Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 February 2019


Cooney, Bernard Cornelius 'Barney'

3:52 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death on 9 February 2019 of Bernard 'Barney' Cornelius Cooney, a senator for the state of Victoria from 1984 to 2002. I call the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Cormann.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep sorrow at the death on 9 February 2019 of Mr Bernard 'Barney' Cooney, a former senator for Victoria, places on record its gratitude for his long service to the parliament and the nation, and extends its sincere sympathies to the family in their bereavement.

Spanning 17 years, Barney Cooney's time in the Senate was marked by a decency and collegiality that earned him the respect of those on all sides of the Senate chamber. He was born on 11 July 1934 to Bernard, whose name he took, and Constance, or 'Corrie', Cooney on Tasmania's King Island into a family whose Irish heritage in Tasmania stretched back to the 1820s. However, much of his childhood was spent moving through towns dotted across regional Victoria—Culgoa, Gunbower and Yarck among them.

As the family of a bank branch manager, Barney's family was spared the full pain of the Great Depression, but in his youth he witnessed some of the social toll that it imposed on others. His formative years were spent watching impoverished itinerant men, many of them veterans of the First World War, visiting his home for help. His mother's generosity in giving them food and, where she could, the dignity of work had a profound and lasting impact on his social conscience. In time, Barney's family moved to the city and ran a milk bar in South Melbourne. Following his father's passing in 1951, Barney's mother continued to run the family business, with the help of her children, until her own passing in 1968.

Despite losing his father at a young age, Barney excelled at St Kevin's Christian Brothers college and secured a scholarship that saw him take up studies in arts and law at the University of Melbourne. While there, he fully engaged in university life: completing his national service, representing his campus as a boxer—another one; there's a theme here—and joining the university's ALP Club, later joining the St Kilda branch of the ALP. Barney refused to allow the sectarian tensions that had so riven his party through the 1950s and 1960s to colour his time within its ranks. He was well known for his dual commitment to the Labor cause and to his Catholic faith.

Once armed with his Bachelor of Law, Barney was admitted to the Victorian Bar in 1961. His work centred on the personal injury and industrial law spaces and spanned two decades prior to his election to parliament. Notably, his legal activities didn't end when he came to Canberra, and he remained on the bar roll throughout his time in this place. I should note that his legal career brought him more than just a livelihood, because in April 1962 he married Lillian Gill, a fellow lawyer, with whom he would have five children, one of whom they tragically lost in infancy.

On 1 December 1984, Barney was elected to represent the state of Victoria in the Senate, which was the beginning of 17 years in an office that he took very seriously indeed, and in a chamber whose role in checking and reviewing government he held in high regard. Indeed, his concerns about executive overreach, articulated passionately in his first speech, were a defining feature of his parliamentary service.

A Westminster traditionalist, nowhere did his belief in the Senate's crucial democratic function come through more strongly than in his approach to the Senate committee system. As a prolific committee contributor, he chaired seven Senate committees and participated in a formidable 25 parliamentary committees in total. Those roles gave him insight into a wide range of issues and topics, from animal welfare to telecommunications through to law and order and much more. Among the committees that he chaired were the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances and the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. However, in line with his convictions, some of Barney's most famous contributions were those that he made on the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, of which he was regarded by many to have been one of the most outstanding chairs ever.

His emphasis on liberty often stirred him to action, sometimes even against his own party, as was seen in his vigorous critique of the Hawke government's proposed national identity card legislation. Yet whatever the disagreements he may have had, Barney was widely known to be a man of geniality and good humour. Indeed, when one looks back through the commentary of his contemporaries, the high regard in which he was held comes through very clearly. Barney regularly spoke about the importance of civility in politics, and no-one could doubt that he met the high bar that he so regularly set. It is a tribute to his character that, at the time of his retirement, so many senators lined up across partisan lines to farewell their departing friend. My good friend and former Liberal senator for South Australia Alan Ferguson captured the sentiment very well:

Everybody knows Senator Cooney because he is the most gracious man who greets every new member and makes them feel so much at home.

In his own valedictory speech, Barney displayed that same grace. Rather than focus on himself, he turned the chamber's attention to the work of his staff, friends and colleagues. So plentiful was his list of thank yous that to be safe he conceded that the only way to ensure that he wouldn't miss anyone was to table the entire phone book.

Though he retired from the parliament in 2002, Barney's passion for life and politics was undimmed. In 2003 he was named patron of the Conciliation Assistants Representing Employees Group, and in 2005 he was appointed chair of the advisory group to the Elder Abuse Prevention Project established by the Victorian government.

As he battled ill-health in his later life, he kept busy. Indeed, he was politically involved to the very end and attended meetings just last month. I commend in particular his deep commitment to community service, which saw him provide pro bono legal support even in retirement. With his lengthy service to the community now having come to an end, Barney leaves behind his loving wife, Lillian, their four children and their grandchildren. As they mourn the loss of their husband and father, the Senate mourns the loss of a kind, decent and committed public servant. On behalf of the Australian government and the Australian Senate, I extend to Barney's loved ones our sincerest condolences.

3:59 pm

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the opposition, I would like to convey our condolences to Barney Cooney's family. I had the great pleasure of knowing Barney over many, many years. I offer these remarks in the context of that knowledge and will concentrate on the areas of work that we did together. I don't want to take away from the work that he did in so many other areas. It's the nature of these types of discussions that one invariably concentrates on aspects of people's lives and, without meaning to, neglects so many other areas of their lives that are very, very important. I don't often contribute in condolence debates, so this is a particular exception. Because of the nature of Barney's contribution, I made a particular point of seeking to make this representation to the Senate.

Barney was a prominent member of the generation of Labor politicians who, I think, played a critical role in casting off the legacies of the 1950s split in the Labor Party. He joined the Labor Party in 1964. He was in fact made a life member in 2004. His contribution and that of his generation were that they paved the way for the return of the Labor Party to power, nationally under Gough Whitlam and in Victoria under John Cain.

Barney was also a very proud member of the Socialist Left in Victoria. Some people regarded this as ironic. I never did. He was at heart a democratic socialist who upheld core Labor values, but he was also deeply religious. He remained a devout Catholic throughout his life. And Barney himself saw no contradiction between his faith and his politics. Many people once saw that there was this fundamental gap. I trust that few do today. The fact that they have seen this change is a legacy of the work that people like Barney undertook—that is, to overcome the sectarian nature of the split. Those who thought that way of Barney's belief paradoxically failed to grasp that there are more paths to a vision of a better Australia than those shared by those of the doctrinaire views of the Left. You don't have to be a card-carrying member of the atheist brigade to appreciate the fact that tolerance and respect for others are not confined to one particular variety of views.

Many on the Left have thought that bigotry was the preserve of the churches. It's not. It can be found in many groups of people who adopt a very blinkered view of the way in which the world works. Barney was one of those people who are able to encounter that blinkered view and overcome it. I think it was because of the way in which he was able to interact with people that he was able to get on so well with people of so many different strands of thought. People like him, Catholics who remained in the Labor Party rather than joining the DLPArthur Calwell might be thought of as another—endured a hostility not just within sections of the Labor movement but within the church itself. It was in large part because of the example set by people like Barney that they were able to overcome old animosities and consign that view to the past. The golden thread, as I saw it, in Barney's work was his commitment to social justice and the defence of working people—and Senator Cormann outlined that in his contribution today. From the very time Barney entered university, in his training at Newman College, it became consistent with his understanding of the Catholic faith; indeed, it may well be argued that it arose from it. He believed that all people had an inherent dignity because, as he would put it, they were made in the image of his god.

Barney never chose to wear his religion on his sleeve, but it is important, if you are to understand his politics, to understand his deep religious conviction. For Barney, the implications of this belief were absolutely clear. He was never afraid to stand with those that had been socially ostracised or those that had been consigned to the margins of society, and that included some in the industrial wing of the Labor movement whose militancy and fondness for plain speaking did not always endear them to others in the Labor Party, let alone to conservatives. These were people that were unashamedly Barney's comrades. They were his close friends: people like Wally Curran, the secretary of the meatworkers union, for instance, with whom he had a very, very close personal relationship. There were people like Tom Ryan, the long-serving secretary of the Food Preservers' Union—people like Peter Marshall, secretary of the firefighters union.

Even if he had never served in this chamber, Barney would be remembered as a great defender of the union movement and as an advocate for workers' rights. That's evident not only in his cases as a lawyer but in his working with people like Graham Bird from the meatworkers union or Jenny Doran from the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Barney chaired an inquiry into workers' compensation, and that work led to a comprehensive overhaul of the workers' comp laws in the state of Victoria. That report—along with a fair bit of political struggle, I might add—became the basis of the present WorkCover system in Victoria.

Barney was widely respected across the Labor movement, and I mean widely respected across the Labor movement, for a combination of these qualities. And, of course, these are the same qualities that made him stand out in this chamber. He was conspicuous for his grace as well as his courage, for his courtesy and his generosity of spirit, and that was shown to all.

Late in his time here, he wrote:

Courtesy and grace are forever needed in debate. A civil society cannot be at its best unless its constituents treat each other civilly.

That Barney lived this prescription was acknowledged by those who reported on this parliament and by those who served in it. Alex Kirk, the ABC journalist, described him as a man 'who never descends into vitriol, who bears no grudges and doesn't say a bad word about anyone'.

Senators on the other side of the chamber tended to agree. Amanda Vanstone, who was noted, I think, for her ability to come up with a quick barb, seemed in an interview with Alex Kirk to have a soft spot for Barney. She said:

I think the real reason is all of us in Parliament have got a mixture of politician and parliamentarian, and Barney's got the highest portion of the latter that I've come across.

Barney's courtesy and respect for others was learned early in life, and these points have been made. He was born on King Island in Tasmania with his father, Bernard, a branch manager for the Commercial Bank. The family's Irish forebears were connected in Tasmania dating back to the 1820s, and in 1937 they were transferred through to the Mallee in western Victoria.

On this period, points have been made. I think that Senator Cormann drew upon the notes that were distributed on this matter. In the wake of the Depression there were still many, many people wandering the back roads of the Mallee, and they'd often visit the family home asking for food. Barney's political awakening was found in this experience. He said that the courtesy and kindness shown to the itinerant men by his mother, Corrie, formed a lasting impression on him. In this interview with Alex Kirk, he remembered it this way:

They'd come to the door, knock on the door, and ask for something to eat and something to drink. The sort of thing, I suppose, that Henry Lawson used to describe in his story. She would always give them work if she could, chopping the wood, that gave them dignity and she'd always give them supper, no matter who they were, because they were human beings and in many cases they were return soldiers from World War I and many of the younger ones were going to be soldiers in World War II. That was always a lesson to me, that no matter who you were, you were entitled to be treated in a particular way.

The Cooney family later moved to the city, and they ran a milk bar in South Melbourne. Upon Barney's father's death, Corrie kept up the business until her own death in 1968.

Barney attended St Kevin's College from 1947 through to '52, and he won a Commonwealth scholarship—I think that's important: he actually won a Commonwealth scholarship—to study arts and law at the University of Melbourne, where he did his national service and took up boxing. Active in undergraduate life, he was particularly active in the ALP Club and the Newman Society. Barney was admitted to the bar in 1961. He remained on the bar roll throughout his political career and after his retirement from politics, when he continued to do pro bono work. I can tell you there were many people who simply could not afford a lawyer who turned to him and received that legal assistance.

Within the Victorian ALP, Barney was originally a member of what was known as the Participants, which became the Independent faction after the intervention in the Victorian branch by the ALP federal executive in 1970. The Independents came to hold the balance of power between the Left and the Right in the 1970s, including many who were associated with Labor's return to power: John Button, John Cain, Michael Duffy and Richard McGarvie. Barney was elected to the ALP state Administrative Committee as an Independent, but didn't stay that long with that faction. He joined the Socialist Left in 1994, and, of course, remained with that to his death.

He was by then a member of the Senate. He was elected in 1985, with a No. 3 on the ticket. He actually had been selected on the Socialist Left spot on the ticket. It's a measure of the high regard in which he was held that he won preselection after an intense battle between two leading members of the Left, Bruce Hartnett and Bill Hartley. Each of them was vying for that spot.

Barney was a widely-welcomed compromise candidate—I say that in the very best sense of the term. At the time of his election he was 50. He came equipped with more than 20 years experience resolving workers' legal problems. In his first speech, Barney quoted the often abused term from Lord Acton, the famous dictum of 'power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. He turned that on its head and he said: 'If power corrupts, then the lack of power corrodes absolutely.' Barney said that those in Australia who lack power to give at least minimum expression to their needs, included Indigenous people, the unemployed and the non-English speaking migrants, especially women:

The more they can be effectively equipped with power the more likely it is that their social distress will be abated and the community as a whole benefit.

From that fundamental commitment, he never wavered in the 17 years he was in this chamber. I think he regarded this Senate as actually the best place to check the abuses of power, particularly because of this chamber's committee system.

Barney chaired seven committees, and he's best remembered for his outstanding work on the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. We should all remember that that committee's primary function is to guard against legislation which would trespass unduly on personal rights and liberties, and that, of course, reflected his own deepest personal instincts. Barney was not afraid, however, to criticise people in authority, even in the Labor Party—particularly when he felt they'd transgressed on those fundamental principles. In caucus, he opposed the Hawke government's proposed national identity card, which he described publicly as an Orwellian measure. He said, 'You should never need a licence to be a citizen.'

During his final years in the Senate, Barney was greatly disturbed by the increasing amount of legislation under the Howard government, particularly on asylum seekers and on measures against terrorism, that he regarded as curbing the rights of the individual. Speaking on various antiterrorism measures, he warned:

What happens with legislation is that it creeps. You cannot look at legislation simply in terms of what is happening now, you have to look at what might happen later on. Once you proscribe an organisation, people say ‘that’s how things are done’. What was put in as an exception originally becomes the precedent for more and more power to be given to the executive, and that is a real problem.

Barney was so well regarded across this parliament. I think that will become apparent if others speak on this matter, but there is ample evidence of that. He was noted for his loyalty, not just to his caucus colleagues but particularly to staff. I want to emphasise this point. Many people who worked on this side of the chamber and who are now quite senior politicians have said to me that his courtesy, in terms of the way he treated individual staff members and officials of this parliament, has to be acknowledged. I must say: all too often in this place we hear of examples where members of this parliament fail to fulfil their obligations in that regard. During his valedictory speech, as has already been indicated, he made the point of tabling the phone directory in case he forgot anybody.

Barney's goodwill was also the source of some frustration.

Senator Jacinta Collins interjecting

Yes, it's true, Senator Collins. I'll relay this story: he was not the person to be trusted with an attack question. From time to time, as we all know, the opposition will choose to seek out a minister who's weak or in trouble and make the point politically. Barney was, on occasion, given such an attack question, and I recall—

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

This is when you were manager.

Photo of Kim CarrKim Carr (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, well, that might have been the case. That might have been my problem! He would spend a good deal of time rewriting the question in such a manner as to congratulate the minister who was under attack, somewhat weakening the thrust of our criticism and, of course, making it more difficult for others to press the attack. It didn't impress the hard men of the Senate, I can assure you. He remained, however, undaunted by their remarks and was quite happy not to get any more questions, I might say!

Barney remained politically active long after his retirement and even in his final illness. He was grievously ill for a very long time. While his body deteriorated, his mind did not. He was a member of the Trades Hall Council and Literary Institute, which is a committee of management that actually runs the grants for the Trades Hall Council in Melbourne. He attended meetings in late January this year. He attended union Christmas parties before Christmas, and I think many people were shocked to see the physical deterioration that had occurred.

Barney was a friend and a mentor to many of us in the Labor Party and the broader Labor movement. We are in his debt in so many ways. Australian public life, and this chamber especially, are the richer for his contribution. I repeat passing on the opposition's condolences to his family. I know senators will join me in offering those condolences to his wife, Lillian, and their surviving children.

4:20 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As someone who worked with Barney Cooney for 12 years, I just want to ever so briefly associate myself with the condolence motion and the words of Senator Cormann and, indeed, Senator Carr. I think Senator Cormann used the words 'decency' and 'collegiality', and that was certainly my recollection of Barney. He had a wry smile and a wicked, if very quiet, sense of humour. I'm surprised to hear today, for the first time, that he was a boxer, because his gentleness, his graciousness and his courtesy in the chamber would make one struggle to believe that he was a prize-fighter.

I particularly liked Barney. I don't always, dare I say, like a lot of people from the Labor Party, but Barney was one that I did. He was a wonderful and very, very fine man. I was interested to see in a paper that Senator Carr must have written some time ago about Barney Cooney that Barney used to oppose things in caucus regularly, and I can accept that that would be correct. He was a fairly independent thinker in the time that I knew him. He certainly had a very, very bright mind, and I can imagine that he would've been a very competent and successful barrister. I just wanted to, as I say, associate myself with the condolence motion and to include my condolences to his family and friends.

4:21 pm

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Many kind things have already been said about Barney Cooney, and I wish to associate myself with all of those comments, particularly the very considered and thoughtful comments by my friend Senator Carr in relation to Barney, who we both knew very well over a long period of time. I wasn't here to work with Barney in this place—in fact, I replaced Barney after his retirement in 2002—but I have certainly enjoyed some of the reflected glory of his legacy in this place.

What I would like to do is say a number of words on behalf of his children, who have contacted me, in the very place where their father so eloquently contributed to some of the great debates of this nation. It's a great honour to do so on their behalf. They say:

Dad died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday, 9 February 2019. His sister Jane was by his side which was fitting as she was there at his birth and was reading traditional Irish stories to him just before he passed. Although most of dad's mainly Irish forebears lived in Tasmania for several generations, one dating back to the 1820s, Dad still lived the old Irish stories.'

Barney spent the last couple of years of his life in an aged care centre. One of the carers at the centre told the family that Barney never spoke about himself. But Barney knew the names of every carer and always knew something about them or their families. That's typical of Barney, his whole life was spent thinking about the wellbeing of others before his own. Even when things weren't going great for him as the final couple of years were not easy for him.

Dad was a creature of habit and would go to the same stores at the Victoria market every time he went there. He'd always chat to the storeowners about how they were going, how their families were going and the state of their businesses. It always put a smile on their face every time he would turn up to their stores. Dad hasn't been able to get to the Victoria market for a while now and it appears that we have inherited the same habits as Dad as we go to the same shops as he used to go to. Although he hasn't been there for a few years now they still ask after him every time.

Just before Christmas in 2018, we took dad and mum to Anglesea, a rare visit for them in recent times. Mum and dad used to take us there all the time when we were growing up. Running and swimming on the beach, having the traditional Australian barbeques and bush walks. They were great times that dad's children, Sean, Justin, Megan and Jerome will never forget. Dad and mum, and their children would've loved for the youngest sibling, Geraldine, to be there, also.

Barney's grandchildren have this to say about him: Granddad was a great man. His tenacious upholding of personal values is inspiring to us. However, nothing defined his character more than his unique ability to provide unconditional love and kindness to those close to him. Demonstrative of this he used to come and watch the grandkids swimming each week at Melbourne University. This became increasingly difficult for him but he'd turn up each week and take the grandkids for donuts and muffins afterwards.

Dad played footy in his youth, and loved South Melbourne where he grew up as a teenager. However, when they moved to Sydney and transformed into the flashy Sydney Swans complete with dancing girls this was too much for him. Dad decided to support a local club so he changed allegiances to Fitzroy. Like the old South Melbourne, Fitzroy were not team that featured often in the finals. Soon after, Fitzroy moved to Brisbane and became the Brisbane Lions. After that Dad gave up supporting a club. Some say it was a matter of principle for him that he couldn't support a team that was not local but we think it was more to do with the success the Brisbane Lions had winning back to back grand finals which didn't sit well with his support for the underdogs on and off the field.

We've heard a lot about dad's principles and decency and kindness, but dad was also a practical man. In September 1987, dad trekked out to Waverley Park with this family to watch the VFL Preliminary Final between Hawthorn and Melbourne. This match has gone down in history due to a rare error from the great Melbourne Irish import, Jim Stynes.

The final moments of the game went something like this:

Gary Buckenara from Hawthorn received a free kick, 55 metres out. Although a good kick, 55 metres was probably beyond him. The siren went. Game over. Except for the crowd waiting for the free kick. He lined up, the crowded stadium on the edge of their seats. Buckenara needed to kick the goal for Hawthorn to win. Then, in one of the great moments in finals history, Jim Stynes accidently gave away a 15 metres penalty which put Buckenara 40 metres out. It was Hawthorn—and not Melbourne—that advanced to the Grand Final that year.

And where was Barney and his family when this historic drama unfolded .... they were already in the car headed back home as dad wanted to leave early to beat the traffic.

Barney was a thoroughly decent human being and a credit to the labour movement and to this place. He never abandoned his humanity or his sense of obligation to those less fortunate and less powerful during his 18 years in this place.

In his maiden speech, Barney said:

Power corrupts; lack of power corrodes absolutely. People who are powerless to give at least minimum expression to their needs are at risk of being rendered hopeless, desperate, alienated, physically ill, mentally ill, or a combination of two or more of those things.

Barney never forgot those people in his time here. He was never afraid to speak his mind or to stand up for what he believed in, but he always did so with courtesy and dignity and was a man always willing to extend the hand of friendship across the aisle, and that has been reflected in the very kind and heartfelt tributes extended to him from former colleagues across the political spectrum.

Barney is survived by his wife, Lillian, whom he met at the University of Melbourne and had loved ever since. Rest in peace, Barney Cooney.

4:28 pm

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this afternoon to support this condolence motion and pay my respects to the late Victorian Labor senator Bernard Cooney, or Barney, as everyone knew him. I wasn't fortunate enough to know the senator personally. What I do know is his reputation—a reputation that few enjoy and that many aspire to on all sides of politics. It's this legacy and some urging from those who knew him well that has compelled me to speak today.

I'm a believer in the need for us all to work towards raising the standard of civility in this place, and one way to do it is to acknowledge the strengths of those across the aisle. Much has been said about Senator Cooney's decades-long legal career before he took up office in 1985 and the pro bono work he took up after his retirement in 2002. Much has been made, and rightfully so, of his outstanding committee work, for he was a master of the committee system. He was well respected as a chair. Committee work played to his strengths, his humanity and his decency. He could set people at ease and foster reasonableness, preferring a much more informal style of discussion than the combat of the chamber. As Amanda Vanstone once said of him: 'Why wouldn't you be happy to take questions from a decent person who always frames them decently and is genuinely interested in the answer? He asks the question pleasantly, he's never personally abusive and he's genuinely interested in the answer, so of course you'd show him respect.'

He was most celebrated for his work as chair of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. Speaking on the role of the committee, he said, 'Legislation is often passed which unintentionally imposes quite severely upon the sort of life we like to live. It's proper that there should be a committee of all parties who sit down and look at it and scrutinise it and make sure that those sorts of liberties that we all enjoy are not in any way diminished.' It's a sentiment I share. It was a deep commitment to protecting civil liberties that defined Senator Cooney's parliamentary career, most notably when he criticised the Hawke government's proposed national identity card as an Orwellian measure. He was a person of principle and conviction. He wasn't afraid to criticise the Liberal Party or, indeed, his own party, when he saw that individual freedom was in jeopardy.

As has been noted, he was a deeply religious man. In the debate on voluntary euthanasia, to which he was staunchly opposed, he unashamedly invoked his Catholic faith. He didn't argue that it went against his religion; rather, he had a way of linking the religious, cultural and social beliefs that reject euthanasia, and he pointed out that they are held by a godly proportion of Australian citizens, including him. He said, 'A person's stance on a particular matter should not be labelled invalid simply because it is based on his or her faith.' That still rings true today.

Going back to his unwavering belief in the Senate's role in legislative oversight, he said of the so-called Andrews bill, 'Where the state chooses to give sanction to killing, and where we as legislators approve of that, then there is a sea change in the sort of society we legislate for. Legislative creep is a common occurrence.' It was a refrain he would draw upon again when he opposed antiterror and asylum seeker legislation.

Senator Cooney was a loyal and dedicated party man who at the same time drew respect from all sides of politics for his diplomacy. He was able to form friendships with people who held very different views to his. In his last week in the Senate, Liberal senator and government leader at the time, Robert Hill, called him 'one of the really decent senators within the ALP'. Australian Democrats Senator Vicki Bourne sought special leave to draw attention to his chairmanship of the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee, and Liberal senator Rod Kemp said that no-one had done more to raise standards than Cooney and praised him for welcoming him as a new senator when others had not.

Senator Cooney seemed to return this affection in spades. In his valedictory speech, he spoke generously not just of his family and grandchildren, but also of his colleagues—so much so that he tabled the entire directory for the 40th parliament to pay tribute to every person in the chamber. That's how much he genuinely valued everyone he came across in his 17 years in the Senate. It showed again what a gentleman he was and why he was so well liked by all. It is a testament to Senator Cooney's reputation that, after his retirement, newcomers to the Senate sought out his wisdom on parliamentary matters. He was also a much-valued participant in university courses on parliamentary practices and conduct. I'm glad to be able to stand here and contribute something to recognising his qualities. I don't stand on the same side of the chamber as he did, but I have no doubt that he would have treated my colleagues and me with the same respect that he afforded everyone.

Of course, it's a little sad that I didn't get to share the chamber with him and witness his unique wit firsthand. I'm told we shared a love of books and that he read widely in history and enjoyed the Shakespearean comedies in particular. It's no surprise to those who knew him that his favourite play was Twelfth Night. His was a humour and style that, to this day, stands out in this chamber's long history. As The Age said for the departing senator back in 2002, 'So long, and thanks for all the quips.'

4:35 pm

Photo of Jacinta CollinsJacinta Collins (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

Barney Cooney was indeed a great man. I was very saddened to hear of his passing, and I'd like to indicate my appreciation to Senator Carr for his very comprehensive coverage of Barney Cooney's career not only in this place but well beyond this place, both before and after his presence here. I was recently described as being in the twilight of my political career, and it's caused me to reflect on who shared their time with Barney: Senator Carr, me, Senator Macdonald and Senator Abetz. I think that's it—just the four of us who can reflect on the day-to-day experience we had in this place.

For me, it was arriving as a young pregnant woman in a chamber that had very few other women. Barney showed me the civility that has been characterised today in spades. Barney was a very good resource for our new senators. His generosity and his kindness extended into the time he shared with helping new senators understand this place and understand how to most effectively extend our resources, not only as individual senators but as a team. I'd like to think that, from some of my early time with Barney, I acquired the capacity to further develop the Senate committee system through my years, mostly in opposition, in a way that has enabled Labor senators to use opposition in a way that best serves the Australian public at large and is relatively unique to the Australian political system.

I only wanted to say these few words because Senator Carr has covered Barney's participation within the socialist left of the party. The goodwill towards Barney was shared not only by all members of the Labor Party but by all members of this Senate. Thank you.

4:37 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm going to take this opportunity to make a few brief comments on this myself and to associate myself with comments made about Senator Cooney, particularly by those who knew him. I attended the same school as Senator Cooney. To complete a reference by Senator Wong about Mr Scholes earlier, it happened also to be the same high school of BA Santamaria and Diamond Jim McClelland, albeit at slightly different times for all of us. I met him in my final year, when he addressed our year level and spoke to our politics class. Already interested in politics, I was pretty obviously leaning the other way, but Senator Cooney went to a great deal of trouble to outline not just what he did but why it was important and what motivated him—as Senator Carr outlined, in particular, his faith and his care for those less privileged than others.

His passion for politics was apparent not just for combat but for values and the outcomes for those he believed he was fighting for. He was proud to be a senator. Indeed, he was a proud member of the Labor Party, but he was proud to be a senator in particular and a legislator first. He represented a Senate that sometimes seemed a little bit more distant than it used to, one that placed an extraordinarily high value on the role of this place—what dedicated individuals can do with hard work, a sense of cooperation and a willingness to compromise and working to find common ground with others who want to achieve some sort of result. As others have highlighted, he believed in civil discourse and debate and in decency in its broadest sense in public life. I won't repeat what has been said by other senators this afternoon other than to say there is rarely such agreement about a member of this place.

I met him again in the early 1990s, when I came to work in this place. I think the quote from former Senator Alan Ferguson that he was 'constantly courteous', which Senator Cormann referred to, is particularly apt. When I first came to this place many years later as a senator, he was one of those people who was mentioned to me by trusted elders, both officials and senators, as someone that could be a role model for those coming to this place, in the tradition on my side of people like Senator Alan Missen. That is as true today as it was then.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.