Tribute to Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser

A Global Good Samaritan Passes Away -

On this day we have lost an elder statesman, a strong advocate for human rights, and an ardent campaigner for the rights of the refugees worldwide. Malcolm Fraser was more than a politician. Anyone who had interacted with him lately will know what a candid, astute and accommodating personality he was. Australian Tamil Congress is saddened by the sudden demise of a visionary, who yearned for a world free of war, discord and differences.

Although a conservative party politician, he was a liberal democrat in real life. As a seasoned legislator he handled the ‘Big Issues’; in retirement he led the call for public debate on many humanitarian issues that even religious leaders were hesitant to give voice for.

At a seminar titled Human Rights as Foreign Policy’ held in Melbourne in August 2010, some of our members had a chance to meet him for the first time. Their experience was that this tall, distinguished and ostensibly aggressive former politician of aristocratic stature, is deep inside a considerate and compassionate personality. Having realised that some strangers are waiting to have a word with him long after the event, Mr Fraser kindly obliged: “You must be Tamils; what can I do for you?” he asked. It was very late in the night when he happily lent his ears, counselling his young admirers for nearly 15 minutes. “You should tell the individual stories of the people who are fleeing and their personal circumstances. By doing so we might be able to change the maligned image of the asylum seekers in the Australian public”, he advised.

In recent years he has been quite vocal in criticising Australia’s, what he called, ‘inhumane policies’. “Every Australian carries some part of the guilt for asylum-seeker policies that are inhumane and brutal. … … Both Liberal and Labor, have sought to demonise boat people and make Australians fear them”he wrote in an article to the Sydney Morning Herald. “If you lived in a country governed by a tyrannical regime, and your parents had been killed, and family members had been brutalised and put in prison without trial or in some cases shot without trial, what would you then do? You could not go to the government and ask for papers. That would immediately get you into trouble. So people travel without papers, something recognised in the 1954 Refugee Convention, to which Australia was one of the first signatories,” he pointed out candidly.

In March 2014, Mr Fraser made time to meet with a visiting Tamil Parliamentarian to update him on human rights issues and the impending US-sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC session that month. Later, he co-signed an appeal to the Government with six other Australian Eminent Persons, seeking Australia’s support for a UN human rights enquiry into the war in Sri Lanka.

From Vietnam to South Africa to Zimbabwe and lately Sri Lanka, Mr Fraser was a voice of reason and human dignity. In the late 1970’s, he helped tens of thousands of Vietnamese fleeing the war to resettle in Australia. As prime minister he supported the Commonwealth’s efforts to abolish apartheid in South Africa, and later as Co-chair of the Eminent Persons Group, he lobbied the US Congress to impose sanctions on South Africa. Just as he supported the freedom struggle for Zimbabwe, he spoke out categorically against the systemic excesses of Mugabe’s present day dictatorial regime. His concerns for Sri Lanka were so great that even in his last major TV interview he called for “more effective action from the Commonwealth” to properly examine and expose the grave and serious human rights abuses that have occurred in the country; this he hoped will lead to true reconciliation and prosperity in the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

Mr Fraser had a particular desire to rejuvenate the Commonwealth as an active instrument for the advancement of mankind.  In a separate article to The Age titled Why the Commonwealth must regain its ethical zeal’, he urged the organisation to be a force for good again: “At this last (CHOGM 2014) meeting in Sri Lanka, only 26 heads of government attended. Canada stood by its principles; the Canadian Prime Minister refused to attend. The Australian government refused to criticise Sri Lanka, believing that its co-operation was necessary in stemming the flow of refugees to Australia. What would stem the flow are changes in the attitude of the Sri Lankan government so that there would be no need to flee the terror that government policy still inflicts in the minds and hearts of many Sri Lankans”.   He wrote boldly: “The Commonwealth has failed to take a responsible position. It has failed to live by its principles. It has failed to understand that ethics is a significant part of good governance”.

From introducing the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976, to promoting multiculturalism, to his last major interview in which he talked about ‘what a great Australia would look like’, Mr Fraser’s ideologies have been a challenge to the conscience of parliamentarians of all political persuasions, locally and overseas.

He strived to drive the message that politicians have a duty to protect strangers and noncitizens beyond their country’s borders – putting human values first.

He defended the weak and the powerless against the blind and selfish power-seekers.

He strenuously advocated the integration of human rights values into the state's foreign policy, as opposed to be a mean-spirited rich country in a global democracy.

The Tamil people of Sri Lanka can truly say that they had a genuine friend in him, who gave voice for justice, truth and humanity from a faraway land.  ATC and the Tamil community of Australia remember with sincere gratitude this compassionate and caring Australian.

He was indeed a Global Good Samaritan.

Our deepest sympathies to his wife Tamie and children.

‘May he find eternal life.’


Reginald Jeganathan


20 March 2015