Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 137

Senator MOORE (7:00 PM) —In May 2003 I got a serious phone call—in fact, I got a lot of calls. They said that the National President of the Commonwealth Public Sector Union, Matthew Reynolds, had collapsed in Canberra and that there was very little hope that he was going to make it. Too soon after, our worst fears were confirmed. Matthew Reynolds, at 38 years of age, at the very time that he and his team were celebrating the fact that they had won the national CPSU election, was dead. The immediate shock and disbelief was felt much more widely than across our union, because Matthew's life had touched so many people. That shock and disbelief took over from our grief, because we did not understand that somebody who was just so alive, who loved life so much and who lived life to its full was no longer with us.

In the immediate aftermath our union set up a web site. We are the CPSU, which is the union for the public sector, so we are pretty good at that kind of thing. We were overwhelmed by the number of people—members, delegates, heads of departments, people from football clubs—from across the country who chose to go onto our web site and talk about how much Matthew meant to them and about what kind of guy he was. It is important, Matthew, to know that we did not talk about you as though you were some kind of saint; we talked about your overwhelming enthusiasm and the fact that you were not perfect but, boy, were we going to miss you.

Our national secretary at the time, not a man noted for great emotional outbursts, talked about the fact that, although words could not express the way people were feeling, still they had to talk and they had to share. What we did as a union was to set up these outpourings in a permanent record so that Matt's family, in particular his partner, Jenny, and his kids, Tayla and Joel, could see then and into the future just how much their partner and dad was respected, loved, needed and, more than anything else I think, just liked. Throughout all these statements, in particular at the service that was held at the Catholic cathedral—even though Matt was not particularly religious—there were many themes of love and statements about what kind of impact this man had on so many people in only 38 years. He was a proud Tasmanian who constantly spoke about his home, which was the `island down south'.

As a public servant Matt went into our union as a young member working in the Department of Veterans' Affairs. He was a strong delegate who actually lived the theme of unionism: unity makes us strong. He saw that there was a need for that kind of understanding in his workplace. He worked not just at the local level but through the various levels and structures. He put to work the themes of working together, listening, being strong and, more than anything, knowing that workers had rights to be looked after and to have their say.

Matt loved his football. As much as we heard about the other things that he enjoyed, this strange game, which involved a ball bouncing around, was a passion. I am from Queensland and I support another code, but he never stopped trying to sell to me the advantages of that game. Often he had to show me how the moves worked. It was not enough just to talk about it; he would leap around describing his great skill and prowess. I did not always believe these stories—it was something he talked about a lot—but I found out that he was actually quite good and that he used his skills working with kids in the local Canberra community, because in the process of moving through the ranks of our union Matt left his beloved Tassie, came to Canberra and became the national president.

However, core throughout all his activities was the grounding he had in the strong love of his family. His comrades in the union knew all about what was going on in the family with Jenny, Tayla and Joel. He worked with a number of youth communities in Canberra, sharing with people of all ages, particularly kids, his enthusiasm and love of life. Some of the statements on the web site talk about the fact that parents in those groups recognise what a difference he made in the lives of the local kids and how kids just liked being around him.

The particular skill that he had of encouraging people to just like being with him was very valuable as a union organiser. People respected the fact that Matt always had time to listen to them. He made them feel better—he listened to them, he always had time to have a talk and he really cared about them. One of the things I really want to put on the record tonight is the fact that working with Matthew Reynolds made you a better person. He gave you the strength to think that you could make a difference and that you had skills that were valuable. Throughout the statements that I keep are those from people who were new delegates, people who were very high up in departments and people he just ran into who said that he made a difference in their lives because he cared for them.

I remember that Matt, as the national president, had to chair a number of meetings. My personal view is not that this was his best skill, because he was interested too much in what people were saying. He let people go on; he wanted to hear what they were saying and he wanted to have them involved in the process. That is not always a skill that chairs of meetings have, because sometimes they are keen to have the debate move on rather than listen to the words and the feelings.

Matthew made people feel good about themselves. He gave them the chance to learn about their own skills. In a special kind of way, one of the strengths he had was to acknowledge that sometimes he was not right. He was always trying to find ways to make his own behaviour and performance better. It is really entrancing when people who are rising through a pretty tough workplace acknowledge that perhaps they were not right, though that might not happen straightaway. I well remember him following up after we had concluded meetings just to get one more argument into the discussion. He was a tenacious advocate and a particularly strong negotiator. I know that he worked with people in this building as various departments were developing enterprise bargains, and, certainly, I think his memory is strong among some of the workplaces here. Matthew made our union a better union, and he gave all of us as members and delegates a chance to work together to achieve what we must do, which is to represent workers and improve working conditions.

I was stunned by the amount of grief that was shared by people across the country. I was stunned by the coverage the Canberra Times gave to Matthew and his family. I am also stunned by the fact that they have not forgotten the man. Next week in Canberra there is going to be the dedication of a room at the Canberra Hospital. It has been jointly organised by the Canberra Hospital, the CPSU, the CFMEU and the organ donors' group. Matthew continues to be active in his society almost two years after he has left us in one way. People want to keep his memory alive because he deserves it. I have tried five times to make this particular speech. The first time it was knocked over by a debate about the war and then, each time I put it on the agenda, something else happened and pushed it off. I think Matthew was working against me and did not want these statements made.

I want to have acknowledged in this place—a place to where I always hoped Matthew would come one day—Matthew's name, his strength and what a great bloke he was. For Tayla and Joel, I want to say that your dad was a great comrade. He made me a better unionist and a better person and, more than anything else, his great smile made me want to be with him. He was not just respected; he was genuinely liked. In solidarity, Comrade, you are still with us.