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Monday, 23 March 2015
Page: 2098

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (13:41): My colleagues have already comprehensively outlined the achievements of the Rt Hon. Malcolm Fraser and his enormous contribution to our nation. I will be relatively brief and I do not need to restate what many of my colleagues have said. In addition to offering my condolences to his family and friends—in particular, his widow, Tamie, and his children—the gracious words of former Prime Minister Howard resonate:

Anybody who achieves what Malcolm Fraser achieved in his life deserves respect as a quite extraordinary Australian.

Another former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, a junior MP during the Dismissal, said this of Mr Fraser's death: it 'underwrites a great loss to Australia'. While, Mr Keating reflected, 'The great pity for him of the budget crisis of 1975 was that it de-legitimised his government, at its inception, and with it, much of the value he otherwise brought to public life,' Mr Keating also praised Mr Fraser for his significant and lasting contributions: his achievements for land rights, multiculturalism, refugees and, in Paul Keating's words, 'many other clear-sighted reforms'. His passion and commitment against racism, against apartheid in South Africa, his leadership role for Nelson Mandela's freedom were unwavering, although I understand how his joy at Rhodesia becoming a democratic Zimbabwe had turned to despair with the increasingly despotic and ruthless Mugabe regime.

On our alliance with the United States, Malcolm Fraser has challenged us to reflect on that alliance even as recently as last year; and, in a robust democracy such as ours, that is a healthy thing. Philip Dorling, one of Australia's great investigative journalists, described Malcolm Fraser as 'an original and independent voice on Australian foreign policy'. It was observed by Philip Dorling, about Mr Fraser:

Early in the life of his government he observed that "the interests of the United States and the interests of Australia are not necessarily identical".

"Our first responsibility is independently to assess our own interests …

And he pointedly added:

"The United States will unquestionably do the same."

Malcolm Fraser's apparent stern demeanour and appearance—he was unkindly compared to Easter Island statues—belied a compassion and gentleness that were noted by veteran press gallery journalist Tony Wright, whose sketch on the day he died is worth repeating in part. It is headed 'The day Malcolm Fraser saved my career as a journalist', and he says this:

He was the very first person I interviewed, on my first day as a journalist. He seemed terrifying, this apparently born-to-rule minister for defence, the Vietnam War splitting the nation. And yet he ended up saving me, and probably my career.

…   …   …

The editor of the Portland Observer, who had barely finished hiring me, sent me to the Richmond-Henty Hotel overlooking Portland's harbour to interview Mr Fraser. He advised me to ask him about a pet subject, the wool-floor pricing scheme, about which I knew nothing. The assignment started badly when I spilled hot coffee over the minister's pants. It got worse when he launched into a long dissertation on wool pricing. Unable to keep up in my scrawled long-hand, I feigned expertise in shorthand and covered pages with squiggles and dots that meant nothing at all. Pouring perspiration, I figured my career was finished before it had started, and just wanted to get away.

Eventually, Mr Fraser twigged. "Well, Tony," he said, as I snapped shut my notebook with its useless notes, hoping only to escape with my life, "It's quite a complex subject - let's boil it down to a few sentences, and you can take them down longhand. I'll go slowly."

Those few sentences, dictated with the Received Pronunciation he had cultivated at Oxford, became a small front page story.

He'd saved my career, gently.

I would like to also conclude in terms of other matters he has raised, even recently in terms of Palestine. I saw the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network this morning, and they mentioned to me that Malcolm Fraser signed the Canberra declaration on Gaza, talking about an end to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories and the blockade of Gaza and that he was a passionate supporter of human rights and many causes around the world.

I would like to conclude with some poignant and powerful words in yesterday's Sunday Age. It quotes Phong Nguyen in terms of a migrant family who came out here with tens of thousands of others as a result of Malcolm Fraser's policy to essentially smash the White Australia policy. Liam Mannix's piece is just a few paragraphs. He says:

For much of his life, Phong Nguyen has felt as though he had two fathers.

He barely knew his own father, who spent 13 years in a North Vietnamese hard-labour camp. They were reunited later in life in Australia - before Huong Xuan Nguyen passed away a few months ago at the age of 84.

When Malcolm Fraser died at the same age, early on Friday morning, Mr Nguyen mourned a second time.

"The news of his death is not just a national mourning for Australia, but for us," Mr Nguyen said.

"For every one of us, he is more precious and more respected than our own parents and great grandparents."

Very emotional words by Mr Nguyen. But, as Senator Wong pointed out in her contribution, the contribution of the Vietnamese community to the nation, including in my home state of South Australia, would not have occurred were it not for Malcolm Fraser's far-sighted policies. Our country is better and richer for the contribution of the Vietnamese community; and, for the Nguyen family and tens of thousands of others who are like them, Malcolm Fraser's leadership made all the difference to them.

His loss will be deeply felt as it will be by Australians from all walks of life, from all sides of politics. Vale Malcolm Fraser.