Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 38, Number 10. 22nd May 1975
Fraser: "I do not Propose to Turn Back the Sundial"
Fraser: "I do not Propose to Turn Back the Sundial"
Salient recently received this informative article on that well known reactionary politician. Malcolm Fraser, the leader of the Liberal Party opposition in Australia.
(ANS/Melbourne Age)-Is Malcolm Fraser really to the Right of Genghis Khan? Unable to glean the truth from the exclusive interviews that crowd our papers and magazines. I decided to beard the lion in his den, to visit him on his plantation.
Alighting from the paddle steamer, I walked through the groves of magnolias and moss-hung cottonwoods towards the white homestead. In the distance I could see Fraser's darkies picking cotton, their velvet voices blending in a Stephen Foster medley. Way Down Upon the Murray River came wafting on the wind.
The massah was waiting for me on the verandah, sitting stiffly in his rocking chair and sipping a mint Julep. Unyielding, unbending, unsmiling, the Man in the Iron Face.
He greeted me formally, stiffly, and ushered me into his book-lined study. As my eyes became accustomed to the gloom I could see the titles tipped out in gold. Caesar's Commentarii de hello Gallico, Kipling's Mowgli stories, Sir Robert's Afternoon Light and, inevitably, Ayn Rand's Fountainhead. I also noticed the silver cups and sashes won by his prize Herefords and his autographed collection of jackboots.
As I sank into the mellow leather of a chesterfield, I couldn't help but see that Fraser was surreptitiously applying Sellotape to the corners of his mouth, just as the late Onassis had used it to hold his eyes open. Was he suffering from the same dread disease? No. (realised mat the poor man — condemned by the media for his hauteur — was using the sticky-tape to simulate a smile.
I began the interview with the obvious question. "You've been accused by Pravda of being connected with 'the Australian elite — with big industrialists and financiers and the richest farmers'. Are you, in fact, in sympathy with the nation's egalitarian spirit?"
He'd shuddered at the word "Pravda" and again at "egalitarian". Nonetheless, his answer was both emphatic and democratic. "I believe in equality to some extent," he said. 'Take my slaves, all of whom are equal with each other. And I'm proud to say that I've the happiest darkies in the district." At this point I could hear them singing the Camptown Races, their voices harmonising on the doo-dahs.
"Well, sir, what do you think of Australia's defence policy?"
'This is just one of many areas in which I disagree strongly with Mr. Whitlam. If we are to regain the Holy Grail we'll need to press many more men into service. Moreover, our forces in Antioch, Edessa and Tripoli must be reinforced and equipped with the latest in crossbows and siege machines. Otherwise our crusades against the oil-rich Moslems will surely fail."
This led to a wide ranging discussion on foreign policy. Fraser crossed to a bookcase and pulled out his school atlas (Melbourne Grammar 1940) and opened it it Mercator's projection of the world. "All these red bits." he said forcefully, "must be returned to Great Britain."
Not that he was entirely uncritical of British policy. He expressed strong opposition to the transportation of convicts to Port Arthur and told me he'd written to Queen Victoria about it.
One of the pieces of Sellotape had peeled away and, covering the gesture with a cough, he quickly restuck it. It was hard to feel at ease when confronted by that grim parody of a friendly grin.
"And what of Whitlam's introduction of Advance Australia Fair as our national anthem?"
"We will introduce God Save the Queen for alt official occasions. What's more, we'll play it twice."
Noting the severe publications that crowded the bookshelves around us, I asked whether he'd continue the Liberal censorship policies introduced by his colleague Don Chipp.
"I do not propose to turn back the sundial. It will still be perfectly legal to publish such material. However, anyone reading it will feel the taste of the cat."
We moved into the area of State relations.
"I will pursue a policy of law and border. The States should have a greater say in their own affairs. Just this morning I expressed this view in a letter to the incoming Premier of Van Diemen's Land."
I asked his attitude to the "small I" policies of Rupert Hamer. What did he think of Hamer's campaign to abolish hanging?
"I've never been happy with hanging myself," said Mr. Fraser. "I cannot see that it's a deterrent. Now, if you were to draw and quarter them as well, that's an entirely different matter."
I found myself warming to the man. Clearly he'd been misrepresented by the mass media and by his political enemies. Characterised as some sort of dyed-in-the-wool reactionary, he was in fact a surprisingly sensitive human being. This was emphasised in our discussion of social services where he proposed remedies that were so radical as to smack of socialism.
"Poorhouses!" he said, standing up and crossing to the window. "The Welfare State that saps at the spirit of our citizens will be replaced with poorhouses. Grim, blues-tone buildings where unmarried mothers can give birth, where old-age pensioners can spend their final hours. Only in this way can the dregs of society be helped both physically and spiritually. For while the poorhouse is a roof over their heads, we'll have trained beadles on hand to castigate them for their moral shortcomings."
I hadn't expected to discover this soft sentimental streak in a man held to be indifferent to the problems of ordinary people. Frankly, I found it hard to swallow over the lump in my throat.
Somewhat embarrassed by his outburst of compassion, Fraser peeled the Sellotape from his face and started to talk about trade unionism.
"I'm not opposed to the trade union movement at all. If I had friends, some of the best of them would be trade unionists. However, it seems wrong that a man can both influence the Federal Government through a vote and then expect to wield additional clout through the withholding of his labor.
"Therefore, I propose to change the Electoral Act. Workers can take their pick. They can belong to a trade union or they can get a vote. It will be their democratic right to make the choice.
"Moreover, we will introduce radical legislation to encourage workers' participation. If a company loses money, the workers will be able to participate by losing their money as well. I propose that ail pay envelopes will be garnisheed for the duration."
Impressed by this novel method of breaking down class barriers, I moved on to the vexed subject of taxation.
"Farmers will be able to claim shearers as dependants." Fraser said, "while getting a deduction of $500 per serf. This will be financed by an additional tax on the low-income earners."
When I expressed surprise, he went into more detail. "Well, it's quite clear from their poverty that they don't know how to manage their financial affairs."
"You'll be doing them a kindness?"
As we sat together talking in the darkening twilight, Mr. Fraser painted a picture of a transformed Australia, a whole nation reborn as a result of his Old Deal. It was an idyll where malcreants sat in the stocks watching happy villagers morris dancing and whirling around the maypole.
All too soon it was time to go as the Show Boat was nearing his landing. (I could distinctly hear Howard Keel's Gaylord Ravenal singing Only Make Believe I Love You to Kathryn Grayson on the poop deck).
As he shook hands with his velvet glove a discreet black butler brought me my plastic mac. And I suddenly realised that I'd neglected an all-important area. What was the Fraser plan for health? Would he dismantle Hayden's Medibank?
'First we'll declare everyone Medibankrupt and introduce a new scheme throughout the country. To explain it in simple terms, you'll have to pay cash for the doctor but the leeches will be free.'