Bill's Speeches

STATEMENT ON INDULGENCE: THE HONOURABLE BARRY COHEN AM - CANBERRA - MONDAY, 5 FEBRUARY 2018

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Thank you, Mr Speaker 

And I thank the Prime Minister for his tribute just then - and his words at today's memorial service down the hill in the Old Parliament.

It was a morning worthy of the man: full of warmth, humour, love-of-family, pride in his Jewish faith.

It was a celebration of a life dedicated to others, spent in the service of Labor values. 

Barry Cohen leaves a legacy of extraordinary public service. Particularly as Minister for the Environment, where his passion helps secure the future of south-west Tasmania, Uluru, Kakadu and the Great Barrier Reef for future generations. 

But thanks to his prodigious output as a columnist and author, Barry will also live on as one of Australia's finest chroniclers of a politician's daily mini-disasters: the high wit and the low farce of this place, the world stage and the campaign trail. 

He had a brilliant eye for the humour which makes politics human.

Barry's Gough Whitlam impersonation was always in high demand on the branch meeting circuit, a talent only exceeded by his knack for self-deprecation. 

Barry loved re-telling an anecdote, so I'm sure he wouldn't be offended if I repeat a story from this morning. 

He was always extremely proud of his background in menswear and the insights he gained from owning and running a small business.

Back when he started his first menswear shop in Gordon in 1959, a friend suggested that he visit another shop on the Pacific Highway that specialised in artistic bric-a-brac, to add some character to the interior of his own shop.

Now it just so happened Barry knew the shop owners for a long time. 

In his view they were a "respectful middle-class family" but their 18-year-old son Brett was "a five-star nutter". 

Anyway, Barry bought a few different pieces and on his way out the owner asked him if he'd be interested in purchasing some of his son's paintings, he pointed to five that were hanging in the shop.

'15 quid each - or all five for 60 pounds'

Barry said: 

'I don't know much about art. But I wasn't about to be conned by an old codger trying to sell his son's paintings'. 

So he simply replied:

'It's kind of you to offer - but no thank you, Mr Whiteley.' 

No wonder Bob appointed him Minister for the Arts. 

Mr Speaker 

Very soon Question Time will resume for 2018 - with all the familiar colour and movement, the sound and the fury and the outrage. 

But for this moment - as we remember Barry Cohen, let us also remember a truth that he knew: this parliament can also be a place for the increasingly lost art of humour and

warmth and friendship across party-lines. 

Because for all the daily skirmishes, politics lost and won, we are only just passing through.

And what matters is not the duration of our service or how high we rise in the ranks -  it's what we do here for our communities, it's the contribution we leave behind for future generations.

Barry knew that. It's why for him Alzheimer's wasn't a personal grievance, it was a policy challenge. 

His last great campaign on behalf of people at the margins. 

Barry Cohen's legacy: standing up for the equal treatment of our First Australians, championing Australian culture, protecting our natural heritage, conserving our national landmarks, demanding a better deal for older Australians, will live long after him and us.

We honour his service, we offer our love and thanks to his wife Rae and his boys, the family he adored. 

May he rest in peace.


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