Malcolm Fraser: a man who stood by his principles for his whole life
Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (10:32): I rise today on behalf of the Australian Greens to support the motion of condolence in recognition on the loss of the Rt. Hon. John Malcolm Fraser AC CH. As we have heard from both the Leader of the Government and the Leader of the Opposition here in the Senate, Malcolm Fraser was a big man-a big man of Australian political history and a big man in that, over his lifetime, he was able to move from political positions that he held, hold onto the principles that backed them and therefore change his perspective on the party that he had once led. I want to particularly comment on this in my own experience.
I was a young person at university during the Vietnam War. Malcolm Fraser, as the Minister for Defence, was someone against whom we led protests about the war. The 1975 election was the first one in which I voted. So you can imagine that, as a young person at university, the dismissal at that time was again something on which young people had a very strong view, and there were the protests to which Senator Abetz referred. The 1973 election was the last election of Prime Minister Fraser as Prime Minister, and that was at the height of the campaign to stop the Franklin Dam. So the protests, the civil engagement of those years, were about strong engagement, but so too was the work of Malcolm Fraser throughout his entire life in upholding human rights.
As has just been spoken about, his reconciliation with former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was of great leadership. As Mr Shorten has mentioned, it was more than reconciliation between two people; it was of a nation, because it certainly has been for all of us in my generation.
Mr Fraser was born to a wealthy and well-connected family. He adhered to the view that inherited money and privilege carry with them a responsibility to contribute to the greater good, and that is something that he stood by for his entire life. He believed in the principle that the strong must look after the weak, and right up until days before his death he was still advocating that the strong must look after the weak-must uphold international law and must uphold human decency-and was calling out the failure to do so.
It has been noted by many of the commentators that when he was at Oxford, his closest friends were from Zambia. There is no doubt that his complete rejection of racism was there from the very earliest years of his life. It is extraordinary that he took such a strong stand against racism throughout his life. As has been noted, he opposed the minority white rule in what was then Rhodesia. He then stood strongly against apartheid in South Africa, as Senator Wong has just noted, in his role on the eminent persons group in 1985 and 1986. He took a strong stand against apartheid. He actually visited Nelson Mandela in prison, and Nelson Mandela asked him whether Bradman was still alive. When Nelson Mandela became South Africa's first black President, Malcolm Fraser took him a signed cricket bat, 'To Nelson Mandela, in recognition of a great unfinished innings. Don Bradman'.
That is just a small example of the kind of personal engagement and thoughtfulness that Malcolm Fraser had. He was often seen as an aloof person, and he himself said, 'Frequently, people mistake shyness and aloofness.' I think in his case that was probably true, especially since we heard that he was sent to boarding school as an eight-year-old and spent all his school years in boarding school, was then at Oxford and so on.
But he did embrace everyone, regardless of colour or creed, and we will always remember that, as Prime Minister, it was his Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 1976 that recognised that Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory should have control over their own land.
After the Vietnam war, he also embraced 70,000 Vietnamese refugees. One such family I looked after in Devonport back in those days, and I can tell you that they have gone on-as with the Vietnamese community broadly across Australia-and made a huge contribution to this country. Their children here have graduated from university and are making an enormous contribution. That was the work of a man who supported the Vietnam War and who supported conscription to the Vietnam War but who, after the war, saw the responsibility Australia had to look after people fleeing from that country. Of course, as education minister, he also insisted that Asian languages be taught in Australian schools. He also set up a Civil Affairs Unit to make sure that there was actually some focus in Australia's overseas aid programs-that they looked at poverty and education, and that it was not just about a war-and-conscription focus.
Right up until his death, you could say that he was a great advocate for multicultural Australia and for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. That, of course, stemmed from his time in office, where, as we have heard, he did set up the Family Court, the ombudsman, the first FOI laws, the Australian Federal Police and also the Human Rights Commission.
War and who supported conscription to the Vietnam War but who, after the war, saw the responsibility Australia had to look after people fleeing from that country. Of course, as education minister, he also insisted that Asian languages be taught in Australian schools. He also set up a Civil Affairs Unit to make sure that there was actually some focus in Australia's overseas aid programs-that they looked at poverty and education, and that it was not just about a war-and-conscription focus.Right up until his death, he was still defending the Human Rights Commission and its head, Gillian Triggs, saying, 'Enough is enough,' on the attack on the Human Rights Commission. In terms of the media, he set up SBS, and later on, in his post-parliamentary career, he was a leader in the campaign against the concentration of media ownership.
As Prime Minister, he rejected the new neoliberal economics. He brought in a strong focus against the 'bottom of the harbour' schemes. He was the Prime Minister who set up a pecuniary interest register here in this parliament and insisted that his cabinet members resign as directors of companies if they were to serve in his cabinet, recognising the conflict of interest that that would result in. He was a great supporter of the republic and, at the end of his life, was not only a supporter of the republic but a strong supporter of Australian independence in foreign policy, particularly from the US, which had been a major shift from his support of the United States in the Vietnam War.
But in his environmentalism, from the point of view that we might say that 'conservative' comes from conservation of what is, he was a true conservationist in those years. He served on the ACF council right back in the 1960s. He did offer Robin Gray $500 million to build a coal fired power station and not to proceed with the Franklin Dam. It was the major election issue in 1983, and I am very glad to say that his desire to stop the dam was actually delivered, and we have stopped that dam. But he was one of those who stood out against it.
In terms of the Great Barrier Reef, he was the person who established the marine park, and he took on the Bjelke-Petersen government in spite of the fact that it was Bjelke-Petersen, the former Premier of Queensland, who had helped him out via the numbers with the Albert Field scandal in terms of the Senate replacement. But Malcolm Fraser revoked the licence for sandmining on Fraser Island in 1976. He also banned whaling in Australia in 1979, in spite of the fact that brought him into great conflict with the Western Australian government of the day. He declared the Kakadu National Park, and he had a great focus on the Antarctic and, as Senator Abetz has noted, moved the Antarctic Division to Hobart.
His recognition of the environment and his love of country was probably something that we have only come to appreciate, perhaps, in later years, because his time as Prime Minister was so tumultuous for other reasons. But the last entry he made as a teenager before he went to Oxford said this:
All my life I will have memories of calm nights beneath the sky, of waking before dawn to see the sun rise in the east and of driving over the lonely bush roads with dust eddying all round. The deformed Mallee scrub and the ghost farms, the great plains and the endless sand hills, the majestic mountains, the beautiful valleys and pleasant hills. All these are part of Australia and part of my memories. Among them I will find my home.
Well, he did. He not only found his home; he represented his home, Australia, in so many ways about which we feel proud. He was a man who stood by his principles for his whole life. He welcomed the outsider, he embraced the refugee, he rejected racism, he stood up for human rights, he stood up with people who cared for human rights, and he cared for country. He promoted the Aboriginal spirit of country, and he worked to protect it. And I extend our sympathies to his widow, Tamie, and to the family and say that the Australian Greens recognise the great contribution that he made to Australia.