has mentioned, we are very thankful that the AFL ensured that both Mehmet and his son were able to spend time together a few months ago, to attend the recent AFL grand final. It's fair to say he was very delighted to see his beloved Tigers win their 12th premiership.
I extend my deepest sympathies to his family, to his loving wife and son. Mehmet will be missed by many in this great place. I really do look forward to the many other discussions that we'll no doubt have outside of this chamber as we remember Mehmet for the years to come.