24 November 2019
A titan of the Australian union movement passes too soon
The Australian Services Union today mourns the loss of a titan of the Australian union movement.
Our National Secretary David Smith sadly passed away unexpectedly on Friday following complications from a surgical procedure.
David’s respect for others and humility belied his extraordinary life-long contribution to a better quality of life for working Australians.
Having started on the shop floor as a clerk at Queensland Rail, David got involved in our union at a young age. He worked for our members for almost three decades, beginning in 1991, rising quickly to Assistant State Secretary in 1993 and Queensland Branch Secretary in 2001.
In 2011, David was elected National Secretary with the job of bringing cohesion and direction to the organisation. He did that with great skill and care for his comrades.
David unified the branch leadership behind a vision of a modern union adapted for tomorrow’s challenges, and his reforms, service and legacy will endure long into the future.
He helped build an organisation with a culture of progress and ambition for working people; and under his leadership, the union delivered some of the most important achievements in the movement’s recent history.
David ran the Equal Pay case in Queensland in the state commission, which provided the foundation for the landmark national Equal Pay case that saw pay increases of between 23-45% over eight years for social and community services workers. Under David’s leadership, the union also delivered the first ever workplace agreement with provision for domestic violence leave.
David had all the hallmarks of a natural leader; he looked to the future and was clear-eyed about where he was going, but he had the ability to bring people with him. He was rarely the loudest voice in the room, David’s voice nonetheless carried the most weight.
Beyond his career in the union, David’s belief in the labour movement extended to his active involvement in the Labor Party, where he served as Treasurer of the Queensland Branch and ran as a candidate for the Senate.
David was also a powerful and passionate advocate for universal superannuation and a recognised industry expert having served as a Fund Director from 2007-18 at Energy Super; and 2018-19 at HESTA. He was a Director of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) from 2013 and was AIST’s immediate Past President.
David’s belief in universal superannuation underpinned the ASU’s determination to improve super outcomes for women, with a 2017 report revealing the unacceptable level of women’s superannuation savings and catapulting the issue into the national spotlight.
While David’s leadership on such important issues and his presence in the union movement will leave a great hole for many, his wisdom and foresight will carry us forward long after his passing, such was his impact on other people and on the culture of our organisation.
David will be missed beyond words and our thoughts are with his family, friends and comrades at this extraordinarily difficult time.
- Paul O’Neill – National President
- Jennifer Thomas – National Vice President
- Robert Potter – Acting National Secretary