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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7168

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth) (21:45): 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.

Mr Gray: He was right about that!

Mr TURNBULL: 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.