Australia’s last three Prime Ministers have now all slammed John Howard publicly for the nature of his divisive victory. This is the transcript of what Malcolm Fraser said on Lateline on November 14 followed by a transcript of what Paul Keating told The World Today on November 12.
Nonetheless, the PM says his tough policy is working and there are fewer asylum seekers in the pipeline. That argument doesn’t impress the former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser who’s been one of the most trenchant critics of the crackdown on boat people.
Until now, we haven’t heard Mr Fraser’s reaction to Saturday’s remarkable victory that returned the Howard Government for a third term. I spoke to him in his Melbourne office earlier this evening.
Malcolm Fraser, before the election you said the destitute have been made pawns in a harsh political contest. Was that judgment borne out by the outcome?
MALCOLM FRASER: I think probably. The destitute were a major part of this campaign at the beginning and again at the end. Especially over the rather unhappy dispute as to whether or not children were thrown overboard.
I never thought I’d see the day when discrimination and race would play such a large part in an election program and I never thought I’d have a situation where both major parties have the same policy.
TONY JONES: Are you suggesting that, in some way, John Howard’s extraordinary victory was tainted by the method of achieving it?
MALCOLM FRASER: I don’t want to say that the victory was tainted. But I do believe that the boat people, the border issues, were used – you only have to follow the advertisements that were used from day one to the last possible day of the campaign, and they centred around protecting our borders, from women and children and destitute people, a few hundred, a few thousand at the most, as though they could ever offer a threat to Australia.
TONY JONES: The former PM, Paul Keating, was very blunt about this on Monday. He said the election was won on an appeal to racism. Do you go that far in your assessment?
MALCOLM FRASER: Let me put it a slightly different way. It’s possible to appeal to the better things in our nature, the things that ought to happen to make the world a better place.
It is also possible to play upon our fears and our concerns about the unknown, people unknown because they come from a different land, they look different and they come from a religion that is different to that which most of us follow.
Now, when you appeal to these things, you’re really appealing to the worst part of our nature and not to the best.
TONY JONES: Let me put this to you as straight as I possibly can. Are you suggesting that John Howard and perhaps Mr Beazley as well appealed to the worst in the nature of the Australian voter.
MALCOLM FRASER: I don’t want it to be a personal thing because both parties had the same policies. They were both appealing to the worst of our natures and not to the best of our natures.
TONY JONES: Given those very similar policies were adopted by both sides, could it not though now be said that the Australian people have spoken, the vast majority of them voted for either one of those parties. Is that not a tremendous mandate, as Mr Howard would have it, for the policies that he’s adopted?
MALCOLM FRASER: I think you need to look at Australia’s post-war history. When Arthur Caldwell persuaded the union movement to accept a major migration program so that Australia could expand and become more independent in the future, he didn’t ask the ACTU to poll their members.
It was only seven years after the worst depression the modern world had known with 30 per cent unemployment, many ex-servicemen had their first jobs in the army and seven years after that, the ACTU, acting responsibly, decided to back the Government’s major migration program which was Supported by all political parties at the time.
But if that had gone to a vote of union members, I believe 80 or 90 per cent would have voted no – “Gosh, before the war I was unemployed. I didn’t have a job for 10 years. We can’t bring a lot more people here.”
But Calwell and leaders of those times – Harold Holt principally for the Liberal Party – recognised that Australia had to grow, had to expand, so they made the decision and then argued that that decision was right. Now, when hundreds of thousands of people came from Italy and from Greece, it was the same thing.
If you had asked Melbourne that we want to become the biggest Greek city outside of Greece, I think Melbourne would have said no. But now that it’s happened, Melbourne is enormously proud of the value-added that former Greek citizens have brought to Australia.
If I had asked Australians, do you want me to embrace policies which will lead to about 200,000 Vietnamese and a significant number of Cambodians and others from Indo-China coming to Australia at the end of 1975, 1976, the late ’70s and into the ’80s and beyond.
If I’d taken that vote people would have said ‘no’. But we believed that it was necessary in Australia’s interest, in the broader national interest, so we took those decisions and Australia is a better country as a consequence and people accepted those decisions when the reasons for them – the national interest, the broadening of Australia, the multi-culturalisation of Australia – they accepted these decisions.
Now we’ve done something quite different in this election.
TONY JONES: Mr Fraser this is a particularly harsh judgment if I may say so, of the quality of political leadership today, as you see it. Don’t you accept Mr Howard’s view that what he was doing was in the national interest?
MALCOLM FRASER: I’m sure he believes that. But when you say a harsh judgment by myself, many of the judgments in the newspapers have been expressed in much harsher terms.
I have had huge correspondence of people writing, saying “I am ashamed of the things that Australia is doing. I don’t want to travel overseas at the moment and have to explain what we are doing to my friends in Britain or the United States or in Europe or in Asia.”
TONY JONES: What effect do you think from your point of view this has had on Australia’s international reputation?
MALCOLM FRASER: Well, even before the ‘Tampa’ incident, the message that we dealt somewhat harshly with refugees trying to get to Australia had become widely known in many places. It’s not often that Australia strikes page 3 in a major article in the New York Times, but there it was, with the headline – “Australian contenders compete to see who can be the meanest and nastiest”.
It wasn’t quite those words but that was the thrust of the headline in the New York Times and then an article explaining that in the dying days of the campaign. That’s not good publicity for Australia.
TONY JONES: Now, you’d be aware of the criticism that the Government and others have made of those who came out, such as yourself, to criticise these policies. Are you aware of having become one of the elites whose ideas are out of step with the Australian people, as Neil Brown put it the other day?
MALCOLM FRASER: Well, maybe, maybe. But that really gets back to a question of leadership in relation to matters which I spoke about a moment or two ago. If governments had decided to poll the people of Australia before taking decisions about immigration, before taking decisions about the expansion of Australia’s population over the years, then we would be a small country of 11 or 12 million people, because I believe in most cases the people of Australia would have said no, they would have led in the wrong direction.
And it’s a question of Governments being able to define the national interest and then persuade people that they are right. And any policy in my view that rests on discrimination to prove that you’re right, is wrong.
Because what Australians need to understand is that when discrimination begins in a country, it’s one group of people today, they might be refugees from Afghanistan, but that affects other people who are within Australia and then you find it’s much easier to slip into the habit of discrimination against other groups and so it goes on and so it spreads.
And that’s the history of discrimination in countries where political leaders have played upon it or not condemned it.
TONY JONES: Mr Fraser, a final question if I may. You’re obviously extremely disturbed by the way in which the national interest has been interpreted in this way. Why do you think it’s been interpreted in this way?
MALCOLM FRASER: I don’t want to answer that question.
TONY JONES: Why is that?
MALCOLM FRASER: It gets too close to a view about a person and a person’s motives. I don’t want to start interpreting in those things.
TONY JONES: All right, Malcolm Fraser, we will have to leave it there. Thanks for joining us tonight on Lateline.
MALCOLM FRASER: Thank you.
What Keating told The World Today on Monday, November 12
ELEANOR HALL: Well another person well placed to comment on what the Labor Party should do now, and on the challenges facing Australia, particularly on the international front, is former Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating.
Mr Keating joins us now in our Melbourne studio. Mr Keating, thanks for joining us.
First, to the future for the Labor Party which of course you once led to what you called ‘the sweetest victory’ in 1993, saying it was a victory for the true believers.
Now why do you think Labor has now lost its true believers, particularly in your home State of New South Wales?
PAUL KEATING: Well, as I said to you before this interview when you rang me, in all reporting the news is where the weight is, and the news is that the Government’s been returned for a third time. That’s the important thing for Australia, and I think the point to make about it is that John Howard’s victory has been won at the cost of the country’s reputation and its character. It’s been won by staining the soul of the country. The win in electoral terms, of course, under the electoral system was legitimate, but the method of achieving it illegitimate.
ELEANOR HALL: But the Labor Party of course supported John Howard’s border protection policy which I presume is what you’re referring to when you say that our reputation is stained, so don’t they bear some responsibility?
PAUL KEATING: Well, I’ll come to that. The election was won on appeal to racism. As the Liberal Party’s advertisements of last Thursday, the full page advertisements in all the major broadsheets and tabloids showed, that is, the picture of Mr Howard saying we decide who comes to this country. In other words, the message is we’re going to keep riff raff out.
Now of course the Commonwealth decides who comes to this country, it’s never been – the nation’s always decided this question. The issue is that John Howard chose, as all other prime ministers before him chose not to do, and that was to appeal to fear, the fear held by Australians that they might be inundated by a flood of people from other countries.
Now anyone of us with any ability with the language have the ability to say, look, we’re not going to let just people float to this country, we’re not going to let them come in indiscriminately, we’re going to keep Australia for the Australians. Any prime minister before him could have said that. None of them did. Because they all knew that to go to that, to build a multi-cultural society which is part of our strength, to be part of this region, to go to that base fear was to essentially damage Australia’s reputation and its character.
ELEANOR HALL: Why didn’t Kim Beazley say this though?
PAUL KEATING: Well Kim Beazley – what happened was with the Tampa there was a dispute about whether or not it was in Indonesian waters and it drifted into Australian waters, and the government playing to this card put up a piece of draconian legislation which was refused by the Labor Party, just remember that, it was refused by the Labor Party, and it was only after Labor Party insistence that the bill was changed, but the Labor Party was not campaigning on the election, there were no Labor Party ads last Thursday saying we’ll keep people out, nod, nod, wink, wink, we’ll keep the riff raff out, if you’re not basically a wasp, you don’t get in. This is a country for Wasps, this is the message. We were not doing that.
ELEANOR HALL: But you weren’t countering it either.
PAUL KEATING: No, no, no – you’re asking me, let me give you the answer – it’s one thing the Labor Party supporting legislation and saying as it always did that we’d never regarded this place as open sesame for asylum seekers. We have a refugee quota but remember it was the Labor Party that established the detention camps, etc.
But it’s an altogether – look, the fact is once a prime minister decides to hock the country’s reputation to get himself elected it creates a dynamic all of its own. That’s the dynamic that George Campbell referred to a few minutes ago.
ELEANOR HALL: But do you disagree with the stance that the Labor Party took during this election campaign. I mean Kim Beazley referred in his concession speech to the divisions that have now been created in the Australian society, why shouldn’t the Beazley Labor camp basically take some responsibility for that division?
PAUL KEATING: Well, the, the, – it’s the government that made this policy that made the so-called Pacific Policy that wouldn’t process people here. I mean we had 120,000 Chinese, mostly Chinese, in camps in the early 1990s and we processed them in the camps and they went to 27 countries including Australia. This Government does not have a policy, and that was a point that Beazley made and was roundly criticised for when those people drowned, and now you’ve got the Prime Minister saying today he’s going to head off for Indonesia. You know, does he think that the Indonesians don’t know that he’s displaced Hansonism.
You know, when a conservative force is met by a more conservative force the more conservative force prevails. John Howard said by his own admission he’s the most conservative leader the Liberal Party has ever had. He now represents the most conservative and reactionary force in Australia. He’s more reactionary than Hanson herself. He’s picked up the Hanson vote. He is the walking embodiment of her policy.
ELEANOR HALL: The reality is, though, that the Australian people have now spoken and they support him, and they support his border protection policy and they’re traditional Labor voters that have done that. Now in New South Wales , 05
PAUL KEATING: Look, Eleanor, let me just tell you this. The reality is that the Indonesians know that too, and that’s the point about the third endorsement of the Howard government. I mean they can say well the first time the Labor Party were around 13 years.
The second time he sneaked in against a majority of votes. This time he’s been endorsed, and the marginalisation of Australia, which we’ve seen, I think will now accelerate, and what happens, frankly, what does happen if George Bush says – I made this point on Lateline a couple of weeks ago – where do we stand, if George Bush rings John Howard and says you will have to take some more of these Afghani refugees. I mean , 05
ELEANOR HALL: Oh well I guess that’s a problem John Howard will have to deal with if it happens , 05
PAUL KEATING: Well he will have to deal with it.
ELEANOR HALL: , 05 but the problem the Labor Party has to deal with right now is that it has lost its true believers. They have voted for a policy that you say is not Labor policy and that you don’t agree with. How are you going to get back, that the people, 05
PAUL KEATING: Oh no, understand what I don’t agree with , 05
ELEANOR HALL: , 05 in New South Wales that you used to have, it’s, you know, we’ve lost seven out of the – from seven outer suburban seats in 1996 you’re down to just one in New South Wales, you’re at your lowest primary vote, I believe, since 1906 in New South Wales. I mean what can the Labor Party do to address that?
PAUL KEATING: Well there was a swing in the election of I think 1.3 per cent.
ELEANOR HALL: But much worse in New South Wales?
PAUL KEATING: Three people out of every 200 walking around changed their position in this election. Now that’s enough in this sort of, the way our electoral system works to produce a result like this.
ELEANOR HALL: Are you saying the Labor Party doesn’t have a problem then?
PAUL KEATING: Oh of course, of course. Look, you’ve always got a problem when you’re on the losing end, let’s be clear about that, and we’ll have to examine that, but out in Western Sydney there’s been a lot of racially based violence, and great concerns, great issues around questions of policing, and you know, what you’ve got here with John Howard is what you had with Richard Nixon.
When Richard Nixon wiped out the liberal republicans, the Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party in America and went for the red neck south, went for blue collar people who had fears about these sort of racial issues, the same is much true I think here. That is when John Howard decided he would take the sort of racism policy on, he knew it would strike a chord with some of the blue collar elements, but, you see, I think Australia’s going to end up with the worst of all worlds, that is, a reactionary social policy and in terms of, but without the sort of financial rectitude, Australia will have the social conservatism that comes with this, but without the financial rectitude. Here we are , 05
ELEANOR HALL: Mr Keating, we’re almost out of time, but I can’t let you go without asking you who you believe should now lead the Labor Party?
PAUL KEATING: Well that’s what I think is irrelevant. It’s always a matter for the Caucus, you know, that’s a , 05
ELEANOR HALL: Do you have an opinion though on Carmen Lawrence, Simon Crean ?
PAUL KEATING: Well I have opinions about everybody but again – I am a member of the Labor Party and the Labor Party has processes. It’s lost an election and it’s going to have to go through those processes and decide who they think best ought to lead them, but we’re going to be leading Australia against a very different backdrop. We’re essentially now isolating – you know last week the news, the real news, was that China and the ASEAN countries put a market of two billion together. We were not in the arm, we were not in the discussion.
You know, on our doorstep, could you imagine how American policy would be if a country of 210 million people were living in Cuba, but our Prime Minister’s hardly noticed it. Now he’s going to drift up to Indonesia and try and get something going with the Indonesians when he’s essentially, you know, danced on their reputation in Timor and since gone and got himself endorsed on a policy which is essentially about playing to the worst instincts of the country.
ELEANOR HALL: Paul Keating, thank you very much for joining us. WE’LL have to leave it there.
Feedback to [email protected]
* Crikey has 1910 subscribers who for $55 get a tee-shirt, 5 sealed section emails a week with this sort of material and access to our 2.4 million word searchable archive so why not join the Crikey army by clicking here to read the daily email updates with breaking news and analysis.