Losing Paul Barratt

Oct 5, 2021
Paul Barratt
Paul Barratt. (Image: AAP Image/Alan Porritt)

Just before his major surgery in April, Paul Barratt emailed his friends and colleagues, quoting Captain Lawrence Oates: “I am just going outside and it may be some time.”

Sardonic and low-key as always, Paul followed events from a respite care home in Armidale, where he received as many visits and messages as he could manage until his death on October 3.

Paul’s well-wishers reflect the wide range of his life’s activities, in government, business, education, and public policy.

With a razor-sharp mind and a degree in physics from the University of New England, he rose in the Commonwealth public service through senior appointments in Treasury, Minerals and Energy, National Resources, and foreign affairs and trade, culminating in defence, where as secretary in 1998–99 his intelligence was more than a match for his minister’s.

The breadth of his experience was matched only by that of John Menadue, who wrote to Paul: “Despite our problems you have made Australia a much better place. You have shown leadership in difficult times.”

Ranging widely beyond Canberra over the decades, Paul was Australia’s special trade representative for North Asia in the late 1980s, executive director of the Business Council of Australia for four years in the early 1990s, chair of Australian Aerospace and Innovations from 2006 to 2010, and director of AADI Defence P/L from 2010.

As director of Australia 21 from 2001 to this year, he led the independent think tank in doing evidence-based research “for the public good”. This resulted in a major report in 2020, “Shaping the Future”, which appeared just as Australia was faced with the need to devise innovative public policy following natural disasters and the pandemic.

Paul’s education included The Armidale School, the University of New England (UNE), and later, a degree in Asian studies at ANU. Returning to Armidale as principal of CEO Collegiate P/L, he became director of the UNE Foundation, and an adjunct professor in the School of the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at UNE.

He actively supported the New England Regional Art Museum, particularly its Howard Hinton collection of Australian art from the 1880s–1940s.

Until COVID-19 put a stop to it, he travelled regularly to take summer courses at Cambridge University, and to attend Sibelius festivals in Finland.

Paul joined former Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade colleagues in Melbourne in 2012 in calling for an Australian inquiry, like that headed by Sir John Chilcot in the UK, into the Iraq war, with former prime minister Malcolm Fraser as its patron. Gaining members from other backgrounds, in other states and territories, the movement became Australians for War Powers Reform (AWPR) in 2015. Its non-partisan campaign “Be Sure On War” seeks popular and political support for legislative change that will require a debate and a vote in parliament before a prime minister can dispatch the Australian Defence Force to war.

As president of AWPR, Paul’s persistence and influence have led to a majority of Australians agreeing that this change is needed.

The approval rate rose to 83 per cent of those polled in 2020 and 87 per cent in 2021. As well, the Australian Labor Party has twice agreed to hold an inquiry into the need for war powers reform, in its first term in government.

Paul’s many friends, colleagues, and supporters of No War Without Parliament hope that we will see it happen.

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