Malcolm Fraser, the strange, bewildering ex-Conservative Prime Minister of Australia, has died aged 84.
Fraser will be remembered favorably by the right sort of people for four things.
He rid Australia of the terrible Whitlam Labor Government, when that government had, for the first time in history, put Australia’s democracy into real danger; he reduced inflation which under Whitlam had reached 19 percent; reversed Whitlam’s wicked recognition of the Soviet incorporation of the Baltic States; and his own government, particularly Immigration Minister Michael McKellar, generously and rightly accepted large numbers of Vietnamese boat refugees in the face of a disgusting campaign by the left to leave them to drown or be forcibly repatriated to Communist Vietnam’s labor camps and firing squads.
Yet even these actions must be qualified: in 1975 the Fraser-led opposition, which controlled the Senate, refused to vote money to the leftist Labor Whitlam government. With the country becoming ungovernable, and the Labor government going down under a cascade of bizarre scandals, the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, sacked Whitlam and called an election, which the Fraser-led Liberals (i.e. conservatives) won in a landslide, confirmed by a second landslide two years later.
Yet Fraser seemed haunted by guilt and a strange increasing horror of being thought conservative. Sir John Kerr, by whose action he had gained office, he referred to ungratefully and contemptuously as “Kerr” and did little or nothing to support him in the face of a Labor campaign of vilification against him. He sacked Senator Reg Withers, the architect of his government’s victory, over a triviality.
Australia was suffering from a high-tariff protectionist regime, a centrally controlled wage-fixing system, and government feather-bedding of industries including airlines, coastal shipping, and car-manufacturing — what anti-tariff campaigner Bert Kelly called “the flying and floating feather beds.” If anyone ever had a mandate to undertake necessary reforms, it was Fraser, yet he did almost nothing, in what one backbench MP was to call “seven wasted years.”
While the Vietnamese boat-refugees who reached Australia or other countries were allowed to settle, and supported while they learnt English and looked for jobs, nothing was done to actively rescue them at sea. The warships of the Royal Australian Navy, including an aircraft carrier, grew barnacles in Sydney Harbor while scores of thousands of refugees drowned or perished on sun-struck China Sea reefs.
Fraser dismayed and alienated many of his own supporters by his attacks on the moderate forces (including moderate black forces) in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, and at the Lancaster House Conference worked to help install the atrocity-prone Marxist tyrant Mugabe, who has brought Zimbabwe’s average income to 35 cents a day, been responsible for the deaths of countless enemies, and, Caligula-like, is now slaughtering a lion as part of his lavish birthday celebrations. Almost any other ruler would have been better. Why did Fraser do this? Who knows?
It seemed the start of a wholesale subscription to the left-wing package deal. He told Australian athletes to boycott the Moscow Olympic Games, but when they refused, congratulated them on their victories: it seemed typical of a deep-seated moral ambivalence.
On the death of Mao Testing he delivered a nauseous eulogy in Parliament to the world’s greatest mass-murderer and enemy of freedom which some members of his own party boycotted. A later Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard, recounted in his memoirs that Fraser was furious, and telephoned him in a towering rage, when Australia voted against having Taiwan’s gold illegally transferred to Peking — which would have been an act of outright theft for the benefit of the Maoist regime.
An Australian Labor Government under Bob Hawke, supported in important measures by the Howard-led Liberals, brought in many of the necessary economic reforms Fraser had failed to undertake.
Out of office, his leftism became shriller. He called on Australia to abandon its alliance with America, which even under Whitlam had been a keystone of its foreign policy, claiming America was not a untrustworthy ally. (In 1986 Fraser had lost his pants in an American motel, where rooms were rented by the hour, and was found wandering trouserless in the lobby. It is not known if there was any connection between this and his subsequent anti-Americanism.)
When a referendum was held as to whether or not Australia should become a republic, with the Queen replaced by a political figure, he joined with Whitlam in a series of pro-republic ads. Both Fraser and Whitlam did not want the Queen replaced by a popularly elected Head of State, but one appointed by politicians. Quite possibly the endorsement of these two, perhaps by now the two most despised figures in Australian politics, appearing in advertisements together, had something to do with the republic referendum being defeated in every State.
As one poem put it:
When the republic rose they had a love-in,
Explaining in a strange harmonious chorus,
We were not fit to choose a Head of State,
People like them would do the choosing for us.
He also, of course, neglecting no part of the package deal, turned against beleaguered Israel.
In his latter days Fraser’s pronouncements became more and more odd. More than one commentator compared him to King Lear wandering the heath.
At the last election he voted for the kooky Greens, who want to stop all mining, and who believe the authority of international organizations should trump Australian sovereignty. Can a man who spent seven years as Prime Minister really subscribe to this?
The left would never forgive him for the dismissal of their hero Whitlam, no matter how hard he tried to be loved by them. Conservatives would never forgive him for his later renunciation of conservative values. So friendless had he become that he had to advertise for a paid companion to go fishing with him. In Australia, where “mateship” counts for so much, that is a terrible thing.
Several former thousand Vietnamese boat-people are alive because of his government.