Chapter 1: Malcolm Fraser
The following text is part of a short biographical essay written by journalist and author Dr Margaret Simons. Use the navigation bar or the 'Next' and 'Previous' links below to view other parts of the essay. Chapter 1 comprises the full essay.
Early parliamentary career
Fraser's early parliamentary speeches included further advocacy for high levels of immigration, admiration of Keynes, and pleas for western nations to open up trade barriers in the interests of the developing world. If the problems of world trade and global poverty were not solved, the Soviets and communism would take advantage of the resentment in poor nations and freedom would be imperilled, he said. The early speeches also reflect one of the big themes of his later career – faith in the British Commonwealth as a positive influence in the world. Australia, he said, should be a bridge between England and America.10
It was in 1959 that the first evidence of Fraser's abhorrence of racism – one of the abiding concerns of his public career – appeared on the public record in speeches dealing with the future of Papua New Guinea. Fraser spoke again on racism, and against apartheid in South Africa, in the wake of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre. Prime Minister Menzies' view was that apartheid was an internal matter for South Africa. Fraser thought differently, arguing in his radio addresses and in Parliament that 'the great principle of human rights, that all men are born equal and have an inalienable right to their place in the sun, no matter what their color, race or creed' outweighed concerns about interfering in another country's affairs, and justified international action.11
A key event in Fraser's career was his trip to the United States in May 1964 as the recipient of a grant from the US Government intended to provide foreign parliamentarians with insights into US policy formation. He met and was briefed by the leading political figures of the time. The experience added to his conviction that Australia must play a role in the developing conflict in Vietnam.12
Fraser at this time was also involved in the establishment of the Australian Conservation Foundation. Through Claude Austin he had met a group of enthusiasts, chief among them the CSIRO scientist Francis Noble Ratcliffe. Fraser's main role was to persuade the Treasurer, Harold Holt, to grant the foundation tax exemption.
12 A transcript of Fraser's tape-recorded notes is in UMA, 2005.0078, item 59. His formal report on the trip 'A visit to the United States, Canada, South Vietnam and Malaysia from 5th May to July 21st 1964', dated 22 July 1964, is in UMA, 2007.0023, item 124. The relevant radio addresses were on 17, 20 and 30 May; 1, 5, 18, 22, 26 and 27 June; and 1, 6 and 21 July 1964, and are in UMA, 2007.0023, item 217.