CONDOLENCES Walker, Hon. Francis (Frank) John, QC
Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (21:38): 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.