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Fraser speaks out on Whitlam dismissal -

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(generated from captions) Gough Whitlam, thank you very much for talking with us. Like Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser's entire parliamentary life was lived in this chamber of the old Parliament. He came here here a mere 25, exactly half a century ago. I spoke with Malcolm Fraser at his Melbourne office. Malcolm Fraser, I know like Gough Whitlam, you won't give an inch on the rightness of your actions leading up to the dismissal, but in the 30 years since you must have wondered more than once whether it might not have been a better political solution for Australia and for your own place in history, to have waited until an election was due, to let the Whitlam Government serve out its term and let it be politically punished by the people's vote, rather than put the nation through the trauma? There was one sort of trauma in being an election forced. There would have been another sort of trauma in having that government stay in power another six or seven months. Most people aren't aware of it, but 1975 was I think the only year since the migration program began when more people left Australia than came to Australia. I'd had people from eastern Europe saying, "Oh, we sat around watching our countries decay. "We're not going to sit around and watch Australia decay, "we're not going to go through it all a second time." And we had made a decision after a long series of scandals and a lot of talk about the loans affair and Khemlani and all the rest. We had made the decision early in the spring of '75 to allow the budget to go through on the proviso that there wasn't one more major scandal. Then it became evident that more old Rex Connor had deceived everyone, including his own PM, his own government, and was still sitting up at night waiting for that call that obviously never came. And so Gough had to get rid of him.

And you know, at that time I really believed that we have been held in contempt as an opposition if we didn't give Australians the opportunity to have a vote. I never thought it was such a terrible thing

trying to create the circumstances where people could exercise a vote. But you must, looking back, acknowledge that there was a trauma involved in the way it happened? There was a trauma, yes. But you know, there's also a question which is often put aside - what caused the trauma? If Gough had done what he did a year earlier in 1974 he would have gone to the polls and said - which he did then - and said, "I convinced them," which he did. But if you went back through British history or went back through whatever history Australia had, if a government couldn't get its money bills through the Parliament, that government either resigned, recommended an election, recommended somebody else be asked to try and do the job. Now the government of that day took a different course and said, "We're going to tough it out". Personalities in politics will always have the capacity to produce unpredictable outcomes. Is there any structural change that you can see that might help avoid the trauma of such a dramatic outcome as 1975? Yes, I do.

There's one significant flaw in our constitution - or lack of constitution if you like - which in my view came very much to the forefront during '75.

We're not really conscious of the fact that the major difference between ourselves and Britain, the Queen had tenure. No PM can pick up a phone and say, "Your Majesty, you're sacked, you're dismissed."

She is there and that means that she can speak to any PM no matter what he's done, no matter what she wants to say to him, and she is above anything that the PM can do. Now I'm not saying that Gough Whitlam would have done it, I'm not saying it was in his mind. I wouldn't know, I would accept totally whatever he says about it. But what I do know is John Kerr believed that if he spoke about the things that were in his mind, that he would then have been dismissed. And, therefore, he didn't discuss certain things with the PM which under normal circumstances people would believe he should have discussed with the PM. And what difference do you think that would have made, or might have made? It might have started that in all circumstances the Governor-General had to do what the PM wanted and no doubt he believed that, but he'd been warned I think by some people that there are circumstances where a Governor-General, just as there are circumstances where the monarch

could take a different course. But the PM would at least have known that the future wasn't necessarily going to unfold precisely as he wanted it to unfold. Gough Whitlam is arguing for 4-year fixed terms for both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Can you see virtue in that? I can see some virtue in it. I can also see some problems in it.

Because if you've got a conflict there between the government of the day and the Parliament, you've got no real way of resolving that conflict. Our way, the British way of resolving that conflict is, "Alright, an election is held, or an election is forced".

But it's the election that makes, that is the circuit breaker. In the United States you don't have a circuit breaker and I think it was during President Clinton's time there was a major stand-off between and the presidency. And they've got no constitutional means of overcoming it. I think that's a very major deficiency in American arrangements. I wouldn't like to see us fall into that trap. Talking more personally, it's been fascinating to watch the two implacable enemies of 1975 finding common political ground on a number of occasions since. You must have mused on that yourself? Well, I have, but I don't think it's all that surprising.

I've always said that Gough was somebody with grand ideas. And he had a lot of great ideas, a lot of which I supported. His Land Rights legislation - he initiated the inquiry, I got the legislation through. But he would have had and I'm sure has got,

a sense of Australia as a country with a reasonable place in the world, not an large and powerful country by any means but one which has the right to its own voice which is in the interests of all Australians should exercise that right but should not automatically just say to our dear beloved friends

in the United States, "We'll do anything you want, mate". And he would have had a sense of identity in relation to Australia. Which I'm sure Gough still regards as important, and I regard as important. We believed in freedom of the media.

We don't believe in media ordered by one major foreign owner whether it's an Australian owner or a foreign owner. If it's one, is that really freedom? I think there were seven or eight media owners in my time and as many in Goughs.

I can remember being on the platform when the 'Age' and the 'Sydney Morning Herald' were under threat.

And we spoke from a basis of principle. Now there are a number of these issues which involve the essence of Australia where I find very difficult. Quite apart from that, I enjoy Gough's company. How do you compare the politics and the passions of your era of representative politics, and Gough's and today - modern Australia? I believe there's been a change in the nature of politics worldwide and a change in the nature of much of Australia. We're much less master of our own destiny than we used to be. I believe Australia has become r been led to be a fearful nation.

I am really enormously concerned at recent laws that have been introduced and I suspect that in 50 years time, this will be regarded as a watershed in Australian democracy, in Australian freedom.

It will be regarded as a time not when we took it on board and stepped to liberation and to the preservation of the basic liberties which we thought we could all take for granted. It will be a time when we took a very significant step back to a darker past.

And I believe that's what this particular period will be remembered for. Malcolm Fraser, thanks very much for talking to us.

Thank you. The Old Parliament House is now something of a museum, maintained as a link to the past. But as you saw tonight, the debate still swirl around what happened here at

and Yarralumla 30 years ago. For the record, some 18 months after the dismissal, I became Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam's press secretary.

It was, as you might imagine, an interesting experience. That concludes this special edition of the 7:30 Report.

Join us Monday night at 7:30. But for now, goodnight.