In late-2011, Prof Robyn Eckersley interviewed former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser in a wide-ranging interview. Here we extract a few highlights — on the parties, Tony Abbott and the media.
HAS FRASER CHANGED OR THE LIBERAL PARTY
Eckersley: Mr Fraser, you have been a major figure in the Liberal party from when you first entered parliament in 1955 to when you resigned from parliament after you lost the election to Bob Hawke in 1983.
You later chose to resign from the Liberal Party in 2009. Who has changed the most? The Liberal party or you?
Fraser: Oh, the Liberal party.
Eckersley: Do you see any liberalism left in the Liberal party at this point in history?
Fraser: Not much. I don’t see much in the Labor party either. They are competing at the bottom of the barrel on refugees. Both would vehemently condemn the article I had in The Age on Israel and Palestine supporting a Palestinian state recognised by the United Nations.
They have lost sight of principle in relation to foreign policy.
TONY ABBOTT A DANGEROUS POLITICIAN?
Eckersley: You recently declared that Tony Abbott is a dangerous politician, perhaps one of the most dangerous in Australia’s history. What did you mean by that?
Fraser: [He’s] unpredictable. He says what jumps into his mind. Let me give an example. When farmers were complaining about miners searching for coal or for gas on farms, he spoke almost as though he did not understand that under British law, Australian law, the Crown owns the minerals and the wealth under the ground and if a mining company can get a right to mine or investigate over your farm then that has always been in a sense too bad for the farmer.
You can try and oppose it but that is what the law has always said. Now Tony, in encouraging the farmers, really spoke as though he was quite unaware of that current and historic position. But it was expedient at the time to get the support of the farmers. It might be a bit harsh but I think in a month’s time he will have forgotten he said that.
Eckersley: Is the unpredictability the main reason you called him dangerous?
Fraser: The unpredictability.
Eckersley: Any other reasons?
Fraser: I think the whole party is very much on the extreme right. I happen to believe that the Minchin/Abbott duo to get rid of Malcolm Turnbull – who had actually won a couple of party room votes, even though narrowly – but then they said we’re not going to work with you anyway, we’ll walk out.
The minority was saying we won’t accept the majority and the majority just accepted it. It was an extraordinary occurrence and I believe that rather than being on the emissions trading scheme, it was because Malcolm was showing some significant signs of being a liberal and they didn’t want a liberal in charge of the Liberal party, they wanted a conservative in charge of the Liberal party.
THE FOURTH ESTATE AND THE MURDOCH MEDIA
Eckersley: This brings us to the Fourth Estate. What opportunities should Australia seize out of the Murdoch hacking affair and what are your general views on the state of the press in this country?
Is there a role for government shaking it up a little?
Fraser: Something needs to be shaken up. I don’t know how long Fairfax is going to survive. I don’t know if anyone will come forward to invest in Fairfax and that might leave us with a Murdoch monopoly if News International can avoid the Foreign and Corrupt Practices Act in the United States.
That is by no means guaranteed. If police in Britain are convicted of taking bribes to try and advance News of the World circulation that act makes it a crime for any American headquartered company to bribe anyone in the world in pursuit of market share.
I think we know that in places like Iraq and Afghanistan that has not necessarily prevailed. Pretty well every Democrat would hate News Corporation in America.
You have only got to look at Fox News and some of the things they gone about there and the things they have done and the support they have given to the Tea Party which is hardly objective journalism.
To read the full interview on The Conversation, where Mr Fraser answer questions about his record, refugee policy and higher education, amongst many other topics, please click here.
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