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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7170


Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (21:59): 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.