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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8787


Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (19:00): It is with great sadness that I advise the House of the death of Stephen Forgacs, managing director of Forgacs, from a melanoma related cancer on Tuesday, 24 July 2012.

Stephen's life is an amazing story of determination and dedication. As a young man, in 1956, Stephen was forced to flee from his native Hungary, which had just been invaded. Soldiers from the Soviet Union surrounded the huge engineering factory in Ganz where he worked as fitter and turner. All Stephen could hear was the sound of random gunfire as Soviet tanks rolled through Hungarian streets.

At the age of 20, Stephen and his soon to be wife, Gizelle, with only the clothes on their backs, joined the mass exodus as thousands headed for the Austrian-Hungarian border—14,000 Hungarians were killed and 200,000 were injured. In the Austrian refugee camp it was survival of the fittest. Along with Gizelle, Stephen had a simple but defining choice to make—Canada or Australia. His life defining moment was to board a ship headed for Australia.

From the Bonagilla refugee camp near Albury, Steve hitchhiked to Newcastle, an industrial town, trying to get work to feed his family because by now the couple's first child, Pam, had been born. Despite speaking no English he secured a job at BHP. He had no role models, no benefactors and no mentors. He was his own man and he lived life his way.

He joined Ullman Engineering in Newcastle as a machinist, and in 1962 Stephen bought Ullman and went on to build Forgacs Engineering, a business which is today one of Australia's largest privately owned shipbuilding, repair and heavy engineering companies. It is a company we are rightly proud of in the Hunter, an internationally competitive company headquartered in Newcastle.

The business that Stephen built went on to acquire some of east coast Australia's most sought after marine sites and infrastructure in the 1980 and 1990s. Today it employs 1,250 people at seven major industrial sites and shipyards in New South Wales and Queensland. Forgacs refits super cruise liners at its Brisbane graving dock and manufactures mining truck bodies in Gladstone and rail locomotive underframes in Newcastle. It is also a major supplier of Air Warfare Destroyer modules to the Australian Defence Force.

Stephen understood that the key to a successful business is to reach the optimum balance between the best possible working conditions and remaining internationally competitive. When Forgacs took over the Newcastle shipyard and floating dock in 1987, several unions represented workers there. Stephen negotiated with the Painters and Dockers Union and others so that it would become a one union site—a groundbreaking move that ensured the most efficient way forward.

Stephen never forgot his early days as a tradesman. His mantra was: 'Nothing works like hard work, but everyone needs an opportunity.' This commitment of Stephen's is evidenced by Forgacs now indenturing approximately 120 apprentices company-wide—more than 10 per cent of the company's workforce.

As per Stephen's wishes, the company is taking a 'business as usual' approach, driving forward to continue the significant company growth we have seen in recent years. Projects such as the building of 44 Air Warfare Destroyer modules at Newcastle and Tomago for our ADF will see Forgacs extremely busy for the foreseeable future.

Often considered a nonconformist by his peers, Stephen was an individual with strong convictions and high principles. He saw opportunities where others had failed. Stephen's secret was to keep it simple—and it succeeded. Stephen never sought recognition. However, in 2010 he was honoured with both the Manufacturer of the Year award and the Manufacturing Person of the Year award.

While Stephen has given much to Newcastle and Australia, he was always a proud Hungarian and a strong advocate for his country of birth and its people. Stephen and his wife, Gizelle, had nothing when they came to Australia in 1956 except energy and a burning desire to improve their lot. Over many years Stephen has gone out of his way to ensure many of his Hungarian countrymen in Australia had a better start in this country than he and Gizelle had to endure. Again, he sought no praise for this assistance.

One of Stephen's last plaintive requests of the doctor was to make him better so that he could go to work again. Stephen maintained his dignity and quiet resignation to the end. Stephen is survived by his wife, Gizelle; their three children, Pam Farragher, Elizabeth Burgess and Stephen Peter Forgacs; and his grandchildren. May he rest in peace. He has been an outstanding contributor to the Hunter.