Two Australian elections ago John Howard and his supporters talked blandly about machine-gunning Afghani refugees trapped on a boat beyond Australian waters, being banned from landing anywhere by the actions of the Australian Navy.
It was an election-winning strategy for John Howard’s Liberals snatched from the jaws of a poll-predicted defeat, bought however at the price of xenophobic inhumanity towards human beings yearning only to breathe free—an inhumanity that Tony Abbott’s Liberal Party hopes to rekindle in its favour this election with frankly disgusting ads trumpeting the red arrows of invading armies over the unashamedly bigoted slogan “Stop Illegals Now!” [You can get an online glimpse here.]
The Australian Liberal party’s plunge into electorally-led xenophobia has just lost it the membership of a former Prime Minister. After nearly forty years, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has finally stood by the principles he once claimed to have, and publicly resigned from the party.
FIVE years ago, Malcolm Fraser delivered his most scathing critique of the party he led to three federal election victories, and confessed that he had thought seriously about quitting after half a century of membership.
Under John Howard, he said, it had become a party of ‘fear and reaction,’ conservative not liberal, and willing to play the race card and discriminate against asylum seekers.
“The reason he didn't quit then was the signal it would send to small-l liberals in the party ‘who seek to keep a liberal flame alive.’
“Instead, he used a speech at Melbourne University to ''urge all of those who are concerned by events to take part in public life, in the affairs of the party, to seek change and secure liberty.''
“…Party sources say Mr Abbott's hard line on asylum seekers, reflected in a recent TV ad featuring red arrows representing the movement of boats from Indonesia, strengthened Mr Fraser's resolve… Petro Georgiou, who was an adviser to Mr Fraser and a state campaign director before becoming a Liberal MP, said the departure ‘should be viewed as the action of a man who takes his convictions very seriously.’”
Fraser himself was a Prime Minister who promised much and achieved little—“a mirage” Australian freedom fighter Ron Manners called Fraser in his latest book. Claiming at one point to be an admirer of Ayn Rand (Fraser once dined with her in Gerald Ford’s 1976 White House) he now, in his retirement, has finally done the one principled thing that his admiration would once have suggested we should have seen more of.
UPDATE: This interview last year with Malcolm Fraser helps clarify the few brief comments he’s making now.
Thirty years ago, [the Fraser] government made headlines with an immigration controversy that resonates with contemporary events. Malcolm Fraser’s government accepted around 100,000 Indochinese refugees into Australia after the Vietnam War, many coming by boat – a similar trip to that made by those featured in the headlines today. As a new Labor government attempts to roll back some of the controversial policies instituted by the Howard Government, Malcolm Fraser has publicly broken with his Liberal successors and criticised the treatment of asylum seekers by recent governments as a violation of human rights...
“At the end of 2001, the events of the Tampa and the Children Overboard affair marked a watershed moment in Australian politics. Although mandatory detention was instigated by a Labor government in 1992, Mr Fraser is forthright in his view that it was the Coalition, under John Howard, which made asylum seekers a political issue. ‘The Howard government was behind in the polls preceding the Tampa election, so I think the political motivations were pretty strong. But in that government there was a strong area of belief also that what they were doing was right, because they didn’t want to understand… I don’t think for a minute that what they were doing was right. What they were doing was evil.’
“…Mr Fraser believes that xenophobia in the face of immigration is harmful, and maintains that more is required for the effective integration of migrants into Australian society. ‘While there are unique things about Australia, the values we need for a peaceful and just society are similar no matter what country you are in,’ he states. ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s a poor country or a wealthy country. If you want decent conditions for your family, education and food, a chance to give your kids a better life than you had, then the values involved in all that are international.’”