Condolence Motion - Senator Alex Gallacher

29 November 2021


It is with great and deep sadness that I rise to speak on this motion as well, but it is also my honour. It was my honour to have known Senator Gallacher, to have served by his side in this place, and to have called him and his beautiful wife, Paola, my friends. Like all of us in this place, we are each the product of our life experience, but, more importantly, we are the product of those we love and those who love us in return. The things we do here, the things we hope to achieve—and, in Alex's case, certainly did achieve—belong to the people we love and who love us too. So I want to acknowledge his family and their contribution to everything that Alex was able to do as a senator.

I want to make some personal reflections on my relationship with Alex soon, but first I want to pay special focus on his legacy and achievements during his time in the Senate. Alex, if you're listening, I have to say, sorry, I'm going to refer to notes as I do this—and I know you really hate senators bringing notes into the chamber! I'm looking at Senator Stoker. I think she fell victim to one of his points of order referring to notes. It was one of the first points of order he referred me to as a young senator, that we are not meant to read from notes in this place. I am sorry, Alex.

Alex knew the importance of staying true to Labor values, the importance of providing Australians 'a fair go and a better chance for all', as he said. These values drove him throughout his entire career and whether you sat on these benches or you sat opposite, everyone knew what Alex stood for. Everyone knew his values. His first speech outlined what he would fight for as a parliamentarian and it was clear and direct, as Alex was. The transport industry, road safety and superannuation, and his contribution in a policy sense to all of these areas, was substantial and unwavering. He brought a real-world perspective to this place, but he also brought an incredible intelligence.

His immediate impact on parliament saw the Labor government bring the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal into legislation. This was an objective that Alex had fought for, alongside his colleagues and comrades at the TWU, for almost two decades. That fight had to continue after a change in government saw the tribunal dismantled, but Alex kept up that fight. In fact, there wasn't a day that he served in this chamber where transport workers—he had once been one; he served alongside, represented and advocated for them his whole career—weren't at the front of his mind. There was no better friend of transport workers than Alex Gallacher.

Super, too, was one of his passions. He knew the intrinsic benefits it could bring to working Australians, its impact on dignity in retirement and its economic benefits to Australia. He was absolutely passionate. In his last months in the Senate I know he was also becoming increasingly passionate about the disparity for women and superannuation, and this is a fight I will continue on his behalf.

But his biggest legacy in this place is his impact, alongside his dear mate Senator Sterle, on road safety. This came from an almost five-year stint as a director with the Motor Accident Commission he served on before entering politics. Alex was acutely aware of the devastation to victims and their families, as well as the economic devastation, caused by the unnecessary loss of life and by the catastrophic injuries suffered on our roads. He was deeply disappointed in the National Road Safety Strategy targets never being met and he fought incredibly hard to make sure that road safety was on the political map, including through his work on the Parliamentary Friends of Road Safety. It was evident in his work in estimates and in his push for the government to form the Office of Road Safety within the department.

On 11 November the government announced that autonomous emergency-braking technology would be mandated in the Australian Design Rules by 2023. This would save 580 lives, avoid tens of thousands of serious and minor injuries, and have a net benefit of close to $1.9 billion. Alex first called for the mandating of this technology in September 2014. He saw the need for this. He fought for it relentlessly until it was achieved. He knew this policy area better than anyone. He believed in it deeply and he left an incredible legacy in this space which will never be forgotten. In his committee work too he pushed for commonsense results. He was true to his principles and he would advance his views whether or not they aligned with the views of our party, often. The Murray River was a huge passion of Alex's.

One area that Alex was deeply passionate about policy wise was the NDIS. He served on the Joint Standing Committee on the National Disability Insurance Scheme and knew the issues relating to the NDIS, especially the times that we saw the NDIS not live up to its promise. We saw it fail the people who needed it most. These issues weighed on Alex heavily. He was dedicated and focused on how he could use his role on that committee to improve the lives of Australians with disability.

Alex loved our state. He loved his duty electorate of Grey. He travelled there he regularly. He never flew in and out when he went to Grey. He wanted to stay. He wanted to be amongst it. One of the proudest moments he had as the duty member for Grey was when the Elliston Reconciliation Monument was erected, after much debate, in the town of Elliston, which is almost halfway between Port Lincoln and Ceduna. Alex supported the monument recognising the massacre of 1849, where the local First Nations people were driven off the cliff, as it is described. Alex considered the official opening as one of his more memorable and important moments as a senator.

Alex was a natural at the work he did. He was incredibly focused and hardworking. He did the reading. He did the work. He never turned up unprepared. He always turned up knowing what he wanted to get out of a hearing, out of his day in parliament and out of a speech he would give. He never did anything without purpose. We saw this work ethic, this focus of his, so intensely when he was sick, when he refused to slow down, when he refused to step back. He believed in his work. He believed in what he did. He was determined to continue fighting the fight that he believed in, representing the people he stood for right until the end.

I know we've all had a different experience of Alex. We have all seen different sides of him, and I'm sure we can all fondly remember moments when we found opportunities for agreement with him, where his gruff exterior faded away and you saw the warmth and the passion beneath. We can probably also fondly remember moments when we disagreed with Alex, and you certainly weren't left wondering about Alex's position or what his view was. But Alex always gave people a fair hearing. If you had a good idea, he would listen to you. If you were well reasoned in your argument, he would listen to you. He fought for what he believed was right. I know that some of our colleagues would have liked him to fight a little less loudly sometimes, or a little less publicly, but that was Alex. When he was on a mission, when he believed something, he took his role as a public figure seriously and fought with every tool in his arsenal. Alex was an extremely hard worker. His career, I think, is best referenced in his own maiden speech, when he refers to Theodore Roosevelt saying, 'Far and away the best prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.' Alex got that opportunity, and he certainly did that.

Alex was an extremely private person who loved his family immensely. You'd never see a bigger smile on his face than when he was talking about Paola, his kids and especially his grandchildren. Possibly a smile which would rival it, though, was when he talked about his passion for golf. A round of golf a week was never enough for him. He also loved to have a punt, and his Saturdays were often a morning at the North Adelaide Golf Club and an afternoon of horseracing. His staff recalled to me a story—this was before my time—where apparently the coalition government once scheduled a sitting week which overlapped with Melbourne Cup day. Other senators would have to confirm this, but I hear there has never been an angrier parliamentarian in this place than Alex Gallacher in that moment.

Alex's staff formed a powerful bond with him. Thank you, Senator Sterle, for reading the words of Matthew, with whom Alex had a very special bond. I know Matthew misses him very, very deeply, but his other staff do too. Peter and Matthew both began in Alex's office when Alex began as a senator, and they stayed the course with him. Susie worked with him for nine years, and Brendan worked with him for seven. Pauline had been there for a few years too, and I do wonder if Pauline had expected that. Those who know Pauline know she was a firm and passionate member of the Left and was perhaps surprised that she found herself working in Alex's office, but they formed a very close friendship too, as well as a commitment and a passion for the work that Alex was doing on the NDIS.

Alex's staff would say that their office was a family, which is testament to Alex as a boss and a person. He could be gruff, yes, but he was a good and warm man, and when you were in the fold, when you were in the family with Alex, you knew it deeply. In my time in politics—not just as a senator but in the many years I've been around politics—I don't think I've ever seen an office as close and connected as Alex's staff were, or as loyal to their senator. I want to acknowledge them, because this has been a really tough time. All of his staff stuck with him as he was sick, right up until the end. They believed in what Alex was doing too. They knew the man so well, and they believed in what he was doing.

Alex had another work family, and that's his family at his beloved Transport Workers Union. I know Ian Smith and Alex's friends at the TWU are watching these proceedings now, live in Adelaide, under the sign of the Alex Gallacher Training Centre, a fitting monument for a man who made an incredible contribution to that union and all of the people and the values that that union represents. I know that everyone at the TWU will feel this loss deeply, because, when Alex left the TWU to become a senator, he never walked away from those he served with. He was always providing support and was always there for those who needed him.

One of the amazing things about Alex was that he really believed in people. And when he believed in people, he helped them. He gave them active support, active mentoring and active encouragement. If you had Alex in your corner, you knew it. Even when things were tough or when you doubted yourself, Alex would be there backing you and pulling you up—sometimes really gruffly or quite aggressively, but, if he believed in you, he would make sure you did your best. I will miss Alex deeply. This place will not ever be the same for me without him.

I want to make a personal reflection here. Alex was a formidable figure and, in my childhood, his name loomed large. Alex was once my father's adversary, but he became a close and valued friend of me and my family.

It's really easy in politics to make simple assessments of people, one-dimensional assessments of people. Alex never did that. He certainly never did it of me. He didn't do it of others in this chamber, even when people were often quick to make simple, one-dimensional assessments of him. I am so grateful that he was a man who judged people on their substance and judged me on my substance and gave me his firm support very early on in my career here in this place and, indeed, when I was seeking to enter this place. And when I entered the Senate, his support continued. He guided me throughout my journey here.

He was always generous with his feedback to me. I was scrolling through some messages earlier. Alex used to text me, often, after my speeches, to make sure I had the benefit of his experience and wisdom in this place. Some of those critiques were sharp. Of course, he hated speeches being read. He hated speeches being too polished. But he liked speeches which didn't miss anything or anyone. And they're Alex's words. When I was going through my messages from Alex in preparation for today, there were a few which stood out for me—messages he sent me of encouragement and support. He sent me a text defining our role. He said to me: 'Your job is to be different, Marielle. It's to be authentic and to be credible. It's to let people see you, to believe every word that you say.' Alex was authentic. You knew it. It was very good advice. He also gave me the advice: 'Keep your eye on the main game and, most importantly in this place, be yourself.'

Alex was himself. Alex never had to support me, but he did. He mentored me in the ways of this place. Some of those lessons I will keep with me; some of those I might disregard, because our styles are pretty different, but I will always value the things he taught me and the lessons he tried to impart. But, Senator Stoker, I promise I won't be on my feet if there are notes used in this place.

Alex loved Paola deeply. On more than one occasion, I would hear him recount, when he was summing up his view on one individual or another: 'Paola has good judgement. If she thinks someone is decent, then they're okay with me.' Paola was the boss.

One of the last social moments I had with Alex was not long after my daughter Zara was born, and Alex and Paola came to visit Clint and me at our home, to deliver my son Benjamin another truck, which Alex was always prone to do. He wanted my son to be a truck man and not a bus man! It's very important, Senator Wong! But they also brought a teddy bear for my daughter, and there was a bit of a discussion and debate between Alex and Paola, because Paola wanted the bear to go on a shelf and to be preserved and kept pristine, so that, when Zara is older, she can look at the bear and have that memory and have that special thing from her childhood, and Alex was vehemently opposed to this. The bear was for cuddling, the bear was for playing, the bear was for using. And it just summed up, to me, a part of Alex's personality. So, I'm sorry, Paola, but the bear is coming off the mantelpiece and it will be used and cuddled and loved.

It feels quite indulgent, in a way, to talk about how much we will all miss Alex and how much we loved him because, of course, those who've missed him the most and will miss him the most are his family—those who he loved the most and who loved him the most: his wife, Paola; his children, Ian, Caroline, Terry and Frank; his children-in-law, Seonaid, Ian's wife, and Tammy, Terry's partner; and his grandchildren, Connor, Lachlan and Mia. I want to thank you for sharing the man that you loved with this place for so long. It's never without sacrifice. His achievements and his legacy belong to you and your family as well. I hope you are so proud of what your husband, your father, your grandfather achieved here. I hope you're so proud of the words that are being spoken about him.

We should never be one-dimensional or simplistic in our assessment of people who choose to do this role. Alex was a complicated and complex character, but he was a great man. He was a fiercely intelligent man. He worked tirelessly in this place for the values that he held dear. Really, I hope you are so proud of his achievements. We are all so proud of his achievements. I know you will all continue to carry Alex's memory in your hearts, and I want you to know that his colleagues here in the Senate from all sides of politics will continue to carry that memory too. We will also continue on with the work which meant so much to Alex. Rest in peace, Alex. Friend, Senator, you will be so missed.