John Menadue: Dutton is grossly incorrect on Fraser and refugees

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Malcolm Fraser (left) and Peter Dutton

In an interview with Elizabeth Jackson on ABC Radio's Saturday AM, former immigration secretary John Menadue hits back at Peter Dutton's absurd claims regarding Malcolm Fraser's immigration policy.

Elizabeth Jackson:

The former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and former secretary of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has hit back at comments from the immigration minister, Peter Dutton, that Australia is now paying for the mistakes of former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

In a television interview, Mr Dutton said Malcolm Fraser made mistakes in bringing some people to Australia the 1970s and he said, “We’re seeing that today”.

Mr Dutton said many foreign fighters getting involved in conflict zones were the children or grandchildren of migrants who came in the 1970s.

John Menadue was a senior public servant under both Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser in the 1970s and in the 1980s in the Immigration portfolio.

I asked John Menadue whether Australia was, in fact, now paying for Malcolm Fraser’s mistakes.

John Menadue:

No, we’re not. I think Malcolm Fraser was probably, together with Ben Chifley – at least in the post-war period – the most successful prime minister in managing refugees and migration into Australia.

The contribution that Malcolm Fraser made has strengthened this country. It broke the back of "White Australia". Including family reunion, we brought 250,000 Indochinese to Australia. It was a great success story.

But every migration programme, every refugee programme, has its problems from time to time. Malcolm Fraser was aware of that. And in the Department, I was in with him for three years, we took action to ensure that the integrity of the migration and refugee programmes were ensured. That meant coming down like a ton of bricks where criminality or malpractice occurred. And he was very conscious of that, as I was.

But that’s not to say there weren’t problems, but they were addressed in a rigorous way.

Elizabeth Jackson: 

Is it fair, then, for the minister, Peter Dutton, to say that it was a mistake that Malcolm Fraser’s policies constituted a mistake?

John Menadue:

No. Grossly incorrect.

The Indochina programme, for which Malcolm Fraser was particularly responsible – and we see the results in terms of the success rate of young Vietnamese in Australia today – it’s remarkable what they’ve done.

But there were problems. My recollection is there were about 1,000 Vietnamese that had criminal records or were misbehaving. They were deported. And Malcolm Fraser and Ian Macphee were very supportive of the rigorous action that we took.

Since we’ve ever had migration, there have been problems. We had difficulties with the Croatians and the Serbs: the Ustashi group amongst the Croatians were planting bombs around Australia. The Italians have been marvellous settlers, but we still have elements of the Mafia amongst them. (Italians arrived in large numbers in the 1950s and 1960s but Robert Menzies cannot be held responsible for the Barbaros today.) The Irish have been great settlers, but some of them were supporting the IRA back in Northern Ireland.

So there’s a history there that we have to recognise. But in each case, we should not discredit the whole programme and the enormous contribution which these new settlers have made.

There is a problem, currently, in the Middle East. And some young people, particularly those born in Australia, have sympathies for what’s been happening and are supporting ISIS in the Middle East.

The person that bears most responsibility for the tragedy in the Middle East – for the rebellion, the war, the terrorism that has affected us, of course – is John Howard. Together with George Bush, Tony Blair, he was responsible for the invasion of Iraq. More than anything else, these three opened this Pandora’s Box of terrorism and violence in the Middle East.

And some from Australia have participated. I can see the political background to it but in every case it’s important to protect the integrity of our programmes. Those people who do get involved in those wars and terrorism should be very, very firmly and harshly dealt with.

Elizabeth Jackson:

But does Peter Dutton have a point: is there any evidence that foreign fighters travelling to conflict zones in the Middle East are the children or the grandchildren of migrants who settled in Australia during the Fraser Government in the '70s and '80s?

John Menadue:

I wouldn’t be surprised that that is the case. They’d now be Australian citizens, those kids.

Elizabeth Jackson: In that context, is it not fair to blame Malcolm Fraser?

John Menadue:

I think it’s grossly unfair. As I said, every migrant group, every refugee group has its problems.

I think Peter Dutton is wanting to make a political point by discrediting refugees.

When we look back at our migration history we can say: “we’ve really done that extremely well”. And it is unfair to highlight particular groups – particular people – and discredit the whole refugee group.

The last figures I saw showed that the crime rate of overseas-born in Australia is lower than it is for Australian-born.

So I think it’s wrong to make general accusations about particular groups, as Minister Dutton is doing.

Elizabeth Jackson:

That’s John Menadue, a senior public servant under both Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser back in the 1970s and 1980s.

This slightly edited version of John Menadue's (19 November) interview with Elizabeth Jackson on ABC Radio's Saturday AM programme, first appeared on Pearls and Irritations. You can listen to the interview here, or follow John on Twitter @johnmenadue.

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