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David Barnett, journalist and press secretary, dies aged 90

Written by Javed Iqbal

Journalist, author and federal press secretary David Barnett has died in Canberra aged 90.

Barnett was press secretary to Malcolm Fraser in opposition and in government at the height of the 1975 crisis and its aftermath, when Fraser led the Liberal Party in challenging then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and blocking supply in the Senate.

Pru Goward and David Barnett on their wedding day with Pru's daughters Kate Fischer, 12, right, and Penny, 11.

Pru Goward and David Barnett on their wedding day with Pru’s daughters Kate Fischer, 12, right, and Penny, 11.Credit:

He served as press secretary for seven years after Fraser won the 1975 election before returning to journalism in the press gallery at Parliament House in Canberra.

“He was a tremendous worker,” he said of Fraser in one ABC interview in 2015. “He didn’t spare us too much either. His hair turned gray on the job, and mine really did too.”

After leaving government, Barnett went on to write a biography of John Howard shortly after Howard led the Liberals to victory in the 1996 federal election. Barnett wrote the book, John Howard: Prime Ministerwith his wife, Pru Goward, a fellow journalist who became the federal Gender Discrimination Commissioner, a Liberal member of the NSW Parliament and a state government minister.

David Barnett when he was Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's press secretary in 1980.

David Barnett when he was Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s press secretary in 1980.Credit:

In a statement released Sunday morning, Howard said Barnett was an invaluable adviser to Fraser and his death marked the departure of a very significant figure in the national media.

“I counted him as a good friend,” Howard said.

Barnett’s colleagues noted that he was still writing for his local paper, the Yass Tribune, in regional NSW when he was in his 80s. He had started in journalism as a copy boy on The sun in Sydney in 1949.

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Javed Iqbal

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