Senator Barney Cooney

Federation Chamber, Parliament House, Canberra

My admiration and deep respect for Senator Barney Cooney is immeasurable and I send my condolences to his family and friends. While I stand here with a deep sense of sadness, it is, however, Barney's contribution to Australian politics, his sharpened instinct for social justice and the generous guidance that he afforded me and so many others, that stands out.

Barney arrived in this place with a resolute determination to ensure that the parliament delivered good government to the people of Australia. He understood that improving the integrity of our institutions through the parliamentary committee system was one very good way to make this happen. In fact, Barney spent most of his energy and resources as a senator of some 17 years in this place in the committee system. He chaired many committees and was steadfast in his view that the community was entitled to expect the best from the committee system. Barney always held that the Senate's committees played an important role in our government and he took seriously his responsibility to use that system to produce far-reaching improvements for all Australians. Barney once said, 'A true conscience is a reliable guide in reaching the right conclusion'. This, of course, was just common sense to Barney.

Long after Barney's departure from parliament, he did not rest. I point to his 2010 submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee of the Senate in which he eloquently reframed a challenging legislative debate into a simple statement about values and what really matters: 'Legislation should be examined in the light of what is fair'. In a separate submission, to the Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills in 2010 about its future direction, Barney noted, 'My submission is aimed at making a great committee even better'. These statements, founded on values of fairness and working for the common good, sum up Barney's values and his time in parliament working for what is right and what is fair for the people of Australia. Barney exemplified Labor values and traditions, his open-hearted approach, buttressed by what might be described as a bolshie determination to achieve his goals, was irresistible and he brought out the best in all of us.

Barney was also a tremendous inspiration to me and helped shape the kind of parliamentarian that I hope I am. I thank him for that guidance. He encouraged me to seek preselection more than once and to keep chasing my goal of becoming a member of this parliament. He showed me how this place can make lasting change for the good in our Australian community. I recall particularly Barney's unceasing background work on the need to develop protections for whistleblowers. It was work that he had advanced while in the Senate and which, regrettably, had not manifested in legislation by the time he left the parliament.

He would often call me to let me know that I needed to get on with it, but his language was more colourful than what I've just suggested. He could not understand why, by 2007, when I entered this parliament, every Australian jurisdiction other than the Commonwealth had enacted whistleblower protection legislation for public servants. I did listen intently to Barney's advice. In 2008 and 2009, as the chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, I led its inquiry on whistleblower protection and, in 2009, I had the honour of tabling the report of the inquiry into whistleblowing protection within the Australian government public sector. That report built on work which Barney Cooney had commenced.

Barney's enduring influence on me did not end there. It took four more years for our Labor government to get to legislation but, as Special Minister of State, in March 2013, I was able to introduce and ensure the passage of the Public Interest Disclosure Bill 2013, which I know, because Barney called me about it, was a proud day for him. He said it had taken much too long but we had got there in the end. The bill, of course, strengthened protections for those who report wrongdoing in the public sector. I want to acknowledge Barney, not just for the help he gave me on the whistleblowing area and his encouragement generally in the work that I've been able to do in this parliament; I want to acknowledge Barney for his generous counsel and his legacy in that particular area of legislative reform.

As other speakers have said, the significance of Barney's contribution to the Australian parliament was immense, his readiness to support the most vulnerable people in our communities and his generosity was immeasurable. Barney was always ready to help, he was always welcoming and he was always there. Barney believed in a fair go and he will be greatly missed. I and the whole Labor family send our condolences to his family.