Saturday, 21 March 2015

Malcolm Fraser was

Prime Minister of Australia between 1975 and 1983.  
I was out of the country for much of that time so I did not get to "know" him well as Prime Minister. 
He gained government through controversy - a constitutional crisis which saw a Governor-General intervene and dismiss a government which was about to seek an illegal loan in order to stave off almost certain bankruptcy if it was to continue its socialist policies. 
Fraser went to the people and won the biggest victory in Australian political history. He was re-elected twice. 
It was the Fraser government that brought in the land rights legislation for indigenous Australians - something that is often, wrongly, attributed to the Labor opposition. Labor has little to do with that and was not even supportive of it at one time. 
Fraser's government strongly opposed apartheid in South Africa and he had close personal ties with people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu. 
Multiculturalism - the policy which is often attributed to the previous Whitlam government - was really a Fraser government initiative. Fraser encouraged and supported migration from Vietnam and Cambodia. It was his government which set up  the SBS - the Australian multicultural broadcasting service which broadcasts in more than seventy languages. His government refused to allow drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. 
Like all governments it was eventually voted out of office.
Fraser retired but did not retire from political or public life. He eventually resigned from the Liberal party as his own views became more "liberal". He was, perhaps, heavily influenced by his growing friendship with his old enemy - Gough Whitlam.
I never met him but one Sunday morning the phone rang and a voice at the other end said, "Malcolm Fraser here. Could you save me the papers please?"
His distinctive voice was immediately recognisable. I told him politely that it was not the newsagent and that he must have a crossed line. There was a moment of silence and then he said, "And to whom am I speaking?"  I told him and, after another moment of silence he said, "Ah yes. I heard you interviewed on radio yesterday. Well done I thought." 
I had been interviewed on national radio the day before about International Literacy Year and he had, apparently, recognised my voice and made the connection. I was amazed he should remember it at all.
Put that incident into a book and people would say, "That's too unlikely, too coincidental. Take it out." 
But strange things happen in real life and I like to think that the 22nd Prime Minister and I had that brief contact. 

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