Australian voters have always liked Barry Jones. The school masterly manner and precise, clipped speech earns respect. People might not know exactly what he’s talking about, but it must be right, mustn’t it? He won all those quiz shows didn’t he? Clever bloke that Barry Jones. Just the man for Labor’s rank-and-file to select as party president.

But talk to Labor politicians who worked alongside Barry Jones in government and you find a different view. Very few ministerial colleagues have a kind word to say about him as a Minister. He would analyse and dissect issues at considerable length but prove incapable of making decisions and implementing them. Ifs, buts and maybes might make you sound very impressive but they are not much help to a government trying to get things done. His seven years as Science Minister from 1983 to 1990 were years of frustration rather than achievement.

But people do seem to like his books. Sleepers, Wake! published in 1982, is now in its 26th impression which must give publishers Allen & Unwin confidence about his autobiography, A Thinking Reed, released next week. Previews are starting to appear in the nation’s press with Mike Steketee giving a good plug in The Australian today based on comments accusing Kim Beazley of shunning risk, refusing to make major policy reforms and pursuing only popular issues.

Barry Jones, it appears, is still smarting over Beazley’s treatment of his Knowledge Nation report. “If Beazley had devoted 30 minutes — possibly even 20 — to defending Knowledge Nation robustly, he could have won the moral and intellectual argument, especially if we had called in some of our respected panel members or outsiders,” Mr Jones is quoted as writing.

Ah, yes. Moral and intellectual arguments. Barry has always been good at those. It’s just a pity that those voters who so admire him aren’t.

Peter Fray

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