Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Walker, Hon. Francis (Frank) John, QC
Labor devotees in the Riverina and many others too are mourning the death of Francis John Walker, QC, better known as Frank, a former government minister in both the New South Wales and Commonwealth parliaments. Lifelong Labor supporter George Martin from Tumbarumba, who visited parliament today, remembered Frank Walker as a decent fellow. The president of the Wagga Wagga Labor branch, Glenn Elliott-Rudder, described Mr Walker as a man of conviction who always fought hard for what he believed and was never afraid to speak up for those who did not have a voice. 'The sympathy of all Labor branch members throughout our region is extended … Mr Walker fought the good fight right to the end and will be remembered as a courageous and compassionate champion of the underdog,' Mr Elliott-Rudder said. Former long-serving Liberal member for Wagga Wagga Joe Schipp, who succeeded Mr Walker as state housing minister in 1988, recalled his old political combatant as 'passionate' and 'committed to the cause'. Mr Schipp said Mr Walker was 'ideologically driven', joking that they got on well after both their political careers were over. He acknowledged the dedication Mr Walker showed as president of the Schizophrenia Fellowship from 1998 until his death at age 69 on 12 June. Mr Walker was a principled man who dedicated his life to reform and justice for Australians, as his distinguished career indicates. Born in Sydney in 1942, Mr Walker spent his early years with his brother and father in a jungle village in Papua New Guinea. At the age of 12 he moved with his family to Coffs Harbour, where he completed his secondary schooling before attending the University of Sydney, from which he graduated in 1964 with a Bachelor of Laws before completing a Master of Laws in 1969. Mr Walker worked as an articled clerk from 1960 to 1965, as a solicitor from 1965 to 1976 and as a barrister from 1976 until 1988. In 1981, he was appointed as a Queen's Counsel.
He was elected as the New South Wales member for the now-defunct electorate of Georges River in 1970. He represented that electorate until 1988, when the Unsworth government was defeated and he lost his seat. During his time in the New South Wales parliament he became the Attorney-General in the Neville Wran government, and at the age of 34 he was the youngest person to have held that post. He also served as the Minister for Justice from 1978 to 1983, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs from 1981 to 1984, Minister for Youth and Community Services from 1983 to 1986, Minister for Housing from 1983 to 1988 and Minister for the Arts from 1986 to 1988.
That is an exhaustive list which indicates his interest in and dedication to Australian people from all walks of life. While the New South Wales Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, he was responsible for some of the first state based legislation that recognised the obligation to financially compensate Indigenous Australians for the loss of their land. In 1990, Frank Walker was elected as the 10th federal member for Robertson and he served the constituents of that federation seat until 1996. During his time in federal parliament, he served as the Special Minister of State and Vice-President of the Executive Council from March 1993 to March of the following year, and then served as the Minister for Administrative Services until the defeat of the Keating government in 1996, when he lost his seat.
After his time in politics, Frank Walker served as a judge in the Compensation Court of New South Wales from 1997 until it was abolished in 2003, at which time he was appointed to the District Court of New South Wales and to the Dust Diseases Tribunal of New South Wales. He retired in 2006. Personal tragedy plagued his life, with the loss of his two sons, Sean and Michael, who both suffered from schizophrenia. Frank Walker worked tirelessly on behalf of the Schizophrenia Fellowship and was an enthusiastic advocate for mental health reform. May he rest in peace.
I rise to pay tribute to the Hon. Frank Walker, the former member for Robertson and a minister in the Keating government. Frank was Special Minister of State and Vice-President of the Executive Council from 1993 to 1994 and Minister for Administrative Services from 1994 to 1996. Prior to entering federal politics, he served with distinction as a New South Wales minister from 1976 to 1988. In fact, he was the youngest person to be appointed as New South Wales Attorney-General, at 34 years of age, in May 1976.
Frank was born in Sydney and attended Coffs Harbour High School. He studied law at Sydney university and practised as a solicitor before being elected in 1970 as a member of the New South Wales parliament for the division of Georges River, at 32 years of age. Frank was also the first dedicated Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in New South Wales. This was a policy area for which he had great passion and for which he willingly endured pain. Frank worked hard through his political career to make a difference. He represented Georges River in the New South Wales parliament for 17 years, losing his seat in 1988, when Labor in New South Wales ran out of puff and the Unsworth government was defeated. Not one to give up on politics, Frank moved to federal and was elected as the member for Robertson in 1990. In his first term, he served on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Community Affairs and Standing Committee on Procedure.
In 1993, he was appointed Special Minister of State. In this role, Frank played a critical part in the debate on native title following the landmark Mabo High Court decision 20 years ago. His dogged advocacy and his willingness to undertake the hard negotiations contributed to the passage of the Native Title Act in 1993. This followed his achievement in introducing land rights legislation in New South Wales 10 years earlier, in 1983. As history has shown, a workable scheme in native title administration is one of the landmark reforms that the Keating Labor government delivered. As Special Minister of State, Frank Walker also worked to deliver a tightened electoral disclosure system that improved our electoral disclosure laws, forming part of the framework that ensures that our political system is both clean and robust and one that can be supported by businesses and contributors, knowing full well that the disclosure system itself keeps our parliamentary democracy with a brand of transparency but also with a core of support that allows us to do our work. Frank worked very hard to deliver that reform. Following his departure from politics, Frank served on the Workers Compensation Tribunal then as a District Court judge in New South Wales.
The deaths of Frank's two sons, both sufferers of schizophrenia, brought pain that no parent should have to bear. Frank used the skills, connections and experience that he had acquired from his political and judicial career to improve the welfare of those suffering from mental illness. He was president of the Schizophrenia Fellowship of New South Wales until his death and worked hard to eliminate the stigma attached to mental illness and to ensure that people with a mental illness had access to information and services.
Frank's legacy in law reform, Indigenous affairs, native title, housing, mental health, social justice and electoral reform is a true testament to this modern Labor man. I extend my deepest sympathy to Frank's wife, Pamela, as I join with Frank's other Labor Party and parliamentary colleagues in bidding farewell to a dedicated, hardworking public servant. I commend this motion to the Federation Chamber.
As we reflect on the life of Frank Walker in the debate that has proceeded today, it is perhaps worth recalling that this is where we will all end up—with a cursory debate in the Federation Chamber lamenting us and remembering our contribution to public life!
I first knew Frank Walker in 1976, when I was a young journalist—21 in fact—in the state parliamentary press gallery. Frank would have been about 33 or 34 at that time, a young, up-and-coming member of parliament in Neville Wran's opposition. Following Wran's win in 1976, he became the Attorney-General. As the Special Minister of State has said, he was the youngest Attorney-General in New South Wales up to that point. I do not know whether there has been a younger one since. At the time, I thought 34 was very old. Now it seems impossibly inexperienced.
There were three people in that Labor government that I had a personal relationship with—only three. There was Neville Wran, of course, who had been a university friend of my mother's. I always had—and still to this day have—a very close friendship with Neville. He has been sort of family for me all my life, and we subsequently went into business together and so forth. But there were two other people in the Labor government that I was close to, or that I got to know very well as a journalist—obviously I did not get too close; I was in the press gallery. They did not want to get too close to me either! One was Paul Landa, who was an incredibly charismatic fellow who just exhibited energy and dynamism. He was certainly not someone of the Left, whereas Frank Walker was very much of the Left, and I think he always regarded me as a dangerous member of the capitalist classes.
He might have been right about that; you are right! But nonetheless I had a lot of admiration for Frank Walker, because he was a law reformer. When Neville Wran got elected in 1976, the law in New South Wales needed shaking up. Neville made Frank the Attorney-General for the purpose of doing that. He knew that would shake up some of the old codgers in the law. I was writing a law column for the Bulletin at the time, and Frank provided a lot of copy. At one point, he was going to abolish wigs and gowns. He did not quite get to do that. He was very keen on law reform. At one point, he had an idea that energised the youth of Sydney, which was to allow everyone to grow 10 marijuana plants in their backyard, but Neville Wran very wisely put the kibosh on that. That did not last very long. It was an interesting era, because Walker had a reforming zeal and a youthful indiscretion, if I may say so. I see the member for Werriwa is here. His father, Jack Ferguson, was Neville Wran's deputy premier and a most remarkable member of that government. I remember the member for Werriwa's father very well. He personified, to me, the political wing of the labour movement in a form that we do not see any more. Jack Ferguson was a man who had really worked with his hands—he was not an apparatchik, he was not a university bureaucrat, he was not a career seeker; he was someone who had done the hard work and then had gone on to represent the labour movement in parliament. He was basically from the same side of the fence as Frank Walker. I always felt that the interaction between the two resulted in a bit of prudence being applied to youthful exuberance.
That was a very long time ago—we were all a lot younger then. Frank Walker was not of my political persuasion, though I certainly shared a lot of his ideals in terms of reforming the law. I undertook my own single-handed law reform activities in my own way in subsequent years. He was a person of genuine passion and commitment. He had a furious passion for politics. He was often wrong but never in doubt and that is not a bad thing to say about a politician. He died too young—69 does not seem very old to me any more.
Talking about that era of politics reminds me of another person from the Labor side—looking at all these Labor politicians here reminds me of all the Labor people I knew. Laurie Brereton was a very young member of parliament at that point, in his twenties. Laurie and I had lunch at the Hyde Park Hotel shortly after Wran was elected and he was lamenting the fact that Wran had not put him in the ministry. He was telling me about all of these dreadful old men who had gone into the ministry ahead of him and he said, 'Do you know, some of them are in their mid-50s'. I said I could not believe that people as old as that could get a serious job. He said, 'No, that is right—they are that old; they are decrepit'. Laurie was lamenting this in the Hyde Park Hotel and then, as the lunch wore on, in a way that only Brereton could say it, he raised his glass and said, 'Oh well, where there is death there is hope'. That was the classic cynicism of Brereton.
It was an interesting period; a period long gone. Paul Landa, of course, died incredibly young, at 46. Frank Walker has died. Neville Wran is with us and steaming along, and there are a lot of very strong contributors from that era of New South Wales state politics. Whatever your side of politics—as I said, Frank was on a different side of politics from me—it is important for us to remember these people and not in a perfunctory way. They gave, just as we all give, politics their passion and their commitment. They gave it the best years of their life and they did so—rightly or wrongly, misguidedly or not, depending on your point of view—in the public interest. So we should say thank you to Frank Walker—rest in peace. Let us hope for his sake and perhaps for ours that his contribution is not too soon forgotten.
Frank Walker did more in public life than many of us can ever hope to do. During his time he suffered more than any of us probably ever will. He lost his two sons, Michael and Sean, to suicide. Both died at age 33 and he found both of them. But he contributed an extraordinary amount to our public life. He spent his first years in a Coogee housing commission home. His family moved to New Guinea in 1948 after his father, Jack Walker—a brickworks dragger and a member of the Communist Party of Australia—was black-listed. He was a campaigner for the underdog and perhaps part of that was formed by those early years in Papua New Guinea, sitting alongside indigenous children in coastal villages.
In 1950s Australia, at the age of 13, he staged his first political act, sitting with segregated Aboriginals at the Sawtell picture theatre. He joined Charlie Perkins on the freedom ride to Moree in 1965. He devoted decades of his life to public life and it was in the latter years that I first came to know him. At university I decided I would write a paper on the New South Wales Left. Frank was generous enough to give me two hours of his time sitting in his electorate office. I look back on my notes today and see that on 22 April 1994 I went to the Robertson electorate office and sat with him, talking through some of the old stories of the faction. Perhaps the one that caught me the most was when Jack Ferguson—member for Werriwa's father—stepped down as Deputy Premier and there was a question as to whether Frank would succeed him. He did not. In somewhat controversial circumstances he was beaten out in that internal ballot.
He was a full participant in some of those very difficult times for the Left. He voted for Paul Keating in both the leadership ballots and ran for the ministry without the support of the Left. But he took stands on principle. When Prime Minister Bob Hawke spoke on the Iraq war, Frank Walker was one of a handful of members who left the chamber, earning themselves substantial opprobrium in the process.
I remember Frank very much as being generous with his time with me, a young whippersnapper and surely the least important thing on his agenda, but it was a reminder of how those of us in public life should behave when people come to learn from us. I enjoyed very much the story Senator Faulkner told in the other place about when he arrived in his office in Sussex Street to receive a Christmas present from Frank Walker—a New South Wales ALP rule book with every page blank because, as Frank's annotation read, the Sussex Street machine just ignored the party rules anyway. Senator Faulkner has lodged Frank's Christmas present in the National Archives of Australia. My friend Macgregor Duncan, a family friend of Frank's, said the following:
… I would say that Frank lived his life with great dignity and nobility. As has been well documented, he suffered great sorrow and sadness in his life, enough to make most of us resign in despair and unjustified guilt. But Frank never gave into those emotions. He summoned the will to rise above it all. He was loyal, generous and kind to his friends. And he was an exemplary parliamentarian and minister. For a man who'd had so much taken from him, he gave so much back to his friends, family, community and country. And in a democracy, where we collectively rely on the private exertions of our public leaders, it's important that we celebrate those contributions when so noble and hard-fought.
Vale Frank Walker.
I rise with sadness and great reflection to speak in memory of the Hon. Frank Walker. Being a member of parliament, particularly a member of this place, you are bestowed with a history of those who have come before you. As the present member for Robertson, I have served knowing of those who came before me and of their great service to the Central Coast community, none more so than the late Frank Walker. I joined the party in 1996, the year in which Frank departed this parliament. I never had the pleasure of meeting him on any occasion. He did, however, respond to a Christmas card that I sent him last year. He wrote me a letter of such literary beauty and such generous heart that it is one of my most treasured possessions from the time I have been here in parliament. In it there was a considerable degree of advice about campaigning. I have heard today, because I was privileged to attend the state funeral in Sydney, about some of the techniques that Frank was able to use in his many campaigns in the seat of Georges River and then up in Robertson. I feel very happy to be following in the footsteps of somebody who has taken on formerly Liberal-held seats and done such a good job of holding them for a long time. I hope that he is watching my progress every day very carefully and guiding me in the right path of the great campaign for the Labor cause.
I can say that, since the news of Frank's passing, many on the Central Coast and many in the Central Coast Labor movement have been greatly saddened by his loss, yet comforted by many wonderful memories, some of which they have recounted in recent meetings. Our local federal electorate council observed a minute's silence, as did our local government forum, and branch members have been making sure that memories of their time with Frank as the member for Robertson have been duly honoured and recognised. I have myself, as have a number of my staff, received a number of calls from people in the electorate who wanted to share their memories and to mark Frank's passing in their own way, through our electorate office, with the telling of stories of Frank's great contribution to our region and our nation. Frank Walker's passing has really brought to light the profound impact he had on many in our community, whether it be personally or professionally.
What is quite remarkable is the impact Frank had as the member for Robertson when he had already achieved so much in a stellar career in the New South Wales parliament. As the youngest Attorney General to be appointed in New South Wales, Frank did not play 'small target' politics. He took on the big issues—the ones that are often thought immovable—and even institutions. On most occasions he came out where he deserved to be: in front. He took on the New South Wales Police Force, which at the time had a reputation among many for being above and beyond the law. But in the end it was Frank who delivered his reforms, repealing the Summary Offences Act and tackling the issue of bail.
John Gifford, the current president of the Gosford bowling club and a Labor stalwart, recalls when Frank approached him to become the president of Robertson FEC. John, quite taken aback, graciously accepted. Frank must have had an innate sense that John was the man for the job, because it was a position that John was to hold for the best part of two decades. John Gifford describes Frank as a very approachable man, quiet, reserved and thoughtful. He was the kind of person not to complain or shirk his duties. Few would have understood the work he did behind the scenes. Despite Frank's drive for reform, he was not one to bang the table or jump in front of the TV cameras to spruik about what he had done; he just worked hard. John says he got on with the job without a lot of fuss.
John points to the contribution Frank made to the laws following the Mabo land rights decision. Although he was appointed as Special Minister of State and not directly linked to the Mabo reforms by portfolio, John claims that Frank worked tirelessly behind the scenes to implement what needed to be done. It was very much a continuation of his passion for Aboriginal affairs, which was fostered as a child and to which the member for Fraser has alluded in his speech. It never seemed to leave him throughout his entire career. In preparing my speech for this evening, I went online and saw Frank Walker on the Tracker website. For anybody who might be listening to this or looking at this debate down the track, there is a wonderful website at which Frank's contribution to New South Wales land rights is recognised. It is an interview in which you hear Frank, only last year, describing the experience from his perspective. Of course, the fact that the vote passed by just one is testimony to the incredible mountains that this man climbed, that he believed in and that he pursued with incredible passion for his fellow Australians and a sense of justice for all. There will be many in the Labor Party recounting the factional feuds and spills that have come to attach themselves to the memory of Frank Walker the Labor politician. John Gifford, like so many, describes Frank as a man of conviction, a man who overcame enormous tragedy and the difficulties of his personal life, particularly the sad and very untimely loss of his two sons. But without regard for his own self he continued a path of unwavering community service.
Today the funeral service, the state funeral for Frank Walker, appropriately commenced with a didgeridoo performance by Glen Doyle. The casket was placed with an amazing array of native flowers of this country and it seemed to me that in his life, physically, there was a visual metaphor for great and beautiful things that sprang from the way he spent his life. The welcome to country by Uncle Charles Madden was very emotive and one which affected all the people who had travelled so far and from so many different backgrounds to come and honour his life. It was so appropriate that it was delivered in the way it was. There were tributes to the early years by Michael Knight, a tribute to Frank Walker as a law reformer by the Hon. Mary Gaudron, a tribute to him as a Labor man by Michael Deegan and a tribute to his mental health campaigning by Robert Ramjan.
I particularly was touched by the tribute of his own family member, his brother Robert, who spoke of a man who did amazing things. He had this period of time when he was not at school, when he was in New Guinea, and then he returned to high school and was very quickly the dux of his class. But I think the image that will last with me—a sign of the man he was to become—was his incredible success in the fifth year of high school, the Leaving Certificate, when he did his studies in a very simple house by the beach on the coast of New South Wales by the light of a kerosene lamp. This young, brilliant man found his way to the university in Sydney and began an incredible life of great service to all Australians.
In closing, I want to say that he will long be remembered for his many contributions at many levels, but as the member for Robertson I particularly want to note his contributions to the Central Coast. He will certainly be remembered for his leadership and bravery in all these contexts, the New South Wales situation, the federal parliament and on the Central Coast. He will be remembered in the history books as someone who made a great difference to this country. I offer my condolences and those of the people of Robertson to Frank Walker's family and friends, who gave so much of Frank to all of us. Vale, Frank Walker, QC, MP.
Question agreed to, honourable members standing in their places.