Barry Jones

Barry Owen Jones AO

Barry Owen Jones AO (born 11 October 1932) is a writer, lawyer, social activist, quiz champion and former politician. He campaigned against the death penalty throughout the 1960s, particularly against the execution of Ronald Ryan, and remains against capital punishment. In 1998 he was named as one of Australia’s “Great Minds”. He is on the National Trust’s list of Australian Living Treasures.

Early life

Barry Jones was born in Geelong, Victoria and educated at Melbourne High School and the University of Melbourne, where he studied arts and law.


He began his career as a schoolteacher at Dandenong High School, where he taught for nine years.

Quiz Champion

Before becoming a household name as an Australian quiz champion in 1960 on Bob Dyer’s Pick a Box, a radio show from 1948, televised from 1957. He was famous for taking issue with Dyer about certain expected answers, most famously in response to a question about “the first British Governor-General of India”, where he pointed out that Warren Hastings was only technically Governor of Bengal. Barry Jones’ appearances on Pick a Box lasted from 1960 to 1968.


Barry Jones also tried his hand at broadcasting on Melbourne radio, in the mid-1960s. He was one of the pioneers of talkback radio, working at 3DB in Melbourne. His show Talkback to Barry Jones and Mike Walsh’s show on Sydney’s 2SM were Australia’s first talkback shows. Jones believes that modern talkback shows have a much narrower focus than the original shows did. He says “I was trying to convey to people a sense of what they didn’t know rather than simply talk about football or pets. My emphasis was on using talkback as an instrument for exposing people to new ideas and challenging them, rather than just reinforcing the ideas they already held.” Asked in an interview if he got nervous, Barry responded that he had taught school “… and those kids soon knocked any nervousness out of you”.

Political career

A member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) from 1950, Jones was a Federal candidate in 1955, 1958 and 1963, with a strong interest in education and civil liberties.

Victorian Parliament

Jones’ political career began in the Victorian Parliament where he represented the electorate of Melbourne as a Labor Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) from 1972 to 1977, when he resigned to go into federal politics.

Federal Parliament

In 1977, he was elected to the House of Representatives as the Labor member for the Federal seat of Lalor in Victoria, which he held until his retirement in 1998.


He was Minister for Science in the Hawke government from 1983 to 1990, in which role he presided over the growth of organisations such as the CSIRO, the creation of the Australia Prize, Questacon and the Commission for the Future. Jones lost his place in the ministry when he failed to gain the backing of his centre-left faction.

Constitutional Convention 1998

Jones and Ian Sinclair served as co-chairs of the 1998 constitutional convention on an Australian republic.

National President of the ALP

In 1992, upon the resignation of Stephen Loosley, to whom he had lost the position in a split vote in 1991, he was elected National President of the ALP, serving until 2000. He became National President again in 2005-06.

Council of the National Library of Australia

Jones was the chief architect of the ALP’s Knowledge Nation education concept, as chair of the Chifley Research Centre’s Knowledge Nation Taskforce[4]. During this time he was also a member of the Council of the National Library of Australia.

Vice-President of the World Heritage Committee

He was the Vice-President of the World Heritage Committee from 1995 to 1996 and a member of the Executive Board of UNESCO from 1991-95.

Deputy Chair - 4th Constitutional Convention

In 1998 he was Deputy Chair of the fourth Constitutional Convention.

Academic career

Barry Jones attended the selective Melbourne High School in South Yarra before continuing on to and graduating from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Laws and Master of Arts. Jones holds the honorary degrees of Doctor of Letters from the University of Technology, Sydney and University of Wollongong, Doctor of Science from Macquarie University and Doctor of Laws from the University of Melbourne.

Adjunct Professor at Monash University

In 1999 he was appointed an Adjunct Professor at Monash University and became a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne in 2005.


He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science (FAA); a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities (FAHA); a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia (FASSA); and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (FTSE): he was the first (and so far the only) person elected Fellow of all four Australian learned academies. In 1999 he was elected a Visiting Fellow Commoner at Trinity College, Cambridge. He is also a Fellow of the Australian College of Educators.

Later life

Multiple Chairs

Jones chaired the Victorian Schools Innovation Commission 2001-05.

He now chairs the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority and serves on the boards of six medical research institutes.

Board of the Victorian Opera

On 31 October 2008, Jones was also appointed to serve on the board of the Victorian Opera.

Einstein Factor - Brains Trust

He appears regularly as a member of the Brains Trust on the television quiz show The Einstein Factor. He mentioned on an episode of the show that he likes to watch his Wikipedia page grow.

Named after Barry Jones

Barry Jones Bay in the Australian Antarctic Territory and Yalkaparidon jonesi, an extinct marsupial, were named after him.


Jones has been a prolific author of political and sociological books, including:

  • Decades of Decision 1860-, 1965
  • The Penalty is Death (editor), 1968
  • Joseph II, 1968
  • Barry Jones’ Guide to Modern History: Age of Apocalypse, 1975
  • Macmillan Dictionary of Biography (editor), 1981
  • Sleepers, Wake! Technology and the Future of Work, 1982
  • Barry Jones’ Dictionary of World Biography, 1994
  • A Thinking Reed (autobiography), 2006.


He is reputedly the owner of the largest private autograph collection and one of the largest private libraries of recordings in Australia.

2009-11-19 Barry Jones

Imagining life on a greenhouse earth

What will life on earth be like if the severe greenhouse conditions predicted for the next few centuries come true? That’s the question addressed at a multi-disciplinary conference recently hosted by the University.

Imagining the Real:

Life on a Greenhouse Earth was a two-day conference organised by Manning Clark House in honour of Dr Barry Jones, one of the many speakers at the event. Over the course of its two days a wide range of climate scientists, politicians, environmental lawyers, health and population experts and earth and pre-history scientists analysed how we got to where we are and what the implications for life on earth will be from climate change.

The delegates released the following statement at the conference’s conclusion.

“Citizens have come together with scientists in Canberra to consider global warming. We are shocked by the urgency of the situation,” said former Federal Science Minister Barry Jones, in whose honour the conference was held.

Global warming is accelerating. The Arctic summer sea ice is expected to melt entirely within the next 5 years,­ decades earlier than predicted in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report.

Scientists judge the risks to humanity of dangerous global warming to be high. The loss of the Great Barrier Reef now seems likely. Extreme weather events, such as storm surges adding to rising sea levels and threatening coastal cities, will become more frequent.

There is a real danger that we have reached or will soon reach critical tipping points and the future will be taken out of our hands. The melting Arctic sea ice could be the first such tipping point.

Beyond 2ºC of warming, seemingly inevitable unless greenhouse gas reduction targets are tightened, we risk huge human and societal costs, and perhaps even the effective end of industrial civilisation. We need to cease our assault on our own life support system, and that of millions of species. Global warming is only one of many symptoms of that assault.

Peak oil, global warming and long term sustainability pressures all require that we reduce energy needs and switch to renewable energy sources. Many credible studies show that Australia can quickly and cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions through dramatic improvements in energy efficiency and by increasing our investment in solar, wind and other renewable sources.

The need for action is extremely urgent and our window of opportunity for avoiding severe impacts is rapidly closing. Yet the obstacles to change are not technical or economic, they are political and social.

We know democratic societies have responded successfully to dire and immediate threats, as was demonstrated in World War II. This is a last call for an effective response to global warming.


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