Malcolm and Me

My first knowledge of any connection between myself and Malcolm Fraser was when I took a closer look at some documents my father had handed to me with a simple “these are yours”. The documents included amongst other bits and pieces, my birth ‘extract’ and a letter to my father announcing my being awarded a Federal Commonwealth Scholarship to the tune of $200. The year was 1968, I was 15 and in fourth form at a state government High School. Fraser was the Minister for Education, (not that that meant anything to me at the time.)

My father was proud of my achievement and I remember a certain surprise and even awe (I thought maybe because I was female?) from others about my receipt of it. Normally they went to boys. The general surprise was probably due however to the fact that I was never a swot, always sat at the back of the class, had 1000 excuses for not having my homework and preferred talking to friends to participating in classes that were often extremely boring. Perhaps good reason for them scraping the award, IQ and brains do not always equal success as defined in the world of capitalism.

I missed the Whitlam years as I was hanging at the Roundhouse  in Nth London, watching live music, smoking dope and dropping acid. I had a great  job working with vulnerable kids from Tottenham and responsibly tempered my drug explorations to do the best job I could when with the kids at work. I loved my time there and to be honest thought little of Oz but the sea and the surf.

Aussie mates rocked up to our flat complaining about Malcolm the politician and how Gough was being cheated out of power. They brought me a “Shame Fraser Shame” badge which I wore with pride.

I didn’t vote for Gough as I considered myself an anarchist and had never signed up to vote. (‘Don’t vote it only encourages them!’). At 16, I was a member of the Geelong Moratorium Movement, a major force in the anti Vietnam War movement in Australia. Oh and I did register for National Service. Yes, I was female and therefore at the time ineligible, but my friend and I had male first names and thought we’d put a spanner in the system- don’t think it had much effect but it might have if my lotto ball had been picked out. I was reluctantly voted in as Treasurer to the Geelong MM by Trade Union officials who wanted a younger public face for the organisation so despite my protestations was convinced by my friends and I managed the meagre sum of $200, buying material and making huge antiwar banners with the proceeds.

Fraser’s parliamentary history during this time included (see full National Museum article here)

Fraser was Minister for the Army for two years from 1966 to 1968 in the coalition governments of Harold Holt and John Gorton. He was Minister for Education and Science from 1968 to 1969 in Gorton’s government and in William McMahon’s government from 1971 to 1972. He was Gorton’s Minister for Defence from November 1969 to 8 March 1971, when he resigned, accusing Gorton of disloyalty to him in a disagreement over the Army. His resignation set in motion McMahon’s successful challenge to Gorton’s leadership of the Liberals a fortnight later, resulting in Gorton’s replacement as Prime Minister by McMahon. Fraser was a member of the federal Liberal opposition executive from 1972 to 1975, and a spokesman on primary industry, then labour matters. He became Leader of the Opposition on 21 March 1975 after successfully challenging BM Snedden for the Liberal leadership.

Before leaving Oz in 1974 for the obligatory UK trip back to my roots, I used to go to a  libertarian talkfest with the anarcho-syndicalists in Richmond where we would fend off the reds who often came to convince us of their political worth. I also met with the Nth Vietnamese delegation in Geelong as a  Moratorium  movement delegate. Slight paradox there. I just remember them being friendly little guys. Oh yeah and I also met the friendliest biggest guy Dr Spock,  a soft spoken paediatrician and peace movement activist (and the cause of many a grandmother’s angst about her daughters child rearing influences. see here)

North Vietnamese Delegation April 26, 1973, with government minister Dr Jim Cairns (centre)  in the Sydney Town Hall (whose visit to Australia he sponsored),  replete with Viet Cong flags and a picture of  'Uncle' Ho (Chi Minh).

North Vietnamese Delegation April 26, 1973, with government minister Dr Jim Cairns (centre)
in the Sydney Town Hall (whose visit to Australia he sponsored),
replete with Viet Cong flags and a picture of
‘Uncle’ Ho (Chi Minh). On April 26, 1973, government minister Dr Jim Cairns (centre) shared a platform in the Sydney Town Hall with representatives of communist North Vietnam (whose visit to Australia he sponsored), surrounded by Viet Cong flags and a huge picture of dictator Ho Chi Minh. Photo, complements of the National Civic Council Conservative Christian Rag “News Weekly” founded by B.A Santamaria a blight on the Australian landscape. Read about BA’s role in the ‘dismissal’ here

On 15 October 1975, Fraser set in motion the events leading to Whitlam’s dismissal by the Governor-General when he announced that the opposition would refuse passage through the Senate of the Budget Bills until Whitlam called an election. Justifying this decision, he claimed revelations about the government’s attempts to bypass the Loans Council to obtain funds overseas indicated ‘extraordinary and reprehensible circumstances’ which warranted an electoral verdict on the government’s actions.

When the opposition, led by Fraser, refused to pass the government’s Budget Bills through the Senate in October-November 1975, (delaying the funding of government operations) Australia experienced its most severe constitutional crisis. Fraser said the opposition would not grant supply until the government called a general election. The constitutional and financial crisis climaxed when JR Kerr, the Governor-General, withdrew Whitlam’s commission as Prime Minister on 11 November 1975. ibid, National Museum site here

When I returned to Oz late 1976, Malcolm had won and we were in the hands of his ‘razor gang’. It was at that time that I noticed his signature at the bottom of the scholarship letter to my father. Malcolm had been Education Minister. This signature signified shame to me, as I recognised the pitiful amount being offerred by a member of Australia’s sqautocracy to support my father in the pursuit of my education while rolling back as many of Goughs achievements as they could in a climate of ‘fiscal austerity’. His silver spoon background, I did not share…

  • born in the exclusive Melbourne suburb of Toorak, Victoria, on 21 May 1930.
  • family owned property in the rich Riverina district of New South Wales and ‘Nareen’, a station near Hamilton, Victoria.
  • grandfather, Simon Fraser, emigrated from Nova Scotia in 1853 and became a land speculator and pastoralist, entered Victorian parliament, participated in the Federal Conventions of 1897-1898 and became a Senator at Federation.
  • educated at exclusive Geelong Grammar preparatory school, Toorak, Victoria, then Tudor House, Moss Vale, New South Wales, before going on to Melbourne Grammar at 14.
  • Oxford University, UK, graduate with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics.
  • grazier at family property ‘Nareen’ after returning from Oxford.

The other thing I realised at this time was that Malcolm and did share something – a birthday. Holy shit did that mean we might carry similar traits? Both born on the cusp of Taurus and Gemini….scary thought. Then, when on 14 October 1986, as the Chairman of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, he was found in the foyer of a seedy Memphis hotel, the Admiral Benbow Inn (an establishment popular with prostitutes and drug dealers) confused as to where his trousers were and wearing nothing but a towel and a shirt and tie – I saw the funny side of that one. Whew, lucky for me he was a metal Horse and very different from my Water Snake! I thought I would have made the most of it till I saw the tacky joint! Its actually now a retirement home. (More laughs)

Admiral Benbow Inn (now a retirement home)

Admiral Benbow Inn (now a retirement home)

 Agreed, he welcomed in the Vietnamese boat people and finally showed a conscience. Where was he when the war was on?

He gave up his Liberal Party membership in protest against their move to conservative far right under Little Johnny.

He spoke out on Apartheid but history shows he did not speak out against the sporting nation of South Africa Rugby tour of Australia in 1971. (One of the most violent demo’s I ever attended and where after being searched by a dumb female cop, had a vivid pink sari with elaborate gold and coloured threaded pattern taken by her on the pretence that it could be a Communist flag!).

The 1971 Springbok Tour Melbourne Olympic Park demonstration Photo:

The 1971 Springbok Tour Melbourne Olympic Park demonstration

1971 was the UN declared International Year for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. The McMahon Government announced its support, advising the Australian Committee to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination that racism was ‘not acceptable to the Australian way of life’. But this did not stop continued sporting links between Australian sporting teams and South African teams, On the eve of the Springbok tour, six Australian players refused to play against a side selected according to race. McMahon called their behaviour a disgrace and vowed the tour would continue. Did Malcolm speak out? No. See here on McMahon government.

And did Malcolm do anything about East Timor? No, just like all the rest.

Lest we forget. Standing in front of a "memorial" to the five journalists killed in Balibo, Indonesian Foreign Minister Adam Malik talks with head of the ACTU, Bob Hawke, during his visit to Indonesia in April, 1976.  The deaths of the five men, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart of Channel Seven and Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie of Channel Nine, in Balibo on October 16, 1975, and the subsequent death of another journalist, Roger East, six weeks later in Dili, have been a source of embarrassment to the Indonesian and Australian Governments for many years.  The debt we owe the six men will never be paid.

Lest we forget.
Standing in front of a “memorial” to the five journalists killed in Balibo, Indonesian Foreign Minister Adam Malik talks with head of the ACTU, Bob Hawke, during his visit to Indonesia in April, 1976.
The deaths of the five men, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart of Channel Seven and Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie of Channel Nine, in Balibo on October 16, 1975, and the subsequent death of another journalist, Roger East, six weeks later in Dili, have been a source of embarrassment to the Indonesian and Australian Governments for many years.
The debt we owe the six men will never be paid.

Malcolm what more do I say…..bye bye ‘Cusp Man of Paradox’, maybe it takes a while to get rid of the spoon stuck in your craw when only the position of privilege allowed you to shine. Thanks for being big enough to change some of your spots, it gives me hope in others potential capacity.

By the way I have Gough to thank for my tertiary education, not you, but thanks for the $200 bucks- I scored a transistor radio from dad and it kept me sane.

Among his achievements, Palestine- the unmentioned Gough Whitlam stance.

Today the visionary Gough Whitlam, PM of Australia 1972-1975, died at the age of 98.

Much will be written about his legacy as the greatest Statesman Australia ever had on the world stage.

His government’s achievements in sweeping social change and reform through implementation of government policy is unsurpassed in Australia. He changed the way Australia though about itself………

  • Abolished conscription
  • Vietnam troop withdrawal
  • Reduced voting age from 21 to 18
  • Introduced equal pay for women and other policies to support womens rights (see here)
  • Engaged with China as first Western leader (in opposition)to do so.
  • Recognised China
  • Free tertiary education (thanks Gough!)
  • Universal health insurance (Medicare)
  • Universal Childcare reform
  • Death penalty abolished
  • Anti-discrimination laws introduced
  • ‘No fault’ divorce
  • Aboriginal land rights recognised for the first time.

All this and more in such a short time………..

The one black mark that remains about the Whitlam government was their complicit silence on Indonesia’s take over of  Timor Leste in 1975. Despite this Gough has a legacy of significant social reform in this country.

One area that will get no press mention and where Gough held a position completely contrary to PM’s (Liberal or Labour) before him or since, is his stance on Israel/Palestine. Something highly significant  that has not been mentioned in any of the long lists of sustained achievements by the great man of Australian politics.

Perhaps it is best left to the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs to enlighten us on his position on Israel with a section of the article from 2007 by Dr. Colin Rubenstein, (Nov. 14th 2007) “A Distant Affinity: The History of Australian-Israeli Relations” (full article here)

…..It is generally agreed that, despite a solidly pro-Israeli record up until that point, the election of an ALP government under Gough Whitlam (December 1972-November. 1975) marked a sharp departure in Australian policy toward Israel and Arab-Israeli issues. The Middle East was not a matter of controversy during the campaign and did not feature in the platform of either major party. Whitlam, speaking to Jewish gatherings during the lead-up to the campaign, emphasized his fraternal ties with the ruling Israeli Labor Party and friendship with leaders such as Golda Meir and Yigal Allon, and received a majority of Jewish support.[52]

In office, however, the Whitlam government moved farther from the United States and closer in its foreign policy to the nonaligned movement, where condemnation of Israel was the norm. Although Whitlam described this policy as “even-handedness and neutrality,” such neutrality was a far cry from the sort also proclaimed by his conservative predecessors.

The effects of this new policy became most apparent during the 1973 Yom Kippur  War when Australia failed to condemn either the Egyptian and Syrian attacks that launched it or the Soviet airlift of arms supplies to the Arab combatants. However, once the United States began to airlift arms and supplies to Israel, the Australian UN representative, on instructions from Canberra, condemned both airlifts with a particular emphasis on America’s. Even before this, there had been repeated one-sided condemnations by Australia in the United Nations of all Israeli reprisals for terrorist and cross-border attacks, but silence about anti-Israeli aggressions.

In a meeting with predominantly ALP-affiliated Jews called to clear the air, Whitlam apparently became angered by hostile questioning. He equated Israeli responses with terrorism, said an Israeli reprisal raid on a PLO base in Lebanon had been “not only a mistake, but a crime,” and cited the growing Australian Arab community becoming “more articulate” as a reason to change Australian policy. Most controversially, he referred to those present as “You people”; asked about the failure to condemn the Arab attacks that had launched the war, he responded: “You people should realise that there is a large Christian Arab community in this country.”

Under Whitlam, Australia also voted for a resolution equating Zionism with racism at a UN women’s conference in Mexico, though it voted against the equivalent resolution in the UN General Assembly. Whitlam later approved the establishment of a PLO liaison office in Canberra and became embroiled in scandals involving the acceptance of Arab loans to Australia and the ALP. In the 1974 Khemlani affair, Australia sought to borrow $4 billion from dubious Arab sources, repayable as a lump sum after twenty years. Even more controversially, during the 1975 election campaign Whitlam secretly approved a scheme to obtain a substantial sum, often said to be $500,000, from the Iraqi Baath Party to help fund ALP campaign expenses. It later emerged that the man at the center of the Iraqi loans affair, ALP activist Bill Hartley, had also written to Yasser Arafat seeking PLO funds for the party. Approaches for funds also were reportedly made to Saudi Arabia.

Following his highly controversial dismissal by the governor-general and subsequent loss of an election in 1975, Whitlam continued to maintain that his stances were justified by the existence of the growing Arab community in Australia. He also criticized Australian Jewish leaders for having “blackmailed” him, and implied that Israel dominated U.S. foreign policy and that the international media was monolithically pro-Israeli”.

What the article fails to mention of course, is that the reason for seeking the money through Khemlani was because the hostile Senate continuously blocked supply to the incumbent government. Gough needed the $4 billion to ostensibly buy ‘back the farm’, to buy back our mining resources from foreign ownership. He did not succeed and his now historic “dismissal” eventuated.

The media Whitlam spoke of is the Murdoch press, a player in his rise and a key player in his demise.
RIP Gough