Jun 18, 2012

Motion of Condolence – The Honourable Francis John (Frank) Walker

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (14:09):  I rise to add my support to this motion of condolence from the acting Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

Frank Walker was my friend. He was one of the most passionate, humble, loyal, dedicated and honest people that I had the privilege of knowing. He was absolutely committed to representing the interests of those who are the most marginalised in our society.

I first met Frank when I went along to a New South Wales Young Labor conference around about 1980—in Newtown, which now happens to be in my electorate. I was still at school. There I remember this minister standing at the front of the conference, talking about the action that he was taking to make New South Wales a more just society—changes such as repealing the unjust Summary Offences Act. The Leader of the Opposition has indicated the extent to which this drew opposition from some of the entrenched corrupt forces that were then in strong positions in New South Wales society. This angered many, particularly some sections of the New South Wales police force.

He drove through the most progressive Aboriginal land rights legislation at the time. He decriminalised homosexuality at a time when that was a radical notion, and where people were still the subject of being arrested for happening to be gay or lesbian. He had a commitment to public and community housing. He had a determination to help young people in particular who had got themselves into trouble with the law, not out of any flaw of character but simply due to the circumstances of their birth and family situations.

As happens in politics, in spite of being an extraordinary local campaigner, Frank lost his seat when Labor lost office in 1988. In 1989 I was his chief scrutineer in the preselection ballot for the federal seat of Robertson, where he defeated Belinda Neal by just three votes to be the Labor candidate after Barry Cohen’s retirement. He went on to win the seat of Robertson in 1990 and, of course, after 1993 to be a minister in the Keating Labor government.

Frank went on in post-parliamentary life to play a vital role in the judiciary, including helping victims of asbestos through the Dust Diseases Tribunal. He went on to make an extraordinary contribution as president of the Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW from 1998 right up until his death. Schizophrenia, of course, was the condition that his two sons, Michael and Sean, suffered from—a condition which tragically proved fatal for both.

Right to the end, Frank was driven by his commitment to social justice. He remained an infectious personality even after he became very unwell. Every minute you spent with Frank Walker was a minute well spent. He was my friend, and I admired him deeply. He will be missed by the nation, the Labor movement, his many friends and by his family. Vale, Frank Walker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (14:12):  As a mark of respect, I ask all present to signify their approval by rising in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER:  I thank the House.

Debate adjourned.