Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser Dead At 84

FOLLOWED BY CONTROVERSY throughout a career in public life that spanned seven decades, former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser died in Melbourne early this morning, aged 84, the day before what would have been the 40th anniversary of his election as leader of the Liberal Party. A dour and divisive figure from privileged roots, Fraser will be forever remembered for engineering the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975.

If readers will permit me a personal reflection, Malcolm Fraser was central to my first outing in active politics, aged 5; accompanying my mother to vote in the safe Liberal Queensland seat of Petrie at the 1977 federal election, I proceeded to entertain polling officials and other voters with a reasonable rendition of the Liberal Party’s election pitch; at the end of my remarks — and this is the only part of the episode I recall clearly — a polling official with big black glasses knelt down in front of me to look me in the eye. “But why would you vote for Mr Fraser?” he asked. “Because he’s got better policies than Mr Whitlam and a fistful of dollars,” I replied solemnly.

The polling official — as my father reminded me last night, ironically as we recounted the incident just hours before Fraser’s demise — confided to my mother once I was out of earshot that I had made more sense than Whitlam and Fraser, too.

Time changes all manner of things, and this wealthy scion of Australia’s landed squattocracy and descendant of Federation pioneer Sir Simon Fraser will largely not be remembered by the wider public with any affection or warmth; despite achieving the two biggest election wins in Australian political history and spending seven and a half years as Prime Minister, Fraser — famously a loner, and nicknamed “the Prefect” by his colleagues — was never personally popular, and despite his stature as a political titan in the 1970s led a government lamented by liberals and conservatives alike to this day as an opportunity squandered.

Fraser is rightly acknowledged as having presided over the restoration of economic and social stability in Australia in the aftermath of the brief and turbulent tenure of the Whitlam government, and his government is credited with several notable achievements — the establishment of the Federal Court and the Australian Federal Police, the creation of SBS, the introduction of child endowment allowances, opening Australia for immigration by refugees from Vietnam, the return of powers to the states, as well as measures in environmental policy and Aboriginal land rights, to name a few.

But despite commissioning the Campbell report in 1981 — which paved the way for extensive deregulation and opening of Australia’s economy and financial system — Fraser refused to allow his Treasurer, John Howard, to implement its recommendations: the report would instead form the basis of the eventual reforms introduced by Hawke government Treasurer Paul Keating.

It is this failure to reform, coupled with the related criticism that it did nothing to substantially reform industrial relations laws during its tenure in office, that earned the Fraser government scathing criticism after its defeat that it had been a do-nothing government that persists today.

Yet Fraser will be remembered forever, with his name etched deep in the events of October and November 1975 that saw the Whitlam government dismissed from office; I have made the case in this column sporadically in the past that the Dismissal was, at heart, a constitutional law case, and that Governor General Sir John Kerr acted in accordance with the only constitutionally valid course open to him in withdrawing Whitlam’s commission as Prime Minister on 11 November 1975 so a deadlock between the Houses of Parliament could be resolved by a double dissolution election.

(We most recently looked at it in the aftermath of Whitlam’s death late last year, and readers can access that piece here).

Those tumultuous and controversial events divided Australia, and Fraser was at their epicentre as their driver and their beneficiary; there is a school of thought that quite plausibly ascribes the thin record of reform achieved by his government to a latent sense of illegitimacy in view of the manner by which it arrived in power, and whether readers subscribe to such a theory or not, it doesn’t change the fact that whilst Fraser led a competent government in the broadest sense, as a right-wing reformist outfit — unlike its contemporaries in the UK, the US, later in Canada and in parts of continental Europe — it was a failure.

But reform or no reform, Fraser was controversial, and controversy and division dogged his political career almost from the time he became a minister in the 1960s; he spectacularly resigned from Cabinet in 1971, accusing Prime Minister John Gorton of “gross disloyalty” and interference in his discharge of ministerial responsibilities and accusing Gorton of being “unfit to hold the great office of Prime Minister.” This outburst ultimately led to Gorton being replaced by William McMahon: scarcely an improvement, whatever Fraser might have thought of Gorton.

With the Dismissal and the thumping 1975 election win out of the way, Fraser led an unhappy government that was racked by scandal and resignations throughout its tenure; by 1981, he faced a challenge to his leadership from heir apparent Andrew Peacock — which he easily saw off — but having made many enemies in a political career even then 25 years long, it was evident that Fraser’s grip on the Liberal Party had started to slip: and as it did, so too did the bond between the Coalition and the electorate, as a severe recession in 1981-82 and the arrival of Bob Hawke in the parliamentary ALP eventually saw the Fraser government trounced at a double dissolution election early in 1983.

Controversy has followed Fraser ever since, conferring some notoriety upon him two years later as Australians awoke to the news that “Big Mal” had been found wandering around a hotel in Memphis, wearing only a bath towel, and unsure as to the whereabouts of his trousers and other personal effects. For some, it seemed for the first time that the oft-detested Fraser was almost human.

Yet one of the paradoxes of Malcolm Fraser is that this good, decent man, with a reputation among those who knew him for great warmth and personal compassion, was so coldly regarded by Australians generally: one of the favourite themes of political cartoonists of his day was a portrayal of Fraser in the statuesque manner of an Easter Island precipice — carved and hewn by bitter winds out of granite.

But a solitary childhood spent on the rolling agricultural properties that underpinned his family’s wealth and privilege meant that Fraser never connected easily with people, although when he did he was renowned for his loyalty and generosity.

He enjoyed great loves, two of the best-known being a fondness for cars and motor racing and a passion for the Carlton Football Club, and it was particularly pleasing to me today — as I went about my business in and around Melbourne — to hear a number of key Carlton figures from the club’s heyday during Fraser’s Prime Ministership (especially the coach, David Parkin) pay tribute to him on Melbourne radio for the devotion and hospitality with which he repaid the club’s attention to “a fan” as it won three Premierships in four years between 1979 and 1982.

And in later years, he reconciled with Whitlam — spawning an unlikely but truly great friendship — with the pair working alongside one another to advance a number of causes, the best known being their advocacy for a republic at the (thankfully) doomed referendum on the issue in 1999.

I would like to offer my sincerest condolences to Fraser’s family, and I acknowledge his widow Tamie — who, as the country’s First Lady, brought a grace and elegance that so often served as a foil to the more abrasive antics of her husband, and who rightly remains warmly regarded and popular by millions of Australians even now. Our thoughts are with her at this painful and difficult time.

Those who know me know I have spoken dismissively and harshly of Fraser, particularly where the failure of his government to utilise the colossal mandate it held to reform Australia is concerned and in view of the apparently increasing leftward trajectory of his views, and especially in the years since he deserted the Liberal Party that had nurtured his career for so long in 2009.

I would emphasise that these criticisms only ever applied to Fraser’s ideas and actions, or the lack of them as the case may have been; personally I liked Malcolm enormously, for he was a good and decent man in spite of whatever criticism may have been levelled at him, and even if not perhaps having truly achieved the greatness that his promise might have heralded.

In the end, Fraser was a man and a politician of his times: and the views he held that are roundly decried as left-wing, bleeding heart poppycock today are almost unchanged from those he held 40 or 50 years ago that earned him the contrary description of right-wing authority figure and anti-democratic tyrant.

Time, indeed, changes all manner of things.

Yet in a final irony, it changed Fraser little as the years passed, and as Australia (and the world) evolved around him: for a man whose utterances suggest a profound distaste for conservatism his life has been a virtual embodiment of it, and the man dismissed 50 years ago as wanting to “Put Value Back Into The £” (sic) and on a mission to restore Australia to the “golden age” of Sir Robert Menzies and the 1950s has remained as relevant, and as controversial and divisive, as the continuing beliefs and ideas he propounded have proven more enduring than anybody could probably have dared to believe when he was pilloried for them.

VALE, John Malcolm FRASER AC CH (21 May 1930-20 March 2015), 22nd Prime Minister of Australia, 1975-1983.

Revisionism And Whitlam, Exhibit #1: The Dismissal

IN THE AFTERMATH of the death of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, sections of the Left have wasted little time bombarding the country with inaccurate, debased versions of the “legacy” of the Whitlam government, and the alleged wrong it suffered on 11 November 1975 as the exercise of S64 of the Constitution saw it ejected from office. As conservatives pay tribute, the Left rekindles a fight it could not win in 1975 and will not win now.

Ignorance — in this case, of the law — is a potent weapon for those on the Left who would mould public opinion; hypocrisy, too, is a virtue, as too often those on the Left are either complicit in and/or openly commit the very sins they incite public outrage over when such actions are undertaken by their opponents.

I should make the clear point at the outset that my remarks today are not aimed at Gough Whitlam nor, in the main, to those Australians who hold him as an idol or a hero, despite the fact I do not share that judgement of him; rather, I want to talk about the “mythology” that has always existed in any public discussion of the former Prime Minister, and specifically, a legend that is at best highly embellished and bookended by a refutation of the Dismissal that has always been sorely wanting for any basis in fact.

It strikes me as an exquisite irony that as conservatives fete Whitlam in death with praise ranging from the moderate to the effusive — and this column quite happily did the same thing on Tuesday afternoon, as quickly as I could publish comment after learning Whitlam had died — the militant Left across Australia is railing against conservatives who might take advantage of Whitlam’s death to revel in his passing, and tear at their great leader’s legacy.

Presumably, they had in mind something resembling their own (gleeful, exultant, triumphalist) conduct last year when Margaret Thatcher died.

And just to ram their point home, countless manifestations of the Whitlam “legacy” — replete with decades-old embellishments, omissions, and outright fabrications — have leapt from the bunkers of the ABC, the Fairfax press, The Guardian, and all the other branches of the media and the commentariat given unquestioningly to the Left and the sanctity of its version of the country’s past.

It is fortuitous that some journalists, and some media outlets, remain intellectually honest enough to shoot these fictional stories down, and to call them for what they are and were; and without diverging down the tangential path of rehashing them, two excellent pieces from today’s press, by Miranda Devine at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Greg Sheridan at The Australian, use hard, cold facts to blow so many holes in the Whitlam “legend” constructed over four decades by his disciples that if it were the Titanic, there would be no need for any iceberg.

But I have had a first-hand taste overnight of the peculiar savagery the ceaseless rewrite of history in Whitlam’s honour is generating, thanks to a vicious exchange on social media involving acquaintances welded to the political Left and centred on that “nuclear weapon” of alleged misdeeds against Whitlam and his government: the Dismissal.

The fracas (which I am hoping will continue no further, in the interests of decency) centred on an article, penned by the outspoken left-wing journalist David Marr and published in The Guardian, which leapt adroitly at the throats of both conservatives and former Governor-General Sir John Kerr over the “ruthless clawing down of Gough Whitlam.”

Appearing less than three hours after news of Whitlam’s death broke, it seems an odd tribute, to say the least.

But — such is presentation — Marr weaves a story of lies, deceit, illegal conduct and sheer bastardry that he claims “the verdict of both the law and history has been savage” to. It is a compelling story. It is also unmitigated and misleading rubbish.

(And to be clear, that description applies to the version of these events adhered to by the Left generally, which is merely reflected in Marr’s representation of them).

As anyone with a basic knowledge of political history knows, early in 1974 — armed with a majority in the Senate — the Coalition parties under the leadership of Bill Snedden moved to block supply to the first-term Whitlam government to force an election; Whitlam capitulated, calling a double dissolution, and was re-elected: albeit still lacking a majority in the Senate, with Labor and the Coalition each winning 29 spots, with two Liberal-leaning Independents.

In October 1975, under the leadership of Malcolm Fraser — with the scandal-plagued Whitlam government limping in opinion polls, and evidence to hand that one of its ministers, Rex Connor, had continued to pursue loans negotiations with Tirath Khemlani after the revocation of his authority to do so, placing the Australian government in breach of US law over other loan-raising activities — the Coalition again moved to block the budget and force another election.

It was aided in this enterprise by two casual ALP Senate vacancies, one in Queensland and one in NSW; in Queensland, Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen appointed an obscure ALP member known to be hostile to Whitlam personally in the knowledge he would be expelled from the Labor Party for accepting the Premier’s nomination. In NSW, Premier Tom Lewis appointed an Independent. It meant that the Coalition controlled the numbers in the Senate.

As it happened, the supply bills of the budget were indeed blocked: the result was that had the government run out of money it would have ceased to be able to function, with wages, rents, and other expenses unable to be paid as the money to do so would not legally be available to the government.

Ultimately — as provided for in section 64 of the Constitution — the deadlock between the Houses was broken by the Governor-General terminating Whitlam’s commission, and appointing Fraser in a caretaker capacity until elections could be held.

(That’s the quickest version of the Dismissal I have ever seen 🙂  )

I understand why this event caused (and causes) so much outrage in ALP circles. After all, this government — which its supporters had waited 23 years to see arrive — was terminated after just three, and by spectacularly unorthodox means.

But there are ample precedents for the legal use of regal and vice-regal constitutional powers in Australia and elsewhere; in fact, Labor itself was a willing cheer squad to the intervention of the Queen in 1977, when Bjelke-Petersen wanted to extend the term of his favourite Governor in Queensland, Colin Hannah — and the Queen said no.

The hypocrisy — with 1975 representing an outrage, and an abuse of power by an unelected representative of a “foreign” power refusing to accept advice from her Prime Minister — is compelling. In 1977, the ALP was cheering the same “foreign” power on for refusing to accept the advice of her Premier. Revenge is not an adequate justification. It is merely naked opportunism.

Even so, much of the bile Marr spouted on Tuesday is ridiculous.

What “verdict” of law has ever condemned the Dismissal? The matter was never taken to the High Court; Labor (and Whitlam) sensibly allowed it to stand, perhaps advised privately that seeking to overturn the decision was an enterprise unlikely to succeed. The Constitution is open to interpretation. But S64 is explicit that the Prime Minister holds office “during the pleasure of the Governor-General,” and it is generally accepted on all sides that the Constitution confers upon the Governor-General the ability to sack an elected government: even if, in Labor’s case in 1975, it did not like it.

The conspiratorial bent of Marr’s story fails to stand up; even with the emergence last year of the fact former High Court Justice Anthony Mason advised Kerr — as did another judge, Justice Barwick — it has been well documented that this advice was to confirm the constitutional integrity of the course of action on which Kerr had already determined, not to influence or “plot” it.

Whitlam was outraged that Kerr sought this advice, pointing to the convention that the viceroy should only be advised by the head of his government. But Kerr — in discharging a constitutional obligation of the office — quite properly sought advice to ensure the legality of his intended actions, and was perfectly entitled to do so.

It didn’t matter whether Bob Menzies was urging the Liberal Party to back down; he no longer held a seat in Parliament. Assertions the Coalition Senators were about to “crack” were and are not worth a can of beans; they didn’t. And far from Kerr being some anti-Labor, anti-Whitlam villain whose ill intent was calculated to “claw Whitlam down,” he “struck” — to use Marr’s term — at the last possible time to do so, and after every avenue for compromise and resolution had been tried, and had failed.

Marr is right that 11 November held no particular constitutional significance; it was, however, the last day on which an election could practicably be called prior to Christmas.

The fact the government had two weeks’ worth of money left on 11 November is part of the problem that forced Kerr’s hand; elections in 1975 required almost five weeks between the announcement and polling day, and the government had insufficient funds to make it that far. Or to Christmas. Or past the “silly season.” Without decisive resolution, tens of thousands of public servants would remain unpaid, as would all other government outgoings. The country would grind to a halt.

Whitlam’s plan to call a half-Senate election, contrary to Marr’s assertion, offered virtually no prospect whatsoever of Whitlam winning enough Senate seats to control the chamber. In fact — so far behind in published polling was the government at that time — it was far likelier the government would go backwards. Such judgements are, of course, subjective. But a deadlocked Senate after a half-Senate poll would have triggered utter chaos.

Whitlam’s other plan (which Marr conveniently fails to mention at all) was to get the country’s big banks to advance credit to the government indefinitely to fund its activities, thus circumventing the Senate and allowing it to stay in office despite its inability to pass its budget. The legality of this plan remains unclear to this day. It may have been legal, as Whitlam maintained; it may not. But it was certainly undemocratic, and a contempt of Parliament to boot.

The spectre of Kerr’s refusal to receive the Speaker of the House of Representatives is a red herring; the advice to dissolve the Houses of Parliament had been offered by Fraser and the proclamation to do so posted. Yes, the House of Representatives refused to adjourn for some time. But ultimately, the action that dissolved it usurped this last-ditch stand.

Most of the remainder of Marr’s article is melodramatic, biased twaddle designed to appeal to people’s hearts rather than their brains. It does not matter, incidentally, what Malcolm Turnbull told Marr. Turnbull, like so many of the other irrelevant bystanders Marr tries to drag into his argument, quite literally has nothing to do with it.

And his attempt to link any defence of the events of 1975 to “this ugly coup” remaining alive — and blaming conservatives for this fact — is simply an exercise in the provocative semantics of a partisan hack who seeks to continue to flog a dead horse decades after it died. It isn’t the Right that keeps dredging the Dismissal up, or disputing the facts surrounding it.

For all the high-minded piety of Marr’s piece, it fails to mention that the following Labor government of Bob Hawke fiddled the Senate by enlarging it, in a blatant attempt to ensure the Coalition could never again control the upper house (which it did — for one term — at the 2004 election). It never ceases to amaze me that the “anti-democratic” Dismissal = bad for the Left, whilst the anti-democratic structural distortion of a house of Parliament itself = good, sound, appropriate policy. Again, the hypocrisy of the Left fails to surprise in its consistency.

If Marr wanted to crucify the real villains of the piece, he would take aim at Bjelke-Petersen and Lewis, whose interventions undoubtedly made the difference between Fraser being able to block supply or not. But this features in Marr’s article as a virtual afterthought.

But whilst the Constitution has since been amended to dictate future Senate vacancies be filled by a member of the same party, what the two conservative Premiers did — whether you like it or not, and whether it seems decent or not — was completely legal and constitutional, if not perhaps done in good faith.

In the end, the Dismissal (as I have said in this column in the past) and ongoing debate on it are matters of constitutional law, not partisan politics, although it goes without saying that their ramifications were entirely political.

And Kerr, despite his (many) faults, took the only appropriate course open to him, and after exhaustive efforts to find an alternative resolution that was legal, functional, and — unlike Whitlam’s half-Senate election — likely to be workable.

Marr’s arguments (and countless others like them) pander to “the man on the street” who has scant interest in the constitutional and legal niceties of such matters, let alone any knowledge of them, and that makes this kind of hypocritical partisan rant all the more telling for its intellectual dishonesty.

On one level, the fact Whitlam’s government was annihilated at the 1975 election is irrelevant to this discussion, although it provides a clear indication of the mood of the public, and had there been outrage against the act of the Dismissal that Marr insinuates, Whitlam might have been re-elected or, at the very least, defeated far less heavily.

Of course, none of this is convenient for the Left.

And it sits perversely with the demands for respect that Whitlam acolytes who claim to be “grieving” and “in mourning” make that the vocal elements within their own ranks now seek to rekindle — and stoke — divisive matters such as this at the time of Whitlam’s death, supposedly in his defence, yet with a complete disregard for both the full facts of the event and its constitutional integrity.

This has been merely one look at the debased version of the history and legend of Gough Whitlam, as represented by his ageing surviving warriors. As night follows day, there will be plenty of others.

 

It’s Time: Gough Whitlam Dead At 98

AUSTRALIA HAS LOST a political colossus, with the death this morning of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam at the age of 98; one of the most deeply divisive, controversial and reviled figures in the country’s history, he will be remembered for the dysfunctional and ramshackle government he presided over that was terminated by the events of 11 November 1975. Whitlam leaves a legacy whose worth will continue to be debated for many years.

It is a quick post from me this afternoon, as I am on the run today; but I wanted to note the passing of Australia’s 21st Prime Minister this morning, and recognise that whatever people think — or thought — of him, an extraordinary Australian who inspired and divided in equal measure has gone.

Contrary to ALP legend, Gough Whitlam was not a god, or in fact the God; and despite the mythology that has sprung up around him since the dismissal of his government in 1975, his reputation for reform was neither as far-reaching as credit often insinuates, nor his government as visionary as is often boldly proclaimed.

There can, however, be little doubt that Whitlam was an agent of change at a time of great upheaval in Australia and, indeed, across the world; his ascension to office came as the baby boomer generation became eligible to vote for the first time, and was framed against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the free love movements of the 1960s, and the age of Watergate and investigative journalism.

Yet Whitlam’s government — framed in hindsight as revolutionary by his adherents, and destructive verging on ruinous by his detractors — is as notable for the mythology it has generated as it is for any legacy of reform it left behind.

Certainly, the notion of socialised medicine and healthcare, manifested first as Medibank (now a health insurance fund) and later as Medicare is arguably the Whitlam government’s most enduring legacy, with the concept only becoming truly uncontested in the past 20 years, and forming a government service that is accepted as the norm today.

But other Whitlam reforms — such as free universities that had largely been implemented by the government he followed, ending Australia’s commitments in Vietnam, which has all but been discontinued when he reached office, or ending the White Australia Policy, which in 1972 continued to exist in name only — are more mixed, and in the case of the universities in particular had already begun to be unpicked by the Hawke government by the 1980s.

The platform provided to minorities, the arts, and the cultural elites by the Whitlam government persist to this day; in some cases to the country’s betterment, and in some cases otherwise.

Yet the notion Whitlam’s government was an inclusive one, or that it governed for all Australians, has provoked passion and debate since it ended almost 40 years ago, and probably always will.

The Whitlam government — often held out by conservatives as the worst in Australia’s history, a mantle I contend was usurped by the Gillard regime — was a mediocre and incompetent administration, often mired in scandal and riven with dissent, and which sought to excuse illegal actions in the name of its “mandate” with the Australian public.

It will be remembered for the Khemlani affair, which sought to plunge the country recklessly into debt on the word of an obscure Middle Eastern loan shark whose bona fides were later proven to ring hollow.

It will be remembered for incompetent ministers who sought to circumvent established convention and the law, such as Rex Connor and Jim Cairns, and whose activities tarnished the image of Whitlam’s government as the damage to Australia’s reputation grew.

But it will forever be remembered for the events of Remembrance Day in 1975, when constitutional power vested in the Governor-General were used to break a deadlock between the Houses of Parliament, with Whitlam’s commission withdrawn and a double dissolution election called by caretaker Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

Conspiracy theorists of the left will forever argue these events were a violence against Australian democracy; opponents rightly argue the Dismissal to not only have been legal (which it was) but a proper course of action that rescued Australia from the social damage that would follow the attempt to evade the constitution Whitlam had sought to realise with his proposal that commercial banks fund government in order to circumvent the Senate’s attempts to block his budget and force an election.

The public verdict, of course, was the overwhelming repudiation of Whitlam Labor in what still stands today as the ALP’s greatest-ever electoral defeat: a judgement repeated two years later, when Whitlam was again beaten by Fraser in a similar result to the first.

There can be little doubt that Whitlam and his acolytes were genuinely committed to what they saw as the best interests of this country, although that vision was widely disputed in its day and remains hotly contested now.

And his drastic expansion of the role of government in most areas, but notably in spheres such as the scale and breadth of the welfare state, underpin political debates that persist today: and in the case of the welfare industry, Whitlam’s legacy — however well-intentioned — has arguably bequeathed lasting damage and endless division where, if taken at face value, it sought to heal.

In retirement Whitlam found rapprochement with many of his former adversaries, most notably Malcolm Fraser; yet the “rage” he promised to maintain (and which persists with a flicker rather than a fire) was maintained in his own mind to the day he died in terms of the events of 1975 and toward the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, who will forever be viewed as a “Labor bastard” for his actions.

Whitlam, whose wife Margaret died two years ago, is survived by three sons and a daughter.

I extend my condolences to his family and those around them at this difficult time, and note that the great anger and hostility that followed Whitlam from Parliament 37 years ago has, in true Australian fashion, largely dissipated over time.

And whilst I feel no fondness at all for the memory of his government or most of what it did or purported to do, Whitlam himself was a likeable enough figure whose wit and intellect tower over Australia’s polity: so it was in life, and so it will continue to be in his death.

It’s time: Whitlam has now passed, and it would befit his wry humour to ponder whether that passage has been upstairs or downstairs.

Much debate and discussion of Whitlam and his legacy to Australia will now ensue, and to this end — with more time to hand in the next few days — we will likely add to its stocks in this column.

VALE, Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC (1916-2014), 21st Prime Minister of Australia, 1972-1975.

Ditch The US: Fraser’s Latest Geriatric Pronouncement

MALCOLM FRASER has emerged yet again from his dotage to make the ridiculous claim Australia should end its military alliance with the United States; the comments show his perspective on world events has slid dangerously toward a far Left view of the world, if further proof of such a movement were required. Alternatively, the former PM has shot his bolt completely. Either way, his remarks are dangerous, ill-considered, and simply wrong.

It’s difficult to know where to begin to comment on Malcolm Fraser’s latest geriatric musings on matters that have clearly slipped from his grasp, but we’ll try: and it ought to be noted that these wild, destructive edicts, dovetailing neatly as they do with the anti-American obsessions of the hard Left, rarely appear outside the pages of the Fairfax press.

Fraser is the subject of an article by Mark Kenny in today’s issue of The Age that betrays an appalling and flagrant disregard for the explosive new realities of the global geopolitical order, and Australia would adopt his octogenarian edicts at its peril.

Fraser’s thesis — that the “(surrender of the) nation’s strategic independence” to Washington risks Australia being “pulled into a disastrous war against China” simply doesn’t stack up; in fact, given China’s increasingly bellicose penchant for confrontation and military mischief in south-east Asia, Australia’s alliance with the US is the best safeguard this country has against being subjected to the same aggressive threats being experienced by others in the region.

I have written in this column previously that the day would come when Australia will be forced to choose between the USA and China; some readers understand the basic premise behind such a consideration, whilst most have ridiculed the idea. Yet I stand by the assertion.

China — increasingly — is throwing its weight around the region, threatening the security of its immediate neighbours, with Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines (among others) facing ambit territorial claims from China that are increasingly being backed by military posturing and almost brazenly overt threats of force to pursue them.

Its effort to set up an aviation exclusion zone around the Senkaku Islands has been ignored by most of the international community, and it is true that China has declined to attempt to enforce it. Yet the fact such a move was taken at all is a pointer to the belligerent new stand it appears determined to employ in matters it perceives critical to its interests within the region.

China determinedly and persistently refuses to bring its errant ally, North Korea, to heel: perhaps the only country in the world with any leverage over the errant Communist regime, China has been content to allow the murderous junta in charge of North Korea to push the region to the brink of armed conflict as a proxy, and any doubts around this will be dispelled (again) if the rumoured fourth nuclear test being prepared by Pyongyang goes ahead next month and elicits no more than a few stern words from Beijing in response.

All of this is happening against the backdrop of the rapidly deteriorating security situation in eastern Europe, as Russia — perhaps in contrast to the Chinese — acts out its long-articulated ambitions of territorial expansion in its bid to recreate in effect the USSR and with it, Russia’s “rightful place” as a global superpower.

That endeavour carries with it the very real prospect of igniting a conflict that could easily escalate into a third world war, with well over a hundred thousand Russian troops apparently poised to invade Ukraine to complete the first phase of this enlargement of Russia’s borders. Sanctions imposed by the West appear to have had no impact in discouraging Russia, and its President’s suggestion that further action against it could result in gas supplies to western Europe being shut off is no idle threat.

It’s true that the US Secretary of State, John Kerry — a figure savaged in this column repeatedly as being totally unsuitable to do America’s bidding on the world stage — is making things worse with his aggressive rhetoric about consequences Russia will face in retaliation for any invasion of Ukraine that are just as unlikely to achieve anything meaningful if implemented.

But Obama and Kerry are tilling the soil for their Republican adversaries, and some kind of change in America is only a couple of years away. China and Russia, by contrast, are totalitarian dictatorships operating on long-term settings that have not changed in decades, and are unlikely to.

It is well known, and generally accepted, that China and Russia have agreed on co-operation should either face military conflict on anything approaching an existential scale: and in the context of the present international environment, this “bottom line” consideration must be central to any assessment of the validity of Fraser’s remarks.

From the perspective of Australian politics, it is necessary to handle China very carefully. It clearly resents our alliance and trade links with Japan and South Korea, and has suggested it expects to be favoured above Washington in the longer term to give any “meaning” to the relationship it seeks with us.

Already, there is evidence enough that China sees value in Australia as a food source and as a providore of raw natural resources, and the trade value of these links is considerable. Yet through its state-run enterprises it is clear that trade in these areas is not enough for Beijing: it seeks to acquire ownership of vast tracts of agricultural land, the rights to mine an increasing amount of the minerals it presently buys, and the means with which to process them. The eventual result of this will be to decimate the value to Australia of any return it might make from what should be its competitive advantage with China.

How does Fraser reconcile these realities with his suggestion we have ceded sovereign control of the country to the Americans?

It remains a fact that had the US not come to Australia’s aid in World War II, this country would in all likelihood have been overrun by the Japanese; this is a historical debt that endures, not something to be dismissed on a whim.

Fraser accuses former US President Lyndon Johnson of “lying” to America’s allies over the Vietnam War, claiming he misrepresented CIA assessments of the North Vietnamese in order to enlist the involvement of allies in the conflict. Yet this is disingenuous, and if true reflects more on Fraser’s poor judgement as Army minister and Defence minister in the governments of Harold Holt and John Gorton in the 1960s than it does on Johnson. Fraser was “all the way with LBJ” as much as any central figure in the governance of Australia at the time, and to suggest otherwise now is a vapid attempt indeed to airbrush the culpability he apparently claims now from view.

And Fraser’s criticisms of US-led conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq do not pass muster either: there are clear benefits to all free nations in eliminating the scourge of global terrorism, a cause which found succour and nourishment under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan which, if left unchecked, posed the real threat of making the 9/11 attack simply the opening salvo in a global war against western interests.

As for Fraser’s remarks on Iraq? It’s one of those ironies that those who profess outrage about the second Iraq War point to the UN as the bedrock of their outrage, but this ignores the fact Iraq had systematically and consistently ignored its obligations under a number of UN resolutions to disarm; it was Russia and China, now central to the new global instability that threatens to pull the USA into another conflict, who refused to support action at the UN to enforce Iraqi compliance. America may have taken action against Saddam Hussein, but it was the inaction of Russia and China that sought to allow the Iraqi dictator to continue to perpetuate his murderous outrages unchecked.

Should NATO be pulled into any conflict in eastern Europe in the short to medium term, it’s a very reasonable expectation that at some point China will join the conflict on Russia’s side, particularly if the conflagration lasts for any period of time; and if that happens, the charade of benevolent neutrality Fraser seems to seek to perpetuate will be shown up as the nonsense it is in the most ominous way possible.

There will be no useful purpose to be served by the UN, that debating society used by the global Left to assert Sino-Russian primacy in such matters; in any case, Russia and potentially China would be irretrievably compromised.

Under such circumstances, the luxury of picking and choosing friends — or taking the Fraser option of running off and hiding in the toilet whilst others get their hands dirty — will cease to exist, and in the context of a protracted period of international conflict, China will have little interest in safeguarding Australia’s security.

In fact — as a partner of the US and its NATO allies in every conceivable respect — it would become a matter for contempt.

In practice, the best way to get involved in a war against China is to do exactly what Fraser suggests; stripped of the only real security guarantee Australia has enjoyed for the past 75 years, there would be nothing to prevent the conquest of our strategically and economically pivotal little piece of the planet, and with our inconsequential national defences decoupled from the US military machine, nothing to fight back with.

Perhaps Fraser should focus on being a doting grandfather and polishing his racing cars. After all, when it comes to matters of real weight, whether through philosophical sellout or senility, it’s obvious that his is a very dangerous voice indeed to pay any attention to.

 

 

Final Sellout: Malcolm Fraser To Campaign For The Greens

NEWS TODAY that former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser intends to campaign for Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young at the upcoming election completes his sellout of the Liberal Party of Australia, and validates the move within the party to distance itself from its one-time strongman.

The politics of emotion are a dangerous game to indulge in at the best of times, but in a period of fraught debate over a record influx of unauthorised boat arrivals, such endeavours are downright counterproductive.

One of the things that annoys me the most about this issue is the refusal of those on the Left to accept the legitimacy of any position other than a virtual open-border policy that allows people arriving by boat the right to be released into the community whilst the veracity or otherwise of their claims to asylum are processed, with the blind, blithe companion position that Australia should “welcome everyone” as a “country of migrants.”

Anyone who disagrees with them is a racist, or a bigot, or both.

News that Malcolm “Bleeding Heart” Fraser will campaign for Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young comes as no surprise; Fraser — obsessed with human rights issues since late in his Prime Ministership — has sealed his utter estrangement from the Liberal Party, and destroys any pretence he might maintain of being anything other than a compassion babbling socialist.

Interested readers can access a story from the Fairfax press on this issue here.

I would point out that despite its claims to the contrary, the Left does not have a monopoly on compassion and decency; in fact, the policies implemented by the present government — which, remember, have been heavily influenced by the very Greens Fraser now seeks to help to re-elect — have led to the needless drownings of hundreds of people.

A large part of the mainstream demand for something effective to be done about boat arrivals derives from that sombre and macabre reality.

And the fact — like it or not — is that ordinary people in this country don’t want to be deluged with an ever-increasing flood of asylum seekers who arrive in boats, seeking to bypass legitimate channels of immigration into Australia, and having passed multiple countries that could accept their refugee claims (if genuine) on their way here.

That position doesn’t make those who hold it racist, or bigoted, or xenophobic; and it is a position influenced by the conduct of many asylum seekers after they arrive and the circumstances in which millions of Australians living here experience on a daily basis.

Hunger strikes, riots and the like perpetrated by asylum seekers in detention amount to no more than blackmail; such activities should not be rewarded with residency in this country.

Detention of people arriving in this manner is required because many of them turn up here with no documents; there is no reasonable case for releasing such people into the community until their bona fides (or otherwise) are able to be established.

And economic indicators that continue to be distorted by activity in the minerals and energy sector (despite evidence that sector is slowing) mask the fact that much of the economy is already in recession, with the likelihood the economy as a whole will follow; indeed, even new Treasurer Chris Bowen was honest enough today to concede that the mid-term economic outlook in Australia is “difficult.”

In such an environment, ordinary folk are facing unemployment and insecurity at a time when cost of living pressures in Australia have never been higher; rocketing utility bills, rising government fees and charges, housing costs that remain stubbornly inflated and other everyday cost pressures have seen average household budgets strained like never before.

It is not heartless to resent the fact that rocketing amounts of taxpayer money are being spent dealing with people who not only attempt to force their way into Australia through improper channels, but follow up those efforts with rioting and lawless behaviour because they deem — they deem — that efforts to deal with their claims are too slow.

Nobody denies Malcolm Fraser and his efforts on refugees over the years have done a lot of good; I don’t seriously think there are many Australians today who criticise him for opening the country to Vietnamese refugees, for example, and his work against Apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s — as another case in point — certainly warrants recognition.

But his claims that the treatment of asylum seekers, arriving in their currently uncontrollable thousands by boat, are “reminiscent of the actions of tyrannical dictators” are incorrect, inappropriate, and contrived to stoke disquiet over the issue to facilitate the mindless demands of the broader Left.

And strangely enough — with the Left in this country so fond of lecturing the majority against “international standards” — this is one area in which its standard bearers are strangely silent when it comes to seekers of asylum in other developed parts of the world.

Try showing up in Britain, or the United States, or Canada, or most of Europe — and behaving as asylum seekers are permitted to do here without consequence — and see how far you get toward permanent residency of those countries.

Try the same stunt in Russia, or China, or a raft of other previously eastern-bloc countries and you’ll literally be lucky to survive the attempt; certainly, lengthy detention is the very least you might expect to experience.

And Fraser’s open support of a candidate advocating the free access of such arriving persons to Australia without stringent controls and safeguards to process them — coupled with the fact Hanson-Young is in direct competition with the Liberal Party for her Senate spot — means that not only has the obscenely wealthy Fraser lost all touch with the ordinary folk who once voted for him in droves, but he is now in direct and wilful conflict with the vehicle he used to achieve election in the first place: the Liberal Party of Australia.

Perhaps, as Fraser charges, the Liberal Party has become more conservative.

But so, too, has Australian society as a whole; and rather than demonise, attack and oppose the party, perhaps his efforts might have been better directed by remaining within the tent, and seeking to influence the party’s direction as a member of it.

Supporting fruit-cake candidates on the back of chardonnay-fuelled do-gooderism might hand the Greens a token trophy insofar as an ability to boast someone of Fraser’s stature swelling their ranks, but a trophy is all they have gained.

Real world attitudes toward asylum seekers are hardening as a direct consequence of the approach of the Hanson-Youngs of the world, coupled with the inability of the current government to stop the unhindered arrival of thousands of boats and the inability to maintain order among those who do make it here whilst their applications are processed.

There is nothing indecent in these mainstream attitudes. Indeed, they are fuelled by the alienation and marginalisation that the policies the Greens — and their patrons like Malcolm Fraser — generate among the overwhelming majority of decent people who are, in the eyes of the chardonnay drunks of the Left, no more than an afterthought.

Shame, Fraser, shame.

Hawke Elected, 5 March 1983: 30 Years Ago Today

SPARE a thought: it’s 30 years since Bob Hawke led the ALP into office, just seven and a half years after the dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s government and the shattering electoral defeat of 1975; 1983 heralded change in Australia, and its impact on politics could never have been foreseen.

It was the election Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser should never have called; popular mythology had it that Fraser was simply too slow off the mark on the morning of 3 February, when Labor leader Bill Hayden resigned in favour of former ACTU president Bob Hawke a couple of hours before Fraser was granted his double dissolution election.

But the truth is that Fraser had wanted to go to the polls in December 1982 and was talked out of it by his cabinet colleagues. Had he done so, he would likely have been re-elected.

The Liberal Party retained a key marginal seat  (Flinders) in a difficult by-election that was held the day Fraser had wanted to go to an election.

This imbued Fraser and the Liberals with false confidence, as the result in Flinders also made certain a leadership change in the ALP; its unpopular leader Bill Hayden had already survived, narrowly, one leadership challenge from Hawke.

The Flinders by-election virtually guaranteed any subsequent challenge would succeed.

So Fraser — thinking he was locking Hayden in — called an election, and was soundly beaten by Hawke; it was the beginning of 13 years of Labor government, and Hawke’s would be just the second Labor government (after Whitlam’s) to see a Labor Prime Minister elected twice to office.

Labor bequeathed Australia a clutch of enduring reforms, such as the floating currency, financial deregulation and the dismantling of tariff barriers; it is questionable whether their primary architect — Treasurer Paul Keating — fully understood the far-reaching nature of these reforms, but this was lasting legacy of the Hawke government, and remains today.

These reforms, of course, were consolidated and built upon by the Howard government, in areas such as industrial relations, taxation, and prudential regulation.

It is reasonable to assert the Hawke/Keating years represent a zenith for the ALP which it will never revisit: the government’s reforms, so diametrically opposed to traditional Labor policy, have fundamentally changed the politics of the Left in this country.

We can see the results of this change today: the splintering of the ALP Left, which has sustained and grown first the Australian Democrats, and lately the Communist Party Greens; Labor has returned to its interventionist, tax-and-spend past, untroubled by economic rigour, and a preference for “social justice” at the cost of fiscal responsibility.

The Liberal Party, too, was changed by the 1983 result: descending first into a protracted period marked by leadership ructions and coalition infighting as it grappled with the reformulation of its economic policies, it emerged — finally — in 1996 to reclaim government a stronger, more resilient and arguably more durable entity than it had been since the retirement of Sir Robert Menzies 30 years earlier.

(If anyone doubts this, compare the 1974 and 1984 election results to that of 2010: nobody could seriously argue that the Liberals of 1974 or 1984 had commenced an inexorable march toward regaining government, whereas in 2010 I believe they did; indeed, had the Senate numbers in 1974 not been so favourable to Fraser, history may have played out very differently indeed).

As I said at the outset, I believe Fraser would have won an election in December 1982 against the hapless Hayden; but by the same token, just three months later I think Hayden would have beaten Fraser — he was probably right when he memorably proclaimed, after his resignation, that a “drover’s dog” could have won office against Fraser by that time.

The campaign is of historical note for a couple of things; the Ash Wednesday bushfires in the country’s south that wrought such destruction and misery — at the midpoint of the campaign — did nothing whatsoever to augment the fortunes of the Fraser government; indeed, the disaster probably hardened the resolve of voters in these areas against it.

But with unemployment, interest rates and inflation all rising as Australia was hit by the world recession of 1982-83, the final blow to Fraser’s credibility was self-inflicted; his remark that voters would be best served hiding their money under the bed if Labor won was devastatingly answered by Hawke, who simply quipped that people couldn’t hide their money under the bed — because that’s where the “Commies” (Reds, or Communists) were.

Subsequent events showed Fraser’s claim mightn’t have been as ridiculous as it seemed, given the assortment of state Labor governments that presided over the catastrophic collapses of financial institutions toward the end of the 1980s, John Cain’s in Victoria and John Bannon’s in South Australia especially. But at the time, the damage was done.

Victoria and South Australia were, ironically, the best-performed states for Labor in 1983, providing almost half of Labor’s 75 lower house seats between them.

And at the other end of the political spectrum, Tasmania not only stood by Fraser, but swung heavily to the Liberals as popular sentiment favouring Liberal Premier Robin Gray’s plan to dam the Franklin River saw Fraser government MPs widen their margins over Labor in all five Tasmanian electorates.

Malcolm Fraser today is a virtual pariah within the Liberal Party, roundly (and I believe correctly) dismissed as a left-wing bleeding heart whose views are totally out of touch with modern mainstream sentiment in Australia.

Hawke is a revered elder statesman in the Labor Party; his Treasurer and one-time friend, one-time foe Paul Keating succeeded him as Prime Minister and stayed there for five years before losing in a landslide in 1996.

Of course, Fraser’s Treasurer, John Howard — sarcastically dubbed “Honest John” by Keating — ultimately became PM too, but it took two attempts and more than ten years.

After a decade of rivalry with Andrew Peacock that culminated in him losing his leadership for six years in 1989 (and the Liberal Party going through three different leaders in those six years), Howard’s return in 1995 and his triumph in 1996 surely marked the closing of a circle in conservative politics that began to be drawn in March 1983.

Readers shouldn’t interpret my remarks tonight through the paradigm of serious analysis; I simply think that 30 years on from what was unmistakably a turning point in Australian polity and society, it is fitting to mark the occasion with some recollections and thoughts.

These are mine. If anyone would like to add to them, please feel free to comment.

 

Crawl Back Under Your Rock, Keating

It’s a new book providing the pretext for re-emergence this time…but for years, Paul Keating has behaved as if he was never booted from office. Reviled as Prime Minister, ultimately rejected by millions, it’s time for the “Lizard of Oz” to crawl back under his rock — and stay there.

Reading Paul Kelly’s interview with Keating in today’s Weekend Australian, it struck me that when it comes to the former PM, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Mind you, unlike many conservatives — who regard Keating with visceral loathing and positive hatred — I have nothing against him personally, and whilst I’ve never met him, I’ve been assured by those who have that the published accounts of his personal warmth and charm are correct.

But his agenda is something I have a very large problem with — and so do those of our countryfolk who tossed his government from office in 1996 in one of the biggest landslides in Australian history.

And that agenda, it seems, is unchanged.

After the chaos of the Whitlam years, and after the patrician, right-wing authoritarianism that so coloured perceptions of Malcolm Fraser’s government (but infected few if any of its legislative achievements), the climate in Australia was ripe for the consensus politics ushered in following the election of the Hawke government in 1983.

Hawke was successful because he always sought to take the electorate into his confidence and to ensure that the majority in the political middle were carried with him.

I’ve always found it ironic that having been in politics throughout, and having witnessed these episodes in full — Keating was first elected in 1969 — that his government is looked back upon as one of the most divisive in our history, Whitlam’s own government (in which Keating was a minister) the only competitor for that dubious mantle.

Indeed, the agenda of Keating’s government was, in many ways, Whitlamesque.

Much of what Keating covers in his interview with Kelly I have no quarrel with, but eventually — and typically — the agenda resurfaces: the focus on the elites, the arts, the minorities, the republic, the insistence on Australia being an Asian country in preference to a focus on more traditional links…all the stuff that left the majority of Australians feeling alienated, overlooked, and forgotten.

The people who elected John Howard on slogans like “For All Of Us” and “Building A Better Australia Together.”

It might surprise readers to know that my objective is not to tear the Keating agenda apart — that’s no longer necessary, receding in the rear-view mirror of history as it is.

Rather, my point is to question the relevance and value of former leaders like Keating, who resurface at intervals to share the benefit of their “wisdom” long after they were despatched at the ballot box.

Bob Hawke and John Howard surface very infrequently; Howard’s messages are generally limited to the economic management credentials (or otherwise) of the ALP; Hawke’s typically limited to comment on issues facing his own party.

It’s a moot point these days when it comes to Gough Whitlam, now aged 95 and obviously in the twilight of his life.

And Kevin Rudd, still a serving cabinet minister — a vocation that will lead God alone knows where — is best overlooked in the context of this discussion.

But Fraser’s noblesse oblige-driven agenda since leaving office has seen him increasingly resemble an unreconstructed socialist more so than the small-l liberal he purports to be, and certainly more so than the right-wing authority figure he was characterised as in 1975.

And then there’s Keating, clinging determinedly to the minorities, the elites, the republican ideal, and to Asia.

It’s certainly true of Keating that he sees his place in Australian history and is prepared to fight for it; it’s also certainly true that he has — and had — a vision for Australia.

The problem is that his vision was not shared by the men and women of Australia, who terminated his tenure in 1996. The truth be told, they would in all probability have terminated it three years earlier, had Keating been faced by anyone other than the politically useless John Hewson at the 1993 election.

At what point does the relevance of an agenda such as Keating’s cease?

Malcolm Fraser these days is widely viewed as completely out of step with majority opinion in Australia; his party had moved on from him long before he moved on from it; and his views are hardly taken seriously in political circles today (except, perhaps, by the Greens).

It is well-known that Keating could never accept the legitimacy of Howard’s government or of his own defeat; whether through arrogance or denial, or sheer strength of conviction, he remains determined that he was right and that even now, more than 15 years later, that Australia should embrace his vision and his agenda.

The point is that I question how much value — if any — is added to political debate by beaten leaders endlessly trundling their wares in front of an electorate which has assessed their wares, and passed judgement on same at an election.

I will, in all likelihood, get a copy of the Keating book and read it, perhaps over Christmas.

But I do think that having made their contribution — the merits or otherwise not in question — the likes of Keating, Fraser et al should retreat from the field, and let the current generation of elected representatives get on with doing what they are charged with, and for the reasons they have been allocated those tasks by voters: running the country.

And so, to use the vernacular, I think Keating should crawl back under his rock; for the self-styled “Placido Domingo” of Australian politics, the show was over many, many years ago.

What do you think?