Crikey readers of a certain age will recall
the Malcolm Fraser who smoked a pipe – a hawkish young defence minister at the
height of the Vietnam War. Critics today portray the former prime
minister as a bleeding heart, yet Fraser has been one of the hard men of
Australian politics.

Fraser is speaking at a Sydney Institute
function tonight, but it seems unlikely that he will beat the bombshell he
dropped in Melbourne last week launching Robert Manne’s and Peter Beilharz’s,
Reflected Light – La Trobe Essays when he described the current state of the American alliance as “a betrayal of
Australia’s basic interests”.

Fraser delivered an uncompromising message
on the dynamics of ANZUS:

Our relationship currently enjoyed across
the Pacific is not a relationship between countries or even a relationship
between governments, it is a relationship between two people.

I happen to believe that after Bush, in
the United States, those who have promoted and supported his policies will be
regarded as inimical to American interests, perhaps even as pariahs… If the
next American administration does not want to know President Bush or his
supporters and lieutenants, will they want to know those who have done most to
encourage him from a country like Australia?

The government likes to compare itself
with Menzies. The government would
regard itself as the custodian of Menzies’ philosophies and policies… In the
middle fifties, I think in 1956, there was serious concern about the Chinese
attitudes to the Taiwan Straits, shellings of Quemoy and Matsu offshore islands,
President Eisenhower moved the Pacific fleet close to, or into, the Taiwan
Straits. The Prime Minister Menzies told
President Eisenhower that if there were a conflict with China
over Taiwan, Australia would not be part of it.
ANZUS did not apply, as indeed under the terms of the Treaty, it did
not. New Zealand took a similar path.

Much as we supported the generality of America’s
policies in so many matters, we were prepared to argue a different point where
our interests diverged strongly from that of the United States. Compare that with the
subservient approach adopted today…

Australia
at the moment is regarded as a faithful implementer of President Bush’s
policies. In my view that represents a
betrayal of Australia’s basic interests. We need
to have a capacity to discuss, to differ, to be separate and that is possible
within the basic outlines of ANZUS.”

Fraser also provided an unlikely but
uncompromising defence of Mark Latham:

He said some unwise things about the United States and clearly was not destined to be Prime Minister of this
country. But when he made some comments,
contrary to American policy, it was totally wrong for Ambassador Shaeffer to
criticise him. It is not the function of
the American Ambassador to enter into political debate between our parties…

President Bush, on the White House lawn,
in front of the Prime Minister of Australia, also weighed in, heavily
criticising Latham and involving himself in Australian politics. That is not the function of the United States
President. We have seen United States admirals publicly entering a debate over the kind of equipment that
should be purchased for our navy.

These foreign intrusions into our domestic
affairs should be totally unacceptable.
In my time they would not have occurred.
In Menzies’ time they would not have occurred.

Peter Fray

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