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The Forum > Article Comments > Malcolm Fraser and the politics of ruthlessness > Comments

Malcolm Fraser and the politics of ruthlessness : Comments

By Binoy Kampmark, published 23/3/2015

Various Australian Labor prime ministers were quick to the tribute podium, finding their own progressive mirror in the works of a man which the Left down-under historically reviled.

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One of the problems with raising a person to position of a God is that the true believers become incapable of admitting when their God has made stupid mistakes. The results of the 1975 election were 68 Liberal seats, 23 Country seats, 36 ALP seats. In most societies that would have been the end of that matter, unfortunately too many people in Australia have substituted their two-party preference for religion. And half of those people will go to their graves still cursing Malcolm Fraser for being the person who happen to be leader of the opposition when a PM made one too many mistakes.

Don't be so quick to condem when you have not shown yourself to be able to do better. Yes there is a question of political legacy, but did Fraser really want Howard, and did Hawk really want Keating? Being PM is a balancing act. Did Fraser during his office let the federal government become non-functional as had happened in '75? Did Fraser during his office lose the responsibility that the public had put on him, to his treasurer as happened in '91? Gillard and others might have a better appreciation of a person able to keep hold of their principles while maintaining that balance.
Posted by Daeron, Monday, 23 March 2015 10:25:36 AM
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Binoy, I do not disagree with most of what you said. However, the circumstances of the 1975 constitutional coup are rather more complex than most commentators have been prepared to acknowledge, probably for the very good reason that it opens up a very dark passage that few are willing to traverse. Some evidence has come out for example, about the machinations of at least one High Court Judge and the GG. Some foreign commentators argue that the CIA had a role, not least because Whitlam intended to close Pine Gap, opposed the Vietnam War, was looking to China rather the US as important to Australia's future, (as indeed did Fraser in later years) and was generally offside with the Americans. A definitive history of 1974-75 is yet to be written.
Posted by James O'Neill, Monday, 23 March 2015 5:24:38 PM
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In the immediate aftermath of a death, everyone is inclined to remember the deceasedís good points. Fair enough.

But what people think of Malcolm Fraser doesnít matter much. What his accession to power in 1975 meant for our system of government matters a very great deal. Most people judge what occurred in 1975 according to which side of politics they tend to support. But this is a superficial, shallow approach; as if a football supporter cannot consider improving the rules of the game because he's so happy his team won. We need to stand back and judge whether the system operated well or not.

Prior to 1975, it was well understood that constitutional conventions controlled how the powers available under the Constitution would be exercised. 1975 showed that the reverse is true - the conventions are subordinate to the text of the Constitution.

The problem with this is that the text is almost completely monarchical. Yes, it provides for elections. But it gives no guarantee that the election winners will govern. It even allows unelected people to be Ministers. The Governor-General has the powers of King Charles I. He/she can veto legislation, can dissolve Parliament whenever convenient, and can directly administer the Government. Only the conventions give us democracy.

An examination of the undemocratic features of the text show that they all stem from the presence of the Crown in the Constitution. When we move to a republic, we must deal with Crown powers. To perpetuate them by giving them to a president would be utter madness. As regular readers might remember, I support the Advancing Democracy model for change. It is the only republican proposal with any intellectual depth. If you donít agree with it, come up with something with a similar amount of thought behind it. At present, most republicans are giving alternative arrangements about as much thought as they give to a TV game show.
Posted by Philip Howell, Tuesday, 24 March 2015 9:59:01 AM
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I was sad to read Philip Howell's comments as he seems to have completely failed to understand the basic principles of the constitution. He regrets that conventions are subordinate to the text of the constitution. How could it be otherwise? If they were not subordinate, the constitution could be changed without a referendum, something that is specifically prohibited. He claims that the Governor-General has the powers of King Charles I. Rubbish. If the GG were to dismiss a Prime Minister the replacement could not rule, because he could not obtain supply. The overriding importance of supply has been an integral part of the Westminster system since the 14th Century. If a Prime Minister is dismissed, there MUST be an immediate election, which seems a pretty democratic deadlock solution to me. Like many republicans, Howell totally fails to understand how most people feel about politicians, and how comforted they are that, in the very words of section 64, the Prime Minister holds office during the pleasure of Her Majesty's representative.

The change I would like to see which would emphasize the current situation would be to rename the title of the GG to:

"The Prime Ministerial pisser-offer in Chief"
Posted by plerdsus, Sunday, 29 March 2015 8:23:37 PM
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