Steve Bracks' eulogy for Michael Gurr

Below is the speech the former Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks, gave at the public memorial for playwright and speechwriter Michael Gurr.
Michael died on May 2, 2017. His memorial was held on May 15 at the Malthouse Theatre. 

Michael once wrote,

‘Political speechwriters dream the Gettysburg Address but wake up to the Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce.’

I suspect he was referring to state politics.

What that quote doesn’t tell you is how often Michael made those of us who had to speak to the Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce feel a little like Abraham Lincoln.

My point: politics mattered to Michael.

It mattered deeply.

It wasn’t a game.

It wasn’t beneath him.

It was worth the fight.

Politics was – and is – the stuff of life.

Yes, it’s messy.

Yes, it involves compromise.

But public life is a calling worthy of the efforts of our best and brightest – people like Michael.

That’s what Michael believed.

That’s why he dedicated his considerable talents to the collective effort for progress.

And I am here to tell you that Michael’s contribution to the fight for progress counted.

He made a difference.

I first met Michael in 1999.

I had just become Leader of the State Opposition.

Labor was – according to the experts – unelectable.

Michael didn’t agree.

Michael had volunteered his speechwriting services to my predecessor, John Brumby, in 1996.

He didn’t want anything in return for his efforts. He just wanted to get rid of Jeff Kennett.

Over the next three years, Michael was one of the true believers who – bit by bit – pulled Labor back from the abyss.

He was one of the reasons why we won in 1999.

Much has been written and said about the 1999 election.

Especially the one-word speech Michael wrote that was to be delivered if – against all the odds – we won.

That one word was ‘F.U.C.K.'

What hasn’t been widely acknowledged is how important Michael was to me at the time – not just as a speechwriter, but as a voice of reason and a friend who helped us find the words that led us to the light on the hill.

As I said, Michael made a difference.

That’s why, after we won, I asked Michael to come in from the cold – to work as my speechwriter in government.

He declined the offer.

I understood why Michael said no.

He wasn’t in politics for personal gain.

He just wanted to put his shoulder to the wheel.

He just wanted us to get to the top of that hill.

That was why – whenever the contest was fiercest – whenever the outcome was in question – I found Michael was standing beside me.

He worked for us in the 2002 election and the 2006 election:

Advising me,

Making me laugh,

Helping us find the words that led to the light on the hill.

All of which is why it’s hard to believe he’s gone.

I last saw Michael at St Vincent’s.

It was the day the Paul Keating was visiting Melbourne – and Keating had given a sparkling interview to Jon Faine on 774.

Michael and I spoke about Keating.

And we spoke about 1999.

And – at one point – Michael thanked me for letting him work on those elections.

And I had to respectfully disagree with my old friend.

He didn’t have to thank me – but I had to thank him for helping us find that light on the hill.

Thank you, Michael.

You were the light.

Michael Gurr's launch speech for Catch and Kill

The night before the 2006 State Election campaign launch in Ballarat. Left to right: Kim McGrath, Joel Deane, Michael Gurr 

The night before the 2006 State Election campaign launch in Ballarat. Left to right: Kim McGrath, Joel Deane, Michael Gurr 

On August 3, 2015, my friend Michael Gurr launched my political book, Catch and Kill: The Politics of Power, at the Fitzroy Town Hall.

It was a big night.

Steve Bracks, John Brumby, John Thwaites and Rob Hulls were there; Bill Shorten spoke; and the joint was packed.

Afterwards, Michael came up to me gave me the hardcopy of his speech. I was rapt and went home and put it someplace safe. So safe I couldn't find it again.

I've been looking for that bloody speech since Michael died on May 2 and, finally, have found that safe place. Here it is.

Michael Gurr launching Catch and Kill

When Joel asked me to be here, I was very chuffed.
Because this is my kind of book and this bloke is my kind of comrade.
I’m a little luckier than some of you because I’ve read it – and James Button has got it dead right when he says on the cover that this is a “cracking good read.”
It really is.
It joins some very good company – other older Labor memoirs. Tales from the front-line. War stories. Hard work. Pragmatism. Heartbreak. And hope.
The endless Labor arm wrestle between what should be and what’s practically possible. 
You shake your head in love at our cause and we do like a good war story.
Joel does doubt well.
But doubt is one of the many parents of creativity.
It’s the moments of uncertainty that lead to new thoughts.
The squeaky freaks of the Coalition will never get this.
For them, to wonder and to worry is weakness. 
To us these things are life’s blood.
The Labor movement, to a glorious fault, always wears its underwear on the outside.
Sure, it’s am infuriating and unglamorous thing – but it’s more honest than its opposite: that bland certainty that treats every troubling question as a sort of doubt-free Dorothy Dixer.
Joel’s long history with our Party has given him regular slugs of doubt, for sure, but it has also called on his moral steel.
Not for him the poisonous vacuum of cynicism.
Not for him the lazy shrug of “Oh well, nothing you do makes any difference.”
Instead, Joel has stayed an activist.
You can be an activist at a computer keyboard.
In fact, you could mount an argument that this is exactly where you’ll find the best ones.
Great big words like “justice” and “fairness” and “hope” – these are the graffiti in Joel’s soul. 
These are the things that run through his speeches and run through this book. 
He writes honestly.
His portraits of the four amigos are spot on.
His book had me scratching at the old question again: How can you breathe and love and fuck and even consider voting LNP?
It just makes no sense. 
It’s OK, I’m much more courteous at the polling booths.
The words “sensible” and “poet” aren’t much heard in the same sentence. 
But I think Joel’s work as a poet is the work that’s kept him sane.
His poetry has given many of us sustenance – and it has leaked through in a sly way into his political speechwriting. 
It runs like an artery through this book. 
And there is another artery. Curiosity.
Curiosity about how things work.
How power works.
How the lives of others are more than equal to our own in the attention they deserve. 
And curiosity is an endless river.
Around the next bend there is always someone whose life, because it’s not our own, is unexplored, unexplained, not given a place in the scheme of things.
But deserves it.
The woman who asks difficult questions about decent pay and proper respect and a life lived free of fear.
Who needs a voice.
The child with a disability who makes us re-think education and inclusion. 
Who needs the well-enough-abled to have their back.
The invisible army of office cleaners who, when they are loud enough, show us that what we experience as convenience is simply another kind of privilege.
That’s the job of our movement. 
That’s the job this book honours.
Political speechwriters know each other on sight. 
They tend to look a little bit weary, a little bit “I wrote this at 3AM therefore it’s either very very good or possibly completely barking.”
Some speechwriters are lucky though. And Joel is one of the lucky ones.
He’s written for good people whose ideas he shares.
Sometimes political speechwriting is a love affair. 
Sometimes it’s more like an arranged marriage. 
But, you know, sometimes even the arranged marriage can yield the odd unexpected delight. 
The two Labor Premiers here tonight, and former Ministers as well, are fortunate indeed to have had the hairy man on their team. 
I promise you this: you’re going to really enjoy Joel’s book.
Well look at that: it’s launched. 
Thank you.