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Thursday, 30 November 2017
Page: 9386


Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (16:22): 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.