Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Speech in Parliament - Condolences: The Rt Hon. Malcolm Fraser AC CH - 25 March 2015

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (18:33): I rise to join those who have spoken before me on this condolence motion for a political giant: Malcolm Fraser, a great and patriotic Australian. Many have spoken of the things he stood for, Aboriginal land rights; the things he stood against, racism in any form; his contribution to domestic and foreign policy. All of the speeches have touched on his service here in the parliament—first as a backbencher, then as a minister and then as a prime minister—and all have touched on his service in so many ways beyond the parliament in all of the years since 1983—giving his view in the arena, arguing for what he stood for, often a position people disagreed with but a position that he would consistently hold to.

During the tumultuous Dismissal, which, naturally, most members have commentated on, he showed his strength and determination, the very attributes that would drive him in all of his conduct and the way in which he held to his views on other subjects, both during his prime ministership and in the years after it. Many have spoken about what was achieved in a policy sense during the Fraser government, and it was substantial. Some speakers have spoken about the time he came to office in terms of economic reform. His former senior adviser David Kemp summed this up very well in the weekend papers. He said:

Malcolm Fraser once reflected with me that his had been a "transitional" prime ministership, in terms of the historic development of public policy in Australia.

That is true. He successfully reigned in runaway spending. He believed in smaller government. He introduced sections 45D and E of the Trade Practices Act, something that endures today and was a critical reform at the time.

It is true that he did not believe in the free market as the solution to every problem. Like all leaders, he was a product of his time. He came ahead of the Thatcher years, ahead of the Reagan years and ahead of the 1980s debate, and it is worth pointing out, as David Kemp did in that very well written article, that many of the issues that were coming onto the agenda during his prime ministership picked up full steam in the years after it. Another former staff member of his and a friend of mine and many in this chamber, Petro Georgiou, wrote on the weekend about his principles. He wrote about the issue of South Africa and about a party room debate, and I will quote from the article:

The gist of their remarks was, 'why aren't we supporting our white cousins in South Africa?

I will not read all of the quote, for reasons of time, other than to say:

That debate ended somewhat abruptly after I advised my colleagues of the realities of the Fraser Government. If they wanted an Australian government that would support a small white minority in South Africa determined to keep the overwhelming black majority in a state of perpetual subjection, they would have to get another government.

That summed up his dedication to principle and that same steely resolve that was so often on display. I know we are not allowed to hold up props in this parliament—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Ewen Jones ): That is right.

Mr TONY SMITH: but I will, since we are not in question time, refer to one front-page newspaper. It is a picture that appeared on Saturday morning of last week. I raise that because it is of Malcolm Fraser at a campaign rally in 1975 in the electorate of Casey. I will correct myself: it was in the electorate of Casey then, but it is now just in the electorate of Deakin. He was at the Croydon Football Club with a campaign rally on the ground. He is speaking from the grandstand to a couple of thousand people. Next to him is a friend of mine, who was a few short weeks later to become the member for Casey, and that is Peter Faulkner. In the background there is a sign that says, 'Casey is Falconer-Liberal country'. Peter Falconer was elected the member for Casey on 13 December, and his political career spanned the Fraser government. He was easily elected in 1975 and 1977 and, like the Fraser government, he scraped back in 1980, and in 1983 the tide went out.

I spoke to Peter this week and asked him for some recollections and he gave me many. I will read some of them into Hansard. The first is about that rally. He said:

My abiding memory of the 1975 campaign is of a combined Liberal Party Rally at Croydon Park for both Casey & La Trobe … where Malcolm Fraser addressed a noisy and enthusiastic crowd of 2,000 plus from the Grandstand … It was there that you could sense that the tide had turned from resentment and anger at the blocking of supply—and the dismissal of the Whitlam Government—to a rolling bandwagon support for a new Government.

He had many other observations about campaigning with Malcolm Fraser in both that election and in the 1977 election but, as many speakers have pointed out, as acrimonious as 1975 was, Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam became close friends and, according to Peter Falconer, on his observations as a backbencher, maintained a very civil and professional relationship. He says:

I remember being in the PM's office talking about a constituency matter when Malcolm stopped me, picked up a letter and said 'Excuse me, I've got to talk to Gough about something'. He pressed the button on the direct line to Gough's office and simply said 'Gough, I've got something to show you.' Whitlam arrived within 60 seconds, apologised for interrupting me. Malcolm handed him a letter, Gough looked at it and said 'I'll talk to my lot and get back to you shortly. '

Peter said:

I was struck by the easy rapport and understanding between them. It was reassuring to me that the two political giants in the Parliament had such an easy modus operandi when it came to national security matters and other bipartisan issues.

I met Malcolm Fraser a number of times over the years, but I was not someone who met with him frequently in an organised way.

During my earliest days in the Liberal Party—and my friend on the other side walking in will remember some of this—I was president of the Melbourne University Liberal Club. He spoke at the Alfred Deakin Lecture in 1971. He regularly attended these lectures, and as club president I met him there in 1988. Later that year or the next year I invited him to address a Liberal students' dinner, which he happily did. This was five or six years after he had left office. I met him during the republic referendum campaign, at airports and at various other functions and occasionally when he was with his friends, Petro Georgiou and other former staff, who regularly caught up to mull over the old times and no doubt the modern day.

He was active, as everyone has said, right until the very end. He expressed his view. He wrote books. He was unceasing in his commentary. He became a prolific user of Twitter, which only would have made his ex-staff feel relief that, in their time working for him, mobile phones did not exist, because he was an incredibly hard worker. Indeed, late last year, just before Christmas, I wrote an opinion piece about the centenary of women getting the vote in Australia. I had it published in TheAge. My staff pointed out to me that one of the first people to tweet this article was Malcolm Fraser himself. He was still following the debate at every level.

Dr David Kemp wrote of his policy achievements in a difficult time following the Dismissal. Petro Georgiou wrote of his character and his principle. He also wrote:

Fraser, on hearing of Gough Whitlam's passing observed, "The line's broken. In this world, anyway, it's broken forever."

And it is true that we have waved goodbye to a generation who served this nation.

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