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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9256

Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (10:36): It is fair to say that political staffers do not get a lot of love in the Australian public debate. But we who have the chance to serve in this place know how invaluable staffers are. It is not just the many long hours they give us; it is that many of our staff are impressive in their own right. They crack jokes, read deeply, love ideas and use their spare time to do community service or travel the world. Kurt Steel, the media adviser to ACT Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr, was such a man. Kurt was Canberra through and through. He attended Melrose High, Canberra College and the University of Canberra and barracked for the Raiders.

Anyone involved in ACT politics at the federal or territory level knew Kurt. He worked first for New South Wales parliamentarian Steve Whan, before switching to work with Andrew Barr. Within the ACT, Kurt seemed to be at every committee meeting, trivia night and party event. My enduring memory of him is the man with a smile, looking for the next problem to solve. As Andrew Barr put it:

Kurt was a professional, highly respected and dedicated leader …

On Saturday, Kurt died in a bus crash in Bolivia, aged just 25. He had been on a six-week trip around South America—a trip that he had more than earned by dint of working many long hours and weekends.

Kurt's death has shaken the whole Labor family. Opposition leader Bill Shorten spoke of his 'truly awesome' passion for the Labor cause. ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has remembered him as a person who 'always went beyond what was required of him'. ACT Labor Secretary Elias Hallaj has called him 'one of our brightest stars'. National ALP Party Organiser Nathan Lambert said, 'Kurt was so valuable in the last national campaign, we had already begun working out how to poach him—again.' As the face of the Right faction at ACT Labor conferences, I know Kurt would have got a chuckle out of the fact that tributes to him have come not only from ACT opposition leader Jeremy Hanson but even from the Left faction of the Labor Party.

Many of his friends have told me how much they will miss him and how strange it is to look at Facebook updates from his trip and realise they will not be able to share a beer with him ever again. Many in the media have also added tributes to Kurt, with whom they worked closely. I extend my condolences to Kurt's siblings, Chris and Yasmin, and to his parents, Jayne and Phillip. As Mark Parton tweeted:

Kurt Steel seemed like one of nature's true gentlemen.

Adam Collins tweeted 'such a lovely and happy bloke'. As Kurt's friend Todd Pinkerton put it over the weekend:

Heaven has gained one hell of a community organiser today.