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Monday, 29 November 2021
Page: 6849

Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaOpposition Whip in the Senate) (18:25): I seek leave to have incorporated into Hansard the speeches of Senator Kim Carr, Senator Carol Brown and Senator Catryna Bilyk.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as f ollows—


A life in politics can be very isolating.

You have lots of acquaintances, but few friends.

Alex Gallacher was a colleague whom I was privileged to call a friend.

We came from different parts of the Labor Party, but that didn't matter.

The longer I serve in this place, the more I appreciate how you can come to see people differently.

In recent times, as I shared the back bench with Alex, I had many conversations with him.

I found how much we had in common in our vision of politics, and Labor politics in particular.

Alex Gallacher represented all that is best in the labour movement.

As a union official, and in this place, he was always a staunch defender of the ideals of that movement.

He was always a loyal member of the Labor Party, though he did not always like the direction it took.

Indeed, his loyalty was shown most strongly when he had such misgivings.

Alex believed it was his duty to call out those who he thought had strayed from Labor values.

He did so fearlessly.

Senators from all sides of this chamber will remember Alex as a straight talker.

To always speak plainly and directly is a virtue in politics.

Unfortunately, it is a virtue that is no longer as widespread as it should be.

Alex's forthrightness, however, will remain an example - and perhaps sometimes a reproach - to us all.

He seems to have acquired this forthrightness from his Scottish family background.

In his first speech in this place, he quoted his two Scottish aunts, Dotty and Mattie.

Their counsel to him on entering Parliament was: "Don't get a big head and don't get too big for your boots".

Alex said he intended to heed their advice, and I'm sure they would be pleased that he did.

They would probably also be pleased at his readiness to pass the advice on unsolicited, to other people he thought needed to hear it.

Alex was born in New Cumnock, Scotland, in 1954 and migrated to Australia with his family in 1966.

Like all migrants, they came here in search of a better life.

Alex found that better life, and dedicated his own life to building a better life for others.

He first worked as a labourer and a truck driver, and through that became involved in the Transport Workers Union.

He rose to become state secretary of the union in South Australia, before becoming a Labor Senator for that state in 2010.

Alex's commitment to the industry in which he had worked never wavered, throughout his time in the Senate.

As he said in his first speech:

"I have been involved in the transport industry all my life. In my humble opinion, there is no better place to work.

"There is no smoke and mirrors. Just plain-talking hardworking employees and employers alike in a tough, competitive industry which works harder than most people imagine and continues to work when most people are asleep".

Alex spoke from experience, with the knowledge only an insider can have.

But it was not only knowledge of the practice of the industry.

The speech demonstrated his deep theoretical understanding of the industry's role in the wider economy.

He pointed to problems that have since become acute because of the pandemic.

Problems, for example, associated with "just in time" delivery schedules to ensure that the nation's supermarket shelves can be restocked quickly.

He accepted the need to make the schedules work effectively by properly integrating long-distance and local distribution.

But he did not see this only as a technical matter.

A Labor man and a unionist to the core, he warned of the human cost.

The cost of driver fatigue, and the consequent risks to road safety:

"We are human, and we make mistakes," he said.

"Our b odies are subject to biomechanical tolerance limits and simply not designed to travel at high speed.

"Yet we do so anyway. An effective road safety system must always take human fallibility into account".

Alex knew that resolving such problems requires meticulous research and careful analysis.

His time in this place refutes those who are tempted to think that a labourer and truck driver might not be capable of such activities.

I know how keen his intellect was from the questions he put to me when preparing for committee inquiries.

Committee work is what the Senate does best, and Alex was a consummate committeeman.

He made substantial contributions to the work of many committees, including:

Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, of course.

Environment and Communications

Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade.

He also served on joint committees, including Public Works and Public Accounts and Audit.

Alex Gallacher will be greatly missed, by the Labor Party, by the Senate and by the people of South Australia whom he represented.

I offer my condolences to Paola and his family.

And also to the TWU, including Alex's Senate colleagues Glenn Sterle and Tony Sheldon.

I'd like to finish on a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, which Alex used to conclude his first speech:

"Far and away the best prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."

Alex Gallacher certainly earned that prize.

Rest in peace, Alex.

Condolence for Alex Gallacher


It is somewhat serendipitous that we are having this debate today, as it was four years ago to this date that our former colleague, and another great TWU official, Senator Steve Hutchins was laid to rest.

Alex Gallacher was not only a valued and trusted colleague but also a true friend.

Alex represented the true values of the labour movement and the Labor Party. He never forgot the hardworking Australians that it was his life's passion to represent — firstly with the Transport Workers Union and then in this parliament.

His passion for walking and driving were legend.

As was his straight talking, mischievous sense of humour and dedication.

Not only did Alex and I become friends, but we were also corridor buddies.

I've lost count of the number of Monday nights a small group of us would keep each other company, with Alex's story telling and strong views on various policy options keeping us all entertained.

Alex also shared a friendship with my very good friend, former Senator Claire Moore, who has asked me to pass on the following message:

Alex had a strong commitment to the work of the Senate.

He valued the importance of the committee system, and the need to gain information through that system to provide the best basis for policy development and consideration. He and his office prepared for estimates hearings, in detail and his effective examination of audit reports, tender documents and annual reports to extract information, patterns and inconsistencies was exemplary.

He enjoyed the process, and nothing angered him more than waffling or covering up by witnesses, especially public servants. He was respected by the public servants because he did his homework, and he established professional relationships because they were doing their jobs.

Alex did not bully or ridicule witnesses, although he did get real pleasure when exposing inaccuracies, or poor behaviour.

Alex was very generous and supportive as a committee member and a chair. If you made your case for a position, he ensured that you had time to put the case wherever possible.

He supported committee enquires on issues which were not popular. He was very supportive when I wished to pursue Australia's commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, and attended meetings to allow quorum and provide respect to witnesses.

I loved watching him interact with young people and schools during our committee work. Perhaps it was the link with his grandchildren.

As we all know, Alex had a great dry sense of humour — and none of us were beyond its reach.

Two of the important issues Alex brought to this Chamber were road safety and access to health services.

Senator Pat Dodson got to learn about Alex's passion for documenting, acknowledging and celebrating Australia's indigenous history and the work Alex did promoting it in parts of the South Australian community.

Both Claire and I would like to pass on our sincere condolences to Paola, Alex's family and his staff.

He was very proud of all of you and would often talk lovingly about each and every one of you.

Although Alex is no longer with us, his spirit lives on in this place through his close friend and fellow former TWU official Senators Glenn Sterle.


I don't want to take up too much time today, but I do want to pay my respects to a man who became a good friend.

I first met Alex when he was elected to the Senate in 2010. My initial thoughts were that I didn't think I would warm to him to as a friend, although I knew he couldn't be all bad because he was good mates with Senator Glenn Sterle. It didn't take too long for us to become friends though, as I realised Alex had a dry sense of humour, but what a great sense of humour it was, that he had a strong work ethic and, if possible, an even stronger sense of loyalty. He was also a very direct shooter when it came to words, not so sure about his golfing hits.

He did not suffer fools gladly and did not like people with titles, for example Senator, Minister, Shadow Minister, thinking they were better than anyone else. He could pull people down with a few swift words and do so without them even realising what he was doing. I saw that in action a few times, when people tried to one up him. He was very down to earth, no pretentions at all.

Alex came to the Senate after a 22-year career in the Transport Workers Union starting as a truck driver and becoming the Secretary of the South Australian/ Northern Territory branch. He dedicated his life to improving conditions for working people, and the love he had for the transport workers never left him. Others have spoken of his achievements and involvements in this area so I won't repeat all that.

Alex was smart, not just street smart, but politically and tactically. Many a discussion (mainly held in his or Sterle's office and often over a red wine or a beer) was about tactics he though we should be using, or how he was going to approach a certain issue. He was a critical thinker and I learnt a lot from him and those discussions.

Alex loved his family, and he would often chat and show me photos of his children and grandchildren and speak about what they were up to. He was a proud dad and an even prouder grandad. Even when he was at home in Adelaide, when I would contact him, he would update me on the family.

He also loved to play golf. Sometimes when I would ring or text him to see how he was going he would tell me he had managed a game or two and how he had played, often badly according to him, but he'd obviously enjoyed it.

I once told Alex that I'd reversed a B double (truck) the length of a football field and had a certificate for doing so. His comment was "well there's a skill I think you've lost." A few months later he was a passenger in my car, as a few of us were going out to dinner. I found a park and reversed in, in one go, using my mirrors, and I watched him and Glenn Sterle looking at each other. "Oh, so you know to use your mirrors to park and reverse well" was the dry comment. "That's what truckies do".

He used to often pester me about people getting pairs. This came to be a great bit of banter between him and I. He thought, as the former Deputy Whip, I should know why people had pairs. I explained that's information the Whip holds in confidence, but he would ask me why so and so had a pair, and how come so and so also got pairs, and why was someone paired for that particular time and so it went on. This went on for months and finally one day he said to how come he didn't paired. My response was. "Alex, if you grew a pair, you would get a pair". He was lost for words and later in the day came to me and told me "It's not many people that leave me speechless, but you did then. Good job mate"

I remember that conversation with fond memories of a man who was a good mate to many. I count myself lucky to have been part of his crowd.

Vale Alex Gallacher - I hope wherever you are you are enjoying a glass of red, or a beer and enjoying your golf.