Mar 23, 2015

Condolence Motion – the Hon. Malcolm Fraser, AC CH

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (11:19): I rise to add to the comments of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and others on this important condolence motion on the death of former Prime Minister John Malcolm Fraser. It has indeed been a sad time when it comes to the passing of some of the political giants of our times: Gough Whitlam, who transformed Australia into the modern, outward-looking society that we are today; Neville Wran, who revitalised Labor after the events of November 1975, not just in New South Wales but also nationally; and my dear friend Tom Uren, who rose above the horror of being a prisoner of war of the Japanese to show us the importance of respect for humanity and peace and who remade the relationship between the national government and those in our suburbs and regional communities; and now Malcolm Fraser, a liberal in the truest sense of the word and one of the giants of modern political Australia.

The passing of leaders provides an opportunity to reflect on their individual achievements, but it also allows us to reflect on issues of our era and the way in which they have shaped our lives, our society and indeed our own thinking. Malcolm Fraser’s life was an authentic chronicle of the past five or six decades of life in Australia. His was an example that constantly invites us to reflect on our own views.

I will never agree with the outcome of the events of November 1975. At the time, like Joe Hockey, I was young student but a true believer, even at that time. I saw this intervention as undemocratic and, like many in the great Labor family, had a personal view of Malcolm Fraser that was not complimentary. I remain of the view that the events of that day were wrong, but the passage of time has allowed me to see Malcolm Fraser’s life in a very different context. It is clear to me he was a man of intense principle. Malcolm always stuck to his principles, no matter the often fierce criticism that he received. He believed in justice. He could not tolerate racism. He wanted to empower others to be their best. He saw public service as a responsibility, not a choice.

After winning elections in 1975, 1977 and 1980, he has left substantial legacies. He offered refuge, as has been said, to those fleeing from Vietnam. He left a legacy of support for multiculturalism that today most of us take for granted, but at the time it was quite a radical position pushing it forward in opposition from people across the political spectrum. Yesterday, I had the honour of being at the Carnival of Cultures in Ashfield. It was a classic multicultural celebration, the like of which occurs in all of our electorates, whether it be in urban or regional Australia, but it is something that back in the late 1970s would have been unthought-of. He was consistent, he was strong and he was radical in his fight for multiculturalism, and he deserves, I think, respect for making Australia stronger for it.

His opposition to the apartheid system in South Africa was also strong and consistent, as was his support for reconciliation with the First Australians. He created important institutions, including the Human Rights Commission and the Australian Refugee Advisory Council. On the environment: he declared the Great Barrier Reef a marine park, made the first declaration of Kakadu National Park, opposed whaling and saved the magnificent Fraser Island from sandmining. With regard to education, in my portfolio I have had the honour of going to the Australian Maritime College in Launceston. As the Minister for Education and Training said, Malcolm Fraser regarded education as not just about universities but also very much about vocational training. That institution today continues to play a critical role in providing Australians with skills in the maritime sector, skills so important for an island continent such as ours.

Much has been made since Malcolm’s death of his relationship with the Liberal Party, particularly in later years. I will leave that to people who know more about the Liberal Party than I do. Politicians come and go but many like Malcolm Fraser make powerful contributions to the life of our nation, and then they disappear into the comfort of retirement or another career. That was not for Malcolm. His nearly three decades in parliament were only the start of his political engagement. Using the platform that comes from being a former Prime Minister, he kept fighting for justice for the rest of his life as a statesman and as head of CARE Australia. Because his principles were based so very firmly in his love of humanity and justice, he challenged us. His message was that neither self-satisfaction nor artificial partisan divide should prevent a person from speaking up on an important issue.

Sometimes his advocacy made people in this parliament uncomfortable. Malcolm criticised both the coalition and the Australian Labor Party on the issue of our treatment of asylum seekers. He did so in a way that was consistent and not partisan, and did so according to his own beliefs. He asked everyone in this parliament to think very carefully about the effect of our policies on real people. Of course the asylum seeker issue is complex. If it were simple, it would have been resolved. But Malcolm’s advocacy in this area will stand long after today, reminding us that, whatever the politics, this is a very human issue. It is an international issue, and it must always be seen in that context.

Malcolm Fraser was a true liberal. Like Menzies before him, he believed in small government, individual enterprise and liberty. He certainly was not a radical reformer like Whitlam, a man with whom he formed a great friendship in recent years, despite the events of 1975. That showed how big, not just in physical stature, both these great Australians were.

In areas where changes were required in the administration of this nation, Malcolm Fraser’s decisions were tempered by a basic understanding that people must come before ideology. I express my sincere sympathies to his family, particularly to his wife Tamie who also deserves our thanks for her contribution to the life of our nation.