1977 is not that far from 2007
“Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it.”
1977 was a time when Australia was governed “by four farmers and a sheep” — Bob Hawke.
In many ways, 1977 was a watershed year for Australian politics, as well as for other countries in the British Commonwealth like Pakistan.
1977 was the year the father of the recently assassinated former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, was executed by the military.
Some other parallels exist between 1977 and 2007:
Don Chipp founded the Australian Democrats and won two senate seats in the 1977 December election. It was the November 2007 election where the Australian Democrats lost their last senate seats held by Andrew Bartlett from Queensland (among others). The liberal democratic party set up to keep governments honest had lasted only 30 years.
After Australia’s Uranium decision (as Fraser called it) Joh Bjelke-Petersen sent out the Queensland police onto the wharves and the streets to make sure opposition to uranium mining and export was stopped. Thus the Fraser Government’s authorisation of uranium mining and export precipitated the longest period of sustained popular revolt in Australian history, the Queensland Street marches of 1977-1979.
Like many others, under Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s street march ban I was arrested as a result of my opposition to uranium mining and export. These arrests occured at both state and federal pre-election rallies in Brisbane in 1977.
I recount the circumstances of one of those arrests. On 24th November 1977 Prime Minister Fraser spoke at a lunch time rally organised by the Queensland Liberal Party in King George Square in Brisbane. He spoke in favour of his government’s policies which included mining and export of uranium.
I was arrested for speaking against these policies and the street march ban on the same platform just a few moments after Fraser had finished speaking. I was thrown into a paddy wagon without being advised of the charges laid against me or the name of the arresting officers.
Seven other people known to me were arrested at the same rally.
I was taken to the South Brisbane watchouse where the desk sergeant advised me that I would be charged with ‘disorderly manner’ and ‘resist arrest’ and placed $80 bail for my release. Four of those people arrested at the rally were bailed out at a total cost of $280 by the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee [CLCC] that had been set up to oppose the street march ban imposed to prevent opposition to uranium mining.
I was no more disorderly at that rally than Prime Minister Fraser nor did I resist arrest. Yet I and the six others were arrested in King George Square that day and he was not.
On 23rd March 1978 appeared in the Brisbane Magistrates Court and pleaded not guilty to the charges laid against me. I subpoened TV footage of my arrest shot by an ABC camera-person. His film showed that I had merely addressed the crowd and had been no more ‘disorderly’ than Fraser. The ABC opposed the production of the footage of my arrest. Theit business was news not appearing in court on democractic rights charges. Nevertheless, a nervous ABC camera-man gave evidence of what he saw that day.
I was acquitted on both charges.
Unfortunately the others arrested on that day did not contest the charges laid against them and were all convicted in their absence and their bail was forfeited. It was not uncommon for the CLCC defence fund to pay out up to $30,000 in bail at right-to-march rallies during this period.
1977 Cabinet papers reveal that Fraser threatened to use the army if workers and their unions tried to stop uranium exports.
BushTelegraph has put together a retrospective based on the national archives material and an interview with the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser.
Malcolm Fraser, who had been minister for the army during the Vietnam war, became Prime Minister after Sir John Kerr sacked the Whitlam Labor government on 11th November 1975.
The Fraser coalition government held power for 8 years until defeated by the Labor party led by Bob Hawke in 1983.
BushTelegraph conducted a candid interview with Mr Fraser by phone at his sheep property, Nareen, in Victoria over the Christmas break of 2007. Fraser’s advice to the Rudd labor government elected in November 2007 was “to work hard and keep the unions in check”. The interview is reproduced below.
BT: Good Morning Mr Fraser, thanks for speaking with BushTelegraph.
Could you give your impression of the first fifty days under the Rudd Labor government?
Malcolm Fraser: I would like to start by saying that for the first two weeks of the Whitlam Labor government, before the full electoral result was known, Whitlam and Barnard formed a two-man ministry, known as a duumvirate, to govern until a full ministry could be announced.
During that time Mr Barnard held 14 portfolios including Defence and Immigration. Barnard was a nice enough chap who held the seat of Bass in Tasmania. Lance Barnard lost the deputy leadership to Dr Jim Cairns and served as Defence Minister. But Mr Barnard was soon put out to pasture by the labor caucus as ambassador to Norway or Sweden or some other social democracy like that. This enabled my government to win the seat of Bass at a bi-election which paved the way for our landslide victory in 1975.
BT: But in those first two weeks, Whitlam and Barnard withdrew troops from Vietnam, arguably the longest period of sustained genocide in the 20th century, ended conscription, announced tertiary education for all that wanted it, foreshadowed equal pay for women, land rights for aborigines in the Northern Territory…
Fraser: But lacked the economic know-how and hard work to back it up. Gough Whitlam liked to make these wide-sweeping declarations and then crack open the champagne – a classic champagne socialist, if a conservative one. Dr Cairns who became Treasurer after Barnard left was even worse than Gough.
Whitlam never made a virtue of hard work. After the Governor General, Sir John Kerr, took away Whitlam’s commission, Gough went and had lunch with advisors before even consulting with his labor senate team about what the government should do in the senate. That gave us, in opposition, the opportunity to obtain support for a double dissolution election and the landslide that followed.
Gough probably had a glass of wine with his steak after being sacked by the Governor General.
Then Gough had the temerity to go out on the steps of parliament and say those words “Well may we say ‘God Save the Queen’, but nothing will save the governor general…”
But then Kerr liked the champagne himself …
BT: Sorry to cut you off, but didn’t your government have a freeze on wages without similar controls put on prices. But I asked you about Rudd.
Malcolm Fraser: Oh, pardon me; I was placing the new Labor government in an historical perspective.
Firstly Mr Rudd obtained a landslide victory over Mr Howard’s government but not as big as mine was over Whitlam.
Mr Rudd will not control the senate in the way my government did.
Mr Rudd has indicated he will wind back refugee policy of the Howard years, re-instate work-for-the-dole in the Northern Territory, and re-employ Dr Haneef in the hospital system.
You see the difference between Gough and Mr Rudd is that the Whitlam government made all these changes in the first two weeks and then sat back for the next three years and let the economy slide into crisis, and allow inflation to break out while having negative growth.
BT: Perhaps I should inform our readers that the Whitlam government introduced a universal health care system [Medibank] in Australia for the first time and began relations with China paving the way for a trading partnership, mainly based on coal and other mineral exports and cheap consumer imports that gave Australia yet another post war capitalist boom in the 1990s and 2000s [the first boom was from 1945-1975].
Nevertheless, Mr fraser, what will Rudd do?
Malcolm Fraser: My prediction for 2008 is that Mr Rudd will make some concessions to the wets and let the country slide into stagflation.
BT: What should Rudd do?
Fraser: Do what I did, keep inflation in check, maintain free tertiary education, accept the boat people after the failure of the war in Vietnam, pardon, I mean in Iraq, maintain universal health care [Medicare], export uranium, and keep a tight reign on the unions by banning secondary boycotts.
Generally speaking, I would advise Mr Rudd to create a better environment for business to flourish.
BT: Is Rudd up to task?
Fraser: That, my friend, is in the lap of the gods.
I did try to keep wages in check with limited success because of the unions, we tolerated student unions but allowed for conscientious objectors to opt out of unions, provided free tertiary education for many, accepted boat people who came to our shores from Vietnam, the communists had taken over there, maintain the US alliance, provide aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory, at the same time open up bauxite and uranium mining and kept the unions in check.
One thing though, Mr Rudd has a far greater work ethic than Gough did which is a good start.
BT: Thank you Mr Fraser.
Next week BushTelegraph will be interviewing Gough Whitlam on the progress of the Rudd Labor Government.
NB: BT acknowledges the National Archives of Australia as BT has reproduced images from their website.
BushTelegraph advises that some material in the cabinet papers is the subject of continuing ASIO classification and was witheld by the national archives for reasons of ‘national security‘.
3 January 2008
Resources: Courier Mail article “Bjelke-Petersen Law unto himself“