Hon. Frank Noel Wilkes, AM
1 September 2015
Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — I rise to join other members of Parliament, particularly the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition, in speaking on the condolence motion for Frank Noel Wilkes. As has already been said, Frank was born in Northcote and educated at the Northcote state primary school and high school and went on to Preston Technical School. He studied accountancy and valuing at RMIT and CIT. Before that time he served with distinction in the Australian Imperial Force in the south‑west Pacific, particularly in New Guinea as a radio operator.
Frank then came home and worked in his father’s furniture business, which has been well talked about already. The interesting thing about Frank’s career is the fact that he spent a long time as both a councillor and member of Parliament simultaneously. He was a member of Northcote City Council from 1954 to 1978 and a member of this place from 1957 to 1988. He spent 21 years as a senior member of Parliament and as a councillor. I have never aspired to be a councillor, but Frank did both jobs and was at the beck and call of his community. As has already been said, he was a passionate supporter of the Northcote community. His would have been an interesting job; every time he walked down the street he would have had both those hats on. Someone would have always been stopping him about issues. Full credit to Frank for the work he did in both those roles.
As has been said, Frank had two years in this place before he was elected to the position of whip, and he then went on in 1967 to become deputy opposition leader, which he served as for 10 years before he became Leader of the Opposition from 1977 to 1981. The transition to the leadership of John Cain, Jr. has already been talked about. On the election of the Cain government Frank had the opportunity to serve as Minister for Local Government.
It is interesting to reflect on the local government portfolio at that time. There were something like 211 councils in Victoria, compared to the 79 or 80 councils that there are now. In some ways having 211 councils to deal with as the Minister for Local Government would have been a bit like herding cats. I notice that the former Minister for Local Government is smiling about that issue. Frank was also Minister for Housing and brought in some significant reforms while in that portfolio. He went on to serve as Minister for Tourism and Minister for Water Resources as well, so he was someone who had a very lengthy but, more importantly, distinguished career in this place.
It is interesting that he was also the no. 2 ticket‑holder of the Fitzroy Football Club. I would be interested to know who the no. 1 ticket‑holder of the time was, whose presence meant that Frank Wilkes could not be the no. 1 — —
Ms Allan — Nancye Cain.
Mr WALSH — I am now informed who put him out of that position.
I know Dr Sykes, the former member for Benalla in this place, would have been very happy to have someone like Mr Wilkes at the Fitzroy Football Club, because Bill was a passionate player with that club for a period of time.
One of the things that was written about Frank Wilkes at the time was that while a lot of the Labor leaders of that time, including Whitlam, Dunstan, Wran and Holding, were lawyers, one of Frank’s strengths was that he was not a lawyer. With all due respect to any lawyers in this house, it is important to have a number of lawyers in our midst who give us guidance on legal issues, but it is also important to have a diversity of other careers across the chamber. A domination by lawyers is not necessarily a good thing for a wide‑ranging debate. At times they focus on the detail more than the concept. That is a friendly debate we will have over time.
It was interesting to read Frank’s first contribution to this place, which was on the Clean Air Bill. At that time there was significant air pollution in this state, particularly from the burning of coal, briquettes and oil to power factories, but also from the high sulphur dioxide and lead levels in our petroleum fuels. There was a vigorous debate at that time about cleaning up the air in this city. We can be thankful to the governments of the time for the way they improved the air quality in Victoria as well as the living conditions for people in the inner suburbs.
It is interesting, in reading Hansard of the time, that the member of Parliament who followed Frank in speaking on that bill was Sir Herbert Hyland, the then member for Gippsland South, who not only congratulated Frank on his first contribution to Parliament, but also went on to talk about the Gas and Fuel Corporation and Australian Paper at Morwell and Maryvale and the pollution being produced in that area. In particular he stated that something had to be done about the drain that went out to sea and the pollution it caused down there. It only took 40 years, but something was ultimately done about that issue through the creation of the Gippsland Water Factory, which improved waste water quality in Gippsland. Sometimes things move slowly, but ultimately they do get fixed. It is an interesting observation on the debate on that bill that, in the case of Gippsland, it took 40 years to fix that issue, but it was ultimately done.
On behalf of The Nationals and the Parliament, I express my condolences to Frank’s family. He is someone who served with distinction, and someone who set the scene for the ultimate victory of John Cain, Jr, in this place. As we all know, there is no such thing as justice in politics. Sometimes the people who do the hard work do not necessarily get the ultimate rewards, but that is the way it works. Full credit to Frank for what he did as a member of Parliament and also as a councillor in local government. I cannot imagine the commitments of time that he would have had to make, nor his family’s contribution to the community of Northcote and this place. Vale, Frank Wilkes.
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