Australian Biography: Malcolm Fraser
Malcolm Fraser (1930–2015) became Prime Minister following the dramatic dismissal of the Whitlam Government in November 1975. He held the office for over 7 years.
Fraser later became co-chair of the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons, which worked toward democracy in South Africa. He was also President of CARE International.
He was interviewed for Film Australia's Australian Biography series in 1994.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.
Oh that's very difficult. I have a memory that people tell me I shouldn't have because I was too young. In the Riverina where we used to live, there were mostly droughts, but occasionally floods, and the shearers had to come up from Deniliquin near to our property at Balpool on the Edward River by boat and we hadn't had a wheeled vehicle on the property for over six months. There were no bitumen roads in those days. And the shearing contractor we had, hired the boats - it's only 50 miles, we'll only need one meal. But the river meanders through the red gums and it's not always easy to follow the river channel. It's very easy to get lost. And they left Deniliquin and arrived at our property Balpool three days later. They'd had one meal and so you can imagine in 1931, the sort of mood that the shearers were in. And there were a couple I think who my father knew couldn't survive without alcohol. And I couldn't quite understand how he went out to the boat with a bottle of brandy in his hand. He had a particular target. He knew the cook was going to need a brandy.
Oh very much. In a sense at the beginning of the Depression.
Well there wasn't very much, wasn't very much work going on in those days. I mean wool would have sold for seven or eight cents a pound, but in parts of the last two years, in real terms, it has been just as low or lower. During some of the droughts in the 1930s you couldn't give away sheep. There used to be a big chicken or egg farm at Werribee run by the Carter Brothers, and they started buying sheep and boiling them down for chook feed. It made good, cheap chook feed. My father heard about this and tried to get his agent to say he could buy the rest of his sheep. And they'd say, 'No it's no good'. They'd had too many offers. But my father rang them up anyway and they said well if he paid the freight, they would accept delivery. So of course it was cheaper to let them die in the paddocks. [INTERRUPTION]
I was born in Melbourne, at a private house in - I think - Grange Road, I'm not sure.
I spent most of it in the Riverina, on a property about 50 miles north of Deniliquin on the Edward River.
The memory I've been told I probably shouldn't have, because I was very young - in the Riverina, in those days anyway, there seemed to be floods occasionally and droughts very often. In 1931, the beginning of the Depression, it was one of the floods and we hadn't been able to get a wheeled vehicle on the property for at least 6 months. There were embankments all around the house, to stop it being flooded also and the shearing team came up by boat from Deniliquin one year. The shearing contractor - it's only 50 miles by road - so, you know, 50 miles is not all that far, and he set out with his team of about 24 or 26 people, with one meal for them. Now the Edwards River meanders through a lot of glorious great red gums and it's sometimes very difficult if you don't know the river well, to follow the path of the river. And of course they got lost in the red gum forests and it took them three days, or a little more, to arrive at Balpool. They were hungry and obviously not in a particularly good mood. I never really understood why my father went out to meet the boat when he heard it was arriving with a bottle of brandy. But he knew one or two people in the team needed some good hard liquor to keep them going and that three days without a drink would have been a great punishment for them. But anyway, that was one memory.
Well, he was a very good father. He ran the property at Nareen but he was one of those who [was] at university in England [when] the First World War started out, and so instead of coming back to Australia, he joined up in the British forces. He initially was going to join the air force, which was just being formed, first air force, and to perhaps see what it was like, he thought he'd go to one of those sort of flying circuses, where, for I suppose a shilling or two, you could be taken up in an aircraft. Well he went up in an aircraft, and the aircraft crashed and he woke up in an ambulance on the way up to London and he thought well, maybe aircraft is not the thing for him. But he joined up in the British Army and so he spent four years in France and he was trained as a lawyer but he never practised. Like people back from any war it was often very difficult for them to settle down I think afterwards. And the atmosphere of the 1920s as I understand it, and read about it, you know, people weren't really expected to. So instead of practising as well as running a property, he really just ran Balpool and perambulated from there to Melbourne occasionally.
Well he, he was - my grandfather was a remarkable person, because he was a Canadian, he came from Nova Scotia, which was a very impoverished and still is an impoverished province. His ancestors had come from Scotland in 1745 or six and they would have had their heads chopped off if they hadn't. But he'd heard about the gold rushes in Australia and got to Australia about 1948 - not 19-, 1848-49. He had some training as an engineer, his biography, such as it is, just suggests that he was working the goldfields for the first 10 or 15 years, but I'm not quite sure in what capacity. But he emerged after a relatively short time as a member of the Victorian Parliament, as a railway contractor and builder, as a bridge builder. He went into other commercial enterprises and then he got involved in farming of grazing properties in the Riverina and later through a second marriage, across Queensland. He was present at all the conventions leading up to Federation and participated in those conventions. Somewhere I've got the original copies of the Constitution with his remarks attached to the different clauses and whatever. And he was a foundation Senator then till he died about 1919.
Yeah, he was in the first Senate. Oh and one of his other activities - as an engineer he thought there ought to be artesian water across a lot of Queensland and going into the Northern Territory. He couldn't get anyone in Australia who could drill a deep bore, so he brought out a Canadian water boring team, and everyone thought he was mad. But the first artesian bore was put down at a place called Thurllagoona, just near the Queensland-New South Wales border in about the centre of the border - you know, centre east and west - and they struck water. And that really altered the face of an enormous amount of both Queensland and the Northern Territory.
Oh not entirely, no. I mean, after all, if you have to flee from your homeland, which for me would have been Scotland some hundreds of years ago ...
Well they were on the wrong side of the war at Culloden. They fought for the Scots against the English. And then after that conflict the British sent - who was it, was it the Duke of Cumberland - to Scotland, with the specific objective of butchering as many Scots as they could find.
Well it was forced migration. Just as the British forced migration - or the English forced migration - from Ireland.
No, because he died in 1919 and my only - I have no memory of him at all, but I have a memory of his house in Toorak at a place called Lawler, four acres in the prime part of Toorak, which was sold at the middle of the Depression, or the beginning of the Depression.
Well it was just Depression. And you know, he'd died and assets needed to be split up I suppose, between different members of the family and whatever.
Oh no. It was pulled down - subdivision, whatever. I think a road went through it because four acres was quite a nice chunk of Toorak in those days. [INTERRUPTION]
Well I don't think we'd ever lived in it. Certainly I never lived in it, so - and again I was very young, so it wasn't any drama from that point of view. I don't think my father liked it very much.
Her family had been in New Zealand, and went to Perth and she and her sister spent, before they got married, I suppose a fair bit of time in Sydney or Melbourne. And she got engaged to my father and they got married.
I've got a sister.
Ah, she went to boarding school. One of the penalties of being on a property and - certainly in the 30s or 40s - was that the only way of going to school was going to boarding school. She was regarded, I think, as a slightly rebellious child and went to boarding school at a very young age. And so for a lot of the time she would have been at boarding school and our paths would cross in the school holidays and whatever. So she was around from that point of view. But otherwise not.
I used to spend some of the summer in Melbourne or try and get down to the beach at Portsea or whatever. But - and you know, sometimes people would come to stay. But it was a long way and in the 1930s motor transport isn't ... You know, if somebody came up from Melbourne to stay, that was a great event. Did the car - did they get there without breaking down? All that sort of thing. Then you have the war years where you couldn't travel, or you couldn't travel much and you had gas producers and you couldn't buy petrol. So there wasn't really much visiting between properties. And it's, I mean here you know, you might go 10, 20 miles to visit people for dinner or something. But in the Riverina you might have been going 50, 60 or 70 and so - and again it was during the Depression and people didn't want to spend more petrol if they didn't have to spend petrol. You know, it really was a question of counting the pennies for everyone I think in those days ...
... so that you know, if other employees on the place had kids that's fine, and that sometimes happened but they were sometimes transient and they'd be there for a bit and then they'd go.
Yeah, they could disappear. Mm.
I don't think so. I don't think, you know, if you haven't known another existence you don't really know. If you haven't known something else, you don't know what you may be missing. And there were a lot of things that I used to enjoy enormously in the - you know from a quite young age I'd go shooting. I went down the river with a rifle or ... one of the things when I did go to boarding school, they had a shooting club or team, even though it's a preparatory school, and you know, I was one of the few, I had my own 22 rifle. It was only used in target shooting and whatever, but if you had a rifle you were allowed to take your own.
All under close supervision. And I think that's the best age really to teach safety with firearms and respect for guns so that you don't get into trouble. And you know, a bit later, but quite early, I was still, I was given a 410 and you'd go up and down the river trying to shoot something. I can remember an Indian hawker arrived on one occasion and I bought a packet of Turf cigarettes. I went up the river and smoked one, and I very nearly didn't get back. It was lucky I'd gone up river before I started smoking it. I floated downstream and got back and crawled up into bed. Nobody could understand why I was in bed in the middle of the afternoon, and I wasn't going to tell them.
Oh yes. I've never liked cigarettes. I used to smoke a pipe or - a pipe was a good thing to chew on, during boring political meetings - and if you wanted to annoy other people at the meeting you'd probably light a cigar or something. But you're not allowed to do those simple things today.
Oh yeah. I mean I used to - we obviously had ponies and a 15 and 20 mile ride from quite a relatively early age was nothing. You know, you'd just gallop everywhere and the ponies were fit. And we had 5 000 acres of forest country, flooded country, the sort of country those shearers probably got lost in. And occasionally station hands would get lost in that country because they had no sense of direction. And I can remember riding out one day with my father and he said, 'Never come up through this country alone'. And I'd already been riding alone for a couple of years without getting lost.
Relatively small yeah.
Well I had a sense of direction. I think if you're living in that environment you develop these things. Whether I'd still have a sense of direction I'm not sure, but then I had a sense of direction. I never felt that I didn't know what direction to go in to get home. And by the grace of God, that proved to be right.
Oh I don't know. I think you know, they're the sorts of questions I find it very difficult to answer. A whole lot of things shape you and when you're asking that question, you're really saying, 'Would you have been a different person if you'd been brought up in Melbourne?' - you know, I find it almost impossible to answer that. I think you can have some memories out of that sort of experience, because I mean running a farm is really like running a small business. And we had a team of Italians on the property, doing the sort of things that would be very much frowned on these days but then was regarded as good practice. You know, values change. But they were ringbarking trees, and as the Depression bit, I was with my father when he went out to tell them that he wouldn't be able to keep them on, that they'd have to go. And they were probably a team of four or six of them and they'd been camping out on the job and you'd take out food and rations to them once a week. So they were having a pretty tough time of it too. And then they said that could they stay and go on working just for food and tucker, because they had nowhere to go. And my father said that he was sorry, he would like to be able to, but he wouldn't be allowed to because of union rules and because of Arbitration Court decisions and he'd be prosecuted if he tried to keep them on the place under those circumstances.
Well I don't think anyone liked it. The Italians didn't like it, my father didn't like it, and I didn't like it. But it was the way it was. I mean my father was right. He would have been prosecuted, or could have been if somebody had gone to the union and said, 'Look, these guys are working for no pay, just getting food and tucker'. You're just not allowed to do that. [INTERRUPTION]
I don't think you could. I think there were too many of them. I mean you might be able for one or two people, but you know, even the food and rations for six or eight people was not something that, you know, if you're really saving every last cent or penny as it was, even that's something that you don't want to be involved in.
Well you know, it's hard to understand it, but you know, it affected everyone. There were swagmen all along the roads and they'd have their signs on the front gates - If you go in there you'll get some work, a meal, and there'll be a place to sleep, or there's no point going in there, they'll turn the dog on you. There was a swagmen's language around the countryside. And it is really very difficult, there was no social welfare safety net for anyone. People had to do what they could by themselves and you know, being Australians they did. I don't - you know, you talk about a high level of unemployment today and there is. And with those who only work part time and would like to work full time, it's probably 20-25%, which is 1930s Depression levels. But the real difference is the social welfare safety net, which makes sure that people don't starve and whatever. Now none of that existed. So everyone was affected, businesses were affected, and it wasn't until the war began that things started to look up. I mean all the prescriptions of governments around the world were making the Depression worse. They thought they were doing the right thing in the conventional wisdom of the day. But they weren't. So there would have only been a handful of Australians who weren't affected by those circumstances.
I think everyone had that consciousness. But again, a capacity to do that was very limited. You'd have banks breathing down your neck, saying, 'You can't do this', or 'You mustn't do that', and so you know, to a much greater extent than today, I think people were alone themselves.
Well I think I was close to both my parents. I don't think I was closer to one than the other.
I have no idea.
Oh well parents say all sorts of things to their children.
So you had no consciousness of being characterised by them in any particular way? I mean were they proud of you and did they give you an idea of who you were that was clear to you, that they expected certain things of you?
Well they would have expected that you know, certain patterns of behaviour and you had to be clean and you had to do that, and some things that young children just don't understand. You know, why should you be clean? You just go out and get dirty again. But you know, they were different days too. Because it was remote, and because there was no school, we had a governess for a while. I suppose for quite a while. But I'm not sure that I ever learnt much from governesses. There was one who - a German who was meant to teach us German, and she spent most of the - the old crystal radio got chucked out and we got a new short wave radio set, and she was always a bit tired in the morning because she'd been up all night listening to Hitler's speeches. But she'd never tell us what he was saying, which is not surprising. I'm afraid she ended up in a concentration camp for most of the war.
I don't know whether it was - no, I don't think straight from the property. But she was obviously fascinated by Hitler and what Hitler was doing for the Germans. She was a great, big, blonde German.
So in the early part of your childhood, as you were born in 1930, there was a sort of virtually 10 years that led up to the war. Were you conscious of the fact that in the world outside this property, that there was forces gathering that were going to make a big change to things?
I, not to a great extent I don't think. I mean the whole ten years wasn't spent at Balpool, because a part of each year, certainly as you got a bit older was spent by the seaside or whatever for a while. But I think a lot of people grew up - I mean parents act quite differently today. I mean the idea then for parents, or I think for my parents, was you shelter your children, you try and protect them from all the nasty influences that they're going to have to grapple with when they grow up. And that sheltering is probably not a good idea. I think it's much better if children learn that certain things exist and have to cope with them. And they're generally much more resilient than parents think anyway. So I think I was probably, and my sister also I suspect, sheltered too much from outside influences if you like, or what was happening in the wider world. Much more than we probably should have been.
Oh you'd probably more often than not, go and saddle up the pony and go for a ride, or go shooting somewhere.
Or spend a bit of time with your governess, which I wouldn't have liked. When you're out of, if we were shearing, go out to the woolshed, which would have been three miles away. Sometimes visit other people who were working on the place and whatever.
Oh I suspect all the normal conventional values that parents expect of children. Nothing particularly special or unique.
I don't even think farm boy's in terms of values. I think the standard values that most parents of the day, most parents probably still today would have expected of their kids.
Well, you know I don't think it was any conscious effort, but honesty and telling the truth and I suppose working hard, or whatever.
Oh yes, work was valued. Work was essential. It was the 1930s.
I went to a preparatory school in Glamorgan for a while. This was in the latter part of the 1930s. Then I went to - and this almost down at the start of the war, to a boarding school for four years at Moss Vale.
That was Tudor House. And then I went to Melbourne Grammar.
I enjoyed it but I didn't - well there was another kind of isolation because you're cut off from everything you've known for the whole term. It was during the war and you'd be very lucky if your parents, or one of them could get up to see you once and whatever. And most of the other families would have come from Sydney or round about, not all that far away, so like all schools even during the war, there would have been parents' days or sports days or father's cricket matches and that sort of thing. And I think, you know, quite mistakenly, I was always looking to the stage when I could leave school, because I thought then you'd be free. There are other sorts of constraints. But I never liked the discipline or the straightjacket that schools and boarding schools put you in. You accept it but, you don't have to, you don't have to love it.
I just didn't like restraints and rules that you had comply. I think I complied with them mostly, but I always thought that once you left school, finished your education, you're then free and you can do what you want to do. Life's not like that either.
No, I don't know that I did. You know, I knew they couldn't be there, because it was the war and you couldn't travel, or you had to get a permit or you didn't have petrol and my father was in the Air Force in the Second War, so there were all those restraints. You just accepted them. I don't think children that sort of age really, they accept what the position is without too much question.
Oh quite a number, but most of them, you know, they're New South Wales, or if they're off the land, it's from different parts of the world. So if we see them occasionally that's as far as it goes. But you know, there are a number and some that I still see or hear or have contacts with quite often.
Well, Tudor House was very good at organising people. So every minute was organised, you know, you did your drill in the morning. You did this and then you had sports in the afternoon, and they'd organise things on the weekends and Saturdays and Sundays. So you know, if you weren't used to it or whatever you just fitted into the scene.
But you didn't like it, so having come from a world in which you could pursue your own activities at your own speed, with your own interests, you were suddenly put in team sports, team activities all the time and did you find that pretty irksome?
No I enjoyed you know, cricket and tennis and rugby, whatever. And I was in the teams and, and I enjoyed all of that. It wasn't a particularly conscious thing in finding it irksome. It was just that, if I'd been asked what I was wanting to do, if I was enjoying myself, I'd say I'd enjoy myself more when I've left school and can do what I want to do. Without really knowing what it was like. My father would say, well you know, it's not quite like that. Enjoy it while you're at school because it's the best days of your life and whatever. But when you're a child like that it's very difficult to see that you're living through the best days in you life. You think they're over the hill when you get into the next paddock.
Oh, reasonably good.
Oh, somewhere in the best three or four.
Oh I've got no idea really. I mean they would have, I suppose, said hard working, serious, participates in school activities. You had ...
I haven't read my school reports for a long while.
Well where did you get them?
Oh Philip Ayres saw them did he? Yeah.
If you say so.
Well it was because I wasn't a boarder at Melbourne Grammar. That was one of the things I'd pressed on my parents because they had a flat in Melbourne and I said I don't want to be a boarder. I was sick of being a boarder and whatever. And that did give me more time and whatever to do whatever [I] wanted to do I suppose. It may have been better if I had been a boarder, I don't know.
The ... well I think just like any other school probably. The - you had - you know, everyone was divided into houses and schoolwork just went on and sport went on and you had to go to the cadets and cadet camps and that was more discipline. Melbourne Grammar is a strange school and you know, it's a great pity I think that the council and the old boys prevented the coming up, not just a boys' school, opening the place up, because I think it might have made the school.
Yeah, I think so, very definitely. I think there are traditions in Melbourne Grammar which are not particularly good for a lot of kids. You know, if you're good academically that's fine. They do everything for you. If you can play sport reasonably well, that's fine. They'll do everything for you. If you're one of the duller variety, I think they used to just, in many ways, wash their hands of you. The people who weren't so good academically got the worst teachers and - or I thought they were the worst. I don't suppose I saw all that much of them, but in many ways the duller kids needed the best teachers. Or certainly teachers with significant skills, but different. And people at school are probably pretty harsh in their judgements of teachers, you know who's good and you know who's not and you don't think much of the ones that aren't.
I think so yeah.
Well I probably rebelled against the sporting side of it, because you know, I'd been quite good at cricket and reasonably good at rugby, but I thought, well I'm not going to bother to learn to kick a football all that well, so that got me out of having to play football on Saturdays during the winter.
Well I was but I just, it was part of the discipline against which I think I did rebel, and as a day boy I was able to avoid as much sport as otherwise I might or should have played.
I played more tennis because that was less regimented and less whatever. I played some cricket but again, I could have played a lot more I guess.
Well I just felt it was less regimented, that it was more individualistic, and whatever.
Oh yes, well you certainly did, unless it was a mistake on match point against you.
Well I, you know, it might have been - if you were a boarder you couldn't have avoided playing more cricket and probably couldn't have avoided learning to kick a football as you have to on Australian Rules, but which is quite unnecessary and redundant for rugby. But anyway, it's one of those ... you never really know. You can't relive it.
Oh, for a while we had a tiny flat at the top of Collins Street, in a place called Alcaston House. I think it's mostly doctors' rooms now, but it really was very small. And then we moved to a small house, which years ago had been somebody's converted stables, in Caroline Street, in South Yarra. And sometime later moved to a larger place in Domain Road, Aintree House where my mother still lives.
No, I was still at Tudor House.
Well no, my parents really moved backwards and forwards a fair bit. And I suppose because I was at school and a day boy, she tended to stay in Melbourne a bit more.
Well very determined, very strong willed, very strong views about the sort of people she wants to be with or not be with.
Well that would depend upon her, whether you're asking now or 10 years ago, or 20 or 30 years ago.
Because, because that, you know it's changed enormously. I mean she's changed enormously. She probably wouldn't admit it, but people she used to see a lot of would bore her today. Some of them are still alive and she never sees them at all.
Her interests have changed.
Well I suppose she was involved with family and all that sort of thing, and then she developed interests more in music and art and paintings and theatre. And therefore developed interests in different sorts of people, and earlier she might have been more social and later she was much less social and wanted to associate with people who shared her other interests. So the conversation would be different.
So during the time that you were living together in Melbourne and you were going to school, what sort of people came. What sort of people did you see with her then? And was she interested in the arts then, and did she communicate any of that to you?
Oh certainly starting to be, yes. Yeah.
Probably - well to some extent, but not enormously. I was interested in the theatre and whatever. My sister worked, or studied, at RMIT for a while, but then she got married. Her husband - well they were in beekeeping. Then when I was at Oxford they went across to England because my sister wanted to study and to paint or to sculpt, which she was originally, and thought that Europe was more accommodating to young artists than Australia. And she's lived in either England or Rome for the last 35 years. Since the middle '50s, she's lived in Rome or close to Rome. So she - once they left, they never came back.
Have you always associated those sorts of activities more with women's activities than men? Would you have seen it then, as a boy growing up, as slightly wimpish and even effeminate to be interested in the arts?
No, I wouldn't have thought about those things. I probably would have - you know, I was either going to go on the land or I was going to be a lawyer or a something or other. And life was busy enough and [they] probably just didn't cross my path very much.
Now you had a nickname at Melbourne Grammar of 'Freezer' and some people have said that that was more to do with the personality that you showed as a young boy and growing into a young man there than the way that you pronounced your name, Fraser. What do you think earned you the nickname?
I don't really know.
Well some I suppose but not others. Depends.
Well, I just don't really know what sort of - you either relate to people or you don't. I don't know that there's a reason for it.
I don't think I specifically avoided any.
You know, this is nearly 40, well it's 50 years ago. And Melbourne Grammar being what it was and my interest being what it is, you know, most of the people I knew at Melbourne Grammar I haven't seen for a very, very long while. Their paths have gone in different directions.
I suppose I'm just asking you to go back mentally in time and think about the sorts of influences that were being brought to bear on you as you went through high school at that period of time, which was in the '40s, and what kind of a place it was and how you as an individual reacted to it.
I doubt if Melbourne Grammar influenced me at all. I hate to say that.
Mm. They'd hate to hear me say it.
Yeah, well I don't think they did.
If you like.
Maybe it was. You know, even when I was at Tudor House, which was much [more] of a fun school, I still thought I was going to be able to do what I liked and I'd be much freer when I left school. But it seems that - Melbourne Grammar is a very mixed school and about 80% of the kids will have had some sort of scholarship probably. It wasn't in that sense an elitist school at all. It might have been elitist in terms of academic ability, or in terms of sporting ability, but neither of those worried me, because I could compete in those areas when I wanted to compete. But, so it was an egalitarian society and that's not the general perception I think of Melbourne Grammar at all.
Oh a lot, a great many. If they were good enough academically, or good enough for sport, the school had quite large scholarship funds and they would be actively seeking people each year. And that made it much more of an egalitarian school than Geelong Grammar for example, which in any case was all boarding school and therefore fees were very high for everyone and day school fees weren't all that high at Melbourne Grammar. So you know, probably with other main public schools in - or private schools in Melbourne, Melbourne Grammar was not elitist in the normal social wealth sense at all. Although it might have had a reputation for being.
Oh, well, you just needed to. You knew you were going to have exams that you had to pass, so you better learn what you had to learn.
Oh you played cricket and you played tennis and you mucked around. Just the normal things that people do.
So you don't remember that there was anything about which you felt enormously enthusiastic at that time. That you'd feel, when you were doing that, you know, this is when you really felt at home and you felt good.
Oh I think a lot of things. Well you see I've always been somebody who looks to the future and not to the past. And I haven't asked myself what I've done at Melbourne Grammar for probably 40 years. And as for Saturdays and Sundays if it wasn't playing sport, well what were you doing? Either woodworking shop, which was one of the things I'd learnt to do at Tudor House and so I made some things out of wood. But otherwise I guess you just do the normal things that young people do.
No the headmaster did, but the school went and sacked that headmaster later, because he was too much of a disciplinarian. But the school in fact had needed a disciplinarian. A man called Sutcliffe, and I thought he was a good headmaster.
I believed that school needed discipline. There were some people, before he came to it, there were some people who were out of control and mostly people in the boarding house. And they really did get the school a bad name and it got into print and got into the newspapers. But then the council at some point felt that he'd gone too far. And it might have all been done politely and decently but in effect they got rid of him.
Well I just thought he was somebody doing his job and doing it effectively.
Yeah, but that was later in the day. I've forgotten whether - it was probably after I left the school that that happened.
He said that - he's been quoted as saying that he thought you were a very nice boy but you were always on your - he always felt he had to be on his best behaviour with you. That you set such a high standard and I found that interesting because it's usually the other way round.
Well I must ... I didn't know that I intimidated him, you know, he would have intimidated most of the boys at the school I think.
Yes I did. And there were other masters there, I can't, I find it difficult to recall their names, that I certainly would have respected. But I was in, you see, I was in the top classes in whatever subjects I was taking, so I got the best teachers. I wasn't amongst the duller kids who in my view got some of the worst teachers.
Oh yeah. Mm.
If you're running a school of 600 kids, you had to be respected.
You couldn't run a large school like that on love. You really couldn't.
It's not a principle. I think it's just too large a school and again, having regard to the need for discipline in Melbourne Grammar, the people who needed the discipline wouldn't have respected love ...
... they would have regarded it as weakness. They really would have.
No, it depends in what environment it is. Parents, hopefully, are respected and loved.
It depends very often what sort of organisation it is.
Difficult, not impossible, but difficult. It would depend both on the headmaster and on the school itself.
Mm. And he wouldn't have succeeded. Knowing some of the people around, he just wouldn't have succeeded if he hadn't insisted on respect, and conducted himself in a way which earned that. And maybe it's a pretty rare character who can achieve both.
I didn't want to do that.
Well I didn't want to do seven or eight years at a university. And I suppose I wanted to do what I was going to do and get on with it. In the event, I wish I'd also taken a law degree which I could have done with an extra two years at Oxford.
I think, you know, I would have enjoyed practising law.
He'd done law and so the choice was between the two, and the college I was going to, had probably the best schools in Oxford, in both.
Yeah. They certainly had the best law tutors in the university, and tutors in PPE were as good as any, if not better. Better than most, so that didn't influence the decision. I suppose at the end of the day, it might have been Bob Southey who'd come back from Oxford; he'd studied PPE and he thought it was a good course and whatever. But if I'd - it would have been very easy to stay on for an extra couple of years and add law to it.
No I didn't. I wanted to get back.
No, I think somebody coming out of secondary school in Australia was probably a year behind his counterparts in Britain.
Well it made the first year fairly difficult; not impossible, but difficult. My first assignment was to read Keynes' General Theory and write a 2 000 word essay about it. Now that was just an exercise in knowing whether you understood anything or not. And I'm sure I understood none of it.
Quite an induction, yes.
I read it three times and understood none of it I suspect. I mean you don't even understand the terms. None of these terms had been taught at Melbourne Grammar. Economics as a subject was only taught in the crudest forms to duller children. Not in forms that would have enabled you to understand any part of the General Theory.
Well it wasn't anything to do with that. It was a question of some sort of test for tutors obviously, you know, how much have these kids been taught and what do they know? Or how much can they understand? So they'd make a judgement about the task ahead of them in bringing people up to scratch.
Quite probably, yeah.
Well a great deal I think of the Modern Greats, which PPE is, is not about teaching any line or any view, it's about giving people a capacity for judgement. And knowing what they're doing when they're exercising a judgement. And the philosophy and the politics and the economics do all come together at the end of the day because they're all intimately related. You can have a philosophy, that's fine, but it's a good idea to know whether or how you can apply it. And you learn I think, and the philosophy that we did in PPE is mostly the development of modern philosophy - sorting out what's possible, what's real, what's metaphysical. A lot of politicians use statements that are purely metaphysical. They haven't a clue what they're talking about and how it all relates to the practical application of politics, to constitutional systems and to practical economics. Economics would have been very much Keynesian, which economics ought still to be.
Well this is one of the great contradictions and it's also one of the deficiencies in people who make those sorts of judgements because Keynes wrote mostly for the 1930s and he was writing, to the extent that he was writing prescriptions, he was writing prescriptions for the 1930s, and then he was doing a lot of things in the immediate post-war years, but the principles were consistent. What the latter-day critics of Keynes have - I suspect deliberately, because I can't think that they're as ignorant as what they say proclaims them to be, I can't believe people are that ignorant - they say that because Keynes postulated spending more money to get governments out of trouble, or countries out of trouble, that theory has been proved to be wrong. But you know, Keynes never said that. He said that in certain circumstances, such as the circumstances of the 1930s, if governments were not too indebted you can get an economy moving again by some carefully chosen and discretionary government expenditures, more effectively and more efficiently than by merely lowering interest rates, because, in his term, you can take a horse to water but you can't make him drink. And lowering interest rates is just taking a horse to water and it can be a very ineffective weapon, either in encouraging an economy to move forward or in discouraging it. Now the fashion is that because governments got too indebted, they blame Keynes for that. But Keynes never advocated that. So these latter day critics are really criticising governments that got too indebted and then they say, because if they spend more money, they'll get into even more trouble, therefore Keynes himself was wrong. Which is a total non sequitur. It's a nonsense and I think they know it's a nonsense, because they've got another agenda.
Oh yeah, fairly well before I left Oxford, yeah.
As an individual, as a developing mind and personality when you were there, in relation to the theoretical material that you were encountering, did you find it most interesting because of its theoretical side, or were you always looking for pragmatic outcomes, for how you could put these ideas into practice in the real world?
No, I don't think in the early stages I was looking to see how you could put them into practice in the real world. But the - well both were interesting, and we were taught quite early on in the piece, especially in relation to economics, that the theoretically most advantageous solution may not be the best. And I can remember one particular example - in an industrialising India do you use antiquated cotton mills and whatever from Lancashire, or do you get the best and most modern machinery. The best and most modern machinery in the Indian context won't enable you to produce a cheaper product because the capital cost is greater, and it will employ only a tenth of the people that the old-fashioned Lancashire mills will employ. So which way do you go? There's a real decision to be made. In today's world people would say there's no decision to be made, you forget unemployment, and you just buy the best equipment that you possible can. But the judgements being made in the immediate post-war years, I think were more sophisticated judgements. And taking into consideration values which are no longer considered to be of any importance.
Yeah, I'm sure it was.
Some of them.
Well the whole business was an exploratory process, so there's not just one revelation, there were a whole number I think. And this is in the philosophical as well as in the - in the philosophical elements of the course as well as in politics and economics. And you know the exciting thing about it was probably when you can begin to understand that you're exercising your own judgement and coming to reasonably sensible conclusions. When you can pick out the metaphysical from the real and practical. When, you know, one of the things we studied very briefly, because there wasn't all that much to it, was Machiavelli. Now the conventional wisdom of Machiavelli is that he was a terrible person, advocating terrible things. But the truth of it is that he never advocated anything. All he did was to describe what you needed to do in medieval Italy if you wanted to be a power and stay in power.
Well it all applies. I mean you could rewrite Machiavelli in today's terms and the sorts of things that he said rulers did, he just observed. This is what successful rulers do to stay in power. This is what unsuccessful rulers fail to do and they get defeated or poisoned or stabbed in the back.
And you know, all, the actual techniques and whatever are probably different, but there's no reason why you couldn't translate Machiavelli into a democratic state and say what you needed to do to stay in power in democracy. But he was not writing a philosophy, he was describing events. And he was not making any moral judgement about those events.
So later on, when you yourself were in a position of power, did you sometimes catch yourself behaving in a way that would make you think this is as described by Machiavelli? Or did you actually ever consciously put into effect some of the systems that he described?
No, I don't think ever.
But he, he was - I mean one of the simple things that he would have said, in a democratic state you've got to win an election. Well, I won some elections. But I wouldn't have thought this is what Machiavelli would have described. But I wouldn't have thought - I mean whatever you were, became part of your own consciousness and you wouldn't have said this is what Locke prescribed or Descartes or anyone else for that matter. You are what you are, you make your own judgements. You're not applying somebody else's rules, somebody else's prescriptions. If we brought down a budget, I didn't say, 'This is a bit of Keynes', or something. You're just exercising your own judgement, and doing what you think you need to do.
Well of course, how else can you exercise judgement? You can't exercise a judgement out in the air. I mean that's true metaphysics ...
... you're influenced by what you are.
I think so, yeah.
Well, very much to the world of ideas.
But a great deal of Modern Greats at Oxford was about nations and how they, how they survive, how they're governed. There's a very long and complex book by a man called Finer, I've probably got the name wrong but it might be The Theory & Practice of Modern Government or something. And he describes - Finer anyway describes all the constitutions of different countries around the world and their differences, and the Westminster system, or the British system, the American system, and why the American system evolved and what they had in front of them when they decided to have a constitution of the kind that they have, and he points out that they wanted something different because they wanted to get as far away from the monarchical system which they had regarded as undemocratic, and for them it had been. They weren't given the right to vote or to be represented. So they wanted something different, and therefore they looked to Europe.
You found yourself intellectually quite stimulated by Oxford and a whole world of ideas were opened up to you there that enabled you to develop your own thoughts. Were you disappointed with your Thirds?
With my ...
Oh I suppose so, but it was my, it was my own fault I think. I worked very hard on the first year, because I wasn't sure that I could master anything or everything and by the end of the second term you had to do exams which decided whether you stayed in the place or didn't stay in the place, or if you failed you'd be given a bit of a second chance and a supplementary. Well I got through that quite well, and in the second year I probably worked reasonably hard, and in the third year I worked less hard than ... so, and then I was, I did the cardinal thing. I was - you had a verbal examination after you'd done the written examination and you were only really given a verbal examination - or the purpose of the verbal examination is to see whether somebody should be shifted from a certain degree to a higher degree. And I'd been told that and therefore I needed to understand that if somebody was asking me questions, he was asking questions as a friend and not as an enemy. And I don't think I handled that very well. I think I thought the questioner was asking me questions, which I thought I'd covered in the written papers, and so instead of going through it again, I said on a couple of occasions, 'Well I thought I'd answered that adequately in the written papers', where clearly he was wanting ...
... you know, further explanation and whatever. So I stuck with the Third.
No, I just wasn't thinking carefully enough or whatever.
No. I had a cartilage operation at some point, and that had me out of action for a while.
For a while, yeah. That certainly distracted me from more serious things.
Oh yes, very much so. You know, we had a good time. I had cousins in Wiltshire and we used to spend some time with them, and I did a very small amount of hunting or shooting and ... But then on some of the occasions, I had a car and we took it across to the Continent, and took a - four of us had a camping trip. The three weeks cost us, for getting the car across, living, grog, petrol, everything - £22 a head - which even in those days was pretty economical. We'd eat uncooked porridge, rolled oats in the morning for breakfast, because as you digested it, it went on expanding you see, and you didn't feel hungry.
And we found a place on, I think, Lake Annecy where you could buy, it was vin du pays, it was 1/6 a bottle and even 1/6 a bottle was pretty good value in those days. And it was just so good we just drank it all afternoon.
No, we probably had dinner, probably needed dinner then.
Well my father provided the money as my father provided money for everything in those days.
So in fact you shared this then with your friends, the car that you'd got from your father, but you were somebody who had a fairly ready supply of things when you needed them from your parents. Do you think that gave you a sense of ease or did you not have a sense of ease as you were growing up?
Well I didn't have a sense of concern about the future or wondering what kind of future, you know, I really wanted to be a farmer and to run this place when my father stopped and whatever. But I also wanted to have other interests beyond farming, and that's one of the reasons why whatever I was doing at Oxford was about as far removed from farming as you could get. I mean the other way would be to do an agricultural course or you know, some sort of science-based course, and it was a very deliberate choice not to do that.
No, but I wanted to have broader interests than just farming. So farming was there as something that I thought I'd probably be doing, but I wanted some other interests, therefore what should it be. Now law seemed reasonable. I was always a bit terrified of higher mathematics and of science and all the equations and whatever, so I don't think I had a natural inclination as a scientist. And therefore law, philosophy, politics, whatever.
Oh for one rather silly reason I think, and quite apart from the fact, because if I had had a law degree I think I would like to have a go at practising, because I think I could cross-examine people well, and I had some experience of that in cabinet meetings and whatever at different times. And I think I would have enjoyed it. But lawyers always regard themselves as superior beings. They are a most arrogant race, they really are - or breed. But the college I was in, lawyers regarded themselves as superior to every other group. They certainly had the best tutors in the whole of Oxford, they got more Firsts than any other school in the whole of Oxford, and maybe more, you know, more than 50% of all the Firsts out of the whole of Oxford came out of Magdalen. But the course that I was in was equally well served and lawyers, whether at Oxford or in politics, always regarded themselves as better able to understand what legislation was about or better able to do this or better able to do that. And it just wasn't true, and if I'd had a law degree I could have fronted them earlier than I did. Later in my political life I wasn't intimidated by lawyers. But earlier on I perhaps was.
I never particularly regarded that as a sin in politics.
Menzies was always regarded as arrogant. I don't, it's one of those epithets that your political enemies hurl at you - Melbourne Grammar, Oxford, Western District, arrogant automatically.
They might have, but one of - arrogance, it depends how it's meant. But if you're called arrogant because you know what you're about, where you want to go, you know what you think the right solution to a problem is, you've listened to other people's arguments against your course of action and have dismissed them, now if that's arrogant, it's a capacity that people need to have. You need to be able to make up your mind where you're going, you need to have a sense of confidence, you need to be able to impart that to other people and to your electors as well as your political colleagues.
If it's arrogance that just says I'm right and to hell with all the rest of you, I won't listen to an argument, that's another matter. But Menzies and I think I, if we were arrogant, were arrogant in the sense of being able to make up our own minds, having listened to the arguments, listened to the facts, and then being able to express a sense of total confidence - this is the right course, this is what we, or the country, or the Party, whatever, ought to do. Now if that's arrogance I can't see anything wrong with it.
Well that was all an accident. I'd come back from Oxford, I was here, and one or two friends said well you've done philosophy, politics and economics, the Labor Party held this seat, one or two of them didn't like ...
Wannon. The ex-president of the Liberal Party, Magnus Cormack was going to stand and they were saying, 'Well you know you won't get preselection, but why don't you throw your hat into the ring and it'll at least make it a more interesting preselection'. And that sort of conversation went on for a little while with a few people. This was I suppose, was in late in 1953 or 1954, and I threw my hat into the ring and shortly after I'd done that I thought well to hell with it. No point throwing your hat into the ring and not winning. So I started to work at it, and won.
Oh I just went round to branches and made myself known to people, whatever. And in the preselection my opponent made some mistakes. He got some friendly supporters to ask what he thought were difficult and obtuse questions which would leave me flummoxed and asked questions about the anti-trust laws in the United States, and part of the practical element to what I'd been studying at Oxford was the rationale and the purpose and whatever of the anti-trust laws in the United States. And of course, we had no anti-trust laws in Australia at the time. It was a Liberal Government that introduced them, not a Labor Government, and so the question was easy meat and there were a couple of other questions which had clearly been cooked up to make me appear a young ass or whatever. But questions never terrified me.
I got preselection.
I was 23. I didn't win that election, but Wannon was the only seat in 1954 in which there was a swing to the Liberal Party.
That was the election that meant that 300 votes against Menzies in two or three seats and he would have lost that election. It was a very, very close thing.
Hard work. I just travelled around there, went to all the little places where no candidate or member had ever been, and I drank in the pubs. I think my record was going into about 14 or 15 pubs a day, and I'm glad we didn't have today's drink driving laws, because I wouldn't have qualified at any point.
Oh I probably did. But you know, you're always in the public side of the pub. You're never in the saloon bar of the pub, and the, often it was the only place you could meet people, and when the election came around Ron Mack who was one-eyed, not because he was, you know it's not a characteristic, he'd had one eye shot out in Tripoli in - was it Tripoli, the rats of Tobruk - where was it? Anyway in North Africa. He was a member of the Victorian Upper House and he said, he rang up and he got the Warrnambool booth and the big centres are always harder to influence than the small, because they've got their own life and they do in fact get visited by members of parliament, or they can, but it's ... visiting Warrnambool was not a strange occurrence, they were used to it. But visiting Durgam and Pelagoro and Apsley and Nancoop, places that people have never heard of, or Panmure and Kirkstall and Killarney, they appreciated it. And anyway, the Warrnambool booth came in and Ron said, 'I'm sorry, it's no good Malcolm, there's a trend against the government and Warrnambool's gone against you, so you're not going to win'. And I said, 'Well you know, let's just wait a bit', and then all the small booths started coming in, and in the end I lost by 17. It was a vote that could have been challenged, because they'd built the Rocklands Dam over here at Cavendish and Balmoral, and there were 150 workers who'd left 18 months before, who'd been left on the Wannon roll, and they shouldn't be on the Wannon roll, they were building another dam somewhere up in New South Wales, and I was, I got ahead for 48 hours and then 150 votes came in from somewhere up in New South Wales, which were overwhelmingly Labor and reversed it again and put Donny Macleod ahead. So he, in the end, won by 17 and we took a tactical decision not to challenge those votes, or a strategic decision not to challenge those votes.
No, there were other considerations, because there are a lot of other things you can do apart from politics. Although if, you know, if a young man of 23 was told what he'd be getting into politics along the track, I'm not sure that you'd ever embark on it.
Oh there are a lot more peaceful activities than politics and you know, there were a lot of arguments with colleagues and all sorts of things.
Not necessarily, not ...
Combat with a political enemy, yes. Combat with your own people is quite a - the sort of combat I ended up having with John Gorton was not something that I think anyone would really enjoy. I'm sure he didn't and I didn't. But the motivation at the time would have been that I really had seen the total mess that socialism had made of Britain, and just - it wasn't just the war, but five years after the war they still had the most massive controls, the most massive regulation, the normal food that was available for normal people was miserable. Rowers had to eat whale meat to keep up their strength and develop some stamina because nothing better was available. In some countries they might like whale meat but I think it's terrible stuff. I wasn't a rower so I didn't have to eat it. And they really had made a mess of Britain, and five years after the end of the war there wasn't an enormous sign of recovery. So I thought ... and philosophically I believe that the regimentation of socialism was pure hell, and the uniformity which they sought to impose would be hell. And we had a Labor Party in Australia trying to nationalise the banks, trying to do very much the same sorts of things here, but in a different way, and so, if you like, the training from Oxford and Modern Greats and the experience of England and what people were trying to do here, you had the positive side to it, because the Keynesian dream was that you - which I thought was a reality and I still think would be a reality but people have rejected it in latter days - that you knew how to manage a country so you could overcome the problems of unemployment and that you wouldn't have to face the conditions of the '30s again. We knew if we were sensible how to manage our affairs and keep them on a balanced and sensible path, and people'd be able to have jobs and work for their families and whatever. I never, in those early years, thought we'd ... that the clock would be reversed and that modern theory - even embraced by the Labor Party, the only difference being the Liberals say you should have more of it - tries to rub out 100 years of humanising capitalism. And capitalism is a brutal and inhuman system. The marketplace does not maximise employment, it does not maximise productivity. It will maximise wealth to the most powerful if it's left just to the market place, and sensible countries spent a long period of years making an inhuman system the best system of economic management that the world has yet devised. Other people have tried socialism or they've tried communism and they've both been most horrible and ghastly failures. But capitalism in its pure form is not really very acceptable either. It was just a more easily tamed system than - I mean I don't think there is any way of humanising socialism or communism.
I think it would have been both. I mightn't have been able to articulate it in the same way, but the positive side of it always was the belief that economies could be managed in a way that made sense, and in the way that maximised opportunity to the maximum number of people, and so it was a really a belief about society that producers and consumers in their larger numbers mattered, and it was maximising their freedom that was important.
Oh much. The government should hold the ring and maximise freedom for the great majority. If governments don't hold the ring, you maximise freedom for the economically very powerful, but then it's harder for new players to enter a particular market, consumers start to have less choice because there are more monopolies and even if there appears to be a choice on the surface, very often there are agreements behind the - I mean what's the choice between a Toyota and Lexcen? I mean a Commodore and a Lexcen, it's the same car with a different badge. That's not a choice. And I don't think it's meant to be a choice. It just suits the companies. But capitalism left to itself is not necessarily, and probably won't, provide all that much choice for consumers.
Yeah, but I suppose the - I would have wanted a party that quite clearly embraced and represented everyone, and not a party that only represented a specific or a narrow interest. The National Party at the time was reasonably strong in western Victoria but the Liberal Party would have been stronger and it is probably the one state, or I suppose South Australia also, where the Liberal Party quite deliberately went out in a very vigorous way and established itself state wide. I mean in Queensland it was a Brisbane party and never did much across the state and that's why the National Party has been so strong. In New South Wales today, the Liberal Party has 11 000 membership, the National Party about 28 000; in Victoria we would have more numbers than the National Party.
Well it was a strong organisation, but also the Liberal claim under Menzies was that we represent all Australians, and he introduced policies and philosophies within the party and made quite sure that, you know, the words of the forgotten people weren't then being repeated by people who didn't know what they meant. They were his words and he knew what they meant, and they were designed to make sure that all sections, all groups had their voice, and it's not just a question of - I mean we couldn't win government, the Liberal Party couldn't, unless we had 40% of the union vote, and the union membership was stronger in those days than it is now. So the unions were by no means monolithic in their attitude. I mean the membership wasn't. And a lot of people might have supported their unions in terms of union affairs, working conditions and all the rest if you like. But in terms of the larger things which they wanted for themselves and their families, and the way Australia was run, they didn't look to the union. They didn't look to the Labor Party. They looked to the Liberal Party because they thought, well for whatever reason, it was more balanced or would give them and their families a better opportunity to prosper in the way they wanted to prosper.
Now the electorate of Wannon, which you were setting yourself up to win, and then to hold ever since and build on, has certain particular characteristics, hasn't it, which perhaps gave you an idea of some of the problems that were on a broader scale in the country. Could you describe the electorate and what particular concerns you had to be sensitive to as its representative?
Well it was a very diverse electorate, nearly all rural industries were represented in some form. It had a very strong Irish and Catholic element, especially around Warrnambool - Allansford, Keystal, Koroit and those areas, and the Catholic Church would have been very strong and I think today would be by far the strongest church across Wannon. Most of the Catholic part of the electorate would have been Labor originally. A lot of it would have come from Ireland and so would have been influenced by the Irish tradition within Australia, which in spite of 1975 ... I mean people don't know what division was like within Australia unless they understand the first referendums that Billy Hughes had about conscription and the role of Archbishop Mannix, and the role of the Catholic Church during the period of the troubles of Ireland. It was Billy Hughes who turned the conscription vote into [an] anti-Irish, anti-Catholic vote, very, very deliberately, believing he'd make it easier to win. And so Mannix in my view behaved with proprietary and Billy Hughes should have been shot. But Australia didn't recover from that probably until the Labor Party split in the middle '50s, and the fabric of Australian Federation nearly failed round 1920-21, all because of the Irish question. And people don't read their history or understand what this country's about very often. But ...
So that sort of background was important in Wannon.
Well Labor - the seat had been held by a decent bloke, but I don't think he contributed all that much. There were a lot of other interests in Wannon, small business interests, municipal interests. There was a Port of Portland that was meant to be built, and meant not to be built and when I first became member there was nothing there at all. I lost by 17 in 1954, and won - but the Labor Party had split, but I would have won anyway the second time round because Donny Macleod had retired. He wasn't standing again and I think I'd demonstrated that my ... [INTERRUPTION]
I won in 1955 and that was after the Labor Party split. But I think I would have won anyway because the margin was small and there was going to, I think, be a swing back to the Menzies government because there'd been economic problems leading up to 1954. There'd been high inflation which they'd brought under control and they'd had to take, therefore, some unpopular things. Well the economic cycle was starting to move in the government's way, and I'd done some more work in Wannon, and if there was going to be a swing to the Liberals anyway, I ought to have been able to close the gap of 17, because it had moved my way when there was a swing against the Liberal Party in most of the rest of Australia. But with the split it was easy, because the DLP or the Anti-Communist Labor Party were going to shove their preferences in my direction, and I won by - oh I've forgotten, five or six, seven thousand.
Yeah, and, but suddenly you realise that you're representing forty-odd thousand people, and one of the things we used to teach members of parliament, that if you think you need to do something to advance the interests of your electorate, that's your primary responsibility. If it means bucking the Party, it's still your responsibility to do it. People don't understand that today, and I had the most, or the strongest arguments with Henry Bolte about - well there were a couple of things, they passed a bill to establish the Portland Harbour Trust Commissioners and Portland was central, people thought, to prosperity in this district, because everything got sucked into Melbourne or to Adelaide and they didn't like it and they thought that economic wealth got drained out, and these arguments were very strong. But anyway Keith Anderson was made Harbour Trust Commissioner and he told me he'd been appointed to the job, they wanted him to fail, they'd appointed him just to shut him up and to shut up others; but to demonstrate once and for all that it wouldn't work. And he said to me he wasn't going to fail, and anyway I probably did some things to help and whatever, and later on there was an effort to establish wool sales at Portland and the first sale got boycotted by the brokers, the buyers and everyone. So I had to break down this, which meant attacking the brokers, attacking the buyers, attacking the state government for sitting by and doing nothing about it, and I was elected by a meeting of about 5 000 growers that were there for the opening sale, when it was meant to take place but didn't because there weren't any buyers there, to lead a delegation and to do what we could. And I had Bob McClure who was the state member, if not then, later - oh, he was in and out at different times as Member for Dundas, which was part of Wannon and he was a shearer and he was a good bloke, from the old-fashioned Labor mould, AWU, right-wing Labor I suppose, and there were three or four others. And we had to get a meeting with Bolte, and Bolte - this was some years later - picked it at a time when he knew the federal parliament was sitting, we knew we had majority of one and that I might not be able to get a pair. So other people could go along but I couldn't. I'm sure Henry Bolte picked the meeting at that time knowing that. I went to our Whips to try and get a pair and they wouldn't give me a pair, because we had a philosophy of no pairs. Everyone had to be there. We only had a majority - this was 1961 I suppose - and anyway I wasn't going to be put off by the Whips, I went to Menzies and said I needed a pair and what's it all about and he said can't I get a pair, and I said, 'They won't give me one'. He said he'd talk to Arthur Calwell. So I got - I had all the rural organisations getting onto Menzies and Calwell to get Fraser a pair. I got a pair, whereupon our Whip nearly resigned - it was Fred Chaney Senior - because his authority had been overridden, I'd gone to higher authority and he wasn't - you know, he was rather silly about it. Anyway Menzies said, 'Malcolm you go off to your meeting with Henry, I'll fix Fred', and he ate a bit of crow and he apologised to the Whip, and he didn't mind apologising occasionally because he never really meant it, but he could act well. And anyway we had the meeting with Bolte. He said, 'How did you get here?', I said, 'Menzies got me a pair'. Anyway, out of that we got an inquiry into wool sales in Portland and then wool sales were established at Portland as a result of the inquiry and the state threatened legislation that would have made it illegal for brokers or the buyers to boycott the sale. Now those sorts of things build up an allegiance within - I suppose that's the most outstanding example. But people ... I deliberately sought work. I'd go around the electorate and advertise I'm going to be here, so people could come and see me and a lot of the things were about telephones or Commonwealth issues but an awful lot were about state issues or other issues or arguments with their solicitor or their neighbour or whatever.
I never said, 'This isn't my business'. I mean I even went along to see people, accompany them to see their lawyer sometimes, because they were terrified of their lawyers.
If you want to win a seat and hold it. You can write all of those into Machiavelli's rules too. Just how to win a seat and how to hold it. Work hard and represent your people, represent their interests and make sure that they get a fair hearing. You don't have to win every case, you can't. But if you can convince people, 'Well Fraser argued for me as hard as he could. He put all the arguments and we still didn't win. Well all right you can't win them all'. People expect, you know, accept that. But they knew that if they were in trouble for some reason, they could come to me and I'd do something about it. -[INTERRUPTION]
Well it might have been a bit but going around the electorate, I met a great many people who I thought had a point. It was before the days of state aid and they'd put their point of view to me. But there was a Bishop O'Collins, Bishop of Ballarat, who was a tremendous Australian-Irish bishop, but felt passionately about causes that were important to the church and state aid was one of them, and Menzies brought in state aid, probably as early as it could have been without too much division. 'But we pay our taxes, why shouldn't the Commonwealth make some contribution to the education of our children.' The freedom, providing standards are met, to educate your children the way you want, is a basic freedom.
I did a lot more. But I can remember at Koroit where they were making an appeal for funds, which was for the local hall or something, the bishop made a speech about state aid. They quite specifically did not ask me to speak on that occasion because if I had, a lot of the constituents would have expected me to speak about state aid and they knew that would have been embarrassing for me and difficult for me because government policy hadn't been provided. So there was a real effort to make sure that I was not embarrassed. They knew I had a view towards family values and issues which were sympathetic I suppose to the Catholic view.
Well not totally, but if necessary for the health and mother or the child or - not the child - the health of the mother, yes. But in days of fairly freely available contraceptives, why should abortion also be very freely available? I mean it depends on the circumstances.
I didn't it regard it as so long. I certainly regarded it as long enough and probably had some hopes that I might have got into the ministry before I did. But there were a lot of experienced people in the parliament. It was a much older parliament than it has been in more recent years. I probably annoyed some of my ministerial colleagues by pointing out that if I stayed in parliament - in my maiden speech - for 25 years, I wouldn't reach the average age of Cabinet. And I was younger than most of the other new members of parliament who'd come in in 1955. I think there's probably a reason though why I was a little longer on the backbenches than some others. Some people, you know, quite deliberately, set about getting in good books with people who might be regarded as patrons and being prepared to do whatever they wanted and arguing causes that they wanted argued. And part of the background and inclination I suppose that made me want the freedom that I didn't feel I had at school or whatever, meant that I just wasn't going to do that. I wasn't calculating a career path. I was just going to treat issues as they were and as I saw them. And that sometimes pleased people, but sometimes it didn't please people. If I took a course of action that the hierarchy of the Party didn't like, [such as] during the Suez or what was an impending Suez crisis, and I had raised grave reservations about the Anglo-French involvement, and then there were reports and suggestions that Australia might support that involvement. At least that was running around Parliament House at the time. And I can remember telling Eric Harrison, who was Leader of the Government in the Representatives, and very close to Menzies and whatever, that I thought that would be a wrong course of action and that we shouldn't do it. There were a few others of us who'd done the same thing. That would be more expedient in terms of a career path just to shut up on those occasions. But it wasn't in my nature.
Well when should I? No, I don't think I ever did. You know, as Prime Minister I probably, I learned to exercise political tact, but if you had to do something you had to do it. If there was a course of action that should be pursued, you weren't deterred from that simply because it was going to alienate somebody or a group or whatever. And if you're a prime minister, all the more in my view, you had to take that view, because if you weren't prepared to stand for a principle or an idea, who else would.
I got on with him well. I always regretted that I hadn't been in one of his ministries, but I think it was probably Harold Holt who in the end made me a minister, who had argued, 'Oh young Malcolm's not ready yet'. And Harold, I mean I'd been, contrary to the views I now hold, I'd argued against the size of the immigration program at one point during the 1950s. I happen to think that I was wrong at the time. Certainly from this perspective; but that was arguing against something that was dear and close to Harold Holt's heart. You know, but still, I felt it at the time so I argued it.
You'd argued also against the form that it was taking. You were concerned about a balance between immigrants from British backgrounds and other immigrants at the time. Is that something else that you've changed your mind on?
I'm not - did I argue that at the time?
But there were very few coming from elsewhere at the time.
Well if I was, I'd forgotten that completely.
No. Not for a minute. Was that in the speech I made?
I'd like to check it.
Because I think it may not be right. You give me the reference.
I just would have argued the case. I wrote an article in the papers about it I think. But you know, that's what a lot of it was about, as I thought.
Well you obviously needed to - no, a system wasn't set up like that I don't think. But Harold Holt would have been looking to who might succeed Menzies and who was going to support him and who wasn't. But if Barwick had still been in the Parliament and had stood, I would have voted for Barwick and not for Holt. I wasn't sure that Harold was strong enough. He was a good man, but - Barwick wasn't in the Parliament, so I would have voted for Holt. It depends who it was and what it was. I mean Harold tried to build support from all points of view and he was certainly powerful and influential in the Party, and to be regarded well by him and to be supported by him was certainly a big help. But I don't think it was a general proposition or a tactic that people really embraced.
There's always been two sorts of strands to the Liberal Party in Australia - one that could be characterised as more traditional and conservative and perhaps closer to the Country Party, and another group which tended to be more associated with business, but also much softer on social issues, much more concerned with the redistribution of wealth and the protection, the welfare side of things. Did you feel that you belonged in either one of those camps?
No, but I - those camps, you see, didn't exist.
Well, not camps in that sense. There were no factions in the Liberal Party and that was positively frowned upon by Menzies.
No, even philosophically, because people have different views on different issues, and it's nonsense to say that there was a rural traditional view. I mean I don't fit, I never have fitted, the press's conventional view of, of the sort of Liberal I ought to be having regard to the background I have. They're puzzled by a whole range of things about my attitude to race, my attitude to [the] environment, a whole vast range of issues, where they'd say that Fraser must be doing that because he thinks it's politically expedient, not because - out of conviction, because how could somebody with his background have that kind of conviction. Now this is a very common journalists', press's view.
Well to all sorts of things which, whose meaning they didn't know. But in the Liberal Party, there were very few, if any, permanent groupings. It would depend upon the issue, upon the circumstances, and upon the argument, which is the way it ought to be. I would have been conservative on some issues, but I suppose radical on other issues and the same could have been said - I mean Wentworth, who would have been very conservative on some issues was extraordinarily radical on others, and he came from the city ...
... so that there was no, there were very few stereotypes and the stereotyping - I mean if the press can't stereotype people or groups, they get worried, because they can't understand it. But stereotyping really didn't work in the Liberal Party in the '50s and '60s.
On the other hand, within the Party, there were times when you were seen as being - it was suggested that you were too close to the Country Party, wasn't it? That was sometimes ... you were sometimes accused of that from within your own Party.
Well a lot of things were said about me after I resigned from the Gorton Ministry. There were some people who quite deliberately said, 'How can we destroy Fraser and make sure that he never rises again within the Liberal Party? Now what are the arguments we can use against Fraser?' and they started putting these arguments around and you know, one of them [said], 'He's too close to the Country Party'; another one, 'He's too conservative'. I've forgotten what half of them were but they started. Well I sent up the send-uppers on one occasion because I got hold of a photographer who remains a good friend of mine in Melbourne and somebody organised a couple of girls out of the rag trade and oh, they'd started issuing some t-shirts, 'Vote 1 Fraser - Relieve Mafeking' and with other equally contemporary slogans on them you see. So we dressed up these couple of girls from the rag trade in these t-shirts and they were put into rather extravagant or unusual poses and the photographer got on the ceiling and then photographed them from the ceiling. The photograph ended up over most of the front page of the Melbourne Age and I was just saying, 'I think these t-shirts are wonderful. I'm going to send half a dozen to this person and half a dozen to that person', and mostly naming my detractors and whatever. In other words the spoof was spoofed, but this was all ...
This was, in a more contemporary image than the one they'd tried to portray. But this was all a - you know there was a deliberate campaign and these things, if you look at the history, or the timing of it, none of these things were said about Fraser before I resigned from the Gorton Government. They all had their genesis - I'm not going to name names, but there would have been two or three close friends of Gorton who would have - and some of these tags lived on and the Labor Party tried to pick them up. I don't think with any great effect.
Well I went to Harold Holt at some point. I had a talk with a couple of people I knew were close to Harold in the business world, and said I'd been there ten years. 'I think that's long enough. I just want to know whether I've got a future in this place or not, because if I'm going to stay a private member forever I'll get out and make way for somebody else'. No sour grapes about it and whatever, but I knew that the government would have been slightly reluctant to have me get out because the seat was consolidated and it was regarded very much as a Fraser seat, and they weren't quite sure whether it was a Liberal seat. I mean the National Party could easily have taken it at that time if I wasn't involved in the contest. Anyway, I went to Harold Holt, it was in his office in Sydney and he was trying to put his government together and I said I'd just like to know you know where I stood. I wanted to know if I had any future in his government or whatever, because if not, I wouldn't stand at the next election and there were no sour grapes about it but I'd go off and do some other things. I'd had ten useful and interesting years in the Parliament, but I didn't want to be a private member forever; other people could fulfil, if they had the will, that role just as well as I could. And we talked about it for a bit and he expressed appreciation for the attitude that I was expressing, because I think most people, with these conversations, would have tried to threaten or demand or whatever, and I wasn't doing any of that. And anyway he said he'd let me know in two or three days and I was down on the farm. The telephone then was out in the hall. We didn't have a Commander system with a phone in nearly every room, and he rang me up and he offered me the portfolio that I was most terrified of being offered and that was Army. Terrified because I knew nothing about army or army organisation. I hardly even knew what the badges of rank meant, so I had to start really at the bottom and I had some diffidence about it, because I would have been the first non-soldier, or non-serviceman to be in a service portfolio post-war. But anyway, those problems were overcome and I joined his ministry and came to have a high regard - well I always had a high regard for Harold Holt, but he had a very human side to him, which people didn't always understand.
Well maybe. He certainly liked to please people, but he also had great courage, because he strongly believed that the Vietnam commitment was right. But at the same time I think he suffered a great deal because he was Prime Minister when Australian servicemen were being sent to Vietnam, and conscripts sent to Vietnam. And I think he felt that very personally and if you'd asked him, if he was ever Prime Minister, what political act would he most want to have to avoid, and I suppose most prime ministers would answer in the same way, but he felt it, I think, very strongly; it would have been sending people into conflict.
Yes I did, but at the same time I believed that the commitment was right. I still believe it was right.
The only revision I've had of it is that - and this was something that I came to feel quite shortly after being in the job - that if we were going to be involved with an ally, we should have a say and an influence on the strategies and tactics and the conduct of the war. Which would have meant having somebody permanently in Washington, where the strategies and tactics were determined; and it was Washington that lost the war. It really was. I was in Laos in 1966 on my way to Vietnam and on my way to see our build-up in process in the Phuoc Tuy Province and Prince Souvanna Phouma, Prime Minister of Laos in 1966, said in his own home, or asked me, he said, 'Why are the Americans starting a war they're determined to lose?', I said, 'What do you mean?', and he said, 'Well every day the American President's making speeches saying that they're at peace, but he's going to have half a million men under arms at war. There'll be casualties in every town and city of the United States. He's telling the North Vietnamese and the Soviet Union that he offers no threat to North Vietnam or anyone else, but, he said, 'if you're going to win in a contest with North Vietnam, you're going to have to have them believe that you might really clobber them so hard that they can't conduct a war. You don't have to do it you just have to have them believe it'. And the great ... apart from the changes of tactics and the restraints put upon the American military by Washington decisions in the early days, and it was this as much as anything else that destroyed the morale of American fighting men. They weren't allowed to do their job because of political rules. That might sound odd because often people think of Vietnam as the war without rules, but I visited General Walt who later became the Supreme Marine Commander in the United States and he was commanding the marine army then, south of the demilitarised zone. He was being attacked from the north by a hundred thousand strong Vietnamese Army, and they'd attack and withdraw to the demilitarised zone and then he couldn't touch them. But if he'd been allowed to send some troops around and some boats around behind them, he could have locked them in a pincer movement and, in his terms, 'chewed them up and spat them out' and the Vietnamese war effort would have been significantly weakened. He wasn't allowed to do any of that. He even had people from Treasury coming out to him because the President kept saying that they weren't at war, and trying to audit his use of fuel and ammunition on the basis that he was exceeding peace time rations. You know, how absurd can you be? And there's an analogy: in 1948 the West ran a blockade, ran the gauntlet of a blockade into West Berlin, and maintained the independence and integrity of West Berlin, not because of that blockade, but because the Soviet Union knew that the West would use all the power at its command, including, if necessary, nuclear weapons to prevent Russian tanks going into West Berlin. And therefore they never gave any audit to their tanks, they didn't and it was that determination and the knowledge of that determination, on the part of the West and of NATO as it was emerging, that stopped, or maintained the freedom of West Berlin - nothing else. Now, in relation to Vietnam, people forget that you had an internationally agreed division of the country between the North and South, by international agreement in Paris. Those who wanted to live in the communist North were allowed to do so, and 100 000 went north. Those who wanted to live in a non-communist South were allowed to do so and over a million went South. But that agreement was broken because the North commenced the war again. There's some interesting sidelines to this history. The South Vietnamese Ambassador to Australia, and later Ambassador to Washington, where he still lives, was a battalion commander with the Viet Min Army fighting the French, because one of the stupid things that the allies did after the war was to allow some powers to try and reimpose a colonial empire, and the Viet Min were fighting against the reimposition of a French empire in Vietnam. And so the Communists, the Nationalists, were on side. The Viet Min decided to purge their army of the nationalists ... non-communist elements, and this chap was sent out on an operation against the French, but the French had a copy of his battle orders. Three people out of his whole battalion escaped. He was one of them. So he went South. He wasn't a Communist and didn't want to be, but at the age of 23, he had a pretty long record of fighting the French on a Nationalist cause. Now with all the divisions in countries like Australia and America, we forget all of this. We had medical teams operating in a place at Bien Hoa long before there was any military involvement. And the doctors often went up there for two or three or four terms, because they thought it was something of value that they were doing. And if somebody came in with an ear cut off or a hand cut off or a tongue cut out, they knew the Viet Cong had been recruiting, and that girl would have had a brother or a father unwilling to be recruited. When you're fighting a massive terror and when you have people committed enough to use any force at all to achieve an objective, it's extraordinarily hard to combat it. And in the end, of course, lack of morale in the United States, decisions on Vietnamisation, the knowledge that the United States and West were never going to do enough to knock Vietnam out of the war, or for that matter to prevent the Russians providing all the sophisticated weaponries. It wasn't Chinese support for Vietnam that won the day, it was sophisticated Russian support for Vietnam. All of that was too much, and the loss of morale within the United States of course, and ... or required American withdrawal at a very critical time in Vietnam and that demoralised the South Vietnamese forces and so it all started to crumble. But the Australian troops in the Phuoc Tuy Province succeeded in their mission absolutely until it started to crumble all around them, when everything fell apart. But you know, the Americans never once attempted to persuade the Russians or the Chinese that they were serious in the sense they were serious about West Berlin.
Oh, inconsistency. Whether that's weakness or not. It probably is weakness because Johnson was saying, 'We are at peace, we are not at war, we offer no threat to North Vietnam. We just want them to be good boys'. You know, that's ludicrous. We had half a million men under arms.
Also, one of the things that was said a lot at the time and I believe by yourself, related to the fact that it had to be stopped in Vietnam because of the idea of the 'domino theory' that other areas in Asia would fall to communism if America were defeated in Vietnam. In fact America was, in a sense, defeated, and yet that wasn't a consequence. Why do you think that was so?
Well, I never believed there was anything inevitable in the so-called domino theory and people tried to argue against it on the basis that there was an inevitability. But the most there was [was] an increased likelihood and well, Cambodia was a consequence of Vietnam. And Cambodia is still suffering as a consequence of that. It's difficult probably to isolate and analyse where all the blame may or may not lie but in so many players, Cambodian players and their scene, who damaged their own circumstances very, very seriously. But people like Harry Lee, Lee Kwan Yew, he would have believed not in the inevitability but the likelihood of the domino theory. You see, we forget today some earlier history, because it goes back too far and people can't remember. They weren't born and I'm sure the schools don't teach it. Or if they do they'll do it in a probably pretty perverted and odd way. We fought with Malaya for ten years against a communist insurgency. Nobody doubted that it was a communist insurgency. But we had battalions in Malaya as the British did, as the New Zealanders did, and it took a troop ratio of about 14 to 1, government forces including Malayan forces, 14 to one terrorist to be able to defeat them. And that's in a long, narrow peninsula where you could, through your surveillance, see what's happening down the coastlines. That preceded Vietnam of course, but that was successful. Then there was an attempted communist coup in Indonesia which, but for the grace of God and General Nasution and being able to get out through a bathroom window when he was meant to be assassinated, failed. But it might not have failed. And communism remained a threat. It's one of the reasons why Indonesia has exhibited a concern about communism in all the years since. Not so much today, but certainly up until quite recent years. They got very near to the brink. Then there was confrontation between Sukharno and Malaya or Malaysia, where we were fighting, with everyone's agreement, alongside Malaysia against Indonesia and in one of the truly remarkable diplomatic feats under a Liberal Government, maintained close relationships with Indonesia at the same time. We were the only country able to do that. The British couldn't do it. But we Australians could. Now you've got to look at Vietnam in the larger context. They were trying to form ASEAN to overcome these difficulties, the disputes, to establish a degree of political cohesion in a region that had been full of fighting and bitterness and difficulty over the previous ten or fifteen years, where there had been two major communist insurgencies: one that went on for over ten years in Malaya, one which was short and sharp but equally bloody in Indonesia. Now ASEAN needed time. They would not be able to confront another threat if there was no defence of South Vietnam and if the Vietnamese Army was to prove imperial in its ambitions, ASEAN wouldn't have been, in those earlier years, they wouldn't have had the political cohesion, they wouldn't have had the internal strength and confidence to do anything about it. So people like Lee Kwan Yew were amongst the first to say that the Vietnamese war bought time for ASEAN in a very constructive way. And I think it's hard to argue against that. Certainly, in terms of the objectives of the war it failed. But unfortunately, you know, failing in an enterprise does not make the attempt dishonourable or wrong.
You were concerned about taking on this job as a minister. In the event, what kind of a minister were you? Some people say that you were a very hard taskmaster, that you drove yourself hard but you also drove your department hard. Was this a policy? Did you decide on that?
Well I had to drive myself hard because I had to learn about the Army Ministry and what made it tick. And I think very soon I had to learn that I'd have to drive the department as hard as I did. You know, the first few days of briefings, what the Army's about, what it means, what the Adjutant-General does, what somebody else does, what this person does, and what the General's staff do and - it was all from scratch - what people in uniform do, what the civilians did. Then I suppose at about the fourth day, a whole bundle of letters came in. 'These are the letters to sign today, we'll collect them in ten minutes.'
Well I had to be hard on myself because I knew nothing about the army and I had to learn what different people did, what the Adjutant-General did. I had to learn what the badges of rank meant and I had to learn how important Warrant Officers are to the strength and structure of any good army. And I had to learn what the civilians in the department did, alongside their uniformed counterparts. And you know, I can recall the first few days. I was being given so-called in-depth briefings and all of this, and you'd try and remember some of it. But there was administrative work that had to be done and people wrote to ministers obviously and I was given, on about the fourth day, a whole bundle of letters and I started to look at these letters and they said, 'Dear Mr Smith, We have examined you complaint and there is no substance in it whatsoever. Thank you for your letter.' - well there probably wasn't a 'thank you' there - 'Yours sincerely, Malcolm Fraser, Minister for the Army.' And all the letters were in the same vein. Everything being dismissed. I said, 'Here are 80 letters, every person who's written has written for no reason'. 'What do you mean?' 'Well, every letter is saying there was no substance in the complaint. Have you really looked at these? Have you really examined these?' 'Oh yes, they're examined most thoroughly.' I said, 'Fine, well then bring in all the files and I'll have a look at them'. They said, 'We can't do that'. 'Why not?' 'Well they're too bulky.' They said, 'Some of these people just go on writing letters month after month'. 'Well', I said, 'let me see, we'll have a look at the files'. And I suppose a stack of files came in that high off the floor, and I set about having to look at them. I don't think in a single case had there been an honest examination, so I would have looked at a dozen or 15 of them and seen that there'd been no examination and said, 'Take them all away, examine them all thoroughly and bring them back in a week'. They would have come back with a slightly more verbose letter but again, I said, 'Where's the evidence of the examination?'. They said, 'You aren't serious about ...', I said, 'I am serious and you better take all letters written to me as a matter of seriousness, requiring a serious, considered, factual, thoughtful answer - and we'll get on a lot better'. And the Adjutant-General was the sort of personnel - uniformed personnel person - and I said, 'I want to get this message', because I was speaking to the Secretary of the Department, 'get the Adjutant-General along here, I want to tell him because the uniform people have obviously got a role in this'. 'Well, he's not in the building at the moment, he's on some other duties.' 'Where is he? Is he on the telephone?' 'No, he's not on the telephone.' 'Where is he?' 'Well it's Wednesday.' 'Well, what's Wednesday got to do with it?' 'Well most people play golf on Wednesday. In fact, normally I play golf on Wednesday too', the Secretary talking to me. I said, 'Isn't Wednesday a normal working day? Do other ranks get Wednesday off?' 'No, but it's been a habit.' Well', I said, 'that's one habit that will end. Get out, get the Adjutant-General, and tell him that the Minister wants him in his office within 15 minutes. And you haul him off the golf course.' But I thought that sort of message just had to be got. It was a sloppy, bad administration in relation to these matters. There were some things in which the Army has always been very good, in terms of training people, fighting people, and to the extent that you can, looking after the health and welfare of your military people. When I say to the extent that you can, because if it's Vietnam, there's obviously a limit to what you can do. You're in an area of extreme and acute danger. And [in] those things, the Australian Army is second to none at. But...
Yes. And if I hadn't done something slightly dramatic, they wouldn't have taken - they wouldn't have been serious about making an examination of all of these complaints. And they learnt quite a lot about their own structures when they started to examine the complaints. And they learnt some things that needed altering and changing. And in the end, I think they all believed that it was a better, more efficient, better organised, more thoughtful, more caring organisation than it had been when I went to it.
I supported John Gorton and shouldn't have.
I thought he could handle Whitlam. He couldn't really, and Hasluck might have. But Hasluck was a man of intellectual quality. He could also be emotional and I've seen him walk out of Cabinet meetings when he shouldn't have. But he was a disciplined person. He had high regard for structures and for the integrity of government. John Gorton was a Prime Minister who had it all at his feet, and kicked it all away.
But Hasluck would have too. There was nothing in that.
Well you've got to understand your attitude to government. I believed that the Cabinet procedures were important because certainly in significant issues, you've got to discuss them, you want a variety of minds paying attention to an issue, so you know what it's consequences will be. The more serious the issue, the more important that there be a Cabinet discussion. There are other safeguards built into the Australian system; the Executive Council is a very significant safeguard. It's not entirely a red herring, but you cannot use any part of the military forces as an aid to the civil power unless there is a request from the state government concerned, unless that is sanctioned by a Cabinet decision and approved by the Governor-General in Council. So three safeguards against somebody getting up and saying, 'I'm going to use the military to capture Bendigo'. Or to do anything else. Gareth Evans, as Attorney-General, used air force planes to take photographs to be used in a High Court case against a state. Every part of that was totally illegal, totally in defiance of the systems and structures. If you're going to use that - you need a request from the state, which of course you wouldn't get because it was a case against the state and it was over the state's territory. You needed a Cabinet decision and an Executive Council decision before you could give a lawful order to that F1-11 aircraft to take those photographs. None of those procedures were followed. Now that's not irrelevant in this context, because John Gorton believed that if he felt strongly enough about something as prime minister, he should be able to do what he believed to be right. And even if I agreed with what he wanted to do, that it was right, I still believed equally passionately that the matter should be properly considered by Cabinet. I mean if he and I believed something was right and ten other people in Cabinet believed it was wrong, then I'd say those ten others should have the day.
But, if I couldn't persuade them that I was right, there was something wrong in my case. If I felt that passionately about something I was probably able to persuade them. But you have to be able to give them a chance, an opportunity to put their view, if you're just saying, 'This is what's going to be done'. And there was a famous case - or not case, it received very little publicity - but there were disturbances in Papua New Guinea [and] either the Administrator or the minister or somebody anyway, felt that the military forces ought to be called out. Now I was Minister for Defence at the time and the reports I was getting from Defence personnel in Papua New Guinea were that there was absolutely no cause at all for a call out of the troops, which would have meant those troops were available to the civil power, which meant the administrator [could] say, 'Go and capture this village', or 'do that', or 'put down these dissidents', or whatever. But if there was going to be that kind of decision by government, it should go through the Defence Council, which was the service chiefs - the Chief of Defence Staff, Heads of Treasury, Foreign Affairs, in this case Territories, maybe one or two others, but all officials. Then it would go to Cabinet, then it would go to the Executive Council. Without going through any of those processes, there was an attempt to take it through the Executive Council. I, in effect, rang up the Governor-General of the day and warned him that somebody was going to ask for him to sign an Executive Council order for the call-out of troops, which did not have my approval and had not been discussed in Cabinet. Without revealing or indicating that he knew that, the Governor-General just said, 'Well has Cabinet considered this matter? Has the Defence Council, the Defence Committee considered this matter?' And the answers of course had to be 'no'. So he said well he wasn't going to take it into Executive Council until it had been properly considered.
Yes, but he was a safeguard in relation to that. In relation to military personnel, he was also the final court of appeal for many soldiers, if I'd knocked back a soldier who'd written with a request or a complaint or something, had a final court of appeal to the Governor-General in Council. And that was exercised occasionally, not often, but occasionally. But it was not an independent exercise of power by the Governor-General, it was simply that he was part of a set of procedures to make sure that rational, thoughtful decisions, in accordance with the law and the constitution, were taken. As opposed to impetuous decisions, not necessarily well thought out and which could therefore be dangerous. And an absolutely essential part of good government, to follow the procedures that have been laid down and built up over a long time. Because, you know, an arbitrary Prime Minister, not subject to the restraint of those procedures, can be just as damaging to a country as an arbitrary, absolutist monarch. There's no difference.
Oh I'd become fearful of it from about day two.
... because I could see the arguments he was having with the Prime Minister's Department and I could also see who was going to [be made] head of the Prime Minister's Department. And that really spelt the end of John Gorton because - I suppose some lawyer looks at this tape to see how much of it's defamatory or not, but they'd better. When I was made Education Minister, Len Hewitt was head of the Australian Universities Commission and he was meant to tell me what the Universities Commission did and all the rest, and he gave me a one page piece of paper and he said, 'Minister, that is all you need to know about the Universities Commission'. He said he would look after the rest. And I said well in time I hoped to learn a little more of his work than just that single sheet of paper with a couple of figures on it. And then he spent 45 minutes trying to tell me what a terrible rogue, and how, inevitably, the head of my department - Hugh Ennore who in many ways was a dear old person and a scientist, he was a good man - what a terrible person he was and how he would let me down and deliberately plot to get me into trouble. One senior public servant to another. And this was the man, because he'd worked with John Gorton when John Gorton was in Education, this was the man John Gorton was making head of the Prime Minister's Department. It wasn't encouraging.
I didn't, I don't think I did anything about that. I knew Gorton knew Hewitt. Gorton was ...
Oh, well as those developed over time, of course I did. But I was always I suppose in a degree of awe with people in high office and I was a lowly minister, even if I was Defence Minister. And he was Prime Minister and there was an enormous difference. And you don't willingly go in and tell the Prime Minister that the people he's got around him are giving him bad advice and going to get into trouble, because what you're probably going to do is to end up in damaging your own capacity to influence events without achieving anything.
You see, if he doesn't know from his own knowledge and experience that he's got a bad Head of the Prime Minister's Department, whatever I can tell him's not going to influence him.
Oh yeah, it was his nature. He believed he should get his own way in terms of policy. Now that led him to major conflict with the Liberal Party and confrontation with the states because he thought the states were a nuisance and that Canberra should determine everything. Which at the time, when John Gorton [was] determining most things, led to major conflicts with people like Charlie Court and most other state premiers. So he was challenging the whole basis on which the Liberal Party had been formed; a fight therefore with the Liberal Party.
Not about any of that, no.
There was nothing leaked to anyone. What had happened at the time was that there were some problems in Vietnam and I thought it was in the public interest that they should be known. So as Minister for the Army I followed a practice that was common in government then and is common in government now, and briefed on the problems that we were having and what was being done and the good work that the army was doing. If you like, you can almost say that that was an earlier example of more open government. It might have been wiser to make a formal statement about it instead of just briefing one particular journalist, but it was other people's reactions to that. You see, the problem with - the army knew I had certain views of civic action in Vietnam, [which] I wanted to have left behind, because we had - you know, the military problem had been overcome in Phuoc Tuy Province, so in my view, the image that we could and should leave behind was of the army helping villagers putting in water supply, doing this, and a whole lot of things that we were doing very well. And I wanted this side of activities built up. The army, believing that they were going to withdraw, wanted this side of activities run down. And I had some indication that orders had been given from Canberra, by the Chief of the General Staff, to run down civic action activities. That was denied, but I still believed and people were writing from Vietnam - journalists were writing from Vietnam - that it was so. I denied that it was so on advice that I'd had from Canberra. The journalist writing from Vietnam was in fact right. And it was after I resigned that an army officer gave me a copy of an order from Canberra to Vietnam. So not from Vietnam, but from Canberra, there was a degree of deception of the minister, which if I'd known about at the time, I would have had the General's head. And it was [the] Chief of the General Staff, somebody I regarded as a good friend. But he was very tense and upright, his total love and passion was the army, and he thought the emphasis I was putting on civic action was doing the army great damage or running into significant problems. Instead of being open about it and being prepared to debate it and all the rest, he took his own action to the officer commanding in Vietnam without telling me, without advising me and I thought that was wrong ...
... and I was Defence Minister at the time, so his specific responsibility was to Peacock. And you know, Andrew began to think that whatever was happening was also being aimed at him, which of course it wasn't ...
... it had absolutely nothing to do with him at all.
It had nothing to do with him at all.
Well I just resigned.
Not beforehand, no.
Because he'd have your head chopped off. If I was going to resign, I wasn't going to - if I was to resign I wasn't going to give him the privilege of sacking me.
I took the unusual course and took it straight to the Governor-General.
I'm not sure. It was unconventional to put it at best, it was unconventional.
Well it's, it is a safeguard. It does not make independent decisions. But it makes sure that procedures are followed.
Once he had a piece of paper from me, he couldn't sack me.
He asked me what I was going to do.
Look, this is one of those occasions ...
Well, no, he asked me what I was going to do and I said, 'You can sleep' ... look, there had been a quite outrageous television program the night before, which I watched and he watched. But if you've made a decision that you're going to resign, you can't give a warning. It's one of the tough things in politics. I mean John Gorton had been a close friend of mine and here I was going to resign from his government in a way that would probably end his prime ministership. I spoke - the day I made the speech in the parliament I spoke to two people - whether they remember it or not I don't know, but I had a speech written out and I got them both down into my office and I was due to go into the damn parliament. And one was Burt Kelly and one was Tony Street. I said, 'I've got a speech here that will destroy Gorton if I make it. It's a tough speech. Will I make the speech or not?' I said, 'I don't have to'. They didn't have time to read it. But my description of it was accurate and they both said, 'Make it'. I don't know if they want to be on record with that, but they are.
Well it's all in the record in the parliament.
A fair bit of the speech was about procedure and the need to follow procedure. And the fact that I regarded him as a prime minister who wanted to get his own way and was therefore dangerous and difficult. One of the things that, the incident over New Guinea had been very much in my mind in relation to that because ... but then ...
Yes. Good procedures. And then in a different way ...
... he had had General Daly into his office that week. I was actually in Tasmania doing some things and clearly, the press were being fed and things were being said and he could have stopped some reports with a single word if he'd wanted to, but he allowed those reports to go forward. And I thought in those circumstances that he'd been significantly disloyal to the senior minister in that. And in a sense, on top of all the other things, because I also had the arrogance to believe that if I was not in John Gorton's Cabinet, there was nobody else who [would] put any restraint on him and therefore you would have a leader who would confront the states all the more and damage the Liberal Party all the more and break the procedures of government and not have anyone being prepared to challenge it. And that was, I suppose - and it might have been arrogant, there might have been other people there who would do it, but I didn't believe there were and I didn't see them. So, many people choose a peaceful life rather than embark on that course.
His decision to bypass you and your legitimate authority as minister in relation to getting the orders in Council for the intervention in New Guinea, which you were able to manoeuvre to prevent his doing, was that really a concern about procedure or was it also because you felt that he wasn't respecting your particular authority?
I don't think it was anything personal in it at all. It's sometimes difficult to work out; well if it wasn't me, if it was somebody else, would I be equally concerned. I think in those circumstances I would be. I was equally outraged at Gareth Evans's use of those F1-11s.
It wasn't scathing. It was - in my view it was objective and balanced and moderate, so I suppose that shows how I was feeling at the time.
Well this is one of the problems you've got in government and it's a problem that you have all the more if you're a prime minister. You have loyalties to different things and there are different kinds of loyalties, and this is very, very hard for people to understand; I think totally impossible for the media to understand. Because loyalty is so often described in terms of human relationships. Are you loyal to this person or that person or whatever? But there's also a question of loyalty to values, loyalty to the process of government, to judicial process or whatever. Or to standards of behaviour. I mean should you allow ministers to evade the customs even on a piffling, trifling matter of no real consequence. There is a principle at stake. Once you hear about it, once you know about it, what's your job as prime minister? Do you support the minister and remain loyal personally to him, and do you have the whole country know that the minister and the prime minister are prepared to allow ministers, because they're mates and friends, to evade the normal custom laws that apply to every other Australian? And if every other Australian is caught they can't all appeal to the prime minister. Are they going to get punished and the minister not? So there's a question of loyalty to people, or loyalty to values and principles. And some ...
... sometimes these loyalties are in total and absolute conflict. And that's the hardest decision.
Not always, but I think sometimes the principle is only infringed to a very minor extent and then you probably, you'll stay with the person if you can. But if there is a clear breach of an important principle concerning the process of government, or concerning personal integrity in relation to official acts or whatever, or in relation to standards of behaviour in a way which can set a bad example for the Australian body politic as a whole, then you should be loyal to the principle.
Do you feel yourself now, at all in hindsight, disturbed by the times when you decided to break a convention or to break a way of doing things because the circumstances at the time seemed to warrant it?
I don't know a case when I did. What sort of convention?
There was no convention broken in relation to that because ...
No, I don't think I ever was, because I followed procedures, I insisted matters went before Cabinet, I insisted that Cabinet discuss matters. It wasn't in my nature to take unilateral decisions, simply because no matter how well I knew an issue, I wanted to have other people's view of an issue, because I didn't want to be hit by a whole range of questions on something that I hadn't thought of when it hits the public domain. If you have differing kinds of people in your Cabinet, looking at an issue, or a question, the differing questions will be raised. When I made Chaney a minister, first time round, he said, 'Why are you asking me, you know I didn't support you', I said, 'I know you didn't support me, that's irrelevant. You're a Liberal, and I think you've got a contribution'. 'But why me?' So I said, 'There's one very good, very good reason. I think you look at this, or at a lot of issues rather differently from many other Liberals and many colleagues that I've got in Cabinet. And therefore you'll have a different perspective on issues that come, and policies that come before us. I think it's going to be useful for us to know your view because then we won't be surprised when other people like you say something about a decision of whatever when it hits the public. And you know, that's in part', I said, "the Chaney role in Cabinet'. And he said well he understood that, thank you very much and he was honoured to accept to be in the ministry, and he understood why I was asking, and he agreed with the reasons behind it. If you've got a Cabinet of like-minded people, it's hopeless. You'll make all the decisions and mistakes in the world.
But not many people who knew me, who knew how the Cabinet operated, have that view. If you're really doing things in politics you're always going to have political enemies. And I'm reminded of something that John McEwen said during the Mr Big arguments, which I never really knew the truth of, but somebody in the Labor side asked him, you know, did he know that so and so had said certain terrible things about John McEwen, did it worry him. And McEwen just got up and he said, 'Before I have to be concerned about an opinion, I have to have some opinion of the person uttering it'. Which is true. You have to respect somebody before they - I suppose anyone in politics, if you're going to get anywhere, has to develop a reasonably thick hide. But that's one good way of doing it, teaching yourself that you do not have to be concerned at all about opinions from people for whom you have no respect. It might be a nuisance but it's just like the flies or the bees out in the garden, you don't have to take much notice of them.
But if you don't respect them - if you want to be liked, at least be liked by people you respect - what's the point of like if you don't respect them. It's irrelevant.
Well there were - he had a lot of close friends and John Gorton was a very personable person. And he'd been, I had regarded him as a close personal friend of mine. And it was probably asking too much but when we later got into Opposition we were often, again, on the same sides of an argument and I thought maybe that bitternesses would - he'd get rid of them, but he never did. Whitlam was very different in that respect. He never seemed to hold any bitterness against me for - but against some people he did - but against me I don't think he ever did, or if he did, he hid it very well. We meet occasionally in international forums or in airports or at functions or whatever and we always talk and we've even been on the same platform together on some issues.
I'd never been very close to McMahon.
Well I stood for Deputy Leader and I got - the vote was a little later. McMahon said that he didn't know whether he wanted me to be in his government or not, and he obviously hoped that he wouldn't have to put me in his government. But he did, because I got enough votes as Deputy Leader for him to think, well Fraser's got 18 or 20 votes, I can't ignore them. I've got to put them in. Billy was always involved in a balancing act and ...
I never thought I wanted to be leader.
No, I just, when I first got in I thought, well to represent Wannon as well as I could and make it a secure seat if I could, and then when I became a minister, whatever the job was, to do it as well as I could.
It really, it certainly was until the time when the arguments came with Gorton and I started - because you know, for a long while as a young man I was in awe of senior politicians. But as I got older, and a lot of the more senior people who I respected greatly left and departed the scene, I suppose I had less respect for some of my contemporaries who I knew better.
I was right.
Oh it was probably about the time of the arguments with John Gorton and my resignation and the subsequent elections and the elevation of Billy McMahon as prime minister and whatever.
Well when we got into Opposition there was a conscious effort to try and say some things about what the Liberal Party stood for and to write some articles about that. And I'd done - it's hard to remember dates exactly - I made one speech to the Alfred Deakin Lecture Trust and Menzies came out of retirement to chair the meeting for me and that sort of thing.
But that was - what was the date - was I in the doldrums then, probably on the backbench?
Because my resignation and John Gorton's fall from grace was separated by quite a while, weren't they?
By some months anyway.
It was the first speech since Menzies that articulated a philosophical view for the Liberal Party.
Yes. Oh yes, definitely.
It's missing now, too.
Oh, I'm too old to do anything about it now. I could write the speech, but I'm not sure who I'd want to give it to, to deliver it.
No. Circumstances are different, time is different.
The philosophical values would not be different, not for one minute.
And can you sum those up? Of course that speech is the one that contains, I think, the famous line that will probably haunt you to your grave - 'Life wasn't meant to be easy.' I think you used that in that speech.
I'm not sure whether I did or not. I didn't first say it then. I probably first came nearest to saying it, oh, many years ago in the early 1950s, when somebody was pressing me and saying, 'Why are you standing for parliament, you've got a place in Western Victoria you can live on', and I think then I said something like, 'Well life's not meant to be easy'. But people don't know, not many people are well enough read to know that it's a quotation, and also only part of a quotation. It's the old man in George Bernard Shaw's Methuselah. 'Life' - I'm not sure that I've got it exactly right but - 'Life's not meant to be easy, but take courage child for it can be delightful.' And you know, the Labor Party, when they got hold of it they thought, ah, now we can hang Fraser, and if I had some enemies in the Liberal Party they would have thought, ah we can hang Fraser. But most people - which they did not understand, what so many people did not understand, that you don't con the Australian public - for most of them it is not easy. For many it is damn difficult. And the recognition that whether it's meant to be or not, it is just not easy, but it can also be delightful, was a recognition of a truth.
Well I know, but people relate that to their own circumstances and they say it's not, well maybe it's not meant to be, and they wouldn't know how they could make it easy for themselves. And so it was, in a sense, uttering a thought and so the more my enemies said it, I thought the more they won me some brownie points instead of lost me some.
Look, I haven't read that speech for an awful long while and I sometimes forget what I put in one speech as opposed to another.
I guess really what I'm asking is, you looked around, you saw that no one was finding and expressing a new direction for a contemporary Liberal Party at that time, and you felt that you should do that. What were the things you most wanted to say to people to draw them together behind you?
Well I can only really answer that question now and I don't think I would have answered it much different then, or for that matter in the years since. Because government has got to relate to people and at the bottom line, the individual happiness of individual people ought to be the objective of government policy, and manifest itself in a whole great variety of ways. But it's the way average Australians, ordinary Australians can lead their lives that ought to be, as much as anything else, the determinant of government policy. You know, taking some thoughts from Menzies' use of 'the forgotten people'. You don't need to look after the unions or the great or the powerful or the wealthy or the great corporations because they can all look after themselves. You don't need to go out of your way to determine policy to see that they get a fair go, because they'll make sure that you're aware of the policies needed for that. And in some cases, will press them very strongly and in some cases far too strongly. But in the things the people want for their everyday lives, there's no single advocate, unless it's the advocate of the Liberal Party. The Labor Party still isn't, because it used to be the advocate of the union movement and now it is only one short step removed from being an advocate for peace and well being and profits on the financial markets.
In Menzies time the Liberal Party never represented the interests of business. But the objective of government from 1949 to 1983 was to see that manufacturing, mining and farming remained profitable. Because it's in those three major areas of business that Australia's basic wealth lies, and Australia's greatest employment opportunities will be found. Now the government wouldn't want to enunciate in this way and I don't think the Liberal Party would want to enunciate it either, but the objective of policy is not to keep those basic arms of industry profitable, but to keep the financial markets happy and contented and as even as they possibly can be. And if that means high and debilitating interest rates, so be it. What does that matter? We still have interest rates that are four times the average rate that a small American businessman would - four times the real rate that an American businessman would pay, when our inflation is only 25% of American inflation. Now are we wrong or are they wrong? They encourage their small businesses, we penalise them.
No, I wasn't on the backbench when he was leading the party. He was deputy leader to Gorton.
Yes, but this had also really been the effect of Menzies' policies, Fadden's policies, McEwen's policies. There's no way any of us would have made the financial markets the dominant feature in every aspect of government policy.
In the last ten years. No way. And no proposal every came before my government, in spite of the Campbell Market Inquiry that would have pointed in that direction, because we would have wanted a pragmatic, step-by-step look at the elements of deregulation. I mean there were some things that did need deregulating and some things we deregulated or changed significantly in the late 1970s and early '80s, but we weren't going to lose control of the economy. We weren't going to have credit to the private sector grow by 25% a year for six years. A disgrace to the Reserve Bank and a disgrace to the government which did all the damage. That never happened in America or Germany. It in part happened in Britain. It had part of the same disease, but not to the same extent as in Australia. And giving a dominance and a free sway to the financial markets, where there's no trade practice legislation, where there are no government rules for fair play is saying to those with the most dollars, you can buy anything you like, and in the last ten years they've demonstrated that. They'll be selling the ABC next. And it'll only be a foreigner who'll buy it.
If Bill had been content to be it, he'd be a good deputy. But he wouldn't have been content to be a good deputy. He was a nice man, but he was one who tried to map out a career path and it meant a great deal to him. But as events proved, it's not kind to make somebody leader who hasn't got the qualities to be leader.
I suppose at the end of the day judgement, resolution. Much the same qualities that McMahon lacked.
I guess they thought I might be able to win an election.
Well there'd been, there were people in the party who had just said to me, 'Whatever you do, we're going to try and make you leader. You can't stop us', and that is the way it was.
No I didn't try and stop them. I thought I could do better at the time, and I thought it was pathetic the way we were going. I can remember on one occasion Sneddon was having talks with, I suppose Andrew Barton was it, of the Australia Party and there were talks in the press there may be going to be unification of the two, and Bill Sneddon had also made one or two statements at the time saying, 'How do we move on from [the] Menzies years?' and how Menzies hadn't really done very much. So I combined two things, I - well I issued two press statements. I issued a press statement pointing out how everything the Australia Party claimed it stood for was absolute anathema to the Liberal Party and only somebody who's a traitor to the Liberal Party - I don't think I used that word, but you know we could never contemplate amalgamation with a party as left wing ...
Well it was all very much behind the scenes. Not much of it had come out in public. So - but what I was determined to do was to stop any thought of amalgamation before it got any distance. Because the Australia Party really was a kooky way-out, odd-ball outfit. And we were not going to be strengthened by unifying with it. We were only going to be weakened and in terms of the Liberal Party, it was a very left-wing party. This, I suppose, is when there were some arguments between big 'L' Liberals and little 'l' liberals, which in terms of what's happened since is a rather odd and ironic argument. But I also issued a statement about the same time saying that those who denigrated Menzies were only denigrating their own position and damaging the party and destroying its base, because we had nothing else. But that's a habit of the Liberal Party, to not be particularly proud of its - we've had too many leaders who believe that they could advance their own positions by distancing themselves from their predecessors, when the Labor Party have a quite different view. They will make the most wonderful successes out of the most terrible failures. So as a consequence of that, if a current day leader can be seen in Gough's presence, the current leader is built up, and that's - the Labor Party approach to it is much more sensible and much more constructive for the strength and well being of the Labor Party.
Oh I'd never - I made a speech about John Gorton certainly, but I wouldn't have ever said anything other than praise for Harold Holt. I don't think I've ever said anything critical about Billy McMahon. [INTERRUPTION]
Now very shortly after you became leader you were presented with an opportunity that could take the party back into power. And that was the situation that arose over supply in the Senate. And what I would really like would be to have your account, from your point of view of what were the most significant aspects of that, and how you saw it and how you handled it.
Well, one of the questions I was asked, because Sneddon had blocked supply a year earlier of course, when there wasn't really any reason to do so or cause or justice in doing so.
I hadn't opposed it. I mean he was the leader and the majority of those in the shadow cabinet wanted to go along with it. And in any case, Whitlam pre-empted it all by calling an election, and he knew he was going to win an election against Sneddon and that's what happened. But in 1975 I was asked, obviously fairly early in my piece, what my attitude would be and I spelled, you know I spelled it out quite plainly. A power existed. It was a real power. I wouldn't want to use it and basically I believed that governments should be allowed to govern without senates using that power. But if reprehensible circumstances arise then maybe an opposition would have to consider it, if they had the numbers to do so. And all of that was against the background of the loans affair, which we tend to forget, and scandal after scandal after scandal in the Whitlam government. Including the Attorney-General personally raiding ASIO, not following due process of law at all. Attorney-Generals don't go on personal raids of ASIO or any other institution, unless they have a reason for doing so which they're not prepared to make public. The loans affair began when the government, by deliberate and conscious act, deceived the Governor-General about the holding of an Executive Council meeting and remember what I said about procedures, and following those procedures. The Governor-General, or most Governor-Generals regard that as the most important function - chairing the executive council. But there is a capacity for a senior minister to be a vice-president of the executive council if the Governor-General's not present. So John Kerr was in Sydney at the opera or something, but had asked, 'Is there going to be an executive council meeting?' He would come back for it. 'Oh no there won't be an executive council meeting', and was assured on more than one occasion that there would not be. And in the event it was clear that they didn't want him present at that executive council meeting, because as president of the executive council, he would have had the legitimate capacity to say, 'I want further and better legal advice, before I sign this matter into law'. And that was the attempt to raise four billion dollars by loans for purposes that would have been outside the gentlemen's agreement - not the constitution - but the gentlemen's agreement between the Commonwealth and the states. He countersigned that and didn't argue about it at the time, for two reasons - if he had, he would have been sacked there and then, and secondly he knew it was justiciable. In other words, if any monies had been raised under that provision, the states could have taken the Commonwealth to court. But anyway, you know the long saga. It began with a deception, it continued with a deception. Ministers resigned because they'd lied to parliament, or lied to the prime minister, and the government was in a turmoil. The country was in a worse turmoil; 1975 was the only year in which more people left Australia than came to Australia since Arthur Calwell began the migration program. A lot of people from Eastern Europe had been saying to me through that year they'd seen this happen in their own countries and they weren't going to sit around and watch it happen in Australia. They were leaving - and they did. And, so we were the opposition, and if we could have let it all through I suppose we would have. But then when Rex Connor got caught out in the last and latest lies, I just felt that, well this is the last straw. We as an opposition will be held in total contempt if we don't take what actions there are within our party, within our power to give Australians the right to a vote. We weren't asking for anything else. For the right to a vote. And that's probably the only occasion in the life of a people, when they're really democratic, they directly and individually have an opportunity to say what they want. They don't have that opportunity at any other occasion, and then Gough decided to tough it out. We were under a bombardment from papers like the Melbourne Age, which had said 'Gough must go' in editorials, but then opposed the only action available to make him go. It seemed to be - have a certain contradiction in it. It's worth remembering that that government had so defiled normal practices of good government and the law that the treasurer of the day started having his Treasury prepare pieces of paper, certificates, that were going to be given to the banks, requiring the banks to pay government bills. And the banks started coming to us and we held a council of war, or political combat in Melbourne when all the premiers or Liberal premiers, or National Party premiers and opposition leaders gathered and whatever, and issued a statement, saying in blunt terms that this was a major step in the establishment of a dictatorship in Australia. There is only one power available to restrain an executive government - one real power - and that's the power of a parliament to control the money that the executive spends. This is what Charles I found out. and lost his head when he tried to break the power. But the government of the day then, supply having been blocked, was trying to establish the circumstances in which the parliament, parliament as a whole, was irrelevant. You give the banks certificates, the banks will pay our bill, we'll pay the banks back some day. But the banks would have had no legal claim ever to be paid back because an executive, a government, has no power to spend any money unless that money has been previously sanctioned by the parliament.
But the Senate is part of the parliament of Australia. It is not a House of Lords. By deliberate act our founding fathers, having looked closely at the constitutions of Britain, of Canada, of France, of America, decided that we wanted a Senate that will be the - represent the states the way the American senate does, that will be a powerful Senate, not parelleling the American senate, but having a number of features. The powers of the Senate were deliberately placed there and it's not - the numbers that one has in a house of parliament are the numbers that you actually have on the day.
But speaking as a matter of principle, do you think that it is correct and proper and right for the Senate to be able to block supply? Setting aside all its other powers, that particular power to bring down a government is the one that's been debated a lot, and there's been discussion, even before 1975, about reforming that, and so on. What do you think about it as someone who's thought a lot about government?
I not only think it's necessary for the Senate to have that power, I think it has also been proved because of the Whitlam experiment, that it's essential. Imagine what would have happened to Australia if there had been no restraint from the Senate. Another 18 months of that government. I mean, expenditure goes up in one year 46%, the second year 26%. How irresponsible can you get? That is just irresponsible and bad government. But then all the lies, all the machinations, all the ministerial misdeeds, having weird characters run around the world trying to raise money, instead of doing it through orthodox, respected channels. I mean it was a government out of Alice in Wonderland or something worse. It was a parody of a government. And one of the ...
Do you still think that? I mean I do know that obviously at the time when you were taking decisions about action on it and you were right in the thick of it, to some extent the characterisation of it in this way was essential to the whole procedure. But looking back now, quietly, and yourself out of power, do you still see it that way?
It's not a characterisation of it. It is the government - look, just look at it coldly. To have a prime minister who lies to the Governor-General, 'No we are not going to have an executive council meeting. No we are not going to have it', three times, a Biblical denial, all the while determined to have it in the Lodge that night, with a minister in the chair, so that the essential questions will not be asked.
But nobody was resigning, this was deception of the Governor-General. It was a defiance of the normal procedures of government. It was a deliberate attempt to make sure that an action was taken and consummated and not questioned by a most distinguished lawyer who would know that it was outside the rules of the executive council.
It would have been irrelevant. What he did after that meeting, which was somewhere around November or December of 1974, was to countersign the Minute, and I told you why. Because it was justiciable if any monies were ever raised under it, and because he would have been sacked - and then a real puppet of a government that was prepared to defile proper procedure would have been put in place. It's worth noting I think that Dedman, a most distinguished former Labor leader, after he died let it be known that John Kerr had no option to do but what John Kerr had done. Now John Dedman was a very distinguished wartime and post-war Labor politician. Nobody could doubt his loyalty to the labour cause, and you know, there are a number of other people in that category. These powers have got nothing to do with the reserve powers of the Crown. They're deliberately written into the Australian Constitution in the circumstances in which, if you like, your government or a prime minister, goes bananas.
But there's one difference between our Constitution in this respect, and the position of a prime minister - well two differences - in Britain the House of Lords is hereditary and therefore no longer has the power. And if our Senate were not elected I wouldn't be in favour of it having the power. But it is elected, so power is shared. The Parliament is the two Houses together, not one, not the other. And - but there's another very significant difference between Her Majesty in Britain and the Governor-General in Australia. The Governor-General has no tenure. He is there at call. He can be sacked with a telephone. Now the telephone call won't - Her Majesty would say, 'But Prime Minister I really need to have reasons in writing'. 'Well these reasons will follow Your Majesty, but as from this moment, this man is not to be regarded as your representative in Australia.' 'Well I accept that Prime Minister, but I insist on having coherent, forceful reasons in writing', which will then be made up after the event. So a phone call could destroy the Governor-General's power. Now the Queen has tenure. No prime minister in Britain, who's lost his sense of what government and democracy is about, as Whitlam had at that time - and the brilliance of the Labor Party is the brilliance of being able to make Australians believe that Gough Whitlam is a hero.
Lord Hailsham had it right because he is on public record as saying, 'Mr Whitlam is one of the luckiest prime ministers in the world. He did what Charles I did, but he didn't lose his head'.
I suppose the question that I would like you to answer is why do you think it was - given that the Whitlam government was as you described it - that so many people felt so passionate about it, still do in retrospect and see it as a period of great opening up and excitement and optimism and possibility for the country?
Oh I think if you take a group of children from Siberia and they've been under fairly firm discipline - Siberia might not be the right choice - maybe it should have been some country in Eastern Europe - but let's - all right, Communist Hungary, and they would have been under a fairly rigid discipline. They would have had a reasonable life, but they would have been taught that life's difficult, it's not meant to be easy, you can't have all the sweets all the day, your parents can't have everything they want to have all at once. And we had had a prudent government or governments mostly that husbanded Australia's resources. We paid our own way, we weren't in debt to the world, we had offered Australia a longer period of full employment, with unemployment mostly under 2%, with a rate of growth far better than the OECD average, with inflation much less than the OECD average, rate of investment in new development that far exceeds anything that happens today, and you still say to them, 'You must be restrained, you can't have everything. You can't have everything all at once', and suddenly you have Gough as Father Christmas coming along and saying, 'We're a great wealthy nation, you can have everything you want all at once'. So whether it was childcare centres or more money for schools, or preschools, or a great deal more money for the arts, or more money for everything. 'If you want more money, it doesn't matter, we'll print it if we haven't got it', and so those people on the Labor Left and those people who supported the Labor causes all felt well, this is the millennium, this is Utopia, Gough's giving us everything we want, everything those wretched Liberals denied us all those years, just because of their pure unadulterated meanness. But it was the Liberal Party that built up the social welfare safety net. It was the Liberal Party that had the best health scheme that we have ever had and instead of destroying it, we should have found some way of covering the 3% who weren't covered by it. And much better and more effective public hospitals than we've had since. And so, the great - and Whitlam makes noises about Asia and about China, and all the rest. And capitalism - capitalises on the divisions that occurred over Vietnam after the event, and also on a Liberal Party that had run out of leadership. So you know, it's not surprising that he was a great Labor, left-wing hero. But that does not alter an objective judgement that you would have to make of his government.
Oh he's a nice, entertaining person to have at dinner.
Not quite as arrogant as he used to be.
I like Gough, but I don't respect his political government.
Yes, he's an economic nationalist. He would not sell newspapers, he would not sell things important to Australia's identity as a nation to the highest bidder worldwide just because he could get a bigger dollar. And it's a pity that the Labor - you know but I don't respect the fact that he will no longer argue with his own party that they should have a little economic nationalism in their hearts. You don't have to have too much. It's a question of balance. It's the hardest thing in the world for politicians to find a sense of balance, whatever the issue is, by being prepared to sell any damn thing to the highest bidder. One of the sobering thoughts that we need to have as Australians is that since we're 17 million people with obviously limited resources, in spite of our apparent wealth, somebody overseas will always have more money for anything than we will have. And if you say the highest bidder is going ... then that means everything will one day be sold to a foreigner. And you know, this view is not - if we wanted to buy Le Monde you couldn't do it. If you wanted to buy a major German newspaper, if you wanted to buy the Wall Street Journal you wouldn't be allowed to do it.
Well it is an irony. The loans affair to buy back Australia and Keating's 1980 economics to sell off every last vestige of Australia's dignity and self-esteem to somebody else, and then to pretend that he's the only prime minister who's prepared to stand for Australian dignity and independence, it is a great - I might do an article for the the Australian on that, thank you. You've given me an idea.
No, tactics were never discussed. Going back a while, quite late - I knew Sir John fairly well, something Whitlam had forgotten. Because I had chosen him to - as my last act as Minister for Defence, but I put it into force about four hours before I resigned as Defence Minister, to do a study of armed services pay and conditions. And I - John Kerr spoke to me, even though I was just a backbencher, quite often because I knew the problems that he was - had been asked to overcome. And so I got to know him reasonably well. I knew he wouldn't act till the last minute. The last minute was when you could act and still have an election and get it all cleaned up before Christmas. And about a week before that I'd said to Sir John - I mean because he would ask me over occasionally to say what was the condition of the coalition, what was in my mind, did I have it in my mind to alter our position, or alter our tactics, was I going to let supply through? And I'd answer all of those things in the conventional way and say no, we weren't going to alter our minds. Yes, we were going to stay very solid, and there might have been some people's names mentioned in the press, but the press often doesn't get it right. And about the last time I said something else. I said, 'Your Excellency, you know that if there's not an election at the end of the day, I'm going to have to say something about what that means, and I regret it, but it will mean obviously saying something about this office. Because I believe that your duty requires you to provide an election and to make sure that there is an election. I think that's very clear from the Constitution and from the historic precedents of the office. In other words, you're the last protector of the democratic system in Australia'. And I would have said, 'I'm sure that you would want to go down in history as being that protector'. Which he will. But he would not have wanted to be condemned for failing the office, for failing that democratic responsibility, and I knew that very well, but I just wanted - it was important at some point in the battle of wits and pressures that he understood that the Whitlam view of the office was not the only view of the office and the Whitlam view of the office was that the Governor-General must at all times do exactly what the prime minister determined. Which is no more true of the Governor-General, or of the Queen for that matter. And the occasions when you are required to do something contrary to the wishes of the prime minister might be very rare but if it occurs, it occurs.
On the, on the morning at about 10 or 11 o'clock I was reporting to my senior colleagues about a meeting that Doug Anthony and, I think, Philip Lynch - might have been Withers, I'm not sure - had with Whitlam and, I think, Jim McClelland, maybe Frank Crean, I'm not sure, there were three or four of them, and I'd made, in a sense, a last offer of a compromise, that if Gough Whitlam would guarantee a double dissolution before June of the following year, we'd let the budget through. But he wasn't prepared to do that. He'd allow a - I think he was prepared to allow a half-Senate election or something, but certainly not a - that can be checked.
Half-Senate election, which wasn't and he knew it wasn't answering the circumstances. So you know I said, in that case, our position stands and I said to Gough, 'The Governor-General does not in all circumstances have to do exactly what you demand'. But that was not a view that he was prepared to entertain, believe or consider at all. Although it is a view I'm quite sure that the current Governor-General had advised him of and warned him about. But Gough wasn't listening. So, and it was very near to D-Day, because if an election was going to be organised it had to be, it had to be called that week - not that day - it had to be done that week. About 11 o'clock that day I did get a call from the Governor-General and he said that I clearly knew that one of the options in front of him and which he had to consider, with others, was the possibility of dismissing the government and commissioning somebody else to form a government. But if that were to happen, he wanted to know what my actions as a government would be, and it was something that he would have to take into consideration, and there were four issues which are I think in Philip Ayre's book. But they were - if I were commissioned, would it be as a caretaker government to issue no new policies, not to sack anyone, not to pursue any legal whatever against any member of the previous government, not to - well to call a double dissolution forthwith. Oh, could I get the budget through? Would I call an election forthwith? And then those other two things, caretaker thing and not to pursue any - they were the four issues, and they were all things that would have been in my mind anyway. But it was reasonable, appropriate, proper, for the Governor-General to ask me those questions before making a final decision one way or another. Because clearly, if he was going to commission a different government he'd want to know what the actions were in relation to that government in a - you know, was the government going to take some actions in relation to the constitutional crisis that would resolve it, or wasn't it? And anyway, then there was a censure motion again in the House of Representatives I think, and I was involved and Whitlam was involved, and I got the message to go to Government House and his office was I think a little late giving the message to him, and so there was a mix-up in the order, which had nothing evil attached to it, it was just one of those political things that can happen.
Well I felt slightly awkward and I thought it was a pity, but I didn't think it was any more serious than that. And it was not a very pleasant time, just waiting there - I think I was waiting there probably 20 minutes, half and hour or something.
Oh, just in one of the small, it was one of the sitting rooms, it wasn't out the back or wasn't in the kitchen or whatever but ...
One of the aides came in and tried to make polite, light conversation, which I wasn't very much in favour of responding to at the time. And anyway, you know, Whitlam even then had a last chance to go to an election as prime minister, if he'd wanted to recommend an election. But he wasn't, so he was handed the letter and then he reached for a telephone, but it was to late to make a phone call and when I got back I called my senior colleagues together and I said to Withers, 'How soon can you get the budget through?' He said, 'By about 6 o'clock', and I said, 'well that's ...' I looked at my watch and it was probably about 2 o'clock, I said, 'Well you've got five minutes to get it through, Reg'. So he ambled off and got it through in about six. And then there was an election, and then Labor was defeated by the largest majority in the history of Australia.
What other constitutional way is there to go?
Well there was a view put and an alternative view would be that the Governor-General needed to accept the advice of his senior minister, that was the prime minister, on the way he should proceed and instead you had offered him an alternative view of his role and he had taken that view.
A lot of other people had offered him an alternative view too, and he had his own legal knowledge and all the rest. Nobody now disputes, in political circles, the Governor-General's power, the right of the Governor-General to do what he did. And it wasn't really disputed at the time. It was fought on political grounds, but nobody tried to suggest that the Governor-General does not have the power. He clearly does have the power, and it's got nothing to do with reserve powers of the Crown. It is words written into the Australian Constitution, because if anyone bothers to read some of the background documents to the constitutional conventions, which my grandfather took part in, they'll find that those founding fathers were aware of the possibility that a prime minister can go bananas. He could lose his marbles. He could have a stroke. Is the government to endure while a prime minister is ill, can't take action, loses half his mind through a stroke or whatever, or all his mind? How is he to be got rid of? He might live for a long while. He can never recommend an election.
No, but they were aware that there were circumstances in which a Governor-General may have to have power to act.
But that says it all doesn't it. Gough's public view really was that the Governor-General does not have that power and yet he accepted the letter and its consequences, and vacated his office and the Lodge. So he knew the Governor-General had the power, but he kept up a subterfuge to try and maintain Labor's rage and to try and hide the fact that Gough had embarked on the greatest gamble of his life, gambling with the total structure of the political stability of Australia, and he had failed.
No, not at all. Gough was the left's hero, I knew that. He was the press's hero. I only had to go to my first press conference as prime minister to know that 90% of them thought I was some pariah out of hell.
Well I was used to the press you see. The press, after I resigned from John Gorton, I wasn't surprised.
I don't think it's really relevant.
No, they write what they're going to write, and I'm not sure that it influences all that much.
Not all that much.
Didn't you feel that it was important and an important part of your job and an important part of being a politician according to the sorts of principles that you describe from Machiavelli, to handle that press? Isn't that part of the job?
Oh you try and get a message across in a variety of ways and luckily there's television and the print media and all the rest. So you get part of what your message is, but the condition of the country, the condition of people's lives, and what they feel about circumstances, is often going to have more import about the way they vote than what the press say in an editorial. Editorials are written for politicians. They're not written for the general public. I mean a large part of the public now will go to the business pages, not even look at the political pages. You take ...
Well they might, and the news you see in the newspapers is stale by the time you read it. So only those who are most avidly interested were going to read detailed reports of Bosnia or the state of the previous day's statistical reports or whatever. I'm not sure how much the newspapers are read today, I mean some are and some aren't. But there are a lot of things that go into framing the public mind and the press is not as important as it likes to think it might be.
Was some of the satisfaction of finally being prime minister taken away by the circumstances in which you slid in first as a caretaker prime minister, or was it a sense of responsibility and excitement to be Prime Minister of Australia?
Ah, it wasn't a question of sliding in, it was really a question of becoming prime minister with a bang, in an old-fashioned sense, because it was all very public, it was all very sudden and it was a one-off, it hadn't happened before. There was a great sense of responsibility, of excitement, yes, now you're going to be able to do something. But there's an election to be won and all the rest and perhaps in part, belying what I've just said about the media in Victoria, the polls were very bad because while we'd been ahead for so long through most of the year, the Melbourne Age had conducted an absolute bombardment for weeks, all the through the supply crisis about the immorality of Fraser and his henchmen and all the rest. But I have always believed that once people started to focus on the issues before them, in electing a government, that there'd be no doubt about how Victorians or anyone else would vote, and there wasn't. So you know, a large part of it is having an instinctive view about how Australians are going to react in a given set of circumstances.
I think the vote showed that I was, and I also believed and still believe that if we had not acted then, in spite of the trauma and the difficulty, by the time a normal election came round about 18 months later, we would have been held in total contempt. 'These are the people who could have given Australia relief and they refused to lift a finger.' And I think that condemnation would have been justified.
Oh, re-establish a sense of stability to the government in Australia. Re-establish financial stability and the circumstances in which investment would start moving forward again. Explain to countries overseas that the Whitlam government had been nothing more than an aberration. I can remember my first visit to Germany, Helmut Schmidt said to me, 'Malcolm you have a job to do with German businessmen'. He said, 'They were just getting interested in investing in Australia and two of your colleagues came here to speak with them and the decided to stay at home'. I said, 'Well who were they?' and he said, 'Well one of them was your former prime minister, Mr Whitlam and the other was Sir Lennox Hewitt', and he said, 'Mr Whitlam spoke to them and that decided that half of them would not bother about investing in Australia and by the time Sir Lennox had finished, they had made up their minds to persuade Germany as a whole not to invest in Australia'. But, so, you know, that all got turned round. But also to reestablish some view that whatever governments can do, and however wealthy a country is, there are limits to what governments can do, to what governments can provide. You can't ... you know, money is not like water rising up in a well, the more you take out the more flows in at the bottom. And we were operating in that environment before Mrs Thatcher, before Mr Reagan. We were the first government to preach financial restraint in the middle 1970s. And this, you see, I would have regarded those actions to restrain government expenditure in those times as good, true Keynesian actions, because it's what Keynes would have been advocating in those circumstances.
... it should be spent to support the productive areas, the business area, the farm area, and that the restraint had to come in those areas which you saw as not productive, that is the areas of welfare and some of the other aspects of the country where you felt it was necessary to put a ceiling ...
Well it's too broad to put it in those terms, because we put staff ceilings onto government departments. We hauled back on government expenditure. We hauled back in a whole variety of areas, a lot of capital expenditure, where government departments and whatever had been, you know, contributing to the irresponsibility. But we provided much better tax breaks for business to encourage investment. We modified taxation for mining. We introduced some new measures for farming. I did not believe, my government did not believe, and I do not believe that you have totally uniform tax rules for all of industry. It is ludicrous to suggest that the service industry, rather, or taxation that's suited to elements of the service industry, is going to establish the regime that will encourage mining and development, that will encourage farming, or manufacturing. And if you need different rules for different - not for different companies - obviously you don't do that, but for different basic industries in the country, all those rules are up front, they're on top of the table. People could argue about it, they can agree with it or disagree with it, but then you can make sure that you will get a tax regime that will maximise investment in the different areas of economic activity, which is what we did. Which is what - well one of the things that has not happened since and one of the reasons over the last ten years the volume of new investment has been lower than I think any ten years comparatively in Australia's history, apart from the 1930s.
But that was ...
Oh I did.
... about that because you'd already begun this process. Did it start to alarm you, the direction in which this went later with both Margaret Thatcher and Reagan? And of course here it was the Labor Party who took it up, taking that to the extreme of letting the market determine things and keeping government so small as to be non-existent.
Well you've got to look at rhetoric and reality. Both Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan adopted a rhetoric over a range of issues that I didn't. I mean I was arguing for small government and I was also certainly prepared to argue for a rigid examination of government regulations to see which was necessary and which was not. And in many cases they are [not] necessary, but in other cases they are entirely necessary for health and a well-functioning economy, and regulation so that you know what's happening across the exchanges, so that the Reserve Bank knows what's happening to your currency, I would have regarded as totally essential. They don't exist any longer. The Reserve Bank has no idea what's happening. A decision in New York can increase the credit available to the private sector in Australia by two billion dollars, just because you've sent a telex, or - it wouldn't be a telex, it would be a fax or a money order or something, and so control, even knowledge, in a capacity to supervise and know what was happening just disappeared in the 1980s. Now Britain probably went nearly as far as we did. They've got a central bank that operated in much the same way. But Mr Reagan's rhetoric and his actions were two entirely different things. He never reduced the size of American government, he increased it. He never reduced America's protection, he increased it. At the beginning of Mr Reagan's reign, 8% of America's imports were under quota. At the end of his reign, eight years later, 24% of America's imports were under quota; 34% of our exports to the United States are today under quota, and a lot of those quotas are going to [be put] in place by tariffs that are so high that we'll sell even less than we sell now. And that will be the GATT result on agriculture. In terms of corporate regulation, Mr Reagan deregulated some things. He deregulated the interest rates that savings and loans would have to pay for money, but he wasn't going to deregulate the rate at which they could lend out their money. He wasn't going to - he totally forgot that they had billions out on long term at fixed rates of interest. So they had borrowed short, lent long, and we had the savings and loan disaster that's costing the American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. Mr Reagan did not deregulate the supervisory powers of the Securities & Exchange Commission, he increased them. He did not take away the powers of the Reserve Bank and say that the Federal Reserve must only use interest rates to influence the economy. It still adjusts capital ratios, it gives them power, it gives directions to banks that it thinks are being irresponsible. All sorts of things that our bank used to do, but no longer does. So the trouble is here, that the bureaucrats and the Federal Treasury in the Reserve Bank and the Labor Party and the Liberal Party believed all this rhetoric about government having no role. Mr Reagan didn't believe it. He just thought it was good politics to talk it. And the same goes very much for Mrs Thatcher. But you know, I was operating before either of them operated and it was necessary after a period of dramatically increasing expenditures - imagine - 46% up one year, 26% up the next year, to haul that back and to haul back the excesses of Canberra.
In terms of numbers and in terms of - you've got to look at it in cycles to some extent. In 1983 Australia had just gone through or was just emerging - well no it wasn't, the drought broke after the election - a drought that took six billion dollars, at least, out of the economy and affected every state of the Commonwealth. And the Treasury models have always underestimated the impact of rural recession or rural prosperity on the rest of Australia. We just had the second oil shock which damaged growth in every OECD country very considerably. And we also had Bob Hawke's wages explosion - I say Bob Hawke's wages explosion because he was President of the ACTU in 1979 when they adopted the '79 wages policy, which the unions applied quite ruthlessly in 1981, with total disregard for its consequences on employment. The design politically, as I believe now, to damage the government, which of course it did. But they added 25% to unit labour costs over a matter of months. The Arbitration Commission said, 'Well the unions are taking no notice of my determinations, nor are management, because they're giving in to union demands. I'm not going to make any more determinations'. End of sentence. End of statement. And we had to institute a wages pause, but you couldn't do that until after the damage done by that particular wages policy was known and evident. And I really think that the Labor Party or Bob Hawke put that policy in place for the unions, knowing the damage that it would do, knowing his own plans to move into the political arena, and knowing the damage it would do to the government, and that would help therefore in achieving a change of government.
Well then Albert Monk would never have used his position as President of the ACTU in that regard. Albert Monk had an intense feeling for the well being of unionists.
I think he had an intense feeling for the well being of Bob Hawke.
I mean, let me make another point. His popularity began and only began when, as president of the Labor Party, he started distancing himself and publicly criticising Gough Whitlam, who was then prime minister. So people in the public domain said, 'Well at least here's one Labor man who's prepared to criticise somebody who's doing the country a lot of damage'. So coupled with Bob's own character and out-goingness and all the rest, he became an easy person to love, if you like. But his advance in popularity coincided and step-by-step went up with the extent to which he criticised Gough Whitlam.
My criticism was - no, not at all. Totally different circumstances because my criticism of John Gorton was sharp, to the point and it was over. Bob Hawke's criticism of Whitlam was long, drawn out, repetitive, and therefore planned. And once I'd had my say about Gorton no matter what he or any of his henchmen said behind their hands and in briefings, whatever, to the press, I never said another word to anyone. And while Hawke's briefings put his popularity up, mine certainly put me right down. So the two circumstances have absolutely no parallel at all.
Well hopefully, if somebody's going to fail, somebody else will rise, otherwise we're going to have truly wretched government, aren't we?
What did you think then? Did you find - you talked earlier how important you find it to respect people. Did you find it particularly difficult to lose the election to Bob Hawke, given that you didn't feel a great deal of respect for him?
Well I was concerned because I knew the policies he went to the election on would be an absolute disaster, that the Australian economy couldn't stand the sort of policies that he put in place or that he said he was going to put in place. He, in effect, tore a lot of them up immediately after the election and he took the Labor Party into the middle ground. Not in all respects but in some essential respects. So that meant the condition of the country was not going to be damaged in the way that it might have been, and that was really what was going to happen. If it had gone through another Whitlam phase well then really, God help us. It went through a longer drawn out phase, but one that was supported by the Treasury, the Reserve Bank, financial journalists, with two or three notable and praiseworthy exceptions, which has done enormous harm and built in structural weaknesses into this economy which even if policies were put in place to redress now, would take us ten years or fifteen years to redress. Like incapacity to pay our own ways. In this recent period our manufacturing trade deficit has gone from four billion a year - no, around two billion a year - to 34 billion a year. And there is no way exports of other things can make up for that deficit. One car in five used to be imported, now one car in one is imported, without, at any point increasing commensurately our capacity to export. So the, and all the service industries, where most of the population has gone ...
... tend to be great consumers of imports and not producers of exports. I mean the cameras you use, they're all imported, the computers people use, if they're not imported totally the components are mostly imported. And so there is now a structural imbalance in the Australian economy, which is hidden by worldwide high interest rates still and by lack of examination in the public arena of public economic policy.
No they hadn't.
Look, Australia's always been a country where our demand for imports had the capacity to outweigh our ability to export, but you've got to look at the circumstances of the time. It wasn't - in 1983 we had no international debt of consequence. It might have been $20 billion, it's now about $200 billion dollars. And then look at the circumstances of '81, '82, '83. We'd had the worst drought in Australia, every state, every acre was under drought. That reduced our rural exports by billions. So that was out of the export equation. There was a worldwide recession, caused as much as anything by the second oil shock and even a continuation of the first oil shock, and one coming in on top of the other. So the demand for other products, for metals, minerals, was less than it would otherwise have been. But we had no basic structural problem. We needed rain in Australia to get rural industries moving again and rural exports therefore flowing, and recovery in the world economies and then the demands for metals, minerals and all the rest would also grow. And so ...
... to the general public, who often hear explanations like this of situations which, they say, they blame the government for and some could say that it was those circumstances, the drought and the international problems and so on, that lost you that election.
Well I think it was, because it was the - the three things that caused the recession - I think we could have survived any two of them, but we had the second oil shock, which is so easily forgotten, we had a Treasury paper which was published in the budget papers saying that the government has been remarkably successful; in eight months inflation will be below 5%, which was so far below the rest of the OECD average at that time that it was miraculous. The oil shock put that totally out of court. We then had the wages explosion which did much further damage to it. We knew what the results were going to be, but we had to - and we knew the Metal Trades Industry Association were going to come calling to us and ask for help. But we said, 'There's not going to be any help. You've agreed to all these wage demands. You said you had the profits, you could pay the wages. We know you can't and you, in effect, know you can't'.
You've told us about what your problems were when you first became prime minister, and the sort of things that had to be tackled. Now looking back from the other end, in hindsight, what do you think were the major achievements of your period as prime minister?
Well the major and enduring problems through the period were economic problems, because we not only had the legacy of the Whitlam years in relation to that, they were also difficult years for the world economy. There'd been the first and the second oil shocks which are so easy to forget these days. There'd been a drought across Australia, which was the worst in 100 years. Every acre of Australia was affected, and billions were taken out of the Australian economy and we also had a wages explosion - in a sense our policies had been too successful. Investment was going forward very strongly at the end of the '70s, much more strongly than it has since. Companies were profitable and unions, determined to ignore the wage-fixing system and the decisions of Sir John Moore, the Chairman of the Commission, demanded much greater wages, much shorter hours, in a way that added 25% to unit labour costs in the matter of a few months. Now this was bound to have a dramatic impact on the economy. The impact of it hit about the same time as the drought and this posed a new series of economic problems for the government. But the main problems of excess spending had been overcome, expenditure had been restrained within very narrow limits throughout the whole period. There'd been reordered priorities within Commonwealth government expenditure. We actually were fairly generous with the states, but we increased that part of the payments to the states which they were able to determine for themselves and reduced specific Commonwealth determined grants so there was a reorder also there, believing as we did that states should be master of their own affairs to as great an extent as possible. But anyway, our finances were in order, we weren't in debt internationally, we were paying our own way, we had lowered taxation generally. One of the more notable social welfare reforms was the abandonment of tax deductions for - or rebates - for family allowance and family assistance, or family dependants and the institution of a system of family allowances, which benefited about 800 000 families and children that had never benefited before from that Commonwealth's taxation support for families, simply because the families didn't have incomes large enough to get the benefit under the earlier system. We also were prepared to, and did, reorder expenditure priorities quite significantly in other areas, and we weren't just taking a view - all right, we've got to cut expenditure - we cut expenditure across the board regardless of the circumstances. We thought that there were both economic and social priorities that had to be met and that were quite important and urgent. I think that we introduced some very constructive changes into Aboriginal policy. We certainly embarked on a program of multiculturalism and acceptance of multicultural issues and the introduction of SBS, all of which broke new ground, and I think in many cases were a world first in an approach to ethnic minorities and their place in our case, in their place in Australia. So overall the government had a number of domestic objectives, which I think were achieved pretty well. Internationally, we had worked constructively and I think more forcefully through the commonwealth than previous governments had, and I suppose there were two main strands to our foreign policy - the development of relations within the commonwealth - there were some special concerns of course in relation to southern Africa - Rhodesia as it then was, and South Africa - but also we intensified Australia's relationships with Asia, which had really been begun by the first post-war Australian governments. I mean it's quite common for prime ministers to get up and say that they're taking Australia into Asia and that they're the only government that's done this and this is all new. But in fact there has been a very steady progression through each different government in all the post-war years, all of which have intensified our relationships with Asia. And you know, the beginnings of this were probably the Colombo Plan and Dick Casey, later Lord Casey. The early Menzies governments, the Japanese trade treaty which was the most - single most far-sighted and politically quite courageous act of any Australian government in post-war history. It was very close to the end of the war and emotions were still quite high. Some members of the parliament for example weren't going to go to a reception for the Japanese Prime Minister coming to Australia to commemorate that trade treaty. It was the ex-prisoners of war, prisoners of war of Japan who all jointly and together said that they were going to attend the reception and they expected every other member of parliament to likewise; that settled that issue. But there were obviously political risks attached. In effect it turned out to be one of the most far-sighted acts of any Australian government at any time. We didn't believe the British when they said they were going - not going to join the European Community. They mightn't have been deliberately lying to us, but if they weren't, they didn't know their own minds and we knew it better than they did.
No, in a sense it wasn't. We were ahead of Britain. The Japanese trade treaty was signed years before Britain entered the Community. These were precautionary actions taken in anticipation of what Britain was going to do. The urgency was there in the government of the day long before Britain actually entered the Community. It's important to get the priorities and the order correct.
You were one of the voices in Australia that had a certain sympathy for Britain, although you saw that it would have negative effects on Australia, you understood that, you felt that Britain ought to go into Europe for its own sake.
Well for political reasons I thought they ought to, and in the end they did. Political more than economic reasons. But Britain has never been able to embrace the politics of Europe in a forthright and wholehearted fashion and while the trade and economic links of the Community are important, I don't think it's going to be possible to get political unity within the different countries of Europe. I mean in spite of all the framework that has been established, there has been no unity in Europe over Bosnia or the former Yugoslavia. The Germans have supported the Croats and did that long before the international community had decided that Yugoslavia should be broken up. So Germany more than any other country promoted the break up of Yugoslavia. And then of course, the French support the Serbs, the - or would like to - the Russians support the Serbs, they're all terrified of being entangled on different sides of a new Balkan crisis and therefore getting into conflict with each other. They don't have the capacity, it seems to me, to rise above the historic basis of these issues, which will enable them then to determine a European policy, because there isn't a European policy.
Well it would be better if there were and it would be a safer world if there were and maybe a little more justice would have been done to Bosnian Muslims. But none of that's happened.
Now from Australia's point of view, when you were prime minister, you saw the need to develop close links with Asia and worked at that. In terms of Australia's general stance, one of the things that was being articulated more and more publicly and to some extent was something that had happened in the Whitlam years, was a clearer sense of Australia's independence to operate in the world. What did you do with that, with the whole question of Australia's independence in operating in international affairs.
Well, you know, I think that question is misbased. Australia has never lacked a sense of independence and I think it is only Australians with a massive inferiority complex who have ever felt that Australia is not independent and does not make its own decisions. If you want to go back to the pre-war years, it was Menzies as prime minister who wrote to our High Commissioner in London, Lord Bruce, [and] said in plain terms that the British do not understand Asia, in particular they do not understand Japan; we must make that our own special area of concern and interest to avoid the most terrible dangers. And the then government made up its mind to establish embassies both in Washington and in Tokyo at the same time. The decision in relation to Tokyo was overtaken by the war. But I think that shows that even a very friendly pro-British prime minister in Menzies well knew and understood that British interest in and concerns in Asia, were vastly deficient so far as Australia was concerned. And the idea that Australia has not had a sense of independence in its policies is again something that Labor governments in particular have liked to promote. Very often because they like to tie it to the republican issue. But it is not something that has been in the minds - a sense of independence - or dependence has not been in the minds of any post-war Australian government and it's just a nonsense to suggest that we have not been independent. People know very little of our constitutional history. And they know very little about forms of constitution compared to say, the Canadians and our founding fathers did have the benefit of the Canadian, the American, French, other constitutions in front of them when the Australian Federation was put together. Now the Canadians for example had to petition the House of Commons if they ever wanted to reform their own constitution or change it, or amend it. And it was Trudeau who persuaded the British to legislate in a way that gave that power to Canada, or back to Canada. But they gave it to Canada in a way which is probably incapable ever of being implemented. That's because of the restrictions placed on the power in the internal Canadian context. But the founding fathers of the Australian Constitution said, 'Well look, that's no good to us, we have our Constitution, but if we want to amend it we're not going to go back to the House of Commons. We want the capacity to amend it at will. But we don't want it easy. We want to make sure that there's a majority or there are a majority of Australians in favour of change, and therefore you need them, their vote.' - a majority of citizens and a majority of states. Again, something designed to protect the smaller states from the population majorities in Melbourne and Sydney. So from the earliest days we have been totally master of our own house. We have not had to refer to the British or to anyone else for any element of Australian policy. And to suggest that we have is just an absolute damn nonsense. It really is. And it really makes me angry when I see Australians suggesting that we are not, have not been independent, just because a prime minister goes to Indonesia, gets on his knees and kisses Indonesian soil and says, 'Now Australia is independent'. That's ludicrous.
I didn't feel it. It is. It was. It is recognised as such by every country of Asia and by every country in the world and in the United Nations. Look, I don't know how ignorant of Australian history people can be. It was Australia acting as an independent country under Evatt as Foreign Minister who did much to promote the United Nations and often in ways that Britain and America did not like. It was Evatt as an Australian Foreign Minister who did much to bring forward and promote the independence of Indonesia in ways that the Dutch and consequently the British and the Americans did not like. You cannot find any element, any evidence of dependence in terms of Australia's foreign policy, certainly in the last 50 years. It's an absolute nonsense, and it's a piece of mythology that should not be allowed to persist.
Still to strengthen relationships with Asia because the history and cultures of Asian nations are so different from ours and Menzies in 1939 was entirely right, 'The British do not understand this. I don't think the Americans do. Other Europeans certainly do not'. I had an English prime minister saying to me once, 'Malcolm what sort of people are these Japanese? Do we have to take them seriously?' And I think that shows a depth of ignorance which is beyond belief.
That was James Callaghan, a Labour prime minister, and one would have thought that he'd know better. But it's a long way from Britain and their concerns are much narrower than they have ever been in the last two or three hundred years probably. But strengthening those ties on a continual basis is important, and with a number of Japanese prime ministers - Ahiro, Fukuda - we took a number of initiatives to make sure that that happened. We took the initial decisions which led to the formation of APEC by the Hawke government. If the initial decisions between Prime Minister Ahiro and myself had not been taken, which involved informal discussions between governments, business people and academics of the two countries, the later steps could never have been taken because we knew we had to drag along countries in ASEAN and other parts of Asia with us. It would have been much easier for Japan and Australia alone to take decisions but that, we knew we needed a broader objective than that. At that time youth exchanges between Australia and Japan were put in place and have continued ever since. When I was Education Minister I was the first Australian Education Minister to provide funds for the advancement of Asian languages and cultures in history in Australian schools, and I find the same policy being reannounced later as though it were a new initiative, 20 years after the event, 20 years after such programs had originally been put in place. Sure, if people want to provide more money for those areas, I'm delighted. But now as a consequence of that, Australia leads the world as a proportion of our population in the number of people who study Japanese and Chinese for example. And I think that's very important. But there still aren't enough Australian business people who can go to Japan and China and speak in their own language. They, when they come here, can always speak our language.
Oh it depended on who was president. When President Ford was there, relationships were fairly stable. With President Carter, one of the first things we had to do was to make sure he didn't do a side deal with the Soviet Union, which would have made it impossible for the United States to keep her treaty commitments to us under ANZAS and there was a great risk that this was going to happen. And so we had to insist on consultation between ourselves and the Soviet - and, and the United States in relation to any treaty that the United States might have signed with Russia. But then of course, events moved on and President Carter got some good, hard lessons, about the way in which he could trust the Russians, or the Soviets. And at one point he said to me, 'But Malcolm, the President of the Soviet Union - the Chairman - lied to me, he lied to me!' And people have forgotten that it was President Carter who began America's defence build-up after he'd been in office two and a half years. He never got credit for it because he'd done so many other things which people didn't like. But this was during the period of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. It's interesting that intelligence officers in at least four western countries had all the information on their desks before Christmas of that year, which would have led them to assume, if they'd read the information correctly, that the Soviet Union was going to invade Afghanistan. Not one of them read it, or interpreted it. Whether they'd already gone to Christmas holidays I don't know, but if they had and if the matter had been taken into the United Nations, the history of that period might have been quite different.
Oh I suppose quite a number really, but there are different areas, so I don't know how you can compare them. We were the first government in the world to haul back on the excessive government expenditure and who really, putting it in a way that's, will not be typically accepted in Australia at the moment, to apply what Keynes would have advised in relation to the problems or economies in the middle 1970s. But we were pursuing policies of this kind long before Mr Reagan and long before Mrs Thatcher, and we did get our economy into order and at the end of my time there was no international debt of any consequence as far as Australia was concerned. That's a creation and a product of a later period. But then our social policies, family allowances, was a dramatic advance and change in terms of the way in which Australia dealt with its less well-off people and families who were in greater financial hardship. The changes to Aboriginal policy and the changes in the multicultural area, multicultural area in particular were world firsts. There was no other country in the world that was advanced in these areas as Australia has.
Well, ideas pursued by government seldom come from just one source or one person. It generally emerges out of a process of discussion. I'd met, when I was responsible for immigration as a shadow minister in a period of opposition, I'd met a number of people in the Australian-Greek Welfare Association, people like George Pappadopoulos and others, and I'd met their counterparts in other parts of Australia and I was aware that there was a range of problems that government policies, as they were, were not addressing. And that the scattering of money around by the Whitlam government didn't really address the real issues at all. There was - I had an Australian-Greek on my staff, Petro Georgiou; Frank Galbally was also interested in these issues and so the policies would have grown and developed from a range of people, a range of concerns and experiences. You know, you don't suddenly wake up in the morning and say, 'I've got some ideas about multiculturalism', and put a policy down on paper. It's a question of evolution.
You felt pleased and proud of the way that you were handling the economy at a time when there was a drought and there were international economic problems to contend with and yet, in that situation you nevertheless lost the election in 1983. Why do you think that was?
I think we could have handled any two of the three problems we had - the drought, the wages explosions, which I really do believe was a deliberately designed act by ACTU President Hawke to damage a Liberal government. That wage policy was put in place in 1979 and it's that policy that the unions applied first through the metal trades, with great ferocity, and it was a question of strikes, and disruption to such an extent that firms were beginning to be put out of business. There was no responsibility in the ACTU in Mr Hawkes' time or certainly at the end of it.
And - well let me - and also there was the second oil shock which - this in today's world is in the dim and distant past. But the three things, the drought, the wages explosion and the oil shock were really going to take their toll out of the economy in a major way and they did. I think any ... we had policies in place to address all of these issues and the fact that the economy grew very strongly in the latter part of 1983 and through 1984 indicates that we did have policies that would revive the Australian economy, because new policies, implemented by the new government wouldn't have any influence on the statistics for 18 months after their introduction. So that the growth in 83, 84 and the early part of '85 were not the result of Labor policies. They were results of policies already in place. The - but anyway, that's the way it happened.
Oh it might have been. I'm not sure and you know, one of the surprising things in this - I mean Bill Hayden said it first, by not fighting for his leadership in the Labor Party. Any previous leader would have.
You'd have to ask him.
Oh I knew it was going to be tough. I really did. But Hawke had gained his popularity by criticising the Whitlam government very extensively and he was clearly going to be a tougher person to beat. You know, if I'd known that there was going to be that switch in leadership the sensible thing would have been to, all right, let Hawke get into the parliament and demonstrate that he's not really a very effective parliamentarian, which he never became. It wouldn't have been difficult to do that.
No not troubles in terms of trouble's sake. But I'm quite certain that the wages policy was foisted on the unions. I mean Hawke had to know that the policy was impossible. That it would do enormous damage, because the policy as stated in 1979 was going to add 25% to unit wage costs in Australia. Now anyone with any intelligence at all and Bob Hawke has some at least, must know that the economy can't stand that.
You adopted a very confrontationist approach to him during that period, over that wages policy. Do you think that if you had been less determined, less fierce in your opposition to it, that you might have been able to win the day or moderate it in some way?
Well what was confrontationist?
Well, you know I don't think that was right. When Cliff Dolan was president of the ACTU and we were having discussions with the union movement, he said that he got a better hearing out of my government than he ever did out of the Whitlam government. We had extensive discussions with the union movement. But when you meet an ACTU president who's absolutely determined to press ahead with a policy that is totally irresponsible, what do you do? Do you say we'll take something that's half irresponsible? The Arbitration Commission agreed with us. They were making decisions that were quite different from the ACTU's policy but at the end of the day, in what, September-October 1981, Sir John Moore issued a statement saying he was making no more determinations because neither the unions nor employers, who were feeling prosperous at the time - they'd been making good profits, they'd been exporting, they'd been doing well - they felt they could give in. And major corporations were negotiating reduced working hours, while telling us that they weren't. It was certainly a difficult period, but I don't believe it was a time in which you - if the government hadn't tried to hold it up I think the - well I'm sure the union movement would have just swept over the industrial scene very much quicker.
Oh it was a whole mixture of emotions. I think I said a while ago that I was very concerned about what was going to happen to Australia because Labor policies which they went into the election with, I knew the economy could not afford. Well they moderated a lot of those policies, but still in the first couple of years expenditure went up in ways which began to be reminiscent of Mr Whitlam. There were increases in expenditure of six, seven, eight percent real. The government doesn't have a reputation for those kinds of increases in expenditure but nevertheless they're there in black and white for people to see. They'd hidden a bit because the Labor government was very tough on the expenditure of the states and very lenient on its own expenditure. But the policies they did implement were not as irresponsible as the ones they went to the election with. So I suppose that was some sort of a relief. On a more personal basis you know, I welcomed the thought of not having to, not having the responsibility in the duties of prime minister. Nobody likes being beaten in an election even if you've won three before. But there was obviously greater freedom and all the rest.
Oh loss of opportunity. What ...
... I should have done is to take a year's sabbatical and decide what I was going to do after that, instead of resigning from the parliament about the same time.
Well I thought that neither Peacock nor Howard would have a real chance if I was there. People would have, if things started to go wrong, they'd wonder when I was going to make a move and all the rest, and I thought I owed it to my successors to give them a clear run. Well in the event they mucked it up for themselves anyway and so far as the party's concerned if I'd been there, the history of the last ten years might have been quite different.
No, it wasn't a question of being overwhelmed by disappointment, that wouldn't have been part of it.
Ah, oh, I think I also probably felt that I'd been in politics for the best part of 30 years and that I'd been there long enough.
And this was separate. Yes I was still young. That's true, I was.
No, if I'd - what I'd - you know I'd had a few people wanting me to stay and some wanting me to take a year off and others saying, 'Yes, resigning's the right thing'. I suspect that after eight years in the job I was tireder than I should have been, and that probably would have influenced my judgement. But I should have taken a year off and made a decision at the end of that year.
And you - that's what you feel now - is that because of, as you say, the others making a bit of muck of the leadership, or was it because you feel for yourself personally, it would have been a better course?
No, it's because - well you know for me maybe it's irrelevant, but it's obvious that the opposition has made a mess of it and is continuing to, and as a consequence we've almost got a one-party state, at least till the opposition can sort itself out. But they're no closer to doing that than they were ten years ago.
I've already said that.
Well I had no reason to be particularly friendly to Andrew Peacock. He had not been a good servant or a good member of my government. He was an able Foreign Minister, but he is much too emotional and would get caught up with instances and circumstances, in a very emotional way, which he should have been able to overcome. And he resigned and as a consequence did great damage to the government over an issue that was really quite stupid.
Well he had a staff member who made a very public speech, criticising the government. A person called Barry Symon. And I just said to Andrew, 'You going to have to sack Barry Symon because I'm not going to have staff members from any minister making public speeches of that kind'. And Andrew tried to say no he wouldn't and all the rest, but I was quite implacable and if he hadn't, Andrew himself would have been asked to resign. Or if not, would have been sacked. And anyway, in the event the inevitable happened, because everyone was telling Andrew, 'You cannot let this guy do that', nobody liked Barry Symon anyway, and so he told Barry Symon he'd have to move on. And then I was having breakfast the next morning at the Lodge and I saw the cartoon in the Daily Telegraph and the cartoon had a little figure of Barry Symon slinking off into the corner, another figure of Peacock slinking off into another corner, and a figure of me, you know, just having exercised a little authority and they just both wilted. And I can remember saying to Tam, 'I'm going to have a resignation before cabinet meets this morning'. And we, cabinet met about 10 o'clock or something and Peacock wasn't there and somebody probably said, 'Where's Peacock?' I said, 'I don't think he'll be turning up this morning', and an hour later his resignation arrived and he couldn't take that cartoon, and I knew he couldn't. But you know, the day before he'd done what he ought to do. No, it's quite stupid for a senior minister to get himself into a fret about something like that. But a prime minister cannot allow, or is very stupid if he does allow, staff of ministers, senior ministers, any minister to go round making speeches highly critical of the government. You just can't allow that. I'm quite sure Keating wouldn't allow it.
No I didn't.
Well John is a very good deputy and if he was content to be a very good deputy he would still be a very good deputy. But he's not.
That's harder to define really. He had a go in 1987 and there was an appearance of a vacuum. He wasn't able to impart a sense of commitment, a sense of direction, a sense of really being in control of the party's affairs because that's an election we should have won and we went further downhill in 1987. The - I think it was, you know, just the general circumstances. If he'd been a leader, he would have won that year. He didn't.
Well you know, it's obvious and I really just don't want to go into details of that kind.
Perhaps I can approach it in a different way by asking you to be general, because I'm interested, your having experienced being a leader. What you think are the qualities that are needed in a leader for a country?
Well he's got to have an instinct for what the country needs. He's got to have an instinct for what people will accept. You can't drive people in directions they don't want to go, and this is certainly what John Hewson was trying to do with 'Fight Back'. He was trying to drive people in directions in which they did not want to go. Then it just doesn't work. The Labor Party, for 30 years, lost election after election because they were trying to drive people to the left and people in Australia don't want to accept that. When you look at the record of Labor constitutional reforms, they've nearly all failed because they were making it perfectly plain they wanted to do things that they didn't have power to do. All of which would have meant more power for Canberra and Australians just didn't want that. When I had some Constitutional changes I got three out four issues accepted and only lost the fourth by the narrowest of margins in the needed fourth state. We got a majority of people but we did not quite get a majority of states. So you've got to have a judgement for what Australians will accept. You've also got to have an instinct for policy. You know, what is needed for Australia to make the country work, to make the country productive and some understanding of Australia's place in the world. You've got to be pragmatic, you can't be theoretical. And you ought to make the prosperity of manufacturing, mining and farming, as Australia's basic industries, make their profitability a major objective of policy, instead of making stability in the financial markets a major objective of policy.
Oh of course there is.
Oh other people can judge that.
But would you, could you describe the sorts of qualities that you felt you had to manifest as a leader? For example, did you feel that it was up to you as a leader to find the way forward or did you look for a consensus?
Ah, it's up to the government to find the way forward and the prime minister in particular, and to be able to define that in ways that people can understand and accept. Finding a consensus is a remedy for non-government, and that's why Bob Hawke in the end got dumped by his own party. That's the worst way of all to go. The people closest to you, who've worked most with you, including your own cabinet, end up by determining that you've got nothing to offer. That's the greatest condemnation of all of any leader.
Oh, not often. Occasionally. There were sometimes issues in which I didn't know where we ought to go and so you'd have a cabinet discussion and say, 'I'm not going to take this to finality today. We'll have an initial discussion, we'll think about it and come back to it'. Because if I didn't know my own mind, I would certainly be very suspicious of a cabinet majority because I'd suspect that a lot of ministers - because except for the minister specifically responsible, I think I probably would know more than any other ministers around the table. And sometimes more than the minister specifically responsible. And if I didn't know my own mind, or felt that I didn't have an adequate basis for knowing my own mind, I would think most of my ministers also did not, and therefore a second go at it would be just prudent common sense. But before coming to your own mind it's obviously very important to listen to people, to make sure that you have a variety of sources of advice - not just advice from one source, because that can be prejudiced or biased advice. It can have a - if you just relied on advice from a specialist department, that advice, well quite often with such departments, had a prejudice that was very obvious. I mean the Immigration Department in our early years had an anti-Asian bias and it took quite a long while to rub that out of the mores of the department. I think we did at the end, but initially they most certainly did, and some government decisions were delayed in their implementation because of that bias in the department in ways that they shouldn't have been. So listening to people and making up your own mind, and then being able to act upon it; and you've got to be able to convince people that you not only know what the right course is, but you're convinced, committed that that is the right course. Because if you don't have a sense of commitment to a certain course, if you don't really believe that it's the right thing for the country, you can't expect other people to believe it either.
Doesn't often exist.
Well the situations which I'm involved in.
Well what sort of things getting out of control?
I'm just thinking that in a situation where, as leader, or as prime minister, you were responsible for things. Did you ever find yourself thinking: look, this whole thing's a mess and I've got to move in and take charge? In other words did you ever find yourself in conflict with others because you were wanting to control a situation they didn't want you to?
Well I don't think so. I mean sometimes there were problems in areas of government or whatever or there could be a problem in relation to a minister, but that doesn't mean that things are out of control. I'm - government is about problem solving very often and quite clearly events are not always going to go the way a government wants. There'll be external things that occur that have an impact on your policies. Well the test of government is how you respond to that, how you react to it. You don't just sit back and say, 'Oh things are out of control. This is hopeless, I can't do anything about it'.
Other leaders that I've met? Oh I suppose Lee Kwan Yew for what he's done for, or had done for Singapore. Tungku Abdul Rahman for what he'd done for Malaya, Malaysia. Soeharto was a very notable leader for Indonesia. When he was in office I thought Helmut Schmidt had a greater capacity to think beyond the narrow confines of conventional European wisdom and I think he's demonstrated more of that since he's ceased being Chancellor. But one of the real problems at the moment is, I think, lack of incisive leadership on the part of the West. I mean at the moment in a number of areas Western policy has been a serious and damaging disaster. In Somalia a military eventually goes forward without any overall planning for the political or diplomatic initiatives needed to bring political reconciliation to that country; the military venture is a success, the other part of it just doesn't get off the ground. In Bosnia there is no united, concerted Western policy. The Serbs still go about their bombing and their shelling and whatever with virtual impunity. With NATO and the United Nations now making one or two very incipient - or taking one or two very, very small steps to try and do something about it. But as soon as they do that, President Yeltsin comes forward and says, 'Hey, you can't do that'. So there is no concerted policy amongst great powers in relation to Bosnia, and certainly no effective concerted policy amongst European states. In the United States you have President Clinton needing China's support over the very serious issue of the nuclear capacity of North Vietnam [sic]. But on the issues of trade and human rights, President Clinton guarantees that he will not have that Chinese support.
For, for anything.
And I mean why would China go along with American policy on anything where America insists on interfering so heavily in Chinese affairs. And what does President Clinton, or what does Mr Keating know of the problems of governing over a billion people when there has not been a strong government in Beijing, there have been massive problems between the differing provinces in China, loss of life running into millions, decay and discord and if, for example, you had the same sort of decay in China as exists in the former Soviet Union today, you would then have about a dozen separate provinces or countries or quasi-countries between the Soviet Union and China with the capacity to control nuclear weapons. It wouldn't be a very safe or secure world for anyone. But that would probably be the consequence of China adopting Western injunctions about policy within China. It may not have been but could have been. And you know, hasn't America got the capacity to judge which is the most important issue - pressing American morality on China, or getting Chinese support for controlling North Korea's nuclear capability? I would have thought put in those terms there is no question which is important. But the American president seems totally incapable of making a judgement between the two.
So you know, the more important leaders have not come from the West or Western kinds of civilisations in recent times.
I think of leaders that I can name they stand out to a greater extent, yes.
Oh some people do but you can't press people beyond expectations. I mean some ministers would go about their job and you know quite well you wouldn't have to worry about any of it. They'd do the job well, they'd do it effectively. Other ministers would want the reassurance of coming and talking to you about what they were doing and encouragement on the basis that they would want to know that I felt that what they were doing was correct. Some other ministers, not necessarily competent, would blame their private offices or their departments, and they were the ones that you knew you had to watch because you know, a minister's responsible and if his department is inadequate or if his private office is inadequate, the private office especially is a creature of his own appointments. If it's not good enough, he's chosen the wrong people. So you know, it's like - if you've got 25 people in a government, some are going to very good, some average and some not so good.
Oh sometimes, yes. But I'm not going to start enumerating my own failings.
Well you might, but the rest of the world has been spending a lifetime doing it and I'm not going to add to the list.
Yes, allowing the construction of the new Parliament House to go ahead.
Because the old Parliament had a lot of history in it and it was big enough and large enough and some additional offices built on each side of it would have been adequate, and it would have left the prime minister and members of parliament in a condition more appropriate to their circumstances as parliamentary representatives of the people of Australia. I don't believe - I mean you go into that building and you know, this was one of the things that I suppose you left to a committee. It was captured by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the various clerks and everyone just built into it the absolute maximum. It takes about 2 000 people to run it, more than the old building. It is an example of luxury and extravagance, which ill befits Australia. You go in and you see all those marble columns, I don't think they're real or solid marble, but they're meant to look like it and you might be in a Saudi Arabian palace of some kind and not in Australia's parliament. It is not a building, it is not a parliament building. It is not a building for communication. It is a building for non-communication. Members are able to get in it through secret ways or ways that are protected from the public or the press; so can ministers. The press are shut off from ministers and from the government and you have to get special permission to go to certain places. Members' offices are so large that for a lot of them, they are more luxuriant than anything that they could ever afford or want in their previous private lives. Now, you go into the American Congress and look at the cramped and busy offices of American congressmen and American senators, and then you look at the spacious luxury - I think it's set very bad standards and I don't think people are better represented. There are more people in Australia now - this isn't directly the responsibility of the building but it's - you know, why did people in my electorate come to me about some electoral matters still, ten years after I've left Wannon. I say, 'Have you been to your local member? I suggest you do do'. Ten years after the event they ought to automatically be going to their local member. The - it's ...
The federal parliamentary building has and I think also if you could really put down in one place the total circumstances of members of parliament, a lot of people would be quite surprised at what they involve, and what the cost ultimately is.
Of course some people think that because you yourself have always been very comfortable because of your private income and so on, that it's probably easy for you to recommend a more spartan existence. Do you think there is something in that?
Oh there may be, but I think that if you look at parliaments around the world, you'd probably find that the condition of Australian federal politicians is now significantly better than a great many. You've also got to take into [account] the non-salary, non-superannuation things. In Britain the position of members of parliament I think would be much more spartan than it is in Australia.
I listed my mistake.
The only significant one I can recall.
Yes, but I forget them. I forget them.
Now that's maybe the answer to my question, because I was going to say do you have a technique for dealing with situations where you do feel disappointed in yourself, where you feel that you have failed your own high standards? How do you handle feelings of disappointment and failure?
Oh well you make up your mind you're not going to do it that way next time.
But you're always looking to the future. You don't brood about the past. There's not much point in it.
Was it difficult for you, when you stopped being prime minister, to look to the future because you'd made such a huge contribution, carried such a big weight on your shoulders, suddenly to be relieved of that? What do you do when you're a relatively young man and the, in a sense, apex of your career is behind you?
Well there are a lot of things that you can do. I did a number of things for the United Nations, some for the Commonwealth [of Nations]. I've been involved in some commercial ventures, and I've helped establish a great organisation in CARE Australia and built up CARE International. This is a major organisation with a reach world-wide. A lot of people don't know about but it's very effective and does a great deal of good work.
Well it's a non-government, non-political, non-profit aid organisation. We would employ about 11 000 people world-wide and 95% of those would be people from the countries in which we're working and we'd spend over half a million - half a billion dollars each year in 60 developing countries. We do any of the work that the Red Cross does in areas of danger, but in addition to that our major commitment is to development, where the Red Cross has no commitment. The Red Cross is much more an emergency organisation. It's a great organisation, but in the last few years we've shown that we're able to deliver aid and help and assistance in areas of danger, I think, just as well as the Red Cross.
Quite a lot, yes, quite a lot. I'd be overseas four or five times a year on the business of CARE, maybe more than that, and there wouldn't be a day when there aren't phone calls or faxes or communications that have to be answered and whatever.
Well I would have carried a credibility in that area that a lot of other people would not. I suppose being a conservative politician and also having a credibility in issues of race was a help and it was useful. He would have liked to have an Australian on the group obviously, and the experience I'd had in the Commonwealth on the earlier Rhodesian issue and what I'd done to help in getting the agreement of the Lusaka Commonwealth Conference, all I suppose, established credentials which might have made me an obvious choice for the South African enterprise.
No. No, he's not a - in that sense he's not a partisan politician at all, and there wouldn't have been another Australian with the background or experience that I had. Maybe no one from any other Commonwealth country with that background and experience.
If they were qualified, yes.
Well we found that the ANC were certainly ready and willing to negotiate, and the government was also. But at the time the government was only prepared to negotiate on its own terms. They believed that in a negotiation, they would be able to divide the different black groups one from the other and therefore steer a way through with the support of some black groups and say, 'Well this has more support than anything else'. But they would have learnt from our own discussions with the whole variety of black groups within South Africa, they would have learnt just as we did that they were all going to be united behind the ANC and under Mandela. And a united black voice they were not yet ready to deal with. But we went much further than that, because we set out in our negotiating concept, the steps that the ANC would have to take before the government could realistically be expected to sit down with them and also the step that the government would have to take before they could accept or before the ANC would sit down with them. So both sides had to make some substantive moves, decisions, to establish good faith, the basis in which a negotiation could be expected to move forward. And for the ANC for example, it was to suspend - not a promise to end violence for all time - because violence was the only weapon they had and you know, it was Jefferson who said that he would die rather than submit to the dictates of the British parliament. The American settlers weren't going to give up violence when all efforts to talk, to negotiate, to achieve representation in the British parliament had failed. And if the American settlers weren't going to give up that right, it's difficult to see how the ANC and its members should also give up that right completely. But it was reasonable to expect that they would suspend violence as evidence of good faith in wanting a negotiated future. The government, for its part, was going to have to release Mandela, release political prisoners, get troops out of the townships, and one or two other things that we also set down. And it's interesting that, in the time that passed after that Commonwealth report in 1986 to the time when negotiations first began between Mandela and de Klerk, both the government and the ANC had implemented our negotiating concept to the full. In other words we described accurately in 1986 what each would have to do as a precondition for sensible and worthwhile negotiations. So in that sense, I think we made a very real contribution, we exposed the issues, and the analysis that we set down at that time remained valid right through.
Oh only in the sense that maybe at different times a group can go somewhere and try and analyse the problem or propose means that might get differing parties together. I don't think the solutions that we proposed for South Africa would have any particular relevance because the condition of South Africa, with the imposition of apartheid and all the rest, was really unique in the world. And the problems of South Africa are not in the same form repeated, I think, in any other country. So what we were doing was specifically related to South Africa. But the idea of mediation, the idea of trying to get people into a conference, the idea of trying to get a unified government and those sorts of principles can apply in other parts of the world. But the circumstances are going to be so different that you can't say, 'Well this is what was done in South Africa, let's do that somewhere else'. It wouldn't be appropriate.
Since you ceased to be prime minister, has there been a sort of ... I mean one speculates, you know, because you were young when you left. Has there been a sort of restlessness in you, trying to find something significant to do?
Oh there probably was for a while because - what was I - 53 and I wasn't sure what I was going to do for a while. I've been involved with CARE for about the last six or seven years and I have some business commitments in Japan and the United States which takes you to those places two or three times each year. And then I have the United Nations involvement and the Commonwealth involvement, all of which took quite a bit of time. So it's really been a very busy period and quite apart from that there's a farm to run.
The farm? Oh very much so, yes.
Oh I think trying to breed better stock and you know we've just had a record bull sale and with record prices for us and record numbers of bulls sold. And I always like doing practical things and this is a practical thing. We're breeding better sheep, better wool and it's a cattle stud and a ram stud so it's an intensely busy place. We're fairly progressive in the techniques we use and all the cattle are on a computer program for example and this is, I think, essential for modern breeding. And you know for a long time after I became a member of parliament I had the view that what people did sitting down behind a desk wasn't work. I mean work meant getting physically tired, it meant getting dirty, it meant using a crowbar and a shovel to dig a post hole and whatever. And I still think that's work in a different category. But even farms these days you have machines to do a lot of things that used to be done physically.
No I don't regret it. It obviously makes life a lot easier and people can go on doing things which otherwise bad backs for others would make it impossible or very difficult. But it was whatever it was, it was part of - you know I know sitting behind a desk is work, but for a long while I felt that it wasn't.
Whatever you think of work, life seems for you to have been about achievement, that it's been very important to you to have a sense of achievement. Was that something you think that has come to you from your childhood? Was that something that was expected of you in the household?
No I don't think so. You know I think when I went into politics my parents both believed, 'Really should he be doing this? Will he make an ass of himself? He's very young', and all the rest. But people do achieve things at pretty young ages these days and there's nothing particularly surprising about that. But I've always looked to the future and I suppose I've always wanted to do interesting things. Whether it's positively about achieving or not I don't know.
No, not at all. I never knew my grandfather.
Yes but he had a tremendous stimulus to do a great many things because he had come here as an impoverished Canadian with absolutely nothing and clearly he wanted to get away from that condition. I once said to Field Marshall Slim when he was Governor-General, you know, I suppose in a gratuitous way, 'What an achievement, foot soldier to field marshall'. And he just looked at me and he said, 'Obviously you have no [idea of the] condition of a British Private, because if you had you would understand that it is the most powerful motivation to get as far away from that wretched state as possible'. And so I suppose my grandfather had the same kind of motivation. Get away from that state. And he hadn't spent four years in the trenches in France at any time of his life.
Oh I find that very difficult to answer. I certainly wanted to do interesting things and indicated earlier ,I think, that I really became member for Wannon almost by accident. I'd thought that one day maybe I'd like to go into politics, after all it will fit in well with being a farmer. It's not really true, because being a politician is much more than a full-time job. Some people, in earlier times, had made it fit in well, but they were more leisurely, in that sense more luxurious days I suspect. So maybe I originally became a politician in a certain degree of ignorance.
No, I never knew him either.
Well obviously there'd be some blood or genes or whatever through from grandfathers, but I don't know how you can physically be influenced by people that you've never really met or known or been able to talk to.
I mean some people might wonder whether or not it was this background that made what has surprised some people - your attitude to racial issues - softer than people of your general political persuasions have.
What do you mean by softer?
Well I don't know where that came from, but it's, whatever it is, it's just part of me. And I've made speeches in 1960 or '61 or something - was that the time of Sharpeville - about Sharpeville because when I was prime minister the journalists, who don't do very much homework and certainly wouldn't have been recording what an inconsequential private member was saying in 1960 or '61, they'd start to write: Fraser's taking this view because he thinks it's politically expedient, and whatever. But it was no different from the view I'd been expressing on earlier occasions, years earlier, and so it gets back to the question of stereotypes and the world people expect people to belong to, a certain pattern. And overwhelmingly, for the most part, people do not belong to those patterns. They might conform to some preconception in relation to a narrow area of activity or of interest, but then you shift that to something and you'll find - no, well he doesn't behave like a Western District farmer, he behaves like somebody else. And you shift it again to another area of interest and it's going to shift again, and this is really one of the great problems. If you don't fit a stereotype, Canberra journalists, at least, don't know how to report you and won't report you accurately - they'll just report their own wonderment, their own bemusement, 'We can't understand what ...' I said to - I don't know if we talked about this yesterday - but a meeting of Australian journalists in London on one occasion, and some - in today's world what are you meant to say - female, lady, woman journalist.
She said to me, if I could ask one thing of journalists what would I ask, and I said, 'That'd be very simple, to report me exactly as I spoke because I use words with precision'. I mean exactly what I said, and if I didn't I'd correct it. But so often I'd find that I'd said this and journalists would say, 'Well Fraser said this, therefore what does he mean?' Instead of just taking the plain meaning of the words that I used, which is what I meant. And this report then appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald - 'Fraser made a special plea to journalists asking to be reported using the exact words that he used, saying, meaning exactly what he'd said. Obviously therefore Fraser had some hidden motive for saying this' and then the rest of the article was speculating about what in the hell I'd meant. You know, I think that just says it all.
Oh occasionally at Melbourne Grammar you would have, amongst some of the kids, yeah.
I think I was so naive I didn't know why some of the kids were picking on others, and it's only later that I would have been conscious that the person being bullied or whatever was in fact a Jew. There weren't very many Jews at Melbourne Grammar.
None at all. Never have been.
In relation to the media, over the years you've had a sort of love/hate relationship with the media because you've had to use it, or has it all been hate. I mean what do you think of the media, and what do you feel about its relationship with politics?
Well in many ways it's a very incestuous relationship. A senior journalist, who's now an editor, once said to me that she was taking a great risk on a certain issue because she was going to report certain actions of me and of the government in quite different ways to the rest of the gallery. I said, 'Why is that a risk? You happen to be reporting it accurately'. 'Oh yes, but other people don't think you mean what you're saying.' Same thing all over again. And Canberra really is a most insidious place and it's getting worse. It's getting larger and worse because it's still a public service, political centre and you now have third generation public servants. I was in a Perth Italian club and there are third and fourth generation Italians in it as well as people who've arrived fresh from Italy and who couldn't speak all that much English. And it was a large club, a prosperous club and there would have been probably a couple of hundred people drinking in it. The four journalists with me were mostly senior journalists and they were huddled down in the corner by themselves, speaking to themselves and I went over and said, 'Look, you spend your lives trying to interpret my government to ordinary Australians, and you can't even talk to ordinary Australians. Why don't you come and have a drink and meet a few ordinary Australians?' Fifteen minutes later they were back in their corner talking to themselves and one of them had the honesty to say to me the next morning that they just didn't know how to talk to the people in that club. And yet they had the impertinence every day of their lives to interpret me and the actions of my government to those very same Australians. And to pretend that they knew what was good for Australia. Now that is a total condemnation of Canberra, but it is typical of Canberra, and not only of journalists. It's also typical of - I had a head of a Prime Minister's Department saying to me in relation to correspondence, 'What does it matter? It's only from a member of the public'. And he should have known enough of me because permanent heads meet together and he would have known the permanent head in the army department, where I totally changed the culture of the department in relation to the public and indeed, in relation to the way they treated their own soldiers and members of the force. But to find the attitude repeated to me by the most senior public servant in the Commonwealth, you know, says - if politicians, if ministers don't sit on that attitude through the public service, and it's very hard, then nobody else will. And one of the sad things about it is that as the nature of the career public service has been broken down, the people who go in as political appointments have the same attitude. They're no different. I would much prefer to have a career public service - Paul Keating wouldn't have been led into the mistakes that he's made in Vietnam and Australian veterans, or people who were killed in Vietnam. He would have been properly and well advised by career public servants. It's people that come in with a government, don't know the history, don't know the traditions, who have no corporate memory. If you're advised by somebody who's been advising two or three other Prime Ministers before you, has seen the mistakes they've made, the successes they've made, you're going to be kept out of trouble much better than if you'd bring on your own principal person.
Yes, but that was not the habit of good public servants.
They took a great pride in keeping ministers out of trouble. They knew quite well that if a minister got into trouble, it rubbed off on the permanent head, it rubbed off on the department. How did the department allow this to happen? And the [lack of a] culture of a permanent public service is something that has, through the years, led to, led very often to very poor quality government in the United States. Six months of every American administration, so six months out of every four years is lost and wasted while the Presidents desperately try and appoint people to a whole multitude of jobs. And in relation to the public service we, unfortunately, are significantly going down the same track.
It's said however that you yourself were often in conflict with your permanent heads in a way that other ministers sometimes weren't. Were you somebody who was critical and analytical of the advice that was offered you by your permanent heads?
Oh people had to be able to justify their advice, but in what way, give me an instance.
Well there was of course your uniformed officer who you later had a big clash with, when you became Minister for Defence, and that was Daly. And then when you went to - there were several heads of departments after that, both at Defence and then at Education where there were specific instances where you disagreed with them.
Look, a disagreement is not a clash, and permanent heads do not expect to be agreed with on every point. But policy advice doesn't just come from permanent heads and the minister who only speaks to a permanent head is just stupid. You've got a whole raft of people in the department who've got knowledge and different levels and different areas of a department's responsibility. So you don't just listen to a permanent head and most permanent heads certainly want to be able to bring in their deputies and first assistant secretaries and all the rest to help argue a particular case with the minister.
It's been suggested that some of those heads that you came into conflict with complained about the fact that you did go below them and they felt that all advice from the department should be channelled through them to you. They felt that you set up lines of communication down into the department which they thought were improper, to use one of your phrases.
Well instead of saying they, who's they?
The information that I have, that is in some of the books that have been written about you, related to Sir Hugh Ennore, to some of the other people who were in the early days when you first became a minister in the department of defence and ...
I haven't read any of those books and that shows how much I think of them, and I'm surprised that I'm being asked questions on the basis of contemporary stories by journalists who don't do very much homework.
Hugh Ennore was a very good permanent head, but he was the first to say, 'Use all the resources of the department'. In the army department it was exactly the same because no permanent head can carry in his mind the total resources of the department, or the arguments needed to support a certain point of view. So really the question that you've asked and the sources from which you've got it just indicate the total degree of ignorance of whoever the authors were.
So what I'm asking you is, in your experience were there ever any difficulties with permanent heads who were concerned about their own position when you reached down into the department to use the other resources within the department? Did you never have any clashes over that?
Any permanent head that I had encouraged me to use the resources of the department.
And wanted the resources ...
And indicate the ignorance of the authors.
Right. The reason that I was asking it, was that it did [suggest] an instance in which the question of who was in authority was raised, and of course that's always been a certain tension, hasn't it, between new politicians coming into a position and the tradition of the department, that there's always a settling in period as you ...
Oh well, when any two people have to work together there's probably a settling in period, but you know, a very good example I think is the Prime Minister's Department. I believe they worked harder in my time than they ever did under Mr Whitlam and certainly much harder than they did under Mr Hawke. And a lot of the senior people worked Saturdays and Sundays, or late at night if something was needed. But all felt they were contributing and I never had any sense of complaint. They liked the fact that they were contributing to the government.
Oh if you work yourself into the grave it probably is, yes. But not many people do that. Probably more people who die from not working enough.
How do you mean, take care of it?
Oh I used to come back here as often as possible and you could get back here from Canberra in a light aircraft in an hour and a half, and a lot of weekends we came back and that was fine. The Prime Minister's Department didn't like it much when I did, because generally I'd go back to Canberra with a - in the sort of, out in the paddocks or whatever you'd think of half a dozen things that'd be a good idea to do, so every time I went back they said I'd have six months work for the department in my briefcase. And sometimes that was true, but it was useful things. If I had ideas that the department thought weren't worth - thought not worth pursuing - they'd say so and we'd argue it out and come to a decision one way or another. And that's the sort of relationship that you need to have if you've got senior people and thoughtful people; you need to be able to use them and exchange ideas and see where you come up.
Probably Arthur Tange.
Because he was principled, able, thoughtful, very tough, very hard working.
Oh if he didn't agree with me of course he would, yes. That was ...
Yes, but it's essential. I mean any - there are two kinds of public servants who are no use to me at all - the person who'd come into my office, make an assertion and not be able to back it, not be able to argue it, not be able to demonstrate that what he was saying had some substance to it. You knew that sort of person was dangerous because they wouldn't do their homework adequately and they could give advice that would be very faulty. And the other sort of person was one who just [said], 'Alright, he's the prime minister, I won't argue with him. I'll just accept what he has to say and that's it'. You needed somebody, who if he had views, would put them forward, would argue. Because nobody's got a monopoly of common sense, nobody's got a monopoly of judgement or wisdom and the only way you could work out the best course is through discussion, through analysis and you have to have public servants who are prepared to stand a bit of a grilling if they're putting forward a point of view and then at the end of that you might well be concluding, 'Yes, right, this chap's got something worth following. We've got to do it'.
Have you ever felt the necessity to soften your manner because you felt that you were intimidating somebody who might have something to tell you that it would be useful to hear, but who became afraid because of the fact that you were so strong?
Well I think permanent heads mostly will have told people in their departments that I expected them to argue, I expected them to stand up and by the time they were senior within the Prime Minister's Department, or for that matter the Department of Education, I'd expect them to be able to stand up and argue their point. And I didn't often find people who weren't willing to do that. I mean the quality public servants welcome that approach because they knew that they'd do a better result.
No I don't think I'm intimidating and I haven't really - occasionally I have but I don't really think I can you know. Public servants are dealing with all sorts of people all the time and if they're too intimidated to put forward their point of view or to be able to argue their point of view, well, they probably haven't got what it takes.
Given the situation you described in which you invited the press to relate to ordinary people in a club and they were unable to do it, do you find it irksome, irritating, that you have had an image, created by the press, of someone who, yourself, is aloof and not able to mix with the general public and is perhaps a little bit removed from the general public?
I think this is one of the, one of the things that started to be promoted after my resignation from the Gorton government. And I was an easy target for it, you know, Melbourne Grammar, Oxford, Western District, how in hell can he possible relate. During one of the elections, I've forgotten which one, the Labor Party or - no, journalists - had people down in the electorate for three or four weeks and after four or five days, I had reports coming back - you've got a few friends around here, they're trying to either find some dirt or they're trying to get people from Wannon to be critical of you as a local member. Trying to say that you're stuck up or aloof or that you don't respond to the needs of the electorate. Anything at all. Anyway, they spent four weeks and I had to spend an awful lot of money and there was never a report out of that visit. They never objectively reported what they found was that people in this electorate found that they were better served than they ever had been before in their lives and that Fraser looked after the local interests of the people of Wannon very carefully and with a great deal of hard work and conscientiousness, which is what they had found.
Yes, but when journalists do this, they're very often instructed to it by somebody more senior.
It's not necessarily the working journalist's fault. I've had journalists telling me at times that they have been instructed by people on high, from their head office and they say they wished they hadn't got to do it, but they've been given an assignment and they've got to do it. So while some journalists might concentrate on that area, I don't think all do.
But you feel a certain at least ambivalence about the media and the way it goes about its business, and nevertheless you've been forced to use it like all politicians. How have you approached the whole question of relating to the media, who after all are the way you can communicate with a wider public? And how did you deal with the tremendous importance of how you appeared on television and how you presented yourself there? Did you put work into that?
Oh some, but I didn't go to any school. I mean the worst thing is when you're speaking straight down the lens into a camera, you know, in a three or a four or a five minute address to the nation or something. That really is the hardest thing to do and I think I took quite a long while to be reasonably competent at that. But you know, press conferences are not difficult. You go and you say what you want to say. You answer questions the way you want to answer them. I've never been particularly phased by questions and I've generally known how to answer them. On most of the questions that you're asked, on most you're always going to know more about the subject than a journalist. And that puts you at an advantage.
No I certainly didn't. I think my press officer might sometimes, and occasionally when I was tired he'd say, 'Why not - we've had an offer to do this, wouldn't you like to do this?' And if I'd been thinking properly I would have said, 'Don't be so silly', and I think they try and ...
Well I was down at the ABC one night doing an interview on some sort of political subject and there was a music mixed-up show - what was it called, I've forgotten - anyway they said would I introduce it one night. This was a show for youngsters and people jiving around and it wasn't a thing for me to introduce, and if I'd had any sense I would have just said no.
Oh they wanted me to be human and relate to young people. Well it's the wrong way to do it. It just makes you look - well it just shows that you're different from everyone else on that damn program. Because you're older and you're dressed differently and you're doing a different sort of job and inevitably you're going to be different. So if anything, the result is that it sets you apart instead of - and youngsters don't expect prime ministers to be on that sort of thing anyway.
Oh somewhere in Victoria.
No. I don't think you're going to get very far with these questions.
No, well I was just really wanting to find out what - how you met her, because I mean it was something important that we need to know. And what, really what I'm leading to is the part that she played in your life - in your political life.
Well in my political life Tammy played a tremendous part and was always enormous encouragement and support and always there when needed. And I suppose, you know, in many ways, was politically very helpful because with her personality people'd say, 'Tammy can put up with him, he can't be all bad'. But - and she was very good with the public. She was very good with demonstrators.
Oh she could bluff demonstrators out of demonstrating sometimes because it'd be very difficult to be nasty to her.
No, not at all.
Well she didn't and I didn't. I mean I didn't when I became a politician, and I was already a politician when she married me and I suppose I only knew the beginning of it. Initially, you know, we were living here and I was travelling backwards and forwards each week when parliament was sitting. And I very quickly decided that that's a nonsense way of living, so we took a house in Canberra and for the period of the parliamentary session we stayed there and I told the electorate, 'I'm just not going to be available during this time'. Available, certainly if they've got a problem. They can get at me through the telephone, through my office or whatever, but not available to go to RSL smoke nights and not available to go to electoral functions. And I just said, 'It's nonsense going a thousand miles each week'. No, it would have been more, it would have been nearly 1 500 to and from work and that was accepted. My parliamentary colleagues thought - well that's the end of Fraser, he'll be a oncer, he'll lose his seat. But my majority went on rising because instead of going for an overseas trip in the recess, I'd come back to the electorate and I'd go around the electorate and I reported things to the electorate and I built up linkages and networks with different groups and organisations and people, I think probably more effectively than a lot of my colleagues. And the electoral vote seems to confirm that because for several elections, regardless of the swing, to or against the Liberal Party my own majority increased. But it made life a good deal more, or a good deal easier, moving up to Canberra and taking the kids there for the session. But it meant changing house, what, four times a year. Twice to Canberra and twice back here.
Oh it got more difficult. She organised it very well and always seemed to have the kids ready to go to bed and whatever when ... I mean the parliament sat till 6 o'clock and then it resumed at 8 o'clock, so you had two hours for drinks or dinner or, if you were going out to dinner, that was the time in which it was done and if you were having people in to dinner, that's the time in which it was done. 'Eat it and beat it' was the way of it. Of course, it's difficult enough organising children anyway, and I probably didn't realise how effectively and how smoothly it all ran.
Well the most important part of it would have been encouragement, help to me, especially when things were difficult. When you'd made your speech condemning Gorton, you know, you just really wonder what you're doing and where it's all going or what the future holds. And she was always there when needed or whatever, and later on when I was prime minister, the family were older so it was easier for her to come around and easier to do some political things in her own right or meetings or functions or whatever, and she was always very effective and very, very good at it.
Oh they do, I'm sure they do.
Oh, you'd have to ask her that.
No, not at all.
I was very lucky.
Well again, Tammy would probably carry the main burden of it, but I think the important thing was, when you do have time with the kids you make sure that your attention is with them and that you're not diverted or really thinking and talking about other things. Obviously they were going to boarding school when they were old enough and whatever, but you know, you needed to be around if you could be to teach them to ride or to fish or to shoot or whatever. But again, it's something that Tammy would have been carrying the main burden of.
Yeah, you know, there were times certainly.
I think a political career's hard on any kiddie. The more senior the politician is, the more difficult it's going to be.
Yes, but they never complained, and never said anything about it. There was one occasion involving one of the boys at Grimwade. During the supply crisis when the Labor Party had those 'Shame, Fraser, Shame' badges and one of the boy's form masters was wearing one of those badges when he was teaching my son. Now I learned about it almost by accident about a year after the event. But if I'd known about it at the time, there would have been a major riot in that school.
Well I think it was probably often difficult for them, but they weren't complaining. They knew I was involved in politics and at that time they knew I was prime minister, so you know, they didn't come home and say this happened or that happened or whatever.
Well you'd have to ask them that.
Now, you're somebody who has always set yourself very, very high standards and judged yourself quite severely about things. In other words, been a perfectionist in what you set out to achieve, and quite often that goes along with sense, sometimes feelings of futility, even depression about where you're getting. Do you sometimes find it hard to keep enthusiastic about the world when you look around and you see that things aren't measuring up?
Oh I, you know, you don't - if I wasn't enthusiastic I wouldn't be involved with CARE Australia and CARE International. You have to accept the world as it is and it's a very imperfect place and you're never going to be able to - and no government is going to be able to - solve Australia's problems for all time and say, 'Right, now it's all smooth sailing, there're no problems, no difficulties'. All you can do is to handle the problems that inevitably arise as well as possible in your time and try and leave a country as well balanced and in a strong position for whoever your successors are. But if you think you can get out there and solve all problems, no difficulties are going to arise in the future, and have a sense of failure because you haven't succeeded, the task you've set yourself is a quite hopeless one. You know, from the basis of human nature, problems are going to keep on arising and therefore the art of government is how do you handle a situation in a continuum as it were. It's not - so it's not necessarily where you end up, it's the way you behave or it's what you can achieve along the way, because you're never going to end up at a final point. Life's not like that.
Oh I think probably I am because I - if you weren't an optimist, I think you're very stupid being a politician. And probably stupid being involved with a major aid organisation.
Well they are, but that's not inconsistent with expecting a good deal from people.
Well if you don't expect a reasonable amount from yourself, how can you expect anything from anyone else?
Oh I was thinking while I was in government.
I don't think, no I don't know that John Gorton was emotional all that much. He certainly wanted to get his own way. I don't think he was emotional in terms of losing control of his emotions.
Well if I lost my temper, politically, it would be because I intended to.
Yes, but you've got to control it, unless you think it's going to be useful not to control it in a certain set of circumstances. And in private you might really let your hair down and whatever, and I think anyone needs that sort of safety valve from time to time, but it's not really a good thing to blow your top with colleagues or whatever.
Oh deception, stupidity, inefficiency, laziness.
People not doing the job they're meant to do or said they would do.
Oh I'm more likely to get angry I think.
Just not get angry.
Well control it - same thing.
Well being able to control yourself, in whatever way, is certainly an important part of leadership. You can't have a leader who cannot control himself. How can he lead a team of very diverse people with differing characters, different temperaments, if he can't master himself?
Showing emotion isn't necessarily something that destroys respect, but you really want to make sure or you want to believe or I would anyway, that a person is in control of themselves. I suppose you can always have extreme circumstances if somebody wept once, but if you're going to do it every time you have a press conference ...
Well maybe, I don't know.
Oh I've been given all sorts of advice but I, you know I just, I don't think - it's not normally in my nature to show that sort of emotion publicly. So I prefer not to.
I've never thought of that.
I suppose I'd - well one of the things I'd like, and maybe it's not possible, is for them to really look at what I've done, rather than to read contemporary novels purporting to describe what I've done, because most of those contemporary novels are a lot of nonsense. I mean Philip Ayres made a serious attempt, but the first half of Philip's book is much better than the second half. And that was partly a question of time I think. It would have taken another 18 months to make the second half as good as the first half. But most of the other books are - really. And it's not just a view of journalists, but not too many people can write about contemporary events which they themselves have often been caught up with, with any degree of objectivity or even accuracy. You know a minister who writes a book from memory and memories are notoriously inaccurate. This is one of the problems with - if I do write a history of my own government, I can't rely on my memory for anything. Everything has to be checked.
Well I might, I don't know.
Well I think the stage has come really when I, I don't only owe it to myself or the record of my government, but I also owe it to some very good ministerial colleagues to try and set the record straight about what we've done, and what we achieved, because they've all been ... You know, when people criticise the Fraser years, it's not just criticising Fraser, it's criticising everyone who was a part of that government, because they all participated in the decisions and some of the latter-day critics, of course, were one of two of the government ministers at the time. But their criticisms don't stand up. They've been made for a different reason and a different purpose, and I think it's time the record was set straight. And none of the contemporary novels about the time have done that.
They're quite fictional in many respects. And I say that with total conviction, even though I haven't read one of them. I've just been told enough about them and I was asked to do a review of a book that somebody did the other day; that was Neil Brown. And I actually read it and I'd - it was for Quadrant - and I said, 'Look I can't write a review of that. You know, I can't find anything reasonable to say about it. It is not worth dignifying with a commentary'. It really wasn't.
No I'm not really in two minds about it, but I'm - well I'm in two minds about it only for the reason that I'm not sure that I want to spend the amount of time that needs to be spent on it, and therefore I will not embark on the process unless I've got access to a really top research worker, who's prepared to bury him or herself in the matter for probably two years. Now I don't know whether such a person exists. A couple of people are looking, but I'm not going to do that, I'm not going to burrow through 600 yards of archives in Canberra, I really am not.
Well at the moment I'll go on doing what I'm doing, running the farm, trying to look after CARE Australia and CARE International. I've got a few other business commitments.
For you as a human being now, forget the leader, but just as a person, having lived through sixty years of the 20th century, what for you has life been about? I mean what do you think we're put here for, what do you think we're here for?
Well the objective of life or of government I think really has got to be the kind of life people can live out themselves with their friends, their relatives, their families. And the objective of government ought to be as the base, to make sure that Australian families, whatever way you want them to find that, can lead the kind of lives they want to, reasonably, and with a minimum degree of government intrusion. And government ought to be conducting policies that make that possible for a maximum number of Australians. And the modern day acceptance that we have 10% unemployment, another 12% at least working one or at the most two days a week, when they'd like to work full time, I think is a most heathen and pagan acceptance. It's hideous, and the fact that this has seeped into the bureaucracy, it's seeped into the mores of the Labor Party and of the Liberal Party and of the ACTU, I really find very hard to accept. People ought to be outraged by it. But they're not. They accept it, and are we suddenly meant to believe that where we'd gone for 30 years with unemployment basically under 2% and often under 1%, that the bottom 10% of those who were employed, are suddenly, with better education, with better training and all the rest, not capable of being employed. That's a nonsense, it doesn't hold up. Something very serious has gone wrong with the heart of government in Australia.
Well today it most certainly is, but it's the question of the techniques and the methods and management of an economy and in many ways, the techniques that had evolved over a long period had just been set aside. One of the major deficiencies relates to the way the central bank runs its affairs. We deregulated everything, so credit available in Australia can be inflated by five billion dollars overnight, just by somebody ringing up. A major corporation rings up his New York banker and says I want a five billion dollar line of credit in my Sydney branch. Nobody has to buy any dollars, which is what everyone said, it's what the journalists all repeated when the dollar was floated, 'Ah, this is wonderful, the currency can't be inflated'. More than ever before it can be inflated at the flick of a finger, at a phone call, through a telex or telephonic transfer or whatever and ...
Yeah we, the government has lost control and you know they're saying that people will be wiser and what happened in the middle '80s won't occur again, but it's like people building city buildings. It can be very sensible to build one city building in Collins Street, and very foolish to build a dozen. But you've got a dozen different corporations all in the building business. They all own vacant sites say, and they're not going to go along to all their competitors and say, 'Are you going to make a decision to build a 50-storey building in Collins Street, starting next month, because if you're not, we might'. That sort of cooperation does not exist.
Well they're not, they're not going to make decisions about what buildings should be built. But they certainly do need to take enough decisions, governments need to, to make sure that credit remains on an even keel, that money flowing across the exchanges isn't going to damage and destroy the economy. And I don't know whether I mentioned it yesterday, I've forgotten, but I was at a banking conference in Paris about five or six years ago and I was the only Australian there, [and] four or five other ex-politicians like myself. And ... bankers and central bankers from North and South America, from Europe, from Japan, from Asia - not from Australia, because they did not regard the Australian central bank as worthy of an invitation after the way they'd behaved in the '80s - and they issued a bit of a statement at the end of the conference and part of it was that smaller economies - you could add in, such as Australia's but that wasn't in the communiqué - smaller economies need to beware in these deregulated days of massive movements of capital that will swamp the economies and currencies in a way that puts their economies totally out of control. Now Australia's just totally unaware of that.
I think threats to our defence I think we've mostly been fairly been aware of, although some people have tried to pretend that they don't exist. But threats to our economy I think also we have been aware of in the past but we've controlled it very much better. Earlier in my political career, or through most of it, if we were running a significantly adverse balance of payments, we would do something about it so that we'd live within our means. It was one of the things that we had to look after. We weren't going to get ourselves into debt and establish a set of circumstances where the economy might be beyond the control of Australians. But today those sorts of issues and those sorts of values are of no account to the government. They're certainly of no account to use in opposition. We just live in one lovely global peaceful capital market, and it is a lot of nonsense. This is our country and you know, you asked me yesterday, was there any virtue in Mr Whitlam. And I pointed to the fact that he was an economic nationalist. He would no more have agreed with - I mean I don't think Gough understood economics at all, or he couldn't have brought in the budgets he did but he is a nationalist - he would no more have agreed to the economic betrayal of Australia than jumping over the moon. And Menzies wouldn't, and McEwen wouldn't have, and Calwell wouldn't, and Evatt wouldn't have, Chifley and Curtin wouldn't have. Why do Hawke and Keating and Howard and Hewson, as I believe, in accepting the total lack of control implicit in their view of one global capital market. To forget that we are an Australian nation. There's a great oddity with the Prime Minister who talks about independence, sense of purpose, sense of identity, he more than any other prime minister, because he was Treasurer in Hawke's time, he more than any other, has sold Australia's capacity to look after its own affairs to economic interests in other parts of the world. What right has he got to talk about an independent course of action when he doesn't care what Australian asset is sold to what foreigner? You know it really is - if there was a political party, if Cheryl Kernot was prepared to understand this issue and do something about it, she might get 30% of the vote in an election. She might get 20% at the next election anyway.
Well I feel pessimistic about the policies that lead in these directions. But Australians will wake up at some point, whether it's when our external debts hit 300 billion or 400 billion, I don't know. But at some point the international institutions, the international financial markets [will] because the higher that debt goes up, the higher the margin between rates of interest available to Australian businesses and the rates of interest available to American businesses. And when our people have to pay real rates of interest that are, in today's world, say 10% or 11%, probably the highest in the entire OECD area, about four times, three times anyway higher than real rates of interest rates paid by their counterparts in the United States, is it any wonder we have 10% unemployment. Because that real rate of interest, not so much to the BHP's, because they operate globally, can borrow globally, they can hedge their bets, but the smaller business, the farmer, the business in Hamilton or the small businesses in our capital cities, they only operate in the Australian context. So they're saddled with that cost of money. Is it any wonder that private sector investment is in the doldrums and has been for ten years?
Oh I find that difficult to judge. Generally in so many ways life gets easier because you get more devices. When we first came to this house, we had a Coolgardie safe. I don't know what proportion of the Australian [public] know what a Coolgardie safe is, but a great many would not. And then we got a small kerosene refrigerator, an Electrolux. An enormous luxury, you could keep your milk and you could keep a bit of cream or something in the fridge and it wouldn't go bad in 24 hours. But before that it was a Coolgardie safe, which is just a water thing and drip and hessian down over a wire mesh safe, and through evaporation, kept food mildly cool and mildly fresh. And then you compare - and you know, the, not a steam iron but a flat iron made out of iron, no washing machines, wood stoves, hot kitchens and compare that with the sort of kitchen that a modern couple getting married next week will expect from the very first moment they're married. Standards and conditions for ordinary Australians have changed enormously over the last 50 years and very much for the better.
I suppose in some ways it's been easy and in some ways it's been tough.
Well I haven't had to worry through most of my life about where the next dollar's coming from. But in terms of work hours and effort and problems to be solved it's often been difficult.
Oh I don't think you can ...
Well, probably the most difficult to master and control in terms of its impact on myself and maybe because it was the first crisis, and maybe because it was also dealing with somebody I'd regarded as a friend, was resigning from Gorton's ministry. When I was prime minister, the hardest issues to deal with were always the personality issues of a minister that you felt might have transgressed standards, and that you had to do something about it. And then you knew there would be charges of disloyalty to the minister. But we spoke yesterday about different kinds of loyalties. Loyalties to values, and loyalties to people and if a prime minister doesn't uphold loyalty to values, to principles, can you expect anyone else in the goddamn country to uphold [them]. And this was at a time also when this didn't touch the government as such, but a large part of the business or wealthy part of the Australian community were indulging all sorts of illicit tax rorts which we had to throw out the window. So while that didn't directly touch the government, if the government was going to expect principled behaviour from other people, even in other areas, it should demonstrate that it was prepared to act in a principled way itself. And so if an individual transgressed, that was sometimes very difficult.
I would have thought in politics too, it would be just difficult overall because the idea of behaving in a principled way is something that must be given enormous lip service in government or in politics, I should say. And yet the way things have to be done it seems in political life, is often really quite different. There seems sometimes as if there are parallel ethics, that there are certain things that you uphold but there are other things that you have to do to survive.
No I don't think that's right. I spoke yesterday about the importance of procedures and the safeguards built into a democratic system. And we have one set of safeguards, the United States has a quite different set of safeguards, and the two systems are very different but in the end the final result is probably not dissimilar in terms of the need for safeguards and the importance of upholding them. I mean all the problems that Mr Clinton is in now - did somebody cheat or not cheat the tax man many long years ago? - which seems to me to be really what it was all about. Or were investors cheated? And he's having to answer questions about it.
Probably not after it's been determined. I've often been in a situation where I wanted to think a long while before making up my mind, and I've often wanted more than one cabinet discussion on a subject before making up my mind. But one of the advantages of due process, of going about policy formation methodically is that when you do make a policy decision, you've probably thought of most considerations.
Over the course of your life though, for example in the area of immigration, you did a fairly major turnaround, because in the early speeches that you wrote when you first went into parliament, you were not as keen on immigration and you also had a very, I suppose for that time, a fairly common view of Asia as possibly threatening. And then by the time you were actually in power, you had very much more liberal policies which, as you were saying, you had to in fact virtually impose on a reluctant department.
Well there are two issues here. I had expressed views, and I think I said in the earlier part of the interview that I had been wrong, but because of economic reasons in Australia, I felt that the size of the immigration program should be modified to some extent. I think we had some discussion, I don't believe I made any comments about the composition of the migrant program. I might have, I'll check the speeches I made at that time, but I don't think I did. So that was an economic issue if you like, not going to migration itself. But I had always believed and indeed in my maiden speech I said I hope to live to see an Australia of 25 million people. That wasn't going to happen without a very substantial and far-reaching immigration program. So there was the view taken temporarily if you like, for economic reasons, which I'm perfectly willing to concede was a mistake and it was probably about 1956 or 1957, somewhere around there.
A long while ago. I don't think that ... you know, clearly there's a development in anyone's mind over time. But I don't think I ever made speeches saying that migration should be concentrated from Britain or whatever because that just would have been against - see in 1960-61 I was making speeches about apartheid in South Africa, which are totally consistent with anything I'd done or said later on. So there was no change in that area.
The other area of a change of opinion that we talked about, we've already talked about, but those who heard you on radio during the week have asked me to ask you again about it, to make sure that we're clear, in relation to Vietnam, and our position in relation to Vietnam, you have revised some of your views about that.
Not views that I had at the time. I still believe involvement, participation, was right, that it was principled. The country had been divided by international agreement into a north and south. The north had declared itself to be communist, the south was anti-communist, and almost as soon as the ink was dry on the international agreements, the north set about trying to subvert, disrupt the south. What I have said about it is that the war was lost in Washington, with changing policies, with inconsistent policies, and with restrictions placed upon the military in South Vietnam. And I think it was the policy statements in Washington and the inconsistency of directives to the high command in South Vietnam that really would have sapped the morale, not only of American but also of South Vietnamese troops. And there was never an attempt made to persuade either Hanoi or the Soviet Union that the United States or any part of the West was as serious as they ought to have been over the Vietnamese issue, despite having half a million people under arms, as the Americans did. Now that's not a change of mind, that's ... on my part, circumstances led to a northern victory, then you have to live with that northern victory and forget the divisions of that time and Australia needs to promote the best and most cooperative relationships that it can with Vietnam as a whole. And my own organisation CARE Australia has been to the forefront, because we've been stationed in Hanoi for many years now, operating development programs there, with a very good relationship with the Vietnamese government. We were in advance of the Australian government and years in advance of the American government in relation to our relationship as an aid organisation with Hanoi.
Ideal's the wrong word to use. It's very hard to use terms like 'ideal' when you're dealing with imperfect elements and people are imperfect and always will be. That's not a pessimistic view of nature, I mean the ideal people only exist in the eyes of philosophers or people who fantasise about something. So you need a world, you need a situation that accepts the real world for what it is. But really one in which individuals, groups, families, whatever can work out their own lives and their own futures with minimum interference from authority, minimum interference from government, except that which is necessary to maintain an even balance, equity, justice, fairness within society. One which is egalitarian but at the same time one that does not stifle individual initiative. One of the oddities about the Labor government of the last ten years is that we now have the extremes of wealth in Australia which we'd avoided up to 1983, but which are now as much part of Australian society as they are of the United States or European states. And I think that's a great pity. The extremes of wealth are massive, and one of the members of parliament gave me some figures - if I can get it right - the top 1% ten years ago owned as much as the bottom 10%. They now own as much as the bottom 20%. Now if that trend continues, which it will if the financial rules and the deregulatory procedures of the last 8 or 10 years remain in place, do we get to a stage where the top 1% own as much as the bottom 30%, or the bottom 40%. When does somebody start to say, 'This is entirely offensive to what Australia ought to be about' and the fact that it has gone on - I mean if this had happened under a Liberal government, the Labor Party would have been screaming to high heaven about the unfairness, about the injustice of it. And the unions would probably call nation-wide strikes to protest. But it's the Labor Party that has made the rules, that has made this possible, and it's the union movement that has just accepted it, never a word said. I mean let's try and hide the fact that it's happening. That's the attitude.
Oh of a kind, yes. But in part it is the job of government to make sure that hierarchies do not become dogmatic, that they do not become dictatorial, that they do not become oppressive and that's why you have trade practice legislation, that's why you have all sorts of other rules. That's why you have a police force in a slightly different arena. But - that's why you have a Securities & Exchange Commission, but it would be nice if - or our Australian Securities Commission - but it would be very nice to think that it was as effective as the American SEC. Ours would have about one-tenth the power of the SEC.
Ah, well I think society did function pretty well for Australia for about 30 years, not in the pre-war periods but in the latter '40s, '50s, '60s; then it started to unravel in the 1970s. I think, and I think I said it yesterday, our system is a carefully designed balance. You can't just rub out the word 'monarch' and put in 'president'. You're going to have to alter so many other things because you also, if you do that, you rub out all the conventions that go back to Charles I, which make our monarchical system a reasonable one. And, for example, the prime minister is not even mentioned in our Constitution and yet the prime minister is a very essential part of the functioning of parliament and the functioning of the Constitution. It is there by convention and if you try and put the conventions down in words, I don't know anyone who could do that. You can go to a constitutional lawyer and they won't be able to do it because they won't have practised the art of government in Australia and the conventions are a living thing. They're not the same today as they were forty years ago or fifty years ago. They've modified over time and in a way that is accepted by all parties as circumstances make it desirable. Now that's one of the great advantages of conventions. So ...
... whether ...
Because our present conventions flow from the present system. It mightn't - it wouldn't have had to be a monarch, but it is a monarch. And if you rub out the monarchy in the Australian system, unless you take a whole range of other steps which would include trying to formalise and put those conventions on paper, you would lose their force and the High Court would say that you had lost their - they had lost their force. They no longer applied. So you've got to take other steps, you can't avoid that.
The Turnbull inquiry, for anyone who read it carefully, did one very useful thing, they made it perfectly plain that any simple change to the Constitution from a monarchy to a republic was just not possible. You're going to have to touch a whole range of issues which go to deeply sensitive matters, it includes the powers of the Senate, the right to block supply, the position of the prime minister, a whole range of issues which I suspect Australians could argue about for generations and not necessarily agree on. But if anyone was serious about constitutional change, they would establish an elected constitutional convention, because it was only when that was done in the last century that serious progress was made towards Federation. And it will not happen while it's dealt with on a partisan political basis, as it has been up to this point. But again, those most in favour - I read a document, which was a republican document the other day and it had statements by a number of very prominent republicans and one of the most remarkable things about this document is that it wasn't a positive, forward-looking document, it was a negative one. We had to change because the British had been nasty to the Irish and Thomas Kenneally and others feel that most strongly, much more strongly than the Irish themselves, which is an oddity because the Irish have learnt to live with it, but not Thomas Kenneally. There were issues between Catholic and Protestant which he also felt and which other republican statesmen - ah spokesmen - talked about. But nearly every one of these republican spokesmen was talking about things past with a sense of bitterness and grievance, with a massive chip on his or her shoulder. In other words, with a glorious inferiority complex. 'I'm not myself, I'm not independent, I'm not free, because we have a system that goes back to Britain.' You know, the Prime Minister says that Asians won't understand us till we're a republic. He doesn't really understand Asia because what Asians do not understand, especially for a new country like Australia, is that we have a political leader and other people, who are so determined to cut out the only history we've got. That's what they can't understand. Malaysia is a monarchy, Cambodia is monarchy, you know it's a pretty common system in Asia. They understand it and they understand the linkages. They do not think Australia is not independent because we're a monarchy. And it would be nice to think that one day there could be a debate on this subject which was free of partisan politics and very inaccurate rhetoric.
Oh not at the moment, no, because - and the strongest argument for the republic is probably the behaviour of some of the young royals. But these things pass and other peoples arrive. I mean we don't remove a democratic system or change it because we have an irresponsible and stupid prime minister; we don't therefore say that democracy is wrong or our constitution must be torn up. We're a little bit more adult than that, and a little bit more sophisticated. We have so many serious problems to undertake, 10% unemployment, $200 billion external debt, how really to make our way, to pay our own way in the world. But how to get 10% or more of the Australian population back with an opportunity for work and dignity and self-esteem, an opportunity that is denied them, and that's an infinitely more serious issue and more important issue than the question of the monarchy and I think if you asked every one of those unemployed, 'Would you sooner have a job or would you sooner be in a republic?' the answer's going to be pretty obvious.
One of the themes of your speeches and of your political stances has been respect for order, for the way things are done, a conservatism about the rule of law and about conventions and proper process, and this position, this conservative position, results in stability in a society, but does it sometimes also result in a failure to embrace new and imaginative possibilities?
No, not at all, and you know to say that respect for the rule of law is a conservative position, well it ought to be a liberal position also because only people who want to cause revolution want to destroy the rule of law. It is the only thing that makes it safe for anyone to walk down Collins Street or Pitt Street. It's the only thing that gives order to society. And one of the great challenges to the rule of law is the total confusion in Australia today amongst many jurists, certainly embraced by the High Court and the Chief Justice - the Chief Justice made a speech in Cambridge saying he could not understand why the English courts were not centres of controversy as his had become. Well of course, any one of those English jurists could have told him the answer, but they were all far, far too polite to do so. The English courts are still courts of law. They interpret the law as it is and the law is something finite, it's a rock. You interpret it. That doesn't mean to say the law is always right. That doesn't mean to say it's meeting the social demands of 1994, but if it is not, it is for parliament to alter the law. Now Garfield Barwick, one of the greatest jurists Australia has known, probably the second best Chief Justice after Dixon that Australia has even known, was often accused by detractors of being on the side of the tax department, because he said that a lot of devices companies were using to reduce tax were legal. And politicians, and Liberal politicians, blamed him for this and they said he shouldn't. But what they were confusing was, and what they, the politicians wanted to avoid, was the fact that if they wanted to change the law in relation to corporate taxation, it was within their capacity to introduce legislation into the parliament at any point. But they didn't want to be held up and accused by some of their business friends perhaps, of being anti-business. So they just blamed Barwick and did nothing. Now Barwick knew what his responsibility was, but the High Court in relation to the Franklin case, which we've not spoken about for example, wasn't a court of law. It was a 4:3 judgement and the judgement was, and it had to conclude to be carried in favour of the Commonwealth, that building a dam in the Franklin would damage our relationships with other states. Because that's the basis of the Foreign Affairs power. Now at the time the High Court made that decision, the property had already been listed by the world heritage people and they had listed that property knowing it was the intention of the state government to build a dam. In other words, building a dam was not going to damage that world heritage property in south-west of Tasmania. And in spite of that plainly known and obvious fact the High Court turns round and says, 'Building a dam will damage our relations with other states'. The High Court was pandering to a clamour in Australia and I made a - you know I made a comment earlier that I was one of those who formed the Australian Conservation Foundation. I got it tax deductibility long before any of these latter-day greenies even knew of the term 'conservation' and that was in about 1960-61. It was not a political issue then. The term 'green' hadn't arisen, environmentalists had hardly arisen, except from serious people who knew what the issues were and were prepared to tackle them seriously, and not make politics about them in a way that is often irresponsible. And so, if a high court is going to do what the American Supreme Court has always done, and that's to make law, or by trying to pander to, or meet changing and differing customs rather than leaving the legislative process to the congress, if our High Court is going to do that, clearly it's going to be a centre of controversy. The law itself will be less stable, and society will be less secure. Because one of the rocks, one of the anchors of a stable and peaceful society is, or has become, unpredictable and insecure. And then the High Court has done the body politic enormous harm in this change of heart and one of the saddest things about it is that Sir John Mason in his Cambridge speech was not even aware of what had happened, or of why it had happened.
I've tramped over a lot of Tasmania, much more than most people. I believe the dam should have been built.
Because in the longer term it's going to be very important to the prosperity, to the livelihood, to the capacity of Tasmanians to get work. Not today, but when they're short of power, when they're short of water. The only reason Tasmanians were able to get some kind of industry in Tasmania was because of cheap, reliable, hydro-electric power. You see I depart from environmentalists completely who want to shut up an area and deny access of it even to people. I think the purpose of existence is the enjoyment of happiness and people. The idea of a planet with abundant wildlife and flowers and trees and ferns and whatever, but no people, doesn't enchant me greatly. But some environmentalists seem to talk as though it's people [that] should be eradicated.
Because you're a man who's taken such a firm position about principle in politics, I wanted to ask you a little bit more about the whole business of matching what you feel is right in a political situation and what you feel is possible, or necessary tactically in politics. And in situations where, in the course of your career there've been a few times where you had to conceal what you were going to do and go against the principle of being open and direct about it, in order to achieve some goal. Were those times when it was difficult for you to decide what you should do?
Well, when have I concealed what I was going to do?
Well, for example, we've already talked about this, but I'm raising it in this context of principle in practice in politics. For example when you decided to resign from the Gorton government and you'd agonised over that decision, was part of it the fact that you had decided you were not going to be able to be frank with your prime minister?
It's not a question of not being frank. You decide on a course of action, you also decide at what time you're going to advise the prime minister. That's not - I'd be giving a policy submission to cabinet, I choose the timing of bringing it to cabinet. Just because I'm working on something which I may or may not bring to my colleagues, and I don't tell them that I'm working on it till I make up my own mind and all the rest and think it through, that's not not being frank.
You're confusing a necessary course in human behaviour with principle and they're two quite different things.
I made a judgement that I didn't want to be sacked. I wanted to resign and so I was going to make sure that I did.
No it wasn't just to protect to myself. It was also to be able to make some points to protect the institution of government and the processes of government.
Much less effectively.
Later, in 1975, when you were asked about whether or not you would block supply, you said that if you were going to block it you wouldn't let Whitlam know because you wanted to catch him with his pants down, if you moved in that direction. Did you, did you worry about that or was that something that you felt was just a straightforward matter? I mean if you had told him in advance that you would do this, he ...
He knew we may. He knew we may. And also it was perfectly plain that, even when we were talking about it they said that Rex Connor's resignation was the last straw. And it was, and pretty soon after that Mr Whitlam and everyone else knew. But before that I didn't know. So how could I let Mr Whitlam know. There was no secret once we'd made the decision, it was done, it was announced. There was no secret about that.
I don't think I've ever experienced any serious conflict, no, about tactics and principle.
Oh, Presbyterian or Anglican, it depended which church was the nearest.
Oh moderately I suppose.
Um, well nobody can ever know really whether God exists or not in a philosophical sense. But if God did not exits, I think for the well-being of the human race, it would be necessary to invent him.
Yes I do.
Some churches have been much better at it than others. I think Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists, whatever, Uniting Church, have not been good at it. Catholics, Lutherans, and numbers of others have been much better at it.
Not a major part, no.
Well I never decided I wanted to become a priest or a parson I suppose.
So that, is it something that you thought about a lot for example? Often people when they're undergraduates think about religion and make up their minds which direction they're going to go. Was that an issue for you at all or is it something that's just been part of ...
I don't think it was an issue for anyone I was at university with.
Not at all.
I didn't want to be.
I was probably terrified of making a speech, or having to make a speech.
Oh, 20 years later.
I went once.
Something to do with Australia and something to do with groundnuts in the Northern Territory.
I found the debate stupid. The people speaking knew absolutely nothing about Australia or groundnuts in the Northern Territory. You probably don't know but there was a major British scheme of some kind to grow vast quantities of groundnuts in the Northern Territory. I'm not quite sure how, why or whatever, but it clearly failed and for some reason it became part of a debate in the Oxford Union.
I'm more optimistic than not. It's going to be extraordinarily difficult. They've come a long way over the last three or four years. I mean every time something's gone wrong, a conference gets broken or there are riots between Inkatha and ANC and whatever, there are a lot of people who just say, 'Well it won't work, it's going to be a bloodbath'. But they have in fact overall, or at least the government and the ANC, have shown a singular capacity to overcome their problems and to negotiate a situation in which they can go to an election. They know the result's going to be a black majority, but - and it'll be a black president - but the President, de Klerk, and apparently a majority of the whites, probably a very significant majority, recognises that that's the only course they can take. They're going to have terrible problems, worse problems than most countries. Not just for a year or two, but probably for five, ten, fifteen, twenty years. They've got to get a hundred billion dollar economy working in the interests of all the people, instead of the interests of five extraordinary centralised conglomerates and families, or groups of families. Because the South African economy is more centralised in its economic control and power than any other in the world. There are some - I don't expect the ANC to nationalise anything, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they adopt a good old-fashioned American tradition and broke up some of those large corporations and made them establish separate entities. But the Americans have done this with Standard Oil, with AT & T, and that breaks up accumulations of economic power. They haven't yet begun to talk about probably the most difficult problem and that will be the ownership of land, because there are a lot of members of the families of those who have got chucked off the land since 1948 under apartheid. The land was made available to Afrikaners and whatever and if blacks wanted a good bit of land and some Afrikaner wanted it, well then they were dispossessed. Now those same people, or their descendants, are going to want their land back. The Afrikaners if that happens are going to want compensation. But the blacks didn't get any compensation initially, so why should those who took the land and who've occupied it for the last twenty, thirty, forty years get any compensation. Now these are massively difficult issues because nearly all the good, or known to be good arable land is used in South Africa. It's not as it was in Zimbabwe where the - at the time there was excess land and a lot of unused land which could be made available. And of course land is a very sensitive issue, and it will be a very sensitive issue if the farmers of Transvaal or in different parts of the country ... Chief Buthelezi presents a major problem, but he always did. His equation really of earlier policies of the government where they wanted people, organisations who would break up the unity of the blacks and would therefore lend substance to the view that there was no single black view about anything and that they all had different views and all the rest, and Chief Buthelezi has been, over the years, most skilful in pandering to Western opinion. He was anti-communist, he was anti-violence, he was anti-sanctions - three things that, say, Mrs Thatcher and Mr Reagan desperately wanted to hear. This was wonderful music to their ears, especially since they could point to a communist or two in the ranks of the ANC. But that didn't make the ANC communist. It was nationalist and fiercely independent and South African and on verdicts of major security organisations around the world, not really communist in its orientation at all. In 1947 Nelson Mandela moved for the expulsion of all communists from the ANC and I might have mentioned this yesterday, but he got defeated on the good, democratic grounds that a democratic organisation argues against a bad idea, it does not prescribe it. And if Menzies had known a little more of Mandela and the ANC, he mightn't have pursued his referendum.
Yeah, and I suspect Mr Menzies disagreed with it too. He didn't try and win that referendum. No way. I think he felt he was being pushed by the right-wing of the Liberal Party, by some returned servicemen who desperately wanted this kind of action taken. But you look at his schedule during the referendum, and it wasn't a very active one in making speeches in its support. He just let it lie and let it take its course. But there will be great problems in South Africa, but I expect the election to go ahead. It would be too much to hope that there will not be problems in Natal or in Zulu areas, but - see one of the problems is that Buthelezi's got nowhere to go. The latest polls indicate that he has the support of only 20% of Zulus. And that of that 20%, 52% want to participate in the election. So he's really running out of support, and I think now is held up worldwide to be pretty irresponsible. But if he submits to the ballot, he probably ends up very quickly with nothing, because he's most unlikely to get enough electoral support to win anything. And with - you can't predict the future of a country like South Africa with any real accuracy. But I know a lot of people there and a lot of very good people in both the ANC and people like de Klerk and some of his colleagues who really do understand what has to be done. There are a very, very large number of whites throughout South Africa who desperately know what has to be done and are working to achieve a productive result. So I think they deserve all the support and encouragement that they can be given.
Very many people in this world seek power, the power to control, the power to make decisions. A lot of young people, who might be watching this, think that being in power and having power over others and their destinies is a very desirable thing. You're somebody who's exercised power over quite a period of your life, in taking a lead and controlling what happens to many people. What's it like as an experience? How did you experience the exercise of power?
Well the whole purpose of a democratic society, of course, and a democratic government, is to make sure that whoever's president or prime minister, that he doesn't have too much power. You have power while you can carry your cabinet. You have power while you can carry your party room, while you can carry the parliament. So there are restraints all along the way. I've mentioned throughout these discussions the procedures of government which are important for good government, and which are critical in preventing irresponsible, hasty, foolish, ill-advised, ill-thought actions and if you take all those things into account, they are massive restraints on the exercise of power. But at the same time, those restraints are not really difficult to live with. There are other kinds of restraints, if you want to govern a country well, the physical resources that are available to you, the environment that you're in, the problems the country faces, the time it's going to take to overcome those problems, and you see, Gough Whitlam and I would have a totally different view of this. He just had a bundle of wonderful, good things that, he thought anyway, that he wanted to do. So he was going to implement them all forthwith, regardless of the consequences on the country, regardless of the consequences for the budget, whether we could afford it or not, he didn't think any of it mattered. Just let's do these great bundle of good things. Well you do that without regard for the consequences and you end up doing much more harm, or more harm than good. But the exercise of power really ought to be, and I think for me it was, a sobering experience, because you realise that what you're doing can affect the lives of some millions of people, for better or for worse. And there are two - I think there are two different kinds of politicians. There are those who want power because they have a particular purpose, they want to achieve something or they want to improve society or contribute to Australia. But we can't also deny the fact that there are some people who want power, just because they like to exercise power, and the purpose, the objective of power is secondary. I think it's up to voters if they can, to distinguish which politician is which.
Oh I think he's got some things that he wants to do. Much more so than Mr Hawke.
Oh I think he was the object of it. I really do. And his own party did on the day. And the person who was pushed out by his own party, by the people who'd known him best, by his own cabinet, you know they've got to have some substantial reasons for that, especially the Labor Party, because they've got a tradition of loyalty to their leaders, far more than, far deeper than the Liberal Party has. They don't move against a leader unless they have, what they call, just cause.
But he didn't do that - he couldn't do that unless he had a whole host of people supporting him. He had to have a majority of Caucus supporting him.
I thought it would make Labor harder to beat. I think Mr Hawke was getting very easy to beat.
Oh not, no not in that sense. I mean the problem in government and I think it's difficult always to avoid it, is to prevent yourself getting too tired, or your colleagues getting too tired. And you can't - sometimes you just cannot avoid that. I was in this room on one occasion when Peter Nixon rang me up and said that he was going to have to resign. There was a Royal Commission into the Dairy Corporation that had made some critical remarks about him, and so, being an honourable minister, he felt there was only one course. The Royal Commission the government had established, he'd established, ended up being quite critical of the minister. So I said, 'Well, you can't do that until I've got to have look at it, and people have got to make up their minds on a basis of knowledge. I know nothing about this report.' So I'd had a pretty full schedule but then I had to get a plane and go straight back to Canberra and you start reading a Royal Commission report of several hundred pages, and I thought that there were serious flaws - I'm not sure who it was but I think it might have been Ted Woodward, for whom I actually have a very high regard. But I'd also known Peter much more, and better than I knew Ted Woodward and he wasn't the sort of minister that Ted was trying to say he was, if it was Ted Woodward, in the conclusions. And I knew I was going to have to say something about this on Tuesday or Wednesday in the parliament. Public servants aren't always very good when ministers get into trouble through something like this, in finding ways and means of defending them or trying to see whether indeed they are in a defensible position. But there were two or three people in Peter's department and one legal officer in my own, who were very good. And they started reading the documents and we started reading the evidence, and in the end, after probably about 36 hours work, I concluded that Peter in fact had no case to answer, and that the judge had come to some conclusions without even taking notice of evidence that had been given to him. And anyway, I ended up making a speech in the parliament which rebutted the judge's conclusions in relation to Peter Nixon point by point. And you know, even the Age who wouldn't have been a friend of mine, was only able to come out with a pretty half-baked editorial, some of this, some of that, you know, something on each side of the barbed wire fence. Their natural inclination would have been to try to tear me to bits because I'd rebutted the judge's conclusions. Well they couldn't because I'd not only read the report, I had read the evidence, or the necessary evidence on which it was based. But then you suddenly have an enormous amount of additional work which has to be done in a given time frame, on top of all the other work that was scheduled to be done within that time frame, and so, it's not always possible to prevent yourself getting tireder than you should let yourself get. That's something that a prime minister or an active prime minister, who's fairly busy, has got to guard against. Actually I was told by Sir John Bunting on one occasion that when the second Menzies government began in 1949, they were talking around the table at the first cabinet meeting and Menzies was saying, 'One of the most important things is to make sure that we never allow ourselves to get tired'. And it is because judgement goes and you don't perform as well and you don't make decisions that are as good. So you know, if there's a burden, it's that sort of burden; how do you, how do you make sure that you stay fresh and lively.
Oh I probably came back here for a couple of days or a day or something.
Oh, being able to do things that were useful. Being able to get the economy moving, to get investment moving and to get jobs growing. Being able to do something imaginative, unique, I think, in the world in the multicultural policies. Still slightly controversial, but much less so than they used to be.
Well it was certainly different for Australia and nobody else had embarked in policies in that direction. No other country that I'm aware of and - but you know, you can't really compare that issue with the question of family allowances for low income families. They're two different kinds of things.
Oh yes. I mean that was just as much a initiative if you like and you know that might have been the most important social welfare initiative of the last 50 years, who knows. It would have affected more people than any other specific initiative.
Oh, the only part I think I really disliked was when colleagues got into trouble and I had to take some action. I mean people would often come along and say, 'Look Prime Minister. If I'm ever an embarrassment to the government or if you think that I've transgressed I'll stand aside'. Then you go to them and say, 'Well I think it's time to stand aside', and then they don't want to stand aside. Now Ian Sinclair, who was one when he had some problems, stood aside without any problem at all. He said, 'You tell me if it comes to that stage'. So because he was National Party I would have discussed it with Anthony and kept in touch with him about it, and when we thought the time had come for the good of Ian himself and of the government, because he had to clear up the issues, which he did, but he did it in the right way. Other people might try and hang on and hang on.
Well if Reg had ever said to me, 'Look this is a difficulty, there's a Royal Commission report that's really critical, I don't think it's a major issue, but that's for you to decide Prime Minister', and handed me his resignation, I never would have accepted it. But I could never, because it wasn't a matter of that consequence, but at the same time I couldn't ignore what was in the report and I could not say to Reg Withers or to anyone who might repeat it to him, 'If you hand Fraser your resignation, he will not accept it'. He had to do that, knowing that there might be consequences. But he just never did it.
I have a question to ask about something that Joh Bjelke-Petersen claimed in his, one of his biographies. Joh Bjelke-Petersen said that he had persuaded you to press forward with the blocking of supply at a stage where you were uncertain whether or not you should do it, and that he felt - he was claiming some responsibility for that decision. What actually happened with Joh at that time?
Oh we would have talked occasionally but I would never have consulted with him whether I was going to block supply or not. I mean Joh would ring you up about all sorts of things, you know, later on; in other words, there was nothing in that claim at all. The last straw was Rex Connor and very shortly after that I had talks with my senior colleagues and we decided that if we were going to conduct ourselves with any sense of obligation or pride in what we were doing, and not come to be regarded with total contempt, we would give Australians what Australians plainly wanted. And that's the right to vote and relief from the Whitlam government. If that was their judgement, but it was to be their judgement, and you know, one of the odd things about some of the papers, not all of them but because I was Victorian I suppose I'd see the Age more than the others - the only time when a country is really democratic is the single day on which they put a vote into a ballot box. It's the only moment when you're democratic in the ancient Greek sense, if you like, because you all can't vote on each piece of legislation, so you have to delegate that to somebody else. And at those times people don't have much influence over events. It's only when they themselves vote. How can anyone say that political actions designed to achieve that most democratic of all moments, are themselves undemocratic? It's an absolute nonsense. If you are trying to prevent people having the right to vote, that's undemocratic. Actions designed to achieve a vote for people cannot be regarded as undemocratic. Joh didn't, he didn't have a part in it. But he liked to think that he influenced a lot of things. He influenced some but they were mostly in Queensland.
Oh it's time and circumstance. If there'd been somebody else that the party thought was better than I, then they would have picked somebody else. And you see, Billy Sneddon would have been a more garrulous person, a more outgoing person, he would have drunk beer with the boys to a greater extent and stayed up later at night, and for while that won him support, but at the end of the day it's performance that counts. Whether you can do the job and at the end of the day, that's what the Party was going to make their judgement on.
Well if you have the capacity to pick a great many good people around you and the good sense to respect their judgement and their opinions, yes it would be possible. I mean Henry Bolte may not have had a great intellect but he certainly had a great capacity for judgement. He had good people around him. His own judgement itself, on many issues, was absolutely first class. So judgement and intellect don't necessarily go hand in hand. If you've got judgement, wisdom, capacity to understand what Australians want, what the country needs, then great intellect you don't have to have.
Well I did more grappling with ideas at university than I have since, because you don't - you get some new ideas about policy, whether it's family allowances or Galbally programs and whatever. But these don't require enormous feats of intellectual effort to understand their consequences and what they mean. Some of the mental exercises that you do in university are, especially if you're trying to follow lectures from somebody like Isiah Berlin, especially if he's a lecturer in modern logic or other people like Strawson, who wrote and spoke in difficult to understand symbols, then that does require a fair bit of intellectual effort. But when you've understood - and perhaps it was the training I'd had that helped make so much of it easier, because I understood what the concepts of economics were about, at least so far as government was concerned, and the Reserve Bank. And I can read legislation and understand that. And I knew a bit about the theory and practice of government, so the course I did was not a bad training ground. But none of it was essential. A good practical person with sound common sense, a capacity for judgement would be able to do the job quite well.
Oh I met some people who intellectually were as bright as a button, but as silly as a wheel. Had absolutely no judgement at all.
Yes but it would be offensive. They're in positions at the moment. I met a lot of others that were good. The first kind might have got into my office once. Permanent heads generally had the good sense not to let them in twice.
Oh it's difficult to judge, because so many things give me human pleasure, at different times it's different things. It might be doing something with your family, might be going fishing, might be catching a fish and it might be drinking a bottle of wine. Generally fairly simple things not complex things.
You'd probably want to do some other things also. Doing, having too much time to do too much of anything that you really enjoy - I mean sometimes you just run out of physical capacity, you can't go on drinking wine for breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper. Or at least not very much of it.
Well even if, you know, as you get older you can't - you should drink better wine as you get older, because your capacity reduces and the total quantity of wine you can have is probably finite, so you shouldn't therefore waste it on plonk.
No I don't think I've ever been bored.
Not for long. I've been doing things I don't like like sitting in an aeroplane from Melbourne to London. That's boring I suppose but you're doing it for a purpose. I've never lived in a state of boredom and wondered what I'm going to be doing next to get out of the state of boredom or something.
I haven't even thought of it. I don't know.
Well maybe they could use that quotation from the Old Man.
But take courage child, it can be delightful.