Page 984 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 24 March 2015

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But despite his role in the 1975 dismissal, which certainly changed the face of Australian politics, Malcolm Fraser’s lifelong commitment to human rights and social equality became his defining legacy, both during and after politics. In government, he played a key role in the passing of Aboriginal land rights in 1976, making his government the first to attempt to legally recognise the Aboriginal system of land ownership.

He was an advocate of immigration as a means of boosting the population, and believed that a multicultural Australia could be an enormous strength to our country. He established immigration policies and forged strong links with migrant and ethnic communities. He was welcoming to Vietnamese refugees and Muslim Lebanese as they fled their war-torn countries. He formed the SBS in 1978 and made changes to the Broadcasting Act to ensure that minority and multicultural communities were receiving correct information. And he led the commonwealth push to end apartheid in South Africa and argued for an independent Zimbabwe. He would not even let the South African Rugby team land in Australia to refuel on the way to New Zealand, so total was his commitment to standing up against institutional discrimination.

Another significant achievement of Mr Fraser’s was making three very important changes during the 1977 referendum that included giving the Australian Capital Territory the right to vote in constitutional elections. This has not received much national media interest over the past few days, but it is something that ensured ACT residents were not second-class citizens when it came to constitutional reform.

Another important action for the people of the ACT was his establishment of the Australian Federal Police, which was a combination of the Commonwealth Police, the Australian Capital Territory Police and the Federal Narcotics Bureau. The AFP has served the citizens of the ACT with distinction since that time.

It was Malcolm Fraser’s compassion and conviction in his life beyond federal parliament that saw him become a role model for all sides of the political divide. In 1985 he was chosen as a member of an international group of eminent persons seeking to end apartheid in South Africa by encouraging dialogue between all parties. In 1987 Mr Fraser formed CARE Australia as part of the international CARE network of humanitarian aid organisations. The CARE Australia national office was based on Northbourne Avenue, in Braddon, and he was once again a regular visitor to our city. I am told that during this period he would stay at the Rex Hotel, walking down Northbourne Avenue to the office for meetings. He was CARE Australia’s chairman from 1987 until 2001, with oversight of the organisation’s response to some of the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies, including the Iraq war, the Somalia famine, the Bosnian war and the Rwandan genocide. He also served as president of CARE International from 1990 to 1995 and as its vice-president for the next four years.

He continued to be outspoken, in particular about Indigenous issues, refugees, anti-terrorism law and asylum seekers. I know many Canberrans who protested against his accession to the prime ministership in 1975 came proudly to support his principled stands.

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