Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Opposition Whip) (19:50): I take this opportunity to acknowledge the life and the contribution of Barry Hugh Wakelin, OAM, my predecessor and former Liberal Member for Grey from 1993 to 2007, who passed away on 19 December last year following a devastating cancer diagnosis.
Barry was born in my hometown of Kimba in South Australia, and had worked in a bank. He had been a sharefarmer, a shearer and a labourer, and finally settled on and operated the family farm.
He had participated in farmer organisations at a state level and had been elected to the Kimba District Council, but he was perhaps better known for his prolific letter writing to the editor on almost any subject one could imagine, which contributed to his public profile.
In 1993 he stood as the Liberal candidate for Grey and became only the fifth non-Labor member since the establishment of the seat in 1903, and only the second-ever Liberal member. The seat had been previously won by Liberal Don Jessop in 1966, but he was unsuccessful in defending the seat three years later in 1999. Don became a senator the next year and made a 17-year contribution in the other place. I attended his funeral in 2018.
In 1996 Barry became the first non-Labor member in 53 years to be re-elected to Grey, picking up a swing of over six per cent. On paper, this turned Grey into a safe Liberal seat, and while our boundaries have expanded since, generally favouring the Liberal Party, Barry’s role in gaining recognition and breaking the stranglehold of the Labor vote in the cities of the Upper Spencer Gulf has led to a lasting change in voting patterns.
Barry’s wife, Tina, was an integral partner in the role, and people often remarked that Tina was sort of a deputy member for Grey. They felt, quite reasonably, that if they’d spoken to her, they’d spoken to Barry. It would have been much more difficult for Barry without her full-on support, and no one—certainly not me—would underestimate the effort involved in properly servicing an enormous and hugely diverse electorate like Grey. From the early morning pre-dawn departures to the late evenings, pulling into a motel in a car still hot from the road, at a friend’s place, and never ever often enough at home, there are never enough hours in the day or days in the week. Barry and Tina spent an enormous amount of time on the road, getting around Grey and out to communities, making sure they were across the local issues.
However, don’t think for one minute that it was an unmanageable burden. Barry never complained about the task; indeed, I think he revelled in it. He was fortunate to have only one term in opposition—his first—but then he enjoyed the entire length of the Howard years in government. During those times he served on a wide range of parliamentary committees, including for Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, and the
Public Works Committee. He chaired both the family and community affairs committee and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Committee.
I was deeply saddened in later years that Barry felt his views and those of the Liberal Party no longer aligned. He resigned from the party and chose to campaign against me in the last election. However, while we had come to disagree on a number of issues—the most prominent of which being the proposal to build a national low-level radioactive waste management facility in our hometown—I celebrate the fact that we live in a country and under a system where we could disagree.
In 2011 Barry was honoured with a Medal of the Order of Australia in recognition for his service to the parliament and to rural and regional areas. Post politics, Barry became, along with Tina, an ambulance volunteer for a time. With Tina’s experience in nursing, we all hoped that she would be looking after the health in the ambulance and that Barry would be driving—although, given the fact that he totalled a couple of cars in his terms in parliament, we might have worried about that as well!
He was also immensely proud of the fact that he managed to complete the New York Marathon in 2018—for those who remember, he was no small bloke, and it would have been quite a challenge.
Barry succumbed to cancer after a 12-month battle late last year, and I attended his large funeral in Adelaide on 28 December.
Barry and Tina have raised a wonderful family, who are all making terrific contributions to our Australia. That, in itself, is no small achievement given the time and effort their public lives consume.
I extend my condolences to Tina, their children and all of Barry’s family and loved ones.