In week four of the Our World in Crisis? course we held a hypothetical. The basic scenario was that the Pacific Island Leaders called on Australia for a guarantee of access by Pacific Islanders and to accept claims of Environmental Refugee status for those who feel that their human security is at risk and medium term survival impossible because of the effects of cliamte change.
I played the role of Malcolm Fraser.
In my research for this role is discovered an inteview of Malcolm Fraser by his biographer, Margaret Simmons, which can be found here. The fact that I can now feel sympathy and interest in Fraser (who I hated for most of the 1970s) is a sign of how far the the right Australian politics has strayed in the last 30 years.
Here are my notes from the intervies - most of which are verbatim.
What is a Liberal?
• who has respect for other people no matter who or what that other person is.
• who believes in a fair go.
• who wants to maximise freedom for individual people so long as that freedom doesn’t trample on the rights and freedoms of other people in society
A government that will not seek to maximise actions but will seek to maximise opportunity for individuals to follow their own path but also a government that recognises that there are some things which governments just have to do which individuals can’t do for themselves. To establish a fair market place, to hold the ring to see that the world is fair and that people are treated justly, that the rule of law and due process are followed.
Sometimes I think in more recent times when people have said “market deregulation, self-regulation, corporations can do anything, banks can do anything” well it was that attitude that led to the crash of a year or so ago. Not so much in Australia where we behaved more sensibly, but certainly in a number of European countries and the United States. So while a liberal will want to maximise freedom for individuals there are obviously limits to that freedom because you start to jeopardise the future of all of us. A government that above all respects the rule of law and that’s something we haven’t had in recent times”
Where do we find the liberals today in politics?
Well I don’t know many. Petro Georgio is a liberal …
Children in detention and terrorism legislation is illiberal
Children in detention is a classic example of what a liberal ought not to do, indeed what any politician ought not to do, but the Labor Party didn’t seem to mind all that much, it supported the Howard government in totally illiberal anti terrorist legislation which could result in anyone of you being arrested as you leave this hall and you won’t know why you have been arrested and you can’t tell anyone, you just disappear, that’s not fantasy its in the law. And they only have to believe that you have observed something that might help them in their anti-terrorist enquiries. They don’t have to believe that you are guilty of anything, they know you are innocent, but they still have the power to detain you secretly, and if you talk about it afterward you go to jail for five years. If a journalist writes about it the journalist can go to jail for five years. I think such laws really promote the cause of terrorism, I don’t think they help in the fight against terrorism. But Labor and Liberal parties supported that sort of law. Well that’s not a liberal law in my book anyone who voted for it is not a liberal.
Is Malcolm Turnbull a liberal?
I think he is, yes. I think his attitude about people . I’m not sure when he was leader that he was able to define this adequately. I think he should have. One of the reasons why I think he was beaten. Those who opposed Turnbull wanted to get rid of him because he is a liberal, and the liberals turned tail and ran.
Is Tony Abbot a liberal?
Well he is the leader of the Liberal Party. He is proud of the word Conservative, he describes the party as conservative. People want to pick up Robert Menzies mantle and think that they are under his umbrella, but Menzies quite deliberately rejected the name conservative. If he would have been called a Conservative he would have taken that as an insult. As indeed I would have. He wanted a liberal party, which was liberal in philosophic terms, forward looking, progressive, willing to make experiments, willing to create opportunity. The Liberal party is very good at denigrating people who should be its heroes. Later Liberal party leaders distanced themselves from Menzies. When you look at Menzies education policy, his health policy, arguably the best health scheme that we have ever had certainly one that was designed to cover everyone in the community, and at a reasonable cost. Without his education policy, there are hundreds and thousands of people who wouldn’t have gone through University without Menzies education policies. He turned the Commonwealth into the biggest funder of universities. In more recent years, governments have been trying to pull money back. A liberal will want to invest in the future of the country and the best investment is in the future of young Australians. And to compete they need the best education available.
Menzies government signed the UN refugee convention in 1954 – another one of the liberal things which Menzies did.
In the 1970 “we had no option but to take as many (indochinese) people who wanted to come here. The policy was thoroughly successful. Whitlam has originally made a decision not to take refugees from Indochina but when my government overturned that very early in the peace he did not oppose it, so it was a bi-partisan policy. We gained a very large number of very good Australian citizens as a consequence. A lot of whom have a sense of thanks to Australia, many of whom want to put something back into the community at large and who are doing so.
Was Gough Whitlam a socialist?
He has aspirations for Australia, he had a sense of Australian identity, he had a sense of Australian independence, he would not willingly wanted to go along with America but he would have recognised the importance of the American Alliance. I don’t want to say it in an unkindly way but in some respects, especially in economic matters he was disorganised. One year the Federal Budget increased by over 40% the next year it increased by 22% and that year the economic writers said “this is a responsible budget.” No one would regard a 22% budget increase as in any way responsibe.
Did John Kerr do the right thing and did he do it in the right way?
He did the right thing. He was in the very unfortunate position of being condemned or going to be condemned for doing the right thing or the wrong thing. There are many myths about 1975. John Kerr didn’t have fully frank and open discussions with Gough Whitlam because he would be sacked and a puppet would be put in his place and that Australia would be very much at risk. I think he had an obligation to speak openly to the Prime Minister and point out the dangers as he saw them. If John Kerr was right and he was sacked that would have immediately brought Her Majesty into the brawl because the monarchists would have said that the Queen should have been a backstop and therefore not remove John Kerr from the office. But ever since the appointment of Isaac Isaacs as Governor General the Monarch has accepted that the Monarch has no option but to accept the recommendation of her Australian Prime Minister. But the Queen would have been brought into the brawl by Monarchists who believed that she should have been a backstop. John Kerr knew this, and one thing for which he has not got credit is that he was determined to keep Her Majesty out of the brawl. He did that absolutely, the Palace was kept informed, but never once was the Palace asked for advice
In terms of just basic justice I couldn’t stomach a situation where a very small number of whites in South Africa wanted to keep total dominance over an overwhelming majority of black Africans.
For the first time the human race in two different areas has the capacity to destroy, not only the human race but the planet. I all of the history of people on this planet, human kind has not had that power before. Today we have it wrong decisions on climate change and we can do it wrong decisions in relation to nuclear weapons and we can do it through a nuclear contest. Other civilisations have destroyed themselves from internal decay. I hope Australia is going to play a constructive role in making sure that today’s people of the world make the right decisions, especially about nuclear weapons because I thing that danger is probably more urgent than the other.
Opposition plays politics with border protection.
The government has got a two headed policy, claiming to be more compassionate than Howard was and to an extent they are but on the other head of their policy they’re saying “we’re just as tough as Howard was”. They can’t have it both ways.
The opposition saying “You’re lost control of the borders" is arrant, absolute, bloody nonsense. (They) claim that 4 or 5 thousand people a year represent a threat to Australia. It’s not so. What we desperately need in this area is a government and an opposition that will develop a unified, sensible, compassionate, firm if you like policy, but one which they then take outside the realm of politics, because playing politics with this issue is playing politics with people’s lives, playing politics with people very often fleeing the most terrible tyranny or distress, and that’s the most unseemly thing we could do and it is something which is noticed right around the world and which just makes people wonder have we really put Tampa behind us and more extreme people will ask have we really put the white Australia policy behind us.
I almost feel like going to South Africa or Zimbabwe organise a boat load of white farmers, and I’d sail them into Fremantle harbour and that would expose the policy for what it is in one blow.