Obituary - Bernard (Barney) Cornelius Cooney


Bar Roll no: 621

It is with deep regret that the Bar Council informs members of the death last Saturday 9 February 2019 of Barney Cooney. Barney was 84 (born 11 July 1934).

Requiem Mass will be celebrated at St Ignatius’ Catholic Church, 326 Church Street, Richmond on Friday 22 February 2019 at 1:30 pm.

Barney was at St Kevin’s College for 6 years, winning a Commonwealth Scholarship that took him into Law at the University of Melbourne. Before that, his schooling had been almost entirely in State Primary and Secondary Schools all over Victoria – in Deer Park, then in country Victoria at Gunbower, Yarck, Cohuna and Alexandra.

He served Articles at Alexander Grant, Dickson & King and was admitted to practice in March 1960. He signed the Bar Roll in February 1961 and read with James Forrest (later a County Court Judge). He practised mainly in personal injuries and industrial law. A number of his 10 Readers took Silk; one is retired from the County Court; another is a Judge of the Supreme Court.

By the early 1980s, Workers’ Compensation in Victoria was in crisis. In July 1983, the Cain Government appointed Barney Cooney to chair a Committee of Inquiry constituted by Employer, Employee, Insurance and Government representatives. The Cooney Report, released in June 1984, was foundational to reforms then implemented by successive governments of different stripes, over about 25 years, directed at realising the vision for a financially viable and socially responsible system of Workers’ Compensation.

Barney was an ALP Senator for Victoria for 17 years (1985-2002). He saw Parliamentary Committees as the most effective means of reviewing legislation and vigilantly defending civil liberties. He served on 25 Committees; and chaired 7 Senate Committees – most notably the Scrutiny of Bills Committee for some 12 or more years.

He wrote: “Courtesy and grace are forever needed in debate. A civil society cannot be at its best unless constituents treat each other civilly” – a precept he followed and through which, in 17 years in the Senate, he made his mark.

A member of our Bar has written: “one of the finest people to grace the public stage – forget the politics – his humanity and kindness shone like a beacon”.


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