Barry Jones was elected to the Victorian parliament in 1972 and moved to the federal parliament in 1977. He held several ministerial positions from 1983 to 1990 in the Hawke Labor government. His intellectual credentials as Minister for Science were demonstrated in his widely-read 1982 book, Sleepers Wake: Technology and the Future of Work, but his goals were often frustrated by the government's other priorities.
Barry Jones was National President of the ALP from 1992 to 2000 and again in 2005-06. He was deputy chairman of the Constitutional Convention on the Republic in 1997-98, president of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science, and an executive board member of UNESCO.
He was named as a National Living Treasure by the National Trust. In 2005 he became a Vice-Chancellor's Fellow at the University of Melbourne.