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Monday, 23 March 2015
Page: 3101

Mr HOCKEY (North SydneyThe Treasurer) (11:12): I rise to join with everyone else in offering our condolences, particularly to that towering figure, Tamie Fraser, and the Fraser family, on the loss of their husband and father, and, for the nation, a former Prime Minister. Yes, Malcolm Fraser was a towering figure, in many, many ways. Nearly 60 years ago in this place he delivered his first speech, and the values that he espoused in his maiden speech were relatively consistent throughout his life. In fact, he was quite prescient. At that time, Australia had a population of nine million, and he said, 'I hope and expect that I will live to the day when Australia has a population of 25 million.' And he almost got there.

But, unquestionably, he did get there in 1975. And there has been a lot of retrospection in the debate about Malcolm Fraser, and, indeed, Gough Whitlam, and 1975. It was a different era to that which many would like to think about. It was a different era, where the world was divided into two. You were either a fan of Skyhooks or a fan of Sherbet. You were either a Manly supporter or a Wests supporter. You were either Liberal or Labor. You were either Holden or Ford. The divisions in the community were pretty stark, as it was in the environment of the Cold War; it was stark division in the community. And Malcolm Fraser did ride that division—he did ride that division in order to obtain power. And he was a fierce advocate. When I was a very young boy, I remember our teacher rushing into the classroom on 11 November 1975 yelling out, 'The government's been sacked,' and I thought to myself, 'I don't know what that means.' But it was the beginning of an era of incredible division, and Malcolm Fraser knew that, and, unquestionably, it shaped the way he thought he should behave into the future. There is no doubt about that.

He was the right man at the right time for our nation. He knew he was not perfect. Of course, no Prime Minister is. No successful member of this place will ever be perfect. They will have flaws and they will make mistakes.

For the many successes of the Fraser government, which have been outlined by my colleagues here today—initiatives that stretch from an embrace of multiculturalism, the development and set-up of SBS through to his embrace of immigration, particularly migration from Vietnam—there was another side to it. There was a guilt in the nation associated with developments in Vietnam that had an impact on the Fraser government at that time, as there was concern for the Christians in Lebanon that gave him cause to bring in a very significant influx of migrants from Lebanon at that time. It was quite dislocating in the community, as many members over there would know. But also it was a time when he endeavoured to provide stability and certainty.

He was not a traditional Liberal Prime Minister in one sense, but he was a traditional liberal. He was a fierce critic and he was tougher on no-one more than himself. He was someone who was not afraid to espouse values that would be contrary to the common view. On many occasions Malcolm Fraser would take a stand when it was uncommon and unpopular to do so. Yes, he took very moralistic and appropriate and rightful stands on racism, on bigotry. He also took a very firm stand on issues relating to foreign investment and on the management of the Public Service. In fact, he in 1975 was so concerned about the overwhelming power of the Treasury that he set up a rival agency, the Department of Finance. In fact, his economic legacy is not properly recognised. In the eight years that he was Prime Minister the economy grew in size by nearly 20 per cent. Of course, he was the great initiator—and we will be forever thankful—of the Expenditure Review Committee. That committee has endured, much to the chagrin of my colleagues. But it has endured and it is one of his many lasting legacies.

In his 1971 Alfred Deakin lecture, Malcolm Fraser espoused the challenge that life was not meant to be easy. He was taken out of context at that time, but he was recognising that the world was changing and changing quite rapidly and that nations must change to cope, in order to survive. That 1971 Alfred Deakin lecture I would commend to the House as something to reflect upon. The world does change. Malcolm Fraser changed with it, but his values were consistent.

I, like many others here, had many interactions over the years with Malcolm Fraser. He would occasionally ring to offer advice. On numerous occasions he would give criticism, publicly and privately. The hardest thing about being in the Liberal Party is that some of our toughest critics are our own. Robert Menzies was no different. Malcolm Fraser was no different. It is because we expect so much of ourselves. The modern Left is trying to own Malcolm Fraser, but no-one owned Malcolm Fraser. He was his own man. He was a genuine liberal. He was of the Liberal Party and forever, no matter what happened in later years, he will remain a part of the Liberal Party.