JONES, Gerry Norman Francis (1932–2017)
Senator for Queensland, 1981–96 (Australian Labor Party)

Norman Francis (Gerry) Jones was born on 16 August 1932 at Roma, Queensland, the younger of two sons of William Norman Harcourt Jones, railway worker, and his wife Kathleen Alice, née Moore, a tailor. When he was growing up, his father insisted that he should be known as Gerry and later in life he formalised that name by deed-poll. He attended St Columba’s School, a Catholic school in Dalby, located on Queensland’s Darling Downs. On leaving school, he took up a five-year apprenticeship in joinery, after which he established his own business as a building contractor in Dalby, and later on the Gold Coast. As a young man, Jones played rugby league. He was also a capable boxer who trialled for the 1960 Rome Olympics. On 30 June 1956 he married English-born Rita June Freda Turner; they went on to have three daughters and a son.

Jones joined the ALP in 1956, partly influenced by his father, who was president of the local Labor branch and partly by the great Labor split of 1955; he was also impressed by the party platform, which placed an emphasis on ‘humanity’. At the 1963 federal election Jones was an unsuccessful ALP candidate for the House of Representatives seat of McPherson, Queensland. In 1966 he suffered from a severe kidney disease, for which he received a terminal prognosis. His illness curtailed his business and political activities for over a year, but he managed to overcome it, proving his doctors wrong. However, unable to resume hard physical work, he took to selling real estate.

In 1967 Jones defeated nineteen other applicants for the post of state organiser for the ALP. The selection was made through a ballot of the Queensland Central Executive (QCE), and Jones later recalled that his political allies managed to secure the numbers for him. His new job gave him ‘a fairly high profile because I used to travel all over Queensland talking to branches’. At the 1969 federal election, Jones was again unsuccessful in his quest to win a seat in the House of Representatives, this time through the seat of Kennedy.

In July 1971 Queensland’s Coalition Government, led by Joh Bjelke-Petersen, declared a state of emergency to ensure that the touring South African rugby union team could play its matches unhindered by anti-apartheid protests. Rita Jones was an anti-tour organiser, and Gerry led demonstrations against the tour.[1]

At his third electoral contest, the Queensland state election of May 1972, Jones won the Brisbane seat of Everton for the ALP. In his first speech in the Legislative Assembly Jones complained that during the campaign he was ‘subjected to the type of vicious personal propaganda and abuse that only a warped, unbalanced mind could create’, and he believed the primary reason to be his role in the anti-apartheid demonstrations of the previous year: ‘My sin was that I dared to disagree with the Premier at a time when he was trying to arouse a wave of false hysteria designed to inspire division and terror among the people of Queensland on a question of Christian conscience’. He labelled the Bjelke-Petersen Government as a ‘minority coalition which masquerades as a Government through the grace of an undemocratic redistribution, false promises, political deceit and political distortion’ and accused it of using the slogan ‘law and order’ to ‘suppress those who display the audacity to differ with their policies’.

Over the next two years, Jones became one of the most prominent and persistent Labor critics of the government and was acknowledged as such by the premier. Jones alleged that Bjelke-Petersen had ‘consistently remained reluctant to face up to his responsibility in eliminating the question of conflict between private interest and public duty’, a charge he also laid against the Premier’s fellow cabinet ministers.[2]

In December 1974 the state went to an early election after the newly-appointed Labor leader, Percy Tucker, challenged Bjelke-Petersen to go to the polls early. The election was a debacle for the ALP, and both Jones and Tucker were among the twenty-two Labor members who lost their seats. After a stint managing a service station, in October 1976 Jones was appointed executive officer (assistant secretary) of the Queensland ALP. In April of the following year he was appointed state secretary.

As state secretary Jones faced a challenge to the ‘Old Guard’ union base, which controlled both the QCE and the Inner Executive. The challenge came from a reform group whose leaders included centrists Denis Murphy and Peter Beattie, and the socialist left’s Senator George Georges. The reformers—who viewed the ‘Old Guard’ as ‘a small clique of ageing union bosses’ presiding over a ‘slipshod and ramshackle administration’—sought greater representation within the party administration for non-union members and women, and gained the support of Queenslander and federal ALP leader, Bill Hayden.

Although the Old Guard was considered by its opponents to be ‘intolerant and authoritarian’, Jones remained loyal to those who had appointed him. In January 1978, a joint statement issued by Jones and state president Tom Burton castigated the reformers for seeking ‘to create division and mistrust between affiliated trade unions and ALP branches’ and labelled proposals for reform as ‘malicious and destructive’. Later that year, partial intervention by the ALP’s National Executive saw the QCE replaced by a state council with forty per cent non-union membership, and the Inner Executive replaced by an expanded administrative committee.

Despite the changes made in 1978, the ‘Old Guard’ remained in effective control. After further bitter conflict within the Queensland branch, the National Executive undertook full intervention in March 1980, dismissing all existing party committees and imposing an Interim Administrative Committee (IAC). Initially, Jones remained as state secretary, despite his continuing opposition to intervention and doubts that had been raised about his understanding of the branch’s finances. He declined an invitation to serve on the IAC, and resigned on 17 March 1980 after having won second place on Labor’s Queensland Senate ticket for the federal election to be held later in the year. At the time Jones stated that he was resigning as state secretary because ‘his views on [federal] intervention were well known, and it would be counterproductive for the ALP to have him on the new committee’.

His Senate preselection created a new dispute, as interventionist supporters maintained that Jones’ ‘blatant’ opposition to federal intervention made him an unsuitable candidate; the manner in which he secured nomination was also queried. In May and August 1980 the IAC recommended that fresh Senate nominations be called, but this was rejected by the National Executive which did not want negative publicity so close to the election. The National Executive was also aware of threats made by elements of the Old Guard (some of whom continued to resist intervention) to run their own Senate ticket with Jones in first place.[3]

Elected to the Senate on 18 October 1980, Jones, as a representative of the Old Guard, was given a secure place on Labor’s Senate ticket at the next four federal elections in 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1990, heading the Queensland ticket in 1990. Bill Hayden’s role in restructuring the Queensland branch inspired Jones to help ‘get the numbers’ for Bob Hawke to replace Hayden as party leader. Hawke became leader in February 1983 and won a decisive victory the following month at the double dissolution election; Jones remained a firm supporter of Hawke over the course of his prime ministership.

Jones made his first Senate speech on 16 September 1981 in which he discussed the Fraser Government’s budget, and the regulation of uranium mining. The budget had contained drastic spending cuts, driven by a ministerial committee known as the ‘razor gang’, and Jones declared that the budget showed that the government had ‘no feeling for the plight of the small man. It is a Budget that widens further the division that has developed in our society between the haves and the have nots’. He paid particular attention to measures that would adversely affect housing, funding for public hospitals, and financial support for single parents, and attacked the termination of the community youth support scheme as ‘another indication of the Government’s disregard for the misery it is creating’.

In the Senate, Jones’ questions and speeches were often focused on events in his home state, and he used the Senate as a forum for regular condemnation of the Bjelke-Petersen Government. In November 1986 Jones addressed the Senate ‘on the Queensland gerrymander’, complaining that although the Bjelke-Petersen Government only received thirty-nine per cent of the vote, making it ‘the least popular government in modern Australian history’, it still managed to hold government with a nine seat majority. Later that day, during debate on an appropriation bill, Jones rose again, to ‘take the opportunity to draw some comparisons between the economic performance of Queensland and that of the national economy’ and stated: ‘For many months Queensland has had the worst economic record of all States’.

Throughout his Senate career Jones highlighted the dangers associated with mining, selling, storing and disposing of nuclear material. In 1983 he spoke out at an anti-nuclear demonstration that was held outside Parliament House. Later in his career, in 1995, he achieved a measure of success, receiving the unanimous support of the Senate, which called on France to cancel its nuclear test program in the South Pacific.[4]

Jones was convinced of the merits of the parliamentary committee system, serving on a number of committees. In the Senate, he found that ‘you were learning all the time’. He started his committee work by joining the Standing Committee on Science and the Environment and was a member of that committee during its high profile investigation into the effects of pesticides such as Agent Orange on the health of Australian Vietnam War veterans. Jones went on to chair the committee (1983–87), which in 1983 added technology to its remit. Under his chairmanship, in 1985 the committee inquired into land use policy in Australia. As a result of its inquiry, the committee recommended that the Australian Environment Council should establish a standing committee to draft a national land use policy. Jones noted: ‘There is unquestionably a need for policies on land use to be co-ordinated nationally by State, Commonwealth, Territory and local governments’.

Interested in foreign policy, Jones became a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade from 1987). He was also a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade which he chaired from 1993 to 1994, and in October 1994, when the standing committee was split into legislation and references committees, Jones was made chair of the legislation committee (1994–96). In 1994 Jones chaired an investigation by the standing committee into sexual harassment in the Australian Defence Force, arising from incidents of alleged harassment towards female officers aboard HMAS Swan in 1992. In addition to its examination of the Swan case, the committee looked into how the other branches of the armed forces dealt with harassment, and found shortcomings. During its inquiry, the committee acknowledged particular difficulties in deciding to what extent in camera evidence received by the committee might be released at a later date. Jones, as chairman, had to ensure that witnesses were not intimidated while giving evidence, and that the committee did not ‘become involved in commenting on or seeking to resolve individual complaints’ beyond those relating to HMAS Swan. The inquiry received extensive media coverage, which recognised the complexity of the issues into which the committee was inquiring. In the end the committee’s report contained forty-two recommendations, some of which suggested amendments to the relevant sex discrimination legislation.[5]

Jones served as Deputy Government Whip in the Senate from August 1985 until his promotion to Government Whip in the Senate in September 1987, a post he held until his retirement. As Government Whip in the Senate, he was the first person to chair the Selection of Bills Committee (1990–96).

Jones enjoyed serving as Whip, despite being ‘under a lot of tension all of the time’. He later admitted that at the early morning conferences with whips from other parties, ‘you could talk about anything and say anything’, knowing those conversations would remain confidential. He described the Whip’s role in the arrangement of debates as being ‘like the director in a play’, in choosing the appropriate speakers and the order in which they would appear. Jones was proud of his record of ensuring that government senators were always present for divisions in sufficient numbers, although he was embarrassed on one occasion, in March 1994, when resumption of a debate on government legislation was halted when it was found that only eighteen senators were present, instead of the nineteen required for quorum. Recalling the event, Jones said that the missing government senator ‘got a touch of the tongue and it never happened again’. His duties as Whip, and on committees, limited his opportunities for speaking in the Senate, but between 1987 and 1996, Jones regularly asked questions about the need to reduce gun ownership in Australia and the importance of uniform national laws on gun control.[6]

Jones admitted that he had no ambition for higher office: ‘I knew I’d got as far as I wanted to go and probably as far as … I could go’. In 1994 a factional realignment in Queensland imperilled his position on Labor’s Senate ticket for the next election. On 19 December 1994 he announced that he would retire at the next election, and he left the Senate at the end of his term on 30 June 1996. Interviewed some years later, Jones emphasised health considerations as the main reason for his departure: he had suffered two heart attacks and underwent further major heart surgery after leaving the Senate.

Jones was an astute political survivor of the internecine warfare within the Queensland branch of the ALP. Popular with all parties, he was considered personable, efficient and reasonable. During valedictories senators from both sides of the chamber spoke of him with considerable warmth, acknowledging his cheerfulness, calmness and readiness to help any new senator, including by guiding them towards committee work. Fellow Labor Senator Chris Evans (WA) provided a summation: ‘Gerry Jones, good bloke, consummate whip’.

In 2011, reflecting on his political career, Jones 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.[7]

D. B. Waterson

[1] Throughout this entry the author draws on information gleaned from a questionnaire completed by Gerry Jones, an interview conducted by the author at Parrearra, Qld, on 8 November 2011 and a telephone interview of former senator Robert Ray conducted by the author on 25 Feb. 2016; Transcript of interview with Gerry Jones by P. F. Donovan, 2011, POHP; Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 18 Oct. 1977, p. 4, 26 Aug. 1969, p. 6; CPD, 27 June 1996, pp. 2468–72.

[2] QPD, 10 Aug. 1972, pp. 150–6, 21 Aug. 1973, pp. 194–5, 28 Aug. 1973, pp. 319–23, 10 Sept. 1973, pp. 675–7, 11 Sept. 1973, pp. 466–9.

[3] Courier-Mail (Brisb.), 18 Oct. 1977, p. 4; John Wanna & Tracey Arklay, The Ayes Have It: The History of the Queensland Parliament, 1957–1989, ANU E Press, Canberra, 2010, pp. 363–9; POHP; Ross Fitzgerald & Harold Thornton, Labour in Queensland from the 1880s to 1988, UQP, St Lucia, Qld, 1989, pp. 197, 214, 217, 223–63, 282, 292; Peter Beattie, In the Arena: Memories of an ALP State Secretary in Queensland, Brian Stevenson (ed.), Boolarong Publications, Brisb., 1990, pp. 13–14, 17, 25; B. Barden, ‘Modern Labor in Queensland: its rise and failings, 1978–98’, Labour History, No. 105, 2013, pp. 11–12; CT, 8 Feb. 1980, p. 3, 18 Feb. 1980, p. 3, 18 March 1980, p. 3; National Times (Syd.), 9–15 March 1980, pp. 3–5.

[4] POHP; Age (Melb.), 18 Dec. 1991, p. 1; CPD, 16 Sept. 1981, pp. 777–82, 12 Nov. 1981, pp. 2157–8, 12 Oct. 1983, pp. 1450–2, 20 March 1986, pp. 1327–9, 13 Nov. 1986, pp. 2131–2, 2194–6, 12 May 1987, p. 2627, 24 Sept. 1981, pp. 992–5, 5 May 1985, p. 1813, 3 June 1986, p. 3212, 2 Nov. 1989, p. 2765, 30 Aug. 1995, pp. 603–4; CT, 12 Oct. 1983, p. 3; Media Release, Senator Gerry Jones, 31 Aug. 1995.

[5] POHP; CPD, 25 Nov. 1982, pp. 2800–1, 27 Feb. 1985, pp. 275–7, 25 Aug 1994, pp. 322–5; Standing Committee on Science and the Environment, Pesticides and the Health of Australian Vietnam Veterans, Canberra, Nov. 1982; Standing Committee on Science, Technology and the Environment, Report on Land Use Policy, Canberra, Feb. 1985; Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Sexual Harassment in the Australian Defence Force, Canberra, Aug. 1994; CT, 29 Sept. 1993, p. 15, 24 Aug. 1994, p. 8, 26 Aug. 1994, p. 1.

[6] POHP; CPD, 23 Oct. 1987, p. 1195, 24 March 1988, p. 1284, 14 Aug. 1991, p. 274, 6 Nov. 1991, p. 2537, 23 Aug. 1994, p. 128, 31 May 1995, p. 618, 1 Dec. 1995, p. 5009, 18 June 1996, p. 1743.

[7] POHP; Australian (Syd.), 16 Dec. 1994, p. 2, 20 Dec. 1994, p. 2; CPD, 27 June 1996, pp. 2446–522.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, Vol. 4, 1983-2002, Department of the Senate, Canberra, 2017, pp. 194-198.

Auspic DPS

Auspic DPS

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Qld, 1981–96 (ALP)

Queensland Parliament

MLA, Everton, 1972–74

Senate Committee Service

Estimates Committee F, 1981–83; A, 1993–94

Standing Committee on Science and the Environment, 1981–83

House Committee, 1983–85

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, 1983–87

Joint Standing Committee on Public Works, 1983–87

Publications Committee, 1983–85

Standing Committee on Science, Technology and the Environment, 1983–87

Select Committee on Video Material, 1984–85

Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, 1987–96

Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, 1987–90, 1991–96

Select Committee on Legislation Procedures, 1988

Selection of Bills Committee, 1989–96

Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, 1993–94

Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, 1993

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, 1994–96

Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, 1994–96