Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

CONDOLENCES - Gerry Norman Francis Jones

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (16:52): 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.

The PRESIDENT: 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-

The PRESIDENT: 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.