Condolences speech - Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser, AH, CH

Senator McGRATH - (Queensland) (14:18): I rise to support the condolence motion moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Abetz. I rise to speak about a Prime Minister of whom I have no direct memory of his service in this parliament or even remembering him on television. To me Malcolm Fraser is as historically distant as Menzies or Lyons, but no less significant.

His legacy did cast a political shadow across my family and my own philosophical base. In the great cathedral that is the modern Liberal Party, I fear that Malcolm's and my pews would be on different sides of the cathedral, but I am certain we would still be under the same roof. As a minister, he was responsible for conscription—a ballot in which my father was called up for Vietnam and eventually saw six years' service in the army. I should point out that my father saw this as service for his country and did not blame Malcolm Fraser personally for this; he was cheerfully handing out how-to-vote cards for the Liberal Party in the 1970s and still does so today.

While as a liberal Malcolm Fraser's political path wandered away from the Liberal Party in later years, I share Senator Brandis's view that Malcolm Fraser's inherent values of individualism and liberalism changed little from his salad days in Oxford to the Dismissal to the Lodge and to his eventual passing. When you read his maiden speech—it is fascinating what people say in their maiden speeches—it is fascinating to see the issues that Australia would face in terms of infrastructure and water. He concludes by saying:

There is one final thing that I should like to say. I was too young to fight in the last war, and I owe a debt of gratitude to those who fought in World War I, as well as in World War II. But I am not too young now to fight for my faith and belief in the future of this great nation, in which the individual is, and always shall remain, supreme. … But all these things will mean nothing if one thing is ever forgotten — that the individual happiness of each citizen is, and must remain for ever, the first thought of our national leaders.

His first words in this parliament were about individualism and liberalism. Later on I shall quote some other words which show his inherent belief there.

As a Queensland senator, I wish to pay homage and commemorate the service of Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister and as leader of the Liberal Party. I do not intend to go through the record of his service as prime minister, but I will touch upon two things: his righteous opposition to the Soviet Union and in particular his righteous work in defending the Baltic republics—and a special place in heaven is there for that alone for Malcolm Fraser—and to his work in allowing Vietnamese refugees fleeing another communist dictatorship to come to this country. I do note also that he was a strong supporter of voluntary student unionism, although he does get a little cross against his name because, while Prime Minister and having control of the Senate, he did not bring in voluntary student unionism. He did say at an ALSF conference in 1982:

One of the great causes for which the ALSF has fought and for which it continues to fight is voluntary student unionism. You have fought for the right of students to choose freely whether or not they wish to belong to a union.

They were righteous words back then and they are still very good words today. Whatever we think of Malcolm Fraser in his later years, I owe—and I think my party owes—Malcolm Fraser a debt of gratitude for leading and holding the party together as supply was blocked. I give thanks that Malcolm Fraser as Leader of the Liberal Party instructed the senators in the old Parliament House to block supply. I give thanks that Whitlam was sacked. And, while the events of 1975 perhaps defined Malcolm Fraser as a person and perhaps defined that political era, I note that as the leader of the party he was determined to turn on the lights and fix up our economy, and as a believer in democracy and the will of the people, we should always remember that he was returned three times as Prime Minister. While the left whinge and have a little whine about the events of November 1975, I note that in 1975 and in 1977, Malcolm Fraser was returned as Prime Minister in landslide elections. The Australian people, despite the hot air of the Left, not only supported and approved of his actions in 1975 but also supported his actions as Prime Minister in 1975 and afterwards.

I would like to quote a couple of paragraphs from a speech he gave to the 1983 Young Liberal National Convention being held in Adelaide. These were his closing remarks; particularly as he was framing the coming election, he said:

This is what faith in Australia is all about. It is what our commitment to freedom and private enterprise means, it is the path which realism dictates for 1983 and it will make our nation stronger and more self-reliant than ever.

Socially, we must continue to build on Australia's excellent record as a genuinely liberal society. A society which rejects uniformity and which has what someone recently described as a "zest for differences" which generate innovation, ideas and progress. The differences between us as individuals, the variety that different and distinctive cultures and attitudes give to Australia, are an essential part of the community's driving force. Tolerance of differences and their encouragement also engenders in individuals respect for their own community and social system. By creating a liberal, dynamic society we can make Australia really great and set an example to the rest of the world.

So today we mourn the passing not just of a prime minister but also of a bridge to a different Australia, a different politics, and a deed of noblesse oblige. To his family and to his friends: we thank you for sharing your husband, your father with us. And we thank Malcolm Fraser for his work as Liberal leader in ridding Australia of the Whitlam government, and for his service as Prime Minister from 1975 to 1983. I would like to close with some remarks from Malcolm Fraser's final press release as Prime Minister, dated Sunday, 6 March 1983:

It has been a great honour and privilege to have been Prime Minister of Australia.

During the election I said that what happened to Malcolm Fraser as an individual was of no account. I meant that. But what happens to Australia, to our way of life and to the kind of country we leave our children is of great and lasting significance.

The values and principles by which we live, the human relationships which guide us, and the values to which we aspire as Liberals will not change.

I urge Liberals everywhere to keep the faith.