Remembering Simon Crean

31 July 2023


Senator Ayres (New South Wales—Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) (16:56): I wanted not to say too many things, because many words have been spoken today, appropriately. Of course, they are appropriate but never enough in this situation. I want to echo Senator Brown's words just then. When the news about Simon's death came through to my family—both my wife and I knew Simon—we were very sad. Very sad. In my house, we have talked many times over the course of the last few weeks about the depth of Simon's contribution to the labour movement, to the Labor Party and to the country. We've talked about it with our kids, because he was an exemplar of what a leader in the labour movement should be.


Simon's funeral in Melbourne, just a few days ago, was also unaccountably sad. People have said it was attended by hundreds of people; I think it was many thousands. That church was absolutely full to the brim, and there were thousands of people who could not attend. The speeches spoke, in the same way that many of the speeches in here have, about Simon Crean's contribution to the country, to his portfolio areas and to the labour movement. I was particularly struck by Bill Kelty's contribution at the funeral.


Bill can never be accused of making a speech that's too short—that is true—but every word in that speech was well weighted, as it often is when Bill contributes. He talked about his and Simon's leadership and contribution the Federated Storemen and Packers Union of Australia at the time, and he said that he was never soft. That, I think, was really important to understanding the kind of trade union leader that Simon Crean was before he came into parliament. He was hard headed. He was pragmatic. He was focused on delivering for the low-paid workers—the storemen and packers who it was his job to represent. Of course, he's made a much-storied contribution to the ACTU, the labour movement, the parliament and Australia ever since. There are very few people who get the opportunity to serve in as many portfolios as Simon Crean did, and in not one of them was he resting on his laurels. In not one of those portfolios did he not make a profound contribution to the way it operated.


I was talking with Senator Watt earlier about Simon's contribution and making the point about Roger Fletcher and what he'd had to say about Simon Crean's contribution. The thing about Roger Fletcher, who's one of our great self-made businesspeople in the meat industry in Australia, is that he said all of the kind things to me about Simon before Simon died. He was always holding up Simon's contribution in trade and agriculture as being an exemplar of what an Australian trade or Australian agriculture minister should do, and I think Roger would want that point made here on his behalf. Of course, many have spoken about Simon Crean's contribution, particularly on the Iraq war, and I'm indebted to the other contributions on that as I don't propose to go over them.


He was a leader in the labour movement who also exemplified kindness in the way that he engaged in politics. He actually didn't bear grudges. He engaged in some very difficult internal and external struggles, but never bore a grudge. The people who were his staff, and even his opponents, spoke about the way that he engaged with his colleagues and staff. Again, he was an exemplar for us all.


I met Simon Crean at the Albury Gold Cup races. I had arranged a marquee to which I sold 1,500 tickets to members of the metalworkers union, and Simon came along as the guest speaker wearing what I think was a pretty startling sports coat that I imagine he probably wasn't allowed to wear in Melbourne. He was so loved and so comfortable in that crowd of not just members of the AMWU, but the business people and the racing community who gathered for that remarkable racing carnival that happens every year in Albury. He has provided, ever since that day, valuable support and advice to me, before I came into parliament and particularly over the last few months. I'm very grateful for it. I just wanted to place on record my appreciation for his work and his advice and his service to the country.