Stay up-to-date by signing up to receive Michael’s eNewsletter.Subscribe Now
Condolence Speech: Fraser, Rt Hon. John Malcolm, AC CH
I also rise today to place on record my respects on the death of the Right Honourable Malcolm Fraser, and I want to associate myself with the comments very eloquently put by the member for Bass. Before I reflect on some of the areas of achievement that I think Malcolm Fraser should be best known for, I want to offer my condolences to his family. I think that in these situations Malcolm Fraser’s roles as a husband, father and grandfather or friend are in many respects more important than reflecting on the great things he did in his life, notwithstanding how important they are. So I do offer my condolences to his family, first and foremost.
There is no doubt that Malcolm Fraser was a great man. You do not become the Prime Minister of Australia unless you have attributes that many of us could just wish for. Malcolm Fraser’s determination to do what was right for his country, notwithstanding the personal animosity and quite disgusting treatment he received, must be admired. He was the man who took a lot of very rough treatment, and did so for the sake of the country. That is why I think it is always worthwhile reflecting on his single greatest political achievement: ultimately rescuing Australia from what at the time was the worst government we had ever seen. Let us not forget the profligacy of the Whitlam government, the borderline corruption following the Khemlani Affair and a whole host of other issues. Malcolm Fraser saved Australia from that chaos and division and, for eight years as our 22nd Prime Minister, he was able to unite Australians. Again, I think most people would not be able to withstand the treatment he received, but the fact he did so indicates the love he had for his country. That is what I will remember him most for—the love of Australia and the love of making sure that ours remained the greatest country on earth.
It is clear that he articulated Australia’s feelings with the ‘Turn on the Lights’ campaign in 1975. He went on to win the greatest political victory at a federal level ever. So perhaps over the years we have diminished how important and successful he was as a Prime Minister. He was extraordinarily successful: three election wins and seeing off a very flawed but potent political foe in Gough Whitlam are some things that I think all Liberals admire, and I think Australians should be very thankful.
Another area of his legacy that I want to touch on was his staunch anticommunism. Again, many people in my cohort—in my age group—perhaps do not appreciate the insidious impact that communism may have had on this country were it not for people like Malcolm Fraser, his good friend BA Santamaria and others who valiantly fought against people whose allegiances were more with the Soviet Union than they were with Australia. Many of those were in the upper echelons of the Labor Party. So, again, Malcolm Fraser saving us—with help from many people, but being a key person to save us from that insidious movement is something that all Australians now derive benefits from even though most of us do not know it. Most of us do not appreciate how tough it was and that the inevitable victory that we had over communism was not inevitable at the time. Nobody thought it was inevitable. It was because of people like Malcolm Fraser that we were able to win that war and we have the country that we have got now.
Another area of recognition that I want to highlight is his obvious compassion towards Vietnamese refugees fleeing persecution after the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese communists Lots of people in the condolence motion have spoken about his extraordinary generosity and bringing the Australian public with him to help the over 50,000 Vietnamese refugees. But, again, we accept multiculturalism now, and I am a beneficiary of multiculturalism, having a father who was born overseas. We take it for granted that we cherish our society and our multicultural background, but it was not the case for Vietnamese refugees until Malcolm Fraser came along. Again, the former government had quite a callous disregard for Vietnamese refugees and was more interested in being in support of a communist regime in North Vietnam than looking after Vietnamese refugees who had worked with Australian forces and worked with Australian diplomats.
But Malcolm Fraser changed all that. He dispensed with the callous approach of the Whitlam government with regard to South Vietnamese refugees and he opened up Australia. Obviously the over 50,000 Vietnamese refugees and now many hundreds of thousands of their progeny who are living in Australia and striving successfully no doubt appreciate that John Malcolm Fraser who singularly should take the most credit with regard to that.
I also want to highlight that Malcolm Fraser was rightly proud of the government that he led. You are not going to hear from me any apologies for the often cited criticism of Malcolm Fraser’s government over eight years that it was a do-nothing government. Nothing could be further from the truth. As has been highlighted earlier in this debate, in three short years the Whitlam government took expenditures in today’s terms from $65 billion to $105 billion, profligacy that no government in this country has ever sought to impose on the country. The fact that Malcolm Fraser was able to arrest that trend, was able to bring back fiscal responsibility is a task that we should not again diminish 30 or 40 years later. I understand that it would have been extraordinarily difficult to have done that, particularly in a time when the Australian polity was so divided and the Australian community for a time was quite divided. But his sure hand, his steadfastness, his commitment to Australia and his ability to bear the burden of responsibility, accept the treatment that he received and still plough ahead was something that all of us must be thankful for.
So I agree that, ultimately, when he conceded defeat in his often quoted words that Australia was in a better condition when he handed it over than when he received it, it is the most important thing that I think we can remember. So again I would like to pass on my deepest condolences to Malcolm Fraser’s family. I want to reaffirm that there is no doubt he was a great man and a great Liberal Prime Minister.