Australian Politics & Current Affairs
“We should have English language classes freely available, we should allow them to work, they should pay taxes and the Government will make money from those taxes and they would not cost the Australian community… We have our values upside down” – John Malcolm Fraser, 1930 – 2015.
Within six months, Australia has lost both chapters that personified the chaotic years of the 1970s. Former Prime Minister, John Malcolm Fraser, was pronounced dead this morning, aged 84. His career and track record have aptly been cast in the same chapter as Gough Whitlam’s – the 1970s economic rollercoaster, The Dismissal, the nationwide confusion. Much will be written of Fraser, just as much was written of Gough not so long ago.
I am no fan of Fraser, yet on the day of his passing I’m pleased to be able to remember one standout decision he made in order to pay some respect to the man’s legacy. For all his faults and failures, Malcolm Fraser drew certain moral lines and stood by them with commitment – overseeing the Human Rights Act of 1981, and fiercely opposing Apartheid in South Africa, are just two prime examples.
But there is one policy in particular that marks Malcolm Fraser well above every Liberal leader, before and since, in the moral stakes. Having accepted our role in inflicting chaos upon the people of Vietnam, Fraser turned his back on the small-minded half of Australia and opened the nation’s arms to each and every refugee fleeing the new Communist regime. This was 1970s Australia. The racist bogan was louder and prouder than he is today, and without a doubt it cost Fraser a lot of popular support.
Fraser was the first to act on the refugee issue out of moral principle, rather than from the simple economic and defence imperatives of “populate or perish” that came before, or the vile opportunism that came afterward. Until the day he died, he backed this up in a very vocal and rational manner, publicly opposing the reprehensible methods of both the modern Liberal Party and ALP. When the Howard goverment persisted in scoring cheap political points out of the most vulnerable and destitute human beings on the planet, and the ALP matched them in a race to the bottom, he resigned his membership in the Liberal Party in disgust.
Not long ago, Fraser drew light on the futility of “deterrence” when it comes to refugees, stating thus: “if one of their family members has been killed, brutalised, or put in jail, there is no deterrent that we can create in Australia that will match the terror they flee… [The] policy of deterrence was always a fraud”.
Summing up the cheap shot approach that dominates both modern Labor and Liberal “strategy” (one defined entirely by political point-scoring), Fraser said it remarkably well: “in our time we would hear about Australian values, I think the way we are treating asylum seekers now is a perversion of Australian values”.
Whatever your thoughts on the man, when it came to human rights, he had one virtue that no modern leader could say they share and keep a straight face – conviction.
RIP Malcolm Fraser, 1930 – 2015.