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Thursday, 30 November 2017
Page: 9397

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (17:08): 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.