Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 May 2017


Jones, Gerry Norman Francis

4:25 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death, on 21 April this year, of Gerry Norman Francis Jones, a senator for the state of Queensland from 1981 until 1996. I call the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Attorney-General) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep sorrow at the death, on 21 April 2017, of Gerry Norman Francis Jones, a former senator for Queensland, places on record its appreciation of his long and distinguished service to the nation and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Gerry Jones was born in Roma on 16 August 1932. He was christened Norman Francis Jones, but at his father's insistence he was to be known as 'Gerry', and in fact later in life he had the adoption of the Christian name 'Gerry' formalised by deed poll. He attended St Columba's School in Dalby before taking up an apprenticeship in joinery, starting his own business as a building contractor. As a young man he was a gifted athlete and a talented boxer. In fact, so talented a boxer was he that he trialled, albeit unsuccessfully, to represent Australia at the 1960 Rome Olympics in the sport of boxing. In 1956 he married his beloved wife, Rita, with whom he went on to raise three daughters and a son, and in 1956, as well, he joined the Australian Labor Party.

When I look around this chamber from time to time at the great variety of personalities and points of view represented here, I sometimes feel a little sorry for those who do not come from the great state of Queensland, because, as I am sure my friend Claire Moore would agree, there is a richness and variety in the personalities that Queensland politics throws up that, I am sure, is unmatched by any other state in the Commonwealth. Between the first time he stood for parliament in 1963 and the day he retired as a member of this chamber in 1996, Gerry Jones went on to experience some of the most dramatic events in Queensland political history.

His career spanned, among other things, the period of the Bjelke-Petersen government. It included the 1974 Queensland state election, which saw the Australian Labor Party wiped out and reduced to a cricket team of 11 members. It included, in the late 1970s, the travails of the Queensland branch of the ALP, then headquartered at Breakfast Creek, and the attempts by reformers, ultimately successful but after a great deal of internecine political warfare, to reform and reconstruct the Queensland branch of the Labor Party. It saw the collapse of the state coalition government in 1983 and the Fitzgerald inquiry and all that it revealed in the late 1980s. It saw the election of the Goss government in 1989 and the surprise ending of that government's incumbency only six years later. So Gerry Jones enjoyed a political career rich in the context of history. It was a stage occupied by a colourful cast of notables and rogues—people like Russ Hinze, Mal Colston, Jack Egerton are among those who dominated the political scene in those years.

As I have said, Gerry Jones first ran for parliament—and I think we may mark the commencement of his political career at this point—at the 1963 election for the federal seat of McPherson, which was in those days a safe Country Party seat held by Ceb Barnes. That was the election in which Sir Robert Menzies' coalition was returned with a substantially increased majority over the Labor Party led by Arthur Calwell. While Gerry Jones's campaign in McPherson and the ALP's national campaign was unsuccessful, as those who have been in this chamber for some time and who may have seen political defeat can attest, it proved a formative experience for Gerry Jones which marked the beginning of his long career in Queensland Labor politics.

His rise was not without its setbacks. In 1966, three years after he had first stood for parliament, he suffered a bout of severe ill health when he contracted severe kidney disease and received a terminal prognosis. But, mercifully, his doctor's pessimistic prognosis was wrong and, although he was forced to put his political life on hold for a year or so to overcome his illness, he recovered and it did not dampen his political aspirations. In 1967 he contested the coveted post of ALP State Organiser—long seen as a springboard to elected office, as it still is. He was one among a field of 20 applicants and was successful in being chosen. It was a role in which he served until 1972—along the way once again contesting a federal election, this time, in 1969, in the North Queensland seat of Kennedy against the firebrand Country Party MP Bob Katter Senior, the father of the current distinguished member for Kennedy.

The ALP considered Kennedy to be ripe for the picking in 1969, when the electoral winds were at their back, particularly in the state of Queensland. It had, in fact, been a traditionally safe Labor seat, but Mr Katter proved immovable and Gerry returned, defeated, to Brisbane. At the 1972 Queensland state election he found success at last when he was elected as the member for Everton in the Queensland Legislative Assembly. I remember the 1972 Queensland election; I was a teenager and I had just become interested in politics. I even remember the Labor Party campaign slogan: 'Labor means to get things done Jack Houston's way.' Jack Houston was a gentleman, I might say, of an older generation and an older political style and culture.

It is also notable that in 1972, when he won Everton, Gerry Jones defeated the young Denver Beanland, who would go on to a very distinguished career in both municipal and state politics, being a much-respected and long-serving Deputy Mayor of Brisbane, Attorney-General of Queensland and Leader of the State Parliamentary Liberal Party. Dr Beanland, I might point out, continues to give public service as the chair of the National Archives of Australia Advisory Council.

Gerry Jones embarked upon what he thought would be a career in state politics but, as we know, fortunes in politics can change very rapidly, and nowhere more so than in Queensland. Only two years later, at that famous 1974 Queensland election, Mr Jones—along with 21 of his Labor colleagues—was swept out of office. Nothing deterred, he again set his sights on the Queensland Labor Party's party machine, rising quickly through the ranks during the period which, as I have said, was marred by the internecine warfare between the factions. At the time there was a significant push from the party's national executive and from elements within Queensland to reform the governance of the Queensland branch. So it is a testament to Mr Jones's ability and political skill that, as part of what came to be called the old guard of Queensland Labor—that faction that was the target of the reformers—he was nevertheless appointed state secretary in 1976, an office in which he served until 1980.

He was a vocal opponent of Premier Bjelke-Petersen, emerging as a prominent and forceful advocate against his government and its policies. For example, in 1971, he and his wife, Rita, helped to organise and lead demonstrations against the tour of the apartheid-era South African rugby union team, later claiming that, as a result, he had been subjected to vicious personal propaganda and abuse. Those were dark days in Queensland. There is no doubt that the state's special branch at that time was, on occasion, used as a political weapon against those who had a dissenting view from the Bjelke-Petersen government. Much later in his career, as a senator for Queensland, he would address this chamber on the subject of the Queensland gerrymander, something that, as the state secretary of the ALP and one of its campaign managers, he was no doubt very well informed of. In those days, of course, the Labor Party and the Liberal Party were victims of that particular gerrymander.

At last, Mr Jones secured a safe spot on Labor's Queensland Senate ticket. He was elected to this chamber in October 1980, at the 1980 federal election, taking a seat on 1 July 1981. He was re-elected in the 1983 double dissolution election, again in 1984, again at the 1987 double dissolution election, and again in 1990, retiring at the conclusion of his term on 30 June 1996. It was an impressive period, as I said, of 33 years between the time at which he first ran for parliament and the time at which, after 15 years of service in this chamber, he retired.

In his first speech in this place, Gerry Jones expressed strong opposition to uranium mining. He also focused on the problems of homeownership, health policy and single parents. Amongst other causes which he championed, he was passionate about the need to reduce gun ownership in Australia and for uniform laws on the ownership of firearms. Senator Jones served as Deputy Government Whip between August 1985 and September 1987, and then as Chief Government Whip from September 1987 until 1996. It was a role he relished, once describing the Whip's duties in the arrangement of debates as being 'like the director of a play'.

He was the first person ever to chair the Selection of Bills Committee when it came into existence in 1990, an office he occupied through to April 1996. He was convinced of the merits of the Senate committee system. Throughout his 15 years in this place, as well as serving on other committees and in other capacities, he served as Chair of the Science, Technology and the Environment Committee; Chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee; and Chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee. Amongst other contributions, he chaired an investigation into incidents of alleged sexual harassment toward female officers in the Australian Defence Force. His interest in foreign affairs saw him serve as parliamentary adviser to the United Nations General Assembly in 1990. In 1995, he won the unanimous support of his Senate colleagues from all parties to call on France to cease its nuclear test program in the South Pacific.

The memory of Senator Jones, as he then was, remains with some who served in the Senate with him and still serve on the government benches. My colleague Senator Ian Macdonald, who began his Senate career in 1990, particularly asked to be associated with my remarks. On Gerry Jones's retirement from the Senate in 1996, senators of all parties spoke, with warm gratitude, of him as a cheerful, gentle, friendly colleague who had served with distinction, in particular as the Chief Government Whip. They spoke of his willingness to assist other senators across party lines, his decency and his calmness. Baden Teague, a Liberal senator from South Australia who had worked closely with him on the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, said of him:

It has been a superb experience for me to have a great Australian involved with me in all those undertakings.

He was an adept parliamentarian, a shrewd politician, a forceful advocate and a conscientious senator, both in his contribution to the running of this chamber and through his advocacy of the Labor cause as a Labor man of the old school. Gerry Jones's contribution to the parliament, to political life and to the fate of his party as well as his contribution to the life of the nation was considerable. For this, we owe him our gratitude.

On behalf of the government, may I offer condolences to his family. On my own behalf, may I in particular offer condolences to his daughter, Angela Drysdale, and her husband, Michael Drysdale, whom I am proud to number amongst my friends.

4:41 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the opposition to acknowledge the passing of Gerry Norman Francis Jones, who passed away in April. At the outset, I convey the opposition's condolences to the family and friends of Mr Jones. I start by acknowledging the generous contribution of the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

As a senator of the great Australian Labor Party, Gerry Jones served in the Senate from 1981 until 1996, representing the state of Queensland. As a South Australian, I will not join with the Leader of the Government in the Senate's comments about Queensland senators—I might leave that to my colleague, Senator Moore, who may make a few comments.

Mr Jones was a committed Labor member, joining the party in his early 20s. He stood unsuccessfully as a House of Representatives candidate. He served a term in the Legislative Assembly of Queensland and worked as a party official prior to his entry to this place. His was a life defined by service to the Labor cause.

Gerry Jones was born in Roma in 1932. He was a keen sportsman, particularly in rugby league and boxing. He qualified as a joiner after undertaking an apprenticeship and would later establish his own business as a building contractor in Dalby and the Gold Coast. He also worked as a real estate agent following a period of ill health that curtailed his physical activities. At one point, he also managed a service station. Ultimately, it was politics that was his true vocation.

He joined our party in 1956 and, as Senator Brandis has described, this was a tumultuous time in Labor politics. It came hot on the heels of the great Labor split in 1955. It was this, accompanied by the influence of his father—who was the president of the local Labor branch—and an attraction to the emphasis on humanity within the Labor platform that propelled him into the party.

His party involvement was active, diverse and marked by a willingness to put himself forward as a candidate for our party. Twice unsuccessful at both ends of the 1960s in attempts to win a seat in the House of Representatives, in the meantime he secured a position as a state organiser in the Queensland branch in 1967. It provided him with a foothold in the organisational wing of the party—a role which enabled him to travel all over Queensland talking to members. Doubtless, this was a sound platform from which to launch himself into parliament, which eventually occurred with his election to the Legislative Assembly of Queensland in 1972.

Disappointingly for him, and for the reasons that Senator Brandis has outlined, it was only a short stay. But he made plenty of impact, establishing himself as one of the most strident critics of the government of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, which he colourfully described—amongst other things—as a:

… minority coalition which masquerades as a Government through the grace of an undemocratic redistribution, false promises, political deceit and political distortion …

His attacks against the Premier were persistent and trenchant.

Following the 1974 election, Mr Jones returned to party service for much of the remainder of the decade, culminating in his appointment as state secretary in 1977. As with many other state branches, this time was notable for the rise in influence of groups within the party pushing for reform: reform of party organisation and reform of party structure. And of course, in Queensland, one of the principal protagonists was the future premier, Peter Beattie. This culminated with a full intervention by the National Executive in 1980. As state secretary, Mr Jones remained loyal to what was known as the 'Old Guard' and, by the time the intervention had occurred, he had already secured a winnable position on the party Senate ticket for the election to occur later the next year. The next stage of his political service was about to begin.

Taking his place in the Senate from July 1981, he would go on to be elected four times. He was a proud senator for Queensland and used many of his early parliamentary contributions to focus on his home state. And still, the premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and his government came under sustained criticism from him. He was particularly adept at drawing unfavourable comparisons between the performance of the Queensland economy and the national economy.

He found much satisfaction in the work of Senate committees and served on many throughout his career. One of these was the Senate Committee on Science, Technology and the Environment, of which he was chair for some four years. A notable inquiry that took place in this time was into the effect of pesticides such as Agent Orange on the health of Australia's Vietnam War veterans. Perhaps one of his earliest forays into foreign affairs was in 1971 when, together with his wife Rita and many others, he was heavily involved in the anti-apartheid movement. This came to a head when Joh Bjelke-Petersen declared a state of emergency in Queensland to ensure the Springbok team could tour without being hindered by protests.

In the parliament that interest in foreign policy persisted on a range of parliamentary committees. It was, over the time he was engaged on this, an extraordinary time in foreign policy. The Berlin Wall fell, the Cold War came to an end, the Gulf War took place, Cambodia emerged from a decade of conflict through Australian leadership on the international stage, and there are many other examples. At the same time, the Hawke and Keating governments were embarking on a deeper engagement in our own region, led by foreign minister Gareth Evans.

Perhaps one of the most significant engagements of Mr Jones was the inquiry into sexual harassment in the ADF. He was chair of the inquiry, which emanated from incidents of alleged harassment towards female officers aboard HMAS Swan in 1992. This was an inquiry that navigated difficult terrain, required a great deal of sensitivity and was the subject of extensive media coverage. Ultimately, Mr Jones was able to lead the committee to a report with a substantial number of recommendations. He remained a strong anti-uranium mining and antinuclear advocate throughout his career, and received the unanimous support of the Senate on moving a motion calling on the cancelling of the French program of nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

Gerry Jones contributed greatly in the service of our party. He served as Deputy Government Whip and then became Government Whip in 1987, a position he would hold until just before his retirement in 1996. It was a role that suited his collegial nature, and he has been described as having built relationships not only within his own party but also across the chamber. By his own words, he described the role of the whip as being like a director in a play. As Government Whip, he also became the first senator to chair the Selection of Bills Committee from its inception from 1990 until he left the Senate.

Gerry Jones was a Labor senator through and through. But from the tributes of others, both at the time of his departure from the Senate and since his passing, it is clear that he did not let strong values and strident political opinions, nor indeed political differences, compromise his personal integrity. He seems to have been universally described as warm, friendly and decent and someone who went about his work cheerfully and calmly. When speaking on his valedictory, Senator Faulkner recognised the outstanding service to the party rendered by Mr Jones throughout his career as a senator and throughout his life, stating, 'You have always conducted yourself with very great distinction.' But perhaps it was one of my other predecessors as Labor leader in this place, Chris Evans, who summed it up best. He simply said, 'Gerry Jones, good bloke, consummate whip.' To be called a good bloke—I am not quite sure what the female equivalent might be—at the end of a career of that length, I think, is a pretty significant achievement. We, again, extend our deepest sympathies to Mr Jones's family, friends and former colleagues following his passing.

4:50 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the motion and to provide condolences of the Nationals to the family and friends of the late Norman Francis Jones. Born on 16 August in 1932 in Roma, Queensland, Norman, or Gerry, as he was fondly known by his father, had a number of careers—as a carpenter, builder, real estate agent. He was a passionate rugby league player and, apparently, very handy in the ring.

Following almost a decade of contesting elections, Mr Jones won the Brisbane seat of Everton in the Queensland parliament in 1969. However, his stay in the Queensland parliament was not that long, and he lost his seat in 1974. However, he did not stay out of politics for long. Gerry Jones was elected to the federal parliament in 1980 and was an important member of the Hawke-Keating governments until his retirement in 1996. Senator Jones was an enthusiastic, well-liked and hardworking senator. He saw great value in the committee process and reflected, 'You are learning all the time in this place.' As I can say, having been in this place for some time myself, I think that is very true. Most senators would agree that this is, indeed, a place of learning.

I acknowledge the variety of roles and the experience that Mr Jones brought to this place—something that we in the Nationals strongly value. I would also like to say that the character of a senator can often be best seen in the valedictory statements, especially for senators who we may not have had the opportunity to meet. As we have just heard, Senator Evans remarked that Gerry Jones was a good bloke.

I would like to take this opportunity to share a story that would give an insight. It is about a young Indigenous woman who was fortunate enough to spend some time with Gerry Jones and his family. Nicki Tafe, who now lives in Canberra, went to Brisbane as a student from remote Queensland to get an experience in city life. She was billeted out to the Jones family. She has great recollections of that time. Nicki recalls that Mr Jones was a good man with a strong focus on his family and his family values. During this period, he worked long hours, as many of us do in this profession. But Nicki recalls that Mr Jones always had time for his family and took the time to check on her wellbeing no matter what time he returned home.

Gerry Jones was an absolute politician, but he was also a person with real-world experience. Most importantly, he was a good man. His family and friends should be proud of the contribution he has made to this place and to others throughout his life. On behalf of the Nationals, I pass on my condolences to the family and friends of Gerry Jones.

4:52 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

When Gerry Jones made his last speech in this place, one of the comments that he made was that everyone told him he should write a book.

If I wrote a book, it would be a funny book. I would try to pick up the funny bits. During my period here, I kept a lot of notes. Deputy presidents, presidents and other members of the chamber used to write little notes to the whip and comment on certain things. I have a drawer at home. I used to take all the notes home and throw them in the drawer. The other day I started to go through the drawer and date the notes. As I said, if I ever attempted to write a book, it would be a beauty.

Mr President, there would be deputy presidents, presidents and other people in the chamber who would be pleased that that book was never written.

That particular statement in his closing speech came before a range of other senators stood up in this place and made the most beautiful comments about Gerry Jones and his family. They talked about his civility; they talked about the way he was professional in his job as whip. They talked about how proud they were to have served with that man in the Senate. One particular commentary talked about the fact that every time you went into the whip's office you were greeted by a smile and you were made to feel welcome.

As we know, Gerry Jones served for a long time in this place. He was a member of the great gang of whips—a job that he truly believed in and truly valued. He talked about the whips, as we have heard from a number of other senators, and the role that they had. He said that it gave him the opportunity to talk with people and to have long discussions and talk about anything but feel confident that they would remain confidential.

Gerry, when he started his political career, never thought that he would actually rise to the level of whip in the parliament of Australia. He was a boy born in Roma who grew up in Dalby. He went to St Columba's School—I do not know whether they have a sign up there to say, 'This is where Gerry Jones went to school,' but perhaps they should.

We have heard from a number of senators about his career, but I think 1956 stands out as a really important year in Gerry's history. Not only did he follow his dad into the great Labor Party movement but, in that same year, he married the love of his life, Rita, with whom he shared over 60 years in a loving, strong partnership where they did so much together. In fact Gerry actually blamed Rita for his activities in the Springbok demonstrations in Brisbane. He claimed that it was Rita—a mild-mannered woman whom he described as not looking like a radical—who actually led him into the demonstrations in the Springbok tour years. I am not quite sure, but that was his statement. However, for 60 years, they raised their family and did things together for their family. Most particularly, when Gerry was talking about leaving politics, he said he could not have done it without her and perhaps he said that she could not have done more time being the wife of a Labor senator.

We have heard much about Gerry's career, but I just want to touch on a few things. Senator Brandis described in great detail—and, with a great deal of knowledge, Senator Brandis—the internal activities of the Labor Party during that period in Queensland. Gerry started becoming active in the party in Brisbane and had a couple of tilts at federal preselection, but it was an extraordinarily tough time for the Labor Party in Brisbane. He started originally as an organiser but then went on to become the member, for a short time, for the seat of Everton—a Brisbane seat which Senator Watt also held for one term in the Queensland parliament.

Senator Wong, it is very difficult: all your quotes get taken. However, Senator Wong, you quoted from one of his many attacks on the then government of the day in Queensland. He was a strong fighter against the Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen government and actions there—and I refer people to the Queensland Hansard to see some of the quite pertinent comments that Gerry made at that time.

However, in the rout of the Labor Party in 1974, which Senator Brandis described, Gerry lost his seat. After a time, he went into another tough area, which of course was working as an official in the Labor Party in Queensland—which Senator Chisholm knows so well. As has been described, this was a tough time in the Labor Party in Queensland—deep divisions, strong fights, people of strong opinion and long loyalties—that led to a some serious federal intervention. Through that, Gerry Jones was a tough fighter, but the loyalties and the friendships that he made continued.

At the end of that period, he was preselected for a position on the Senate ticket for Queensland. There was controversy around that preselection—often controversies happened around preselections—but he was selected and then went on to serve for 15 years in this place as a strong, effective, articulate and loyal Labor senator for Queensland.

The wonderful Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, which gives such detail about people who served in this place, gives a great deal of detail about Gerry Jones's personal admiration for the way that the committee system operates in this place. There are details, as we have heard from other senators, about the various committees on which he served. He said, as Senator Scullion said, that he kept on learning. I think that is a statement of fact for anyone who serves in this place but also a reminder to us that what we are doing here is always learning.

He made a number of strong contributions, and the most interesting thing I want to mention today is that, when I was looking at some of the contributions that Senator Jones made, you always go to the first speech. Senator Jones's first speech in this place was actually in response to the Fraser budget in 1981. He came in and made a strong attack in his very first speech in the federal parliament on elements of the 1981 federal budget. The two key areas he touched on were housing affordability and the way that the system had made it too hard for young people to be able to afford their first home, and the loss of services for young people in the community with the closing of an organisation called the Community Youth Support Scheme. He said: 'Because you are unemployed, we do not want to, or need to, assist you in any way—not even to find employment. We are only a government of the haves.'

When you read this first speech from Gerry Jones, it stands up well. In fact, any senator in this place today talking about the current budget would be able to use the notes that Gerry Jones used in that speech. He went on to say, 'We have a responsibility to ensure that the have-nots in our community are looked after,' and he said that we needed to find the ability to ensure that young people could afford their housing and that they would have a start in their lives.

In terms of Gerry's career, we know that he served strongly as a whip, and we know that he was a strong committee member. I will not go into the various committees he served on, but throughout his speeches he talked about the humanity, the need for social justice, the need for equality—the very issues for which he claimed he decided to join the Labor Party. Senator Wong talked about the marvellous comment made by Senator Chris Evans, who I think was trained to be the whip by Senator Jones, about Gerry being a great bloke and a great whip.

When Gerry was leading the Senate he gave one piece of advice to people who were coming in after him: he talked about the need to always remember the importance of your family and to always understand that you had to have responsibilities to your family. I think that that is something we all understand, but it came home to me so strongly when I attended Gerry's funeral in Nambour a couple of weeks ago when his family—his wife, Rita, and his children and grandchildren—gathered around to talk with love and affection about the man they knew as their family member. They also talked with pride about the way that Gerry Jones had served his state and his country in the Senate; they were proud of the fact that this man chose to work for the Australian people, but they also understood that his heart was always with them and that he understood that they were the centre of his life and always would be.

Senator Jones made a comment when he was asked, after he had left this place, about some of the things he did when he was in the Senate. In 2011 he said: 'I was able to talk with people and handle them fairly well … That's the art of politics … if you can't get on with people you can't get on with politics. But if you can get on with people you can make things go the way you want them to go.'

Senator Jones made a difference in his community. He certainly made a difference for his family, and I think that, most of the time, he was able to make things go the way he wanted them to go. I want to thank Senator Jones for his service and I want to share in the wonderful words that were said by so many people in these contributions this afternoon. And, having spoken with his family, I know that those contributions will all mean a great deal to them as they mourn his loss with us.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Could I ask honourable senators to stand with me in a moment of silence to signify their assent to the motion.

Honourable senators having stood in their places—

Thank you, senators. The motion is carried. As always, it is difficult to transition back into business of the Senate after a condolence motion, but that is what we must do.