Melissa Parke MP – condolence Speech recognising former PM Malcolm Fraser’s commitment to Palestine

photo of Melissa Parke MP
March 25, 2015

Australians for Palestine have this week paid tribute to Malcolm Fraser, in which they note that in 2009 he condemned ‘paying lip service to even-handedness’ and warned that ‘Australia must not be cowed into an uncritical view of Israel’s action’. Following the Israeli bombing of Gaza in 2014, some 80 Australian MPs and former MPs came together to issue the Canberra Declaration on Gaza calling for support for an immediate ceasefire, an end to Israel’s occupation and an end to the Gaza blockade. Malcolm Fraser was one of those signatories…

Full speech

Ms PARKE (Fremantle) (16:58): It is a privilege to pay respect to the life and work of Malcolm Fraser, and by participating in this motion to have heard so many thoughtful and heartfelt reflections from those who knew him well and who felt his influence, which is many of us, in different ways.

I too am fortunate to have met Malcolm Fraser on many occasions and to have joined with him in particular causes: on the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, on Palestine, on the call for an inquiry into Australia’s participation in the Iraq war, on Australia’s international relations, on a nuclear weapons free future, on good governance and on the debased state of modern politics, among other matters. And, like others, I have been the recipient of phone calls and emails out of the blue from Malcolm both offering and seeking advice on a myriad of subjects. Not one for small talk, Malcolm was a true public intellectual, who never stopped turning his mind to the big issues confronting the nation.

There is an inescapable feeling, as we chart Malcolm Fraser’s long-arching star across Australian public life, that the bright constellations we have relied upon for the last 40 years are changing and that the lights we have navigated by for so long—Whitlam, Uren, Fraser—have now slipped together below the horizon with the same turn of the earth. The loss collectively is at the same time magnified and softened. Fraser and Whitlam in particular, who played mortal enemies in the greatest drama and tragedy of Australian political life, were twinned from that point forward and later became close friends. They have left the stage, one after another, and that is cause for us to acknowledge and be uplifted by the characteristics they shared: their courage and compassion, their leadership by principle and convictions, their spirit of reconciliation.

As a star in his own right—perhaps, at least for the Labor side, playing the villain early on, but then consistently in character as a figure of contrarian heroism—Malcolm Fraser needs to be remembered for his leadership and advocacy on a number of issues that he helped turn for the greater good. Every contribution to this motion has a theme of some kind, and I think mine must be on the great value of Malcolm Fraser as a singular voice in support of humanitarian principle. As Prime Minister, he was a supporter of Indigenous reconciliation and of an open-armed, multicultural Australia. He gave us the Special Broadcasting Service as a comprehensive cross-platform multicultural broadcaster following the initiative that began with Whitlam. He rejected the politics of fear, the xenophobia that is often cloaked as a concern for security and that in our time has been attached to Tamils from Sri Lanka or to people of the Muslim faith, just as it once attached to people fleeing persecution in Vietnam or fascism in Europe or deprivation and colonial brutality in Ireland. As Malcom Fraser said:

If you embrace a positive view and embrace the courage of the people who are prepared to try and get a better life for themselves and their families, I think the political pressure starts to diminish.

I think he is right, and I wish that his remarkable leadership on this issue nearly 40 years ago in ultimately providing refuge for tens of thousands of Indochinese asylum seekers—and, in so doing, enriching the cultural, social and economic life of a modern Australia—had not been so thoroughly forgotten or ignored or put aside as anomaly to the prevailing climate of misrepresentation, distortion and fear. And I have not heard the heart of the issue better expressed than Malcom Fraser’s words when he said:

If they are genuine refugees, there is no deterrent that we can create which is going to be severe enough, cruel enough, nasty enough to stop them fleeing the terror in their own lands.

In assessing our current approach he was unflinching:

THE asylum-seeker debate in Australia is demeaning and miserable. The politicians who participate in it have contempt for the Australian people. They believe, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that if they appeal to the fearful and mean sides of our nature, they will win support. They are showing that they believe we won’t know enough about the world to know that for the most part what they are saying is plainly false.

In relation to Indigenous affairs, Malcom Fraser rejected the false dichotomy between symbolic and practical achievements, arguing:

Reconciliation requires changes of heart and spirit, as well as social and economic change.

He was a man who sat side-by-side with Aboriginal people and listened. As Prime Minister he took steps to advance the cause of Aboriginal land rights, and he joined three other former prime ministers—Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating—on the occasion of the apology to the stolen generations.

As Prime Minister, Malcom Fraser also made significant contributions to protecting the environment on such matters as banning sandmining on Fraser Island, ending commercial whaling in Australia, declaring the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Kakadu National Park, and signing the international conventions on the conservation of Antarctic seals, on the importance of wetlands and against the international trade in endangered species.

Following his parliamentary career, Malcolm Fraser was the founding chair of CARE Australia and he played a leadership role in CARE’s work in a number of roles right through until the turn of the century. I know from my own international humanitarian experience what a wonderful organisation CARE Australia is. Malcolm Fraser brought his stature and intellectual force to the advocacy needed to ensure Australia took its place in delivering crisis aid and humanitarian assistance.

Malcom Fraser also played a key part in the campaign to see a nuclear weapons-free world. He was a founding patron of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons—also known as ICAN—and in 2012 led an ICAN appeal for Order of Australia recipients to join a call for the Australian government to support a ban on nuclear weapons and for a nuclear weapons-free defence policy. The appeal was signed by over 800 prominent Australians, including: former Prime Ministers Fraser, Hawke and Keating; former chiefs of the Defence Force; and former defence and foreign affairs ministers, as well as scientists and community leaders. The federal parliament subsequently unanimously passed a motion for a world free of nuclear weapons, cosponsored by then Prime Minister Gillard and opposition leader Abbott. Just one month ago, Malcom Fraser co-authored with Dr Tilman Ruff an article in The Age titled ‘2015 is the year to ban nuclear weapons’. In it they noted that 2015 is the seventieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and they observed:

The Australian government faces a moment of truth—will we continue to hide behind the myth of “extended nuclear deterrence”, willing to risk our true security and the incineration of millions in our name, or will we finally step up and get on the right side of history?

I have the highest regard for Malcom Fraser’s approach as an internationalist, especially for the perspective and wisdom he acquired through the 1970s—learning, I think, from the realities he encountered in relation to the Vietnam War and East Timor, as he became a vigorous and decisive opponent of apartheid in South Africa and white minority rule in Zimbabwe; as he became an advocate for refugees and their contribution to a multicultural Australia; and as a searing critic of various ill-judged military adventures, including the current engagement in Iraq. For some years, he and I have been part of the Campaign for an Iraq War Inquiry, now renamed Australians for War Powers Reform, that has called for an inquiry into the circumstances of Australia’s participation in the Iraq war in 2003 and for parliament to have a role in deciding whether Australian troops should go to war in future.

Australians for Palestine have this week paid tribute to Malcom Fraser, in which they note that in 2009 he condemned ‘paying lip service to even-handedness’ and warned that ‘Australia must not be cowed into an uncritical view of Israel’s action’. Following the Israeli bombing of Gaza in 2014, some 80 Australian MPs and former MPs came together to issue the Canberra Declaration on Gaza calling for support for an immediate ceasefire, an end to Israel’s occupation and an end to the Gaza blockade. Malcolm Fraser was one of those signatories, and I note that he was also a signatory to the recent letter from former Australian prime ministers to the Indonesian President, calling for clemency for the two Australians facing the death penalty in Indonesia, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Malcom Fraser could be relied upon to support the voiceless and those deserving of mercy and justice, as well as to champion the rule of law, whether in relation to David Hicks, children in detention or the overreach of national security legislation. As Prime Minister, he established the Human Rights Commission in 1981 and has defended the organisation ever since, most recently criticising the government’s ‘bully-boy’ response to the Human Rights Commission’s report on the forgotten children as ‘an absolute disgrace’. This week, Commission President, Gillian Triggs, said of Malcom Fraser, ‘He tried to make Australia a better and fairer place.’

Malcolm Fraser, for many decades and right till the very end, has been outspoken, principled and brave on so many issues that resonate with me and that define Australia’s role in the world, and on the critical question of Australia’s independence when it comes to international affairs, especially in our relationship with the United States, a friend that deserves our honesty and best advice, even where it means taking a contrary view. This view was eloquently expressed in his most recent book, Dangerous Allies, a copy of which he presented me with last June. He had inscribed a note to me inside the cover and I treasure that.

Malcolm Fraser lived a life defined by his commitment to public service and by his wholehearted engagement in the discussion of big ideas that must be contested and resolved. I offer my sincere condolences to Malcolm Fraser’s wife, Tamie, and his family, friends, colleagues and staff. We have lost an Australian who shaped our country and who expressed its best values in wielding his significant influence on our behalf across the wider world.

Link to parliamentary Hansard