Senator who ended TWU wars bows out

Retiring Senator Steve Hutchins praised for reforming "warring" TWU tribes and improving conditions for truck drivers

By Brad Gardner | June 23, 2011

Retiring Senator Steve Hutchins has been lauded for improving the lot of truck drivers and for bringing the "warring" tribes of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) together.

Colleagues last night praised the former TWU federal president from Labor’s Right-wing faction, who will bow out of politics when the new Senate takes place on July 1.

Minister for Sport Mark Arbib – who came to the Senate from the TWU – says many truck drivers can thank Hutchins for the work he did during his time in the union.

"In the disputes for increasing the pay of transport workers and owner-drivers, you really were a warrior," Arbib says.

Senator Glenn Sterle, himself a former TWU official, labelled Hutchins and ex federal president John Allan as "two of the greatest people in the history of the Transport Workers Union".

"They took us from seven warring factions for all the time that we were tied up there to form a strong, powerful union that put dignity in organising at the forefront," Sterle says.

Senator David Feeney, who met Hutchins during his time at the TWU, called him "a lion of Labor" and the patriarch of the TWU family.

"The TWU’s transformation from being many fractious state and territory tribes into a single national voice for its members was Hutcho’s project," he says.

The comments followed Hutchins’ valedictory speech, which he used to thank current TWU Federal Secretary Tony Sheldon and the union’s NSW secretary, Wayne Forno.

"If only other trade unions had their integrity and intelligence, the movement would not be in the trouble it is in," he says.

Hutchins also used his speech to deliver a scathing assessment of NSW Labor, saying the ALP brand "is terminally damaged".

"What was once the most durable and effective state government in the country is now a depleted husk of an opposition," he says.

Hutchins specifically criticised NSW Opposition leader John Robertson, Electrical Trade Union Secretary Bernie Riordan and former Labor National Secretary Karl Bitar for "the ultimate act of treachery" for their campaign against electricity privatisation.

During his speech, Hutchins referred to his work on parliamentary committees examining the extent of poverty and the plight of children in institutions.

Dubbed the Forgotten Australians, Hutchins says the inquiry "was one of the most harrowing periods of my time here".

"These people’s stories are etched in my memory – the most reprehensible experiences and impossible to forget," he says.

Senator John Faulkner, who comes from the opposing Left faction, wished Hutchins well and recalled skirmishes with the senator stretching back to their Young Labor days in the 1970s.

"For nearly 40 years now, Steve and I have been prominent warriors in opposing NSW Labor tribes. Unfortunately, I am the one who regularly ended up in the cooking pot."

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