Speech - Motion Of Condolence - The Honourable Francis John (Frank) Walker QC




"Motion Of Condolence"


MONDAY, 18 JUNE 2012


I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the death on 12 June 2012 of  the Hon Francis John (Frank) Walker QC, former Minister and Member for Robertson, and place on record its appreciation of his public service and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Deputy Speaker,

Today we mourn the loss of a distinguished former member of this place, who has served our nation in Ministerial office, the Honourable Frank Walker QC who died in Sydney last Tuesday just weeks shy of his 70th birthday.

I didn't know Frank Walker well – I was a new backbencher in the final term of the Keating government of which he was a senior figure. But I know he was a friend to many in this place, including the Leader of the House.

To Frank Walker's widow Pam and all his many friends, our condolences go out today. And I thank the NSW Government for its generosity in offering a State Funeral, which is a fitting tribute to such a remarkable career in community service.

Deputy Speaker, it's amazing to think that when my group came into this place in the mid 1990s, Frank Walker had been in politics for a quarter of a century although he was still a youthful looking man just entering his 50s.  He was, indeed, part of that prodigious generation like Paul Keating, Laurie Brereton and Bob Carr who were young men in a hurry and who left such a definitive stamp on the public life of our nation.

Frank Walker was born in 1942 and came of age as a young Australian impatient for change as the Menzies era wound to a close. For a progressive young lawyer committed to human rights, Labor was his natural home and would remain so from the age of 18 until his passing last week.

In 1970, the young Frank Walker took what some regarded as an unrealistic tilt at the safe Liberal seat of Georges River in the NSW Parliament and won it with 48 per cent of the primary vote and held it for the following six elections.  When Neville Wran assembled his first Cabinet, Frank Walker was given the prized job of Attorney-General, the youngest in the State's history and he set about the task of reform with a passion, unwinding the heavy-handed legacy of the Askin era and bringing the fresh breeze of law reform to NSW.

In fact, Frank Walker was a Minister for the whole 12 years of the Wran-Unsworth government, holding some of the toughest portfolios – always in the social arena – including housing and youth and community services, as well as the arts.  Perhaps most importantly for a man who'd been one of the freedom riders alongside Charlie Perkins, he became NSW's inaugural Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, delivering that State's first ever land rights legislation for Aboriginal people and recognising the stolen generations as early as 1982.

It was a great reforming government in the Labor tradition, and Frank was at its very heart a busy, boisterous and dashing figure throughout.  Two years after leaving NSW politics, he came to Canberra as the Member for Robertson, joining that handful of figures who had successfully navigated the state-federal divide.  Following the "sweetest victory of all" in 1993, Frank Walker became Special Minister of State and Vice-President of the Executive Council, and was given responsibility for turning Mabo into what became the Native Title Act.

In 1994, he was promoted as Minister for Administrative Services, a position he held until the 1996 federal election, a time when so many of our hopes were dashed.  Frank Walker was an active participant in the affairs of this Parliament.  He attended the 85th Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Korea in 1991 and undertook official visits to Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the United States.  He also served on the Community Affairs and the Procedure committees.

And, of course, he was no stranger to the factional brawls and byways of the Labor family, so much so that one journalist described him as someone who "roamed the political landscape like a Steppenwolf"!

After politics, Frank served as a judge on the Compensation Court of NSW from 1997 to 2003, and from 2004 to 2006 was a judge of the Dust Diseases Tribunal and District Court of NSW.  In these roles his compassion and social concern shone forth, especially for those condemned to painful illness and death through asbestos disease.

Deputy Speaker,  for all those 36 years in elected and judicial office, Frank Walker was an inspirational figure who brought flair to whatever he did. But this life – so rich in accomplishment – also contained more than its fair share of sorrow.  Frank Walker suffered the unimaginable grief of losing both his sons, Sean and Michael, to suicide following the onset of schizophrenia.

It would be a crushing burden for any parent, but instead of turning inward, Frank used his own sense of loss to propel change in the wider community.  He served as President of the Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW for a record term, as well as serving on the NSW Mental Health Review Tribunal and the Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia.

The fact that mental health looms so large in contemporary public debate – and is finally receiving the funding it deserves – is in no small measure due to Frank's consistent advocacy.

Deputy Speaker, by any measure, his was a gifted, brilliant life.

It was the life of the reformer who didn't just complain about why the world was unjust but who saw the possibility for change and, to paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, said 'why not'.

His whole life – as a politician, judge and activist – was aimed at progress and reform.  He was an unashamed social democrat, and wore the badge of 'civil libertarian' with pride.  He spoke for those who voices were not heard. And now his own voice – a feature of public life for four decades – has been stilled, and we are all diminished a result

So on behalf of the Government and people of Australia, I say farewell, Frank Walker. A grateful nation honours your memory and pays tribute to your long and distinguished service in our name.