Tribute to Tom Hannan

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I rise to pay tribute to the late Terrence Richard "Tom" Hannan, who passed away on April 14, aged 73 years.

The Riverstone Meatworks were an institution in western Sydney, operating from 1878 until finally closing in 1994.

Tom Hannan started work at the Riverstone Meatworks in 1953, at the age of 14 years and 10 months.

He began as a slaughter floor labourer.

Tom was conscripted into national service with the Army when he was 18.

At the completion of his service he went back to work at the meatworks at Riverstone.

Tom became active in the Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union.

That union has a proud tradition of intense local activism.

Tom became a union delegate at the age of 20.

He was the mutton floor delegate, and the assistant plant secretary.

Tom worked at Riverstone until he was elected an organiser of the union's NSW Branch in 1973.

In the decades that followed he progressed through the union's ranks, being elected by his fellow meat workers to the offices of assistant state secretary, state secretary, federal president and ultimately federal secretary.

Tom became federal secretary of the AMIEU in 1990.

It was his fate to lead the meatworkers union following major shifts in employer strategy and practice in the industry.

The Mudginberri Abattoir dispute of 1985 pioneered New Right attacks on wages and conditions across the industry.

Australian Meat Holdings, which came to dominate the beef export sector, chose to initiate and sustain open industrial conflict with its workforces.

Tom Hannan always stood his ground, and always fought for the rights and dignity of meat industry workers, however hostile the attacks.

In 2003 I began work at Sussex Street as Assistant General Secretary of the Labor Party.

Tom's office was in the same building.

He was a friend and a counsellor to me.

I recall a dispute I had with the then General Secretary of the NSW Branch of the Labor Party in my early months in the role.

I successfully appealed to the national executive of the ALP to overturn a particularly egregious rort.

I approached the national secretaries of a number of affiliated unions to sponsor the appeal.

When I went to see Tom Hannan he simply said, "Where do I sign?".

I asked him if he wanted me to explain the details.

He cut me off, saying "mate, if you're in a blue, I'm on your side".

That summed Tom up.

He always knew what side he was on, industrially and politically.

In 2004 when Tom retired as Federal Secretary of the AMIEU a small lunch was held in the President's dining room to pay tribute to him.

In attendance were his colleagues from the meatworkers' union, and all of the occupants of the position of assistant general secretary of the NSW ALP from the establishment of proportional representation in 1971: Bruce Childs, John Faulkner, Anthony Albanese, Damian O'Connor and myself.

Tom had supported all of us.

Tom was old Labor.

I cannot pay him a greater compliment.

All he ever sought to do was represent his fellow meat workers.

He did it with courage and principle.

I was honoured to join Tom's family and friends at the Castle Hill RSL Club on 29 April, to celebrate his life and many years of dedicated service to working people.

Tom Hannan was highly respected throughout the meat industry in this country 

His contribution to the industry, particularly to its workers, and to our community, will not be forgotten.