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Tuesday, 14 November 2017
Page: 8433


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (20:20): On 27 June 2009, I attended a splendid book launch in Brisbane. It was a book about Hughie Williams called A Life. I was surrounded by greatness at that launch. My friend Senator Alex Gallagher, who was then the TWU federal president, was there, as was the then Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh, and the Lord Mayor of Brisbane. There were special messages from people like the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and Kim Beazley did the actual launch. They gathered together to celebrate a wonderful life, which was surrounded by struggle. In fact, Hughie, in his autobiography, said:

It was a struggle through life. At birth, it was a struggle to survive—the struggle to live and survive a terrible early life of poverty and loneliness; the struggles in the trade union movement, helping workers and their families to enjoy a decent life; the struggle to help democratise the Labor party in Queensland; the incredible struggles through sport and many, many injuries; and the struggle to reach my ambition of being a champion sportsman and representing my country, Australia, at the Olympics. In my sporting, political and union life, there were many physical and mental injuries. I have survived them all and I believe my life can be a lesson for others if they're prepared to take up the struggle.

At the opening of the book, the wonderful Bill Hayden wrote one of the prefaces. In that preface, he continues this theme of struggle, and he says:

This book is the story of one man's lifelong struggle against the odds, from the cradle onwards—the struggle to exist, to succeed as a human being, has never let up for Hughie Williams. Hughie has never stopped fighting. He is still fighting and he will be locked in combat when the muffled peal of the bell sounds, signifying the end, the last round in life's battle.

That bell did sound in October. Hughie Williams, at the age of 85, passed away from this life, and he left such an inspiration for all of us. You can see that he was a man who had a tough fight through his life.

In the book, he talks about the grinding poverty that he and his family survived in the Hunter Valley during the Great Depression. This was a struggle that was shared by many people, but, in terms of Hughie's life, he watched his dad die as a result of lingering wounds from World War I. His mother could not cope with a large family living with no income—actually no income. The struggle of these kids, who were poor, going to school when they could and not having any kind of support in their lives, indicates that this grinding poverty stayed with Hughie his whole life. In fact, for those of us who knew him—a strong, vibrant leader—there was always a sense that he had a feeling of inferiority, which came from that period of being the subject of bullying and isolation because of the poverty.

We then find out that the man moved forward and took up two of the great loves of his life. Many people talk about the loves of Hughie's life. Certainly the trade union movement lived with him for most of his life, but I want to mention something that was really important in Hughie's life before that. It was described in the book as one of his greatest loves, and that was his wrestling career. I said that he talked about his struggle in sport, through many injuries, to represent Australia at the Olympics. He was a champion wrestler. Having been quite frail in childhood, the fact that he could actually take up this very tough sport and work tirelessly through his life to promote the sport and to engage other people in it was one of his lifelong legacies. Throughout his life, this attraction to physical exertion and competition was one of the driving forces. Indeed, he was competitive in wrestling for many years. He talked in the book about the fact that he missed out on selection in a number of Olympic trials but came very close to being selected. But he did get into the Olympic team for the Tokyo Olympics and won through to several bouts. He talks about the pride in finally getting the chance to represent his country.

I first met Hughie Williams at the Paddington Workers Club in Brisbane. This was a centre for union and Labor activity in the area. As you walked through the front door of the Paddington Workers Club—which is still there, although not as strong as it was in the past—there was a large picture of Hughie in his wrestling gear, in all his finery. It was a remembrance of the spirit and the courage of the man to see the fact that he was such a strong sportsman. But when you moved past Hughie as the wrestler on the wall, you saw his engagement in the trade union movement.

The Paddington Workers Club actually brought together two of the giants of the labour movement in Queensland: George Georges and Hughie Williams. Not long after I came to this place I had the chance to talk about George Georges, who had died at that time. Throughout their lives, Hughie and George provided mutual support for each other. Also, they were great inspiration and strength to anyone who was involved in the trade union movement and, in fact, the labour movement. I feel sure that while George was in this place—in the Senate, in the other Parliament House—he would have spoken about Hughie Williams at some stage.

Hughie was a trade unionist from the time that he started work in the transport industry in the late sixties. He worked as a guard in one of the Mayne Nickless vans that delivered money around the areas. That was one of his first really long-term, full-time jobs. Then he became a delegate in the TWU. Then, from 1972, he worked in the trade union for over 30 years. He worked originally as an organiser and then, through a series of struggles, in the leadership of this union. In fact, for those of us in Queensland—and I think across Australia—you cannot think of the Transport Workers Union without thinking of Hughie Williams. He was a stalwart of that union and inspired an ongoing fight to ensure that workers in a very tough industry received the best possible support they could get from their union. His tactics were tough. He was a strong man. But there were many occasions when he was able to deliver for his unions and for his members and to ensure that they had the most effective safety. He was an absolute fighter in ensuring that the very dangerous work of transport drivers was acknowledged and that they were protected from the range of pressures in that industry. He fought strongly for safe work rates. I'm just sorry that he was not able to be with us here in this place when we finally got that legislation through. He was a hands-on unionist who believed that the best way to support your members was to be with them in the workforce.

I just want to mention a couple of occasions that live with me always in my memories of Hughie. One was during the MUA dispute in 1998, when I looked down the road near the port in Brisbane and I saw the transport workers marching up towards that port during that very, very difficult dispute. Hughie led hundreds of his members to show support for the MUA in their struggle. I know that meant so much to the people on the ground. He then also provided support at night to ensure that the workers and their families had food and support as they went through those terrible months of dispute.

I will always remember Hughie Williams for the inspiration he gave to me and to other women in the trade union movement. He spent hours providing advice and suggestions to me when I was working in the trade union movement and when I had the opportunity to get the preselection to come to the Senate. I don't think Hughie thought very much of a lot of politicians, but he actually felt that there should be workers' representatives in parliament and he wanted to give them the best possible support that he could give. He was never short of providing advice.

When Hughie's death was announced, a number of key leaders talked about what Hughie Williams meant to them. Anna Bligh said: 'Whenever Mr Williams found injustice, he struggled against it. He stood up for the people of Queensland. He called it for what it was.' Peter Beattie, who was a lifelong friend of Hughie's, said, 'He was a man with plenty of courage, plenty of guts and plenty of determination.' Kim Beazley said, 'Hughie is in fact the real deal, the authentic article, the man you need to know.'

Hughie has lost his final fight. He had a really tough last few years of his life when he was very unwell, but he remained so close to the people for whom he cared. He spoke many times about the love he had for his grandchildren in particular and for his family. His funeral at the beautiful Red Hill Catholic church in Brisbane reflected the strength of the man. As he left the church on his last journey, across the beautiful church, the Toreador Song rang out to remind us of what a man Hughie Williams was. (Time expired)