Cold war­rior changes his mind

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ross Fitzger­ald

Dan­ger­ous Al­lies By Mal­colm Fraser, with Cain Roberts MUP, 360pp, $65 (HB)

IN the pub­lic mind, Mal­colm Fraser is best re­mem­bered for the fol­low­ing: tak­ing over the prime min­is­ter­ship in 1975 as a re­sult of John Kerr’s dis­missal of Gough Whit­lam; op­pos­ing the white su­prem­a­cist regime in Rhode­sia and sup­port­ing the Com­mon­wealth cam­paign to dis­man­tle apartheid in South Africa; pub­licly weep­ing when he was de­feated as PM in 1983; and los­ing his pants in a shady ho­tel in Mem­phis in 1986.

Writ­ten with the as­sis­tance of aca­demic Cain Roberts, Fraser’s Dan­ger­ous Al­lies fol­lows on from the er­ror-prone and award-win­ning Mal­colm Fraser: The Po­lit­i­cal Mem­oirs, co-au­thored by Mar­garet Si­mons and pub­lished in 2010.

The fun­da­men­tal the­sis un­der­pin­ning Dan­ger­ous Al­lies is that our na­tion must de­cide which di­rec­tion in for­eign pol­icy and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions we ought to take. Fraser poses the ques­tion thus: “Are we to con­tinue to fol­low our pol­icy of strate­gic de­pen­dence or will we, for the first time in our his­tory, move to­wards a more strate­gi­cally in­de­pen­dent for­eign pol­icy?”

Quite un­like the years from 1975 to 1983, when as our 22nd prime min­is­ter he was an anti-Rus­sian Cold War war­rior more or less slav­ishly sup­port­ing our al­liance with the US, these days Fraser stri­dently pro­motes Aus­tralia’s strate­gic in­de­pen­dence, which would, he ar­gues, al­low us to agree and dis­agree with both Wash­ing­ton and Bei­jing.

Presently we are, he ar­gues, “too closely in­ter­twined” with US strate­gies, plans and fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing the joint in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing es­tab­lish­ment at Pine Gap. In­deed he main­tains, rather para­dox­i­cally, that if we re­main an Amer­i­can lackey, this could place Aus­tralia in jeop­ardy in the fu­ture, while “mak­ing it hard for other na­tions to take us se­ri­ously”.

Thus Fraser, who was a staunch sup­porter of Aus­tralia’s in­volve­ment in the Viet­nam War, con­cludes we now ought adopt “the third op­tion’’: that of strate­gic in­de­pen­dence, cou­pled with armed neu­tral­ity. This would “avoid (our) com­plic­ity in Amer­ica’s fu­ture mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions and se­cure a fu­ture that best serves Aus­tralia’s in­ter­ests”. Strate­gic de­pen­dence on Bri­tain and then the US may have ful­filled this role in past decades, but “its use­ful­ness as a plat­form for Aus­tralia’s for­eign and se­cu­rity pri­or­i­ties” has, he main­tains, well and truly ended.

To­wards the mid­dle of Dan­ger­ous Al­lies, the un­sta­ble fu­ture leader of the federal ALP, HV Evatt, is sin­gled out for praise. This is not just for Evatt’s piv­otal role in the UN but, more con­tro­ver­sially, for his pro-Aus­tralian role as min­is­ter for ex­ter­nal af­fairs from 1941 to 1949. Fraser writes: “Evatt, as for­eign min­is­ter, showed more in­de­pen­dence and sig­nif­i­cant strength of mind than any other Aus­tralian had to that point in deal­ing with other na­tions, es­pe­cially with great pow­ers.”

In this of­ten turgid and repet­i­tive book, there are some er­rors. For ex­am­ple, the mil­i­tant Wob­blies — the In­dus­trial Work­ers of the World — are wrongly re­ferred to as the In­de­pen­dent Work­ers of the World. The sur­name of Aus­tralia’s first am­bas­sador to the People’s Repub­lic of China, Stephen FitzGer­ald, is mis­spelled three times. Also, it is not made clear that, as chair­man of the Com­mit­tee to Ad­vise on Aus­tralia’s Im­mi­gra­tion Poli­cies es­tab­lished by Bob Hawke, FitzGer­ald edited a cru­cial 1988 re­port, Im­mi­gra­tion: A Com­mit­ment to Aus­tralia. In fact, FitzGer­ald — who served un­der Whit­lam and Fraser as am­bas­sador to China from 1973 to 1976 — wrote all of the first chap­ter, which co­gently sets out the prin­ci­ples, phi­los­o­phy and pol­i­tics of im­mi­gra­tion. FitzGer­ald also wrote parts of other chap­ters, and use­fully edited the whole re­port — which re­mains as valid now as it was in the late 1980s.

In the first third of Dan­ger­ous Al­lies there are some re­veal­ing his­tor­i­cal asides, not the least con­cern­ing Win­ston Churchill. As Fraser and Roberts ex­plain, in 1917 Churchill had “come to be­lieve that Bol­she­vism was the worst tyranny in his­tory, even ex­ceed­ing that of Ger­man atroc­i­ties”. Ac­cord­ing to then Bri­tish prime min­is­ter David Lloyd Ge­orge, Churchill had “Bol­she­vism on the brain”.

Also re­veal­ing is the role in draft­ing the Treaty of Ver­sailles of our pro-con­scrip­tion prime min­is­ter Wil­liam Mor­ris Hughes.

At the end of World War I, the acer­bic Hughes led Aus­tralia’s del­e­ga­tion to the Paris Peace Con­fer­ence. Widely known as the “Lit­tle Dig­ger”, Hughes was not only keen to ex­tract max­i­mum repa­ra­tions from Ger­many and to limit Ja­panese in­flu­ence in the Pa­cific but vo­cif­er­ously op­posed the idea of racial non-dis­crim­i­na­tion keenly pro­moted by US pres­i­dent Woodrow Wil­son. To Hughes, as to many proBri­tish Aus­tralians, the no­tion of racial equal­ity was re­pug­nant and of­fen­sive. It is there­fore not sur­pris­ing that the vi­sion­ary but some­times doc­tri­naire Wil­son re­garded Hughes as a ‘‘pes­tif­er­ous varmint’’.

While dis­cussing whether Ger­man ter­ri­to­ries should be con­trolled by the League of Na­tions, Wil­son asked if, as “the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Aus­tralasians”, Hughes in­sisted on pre­sent­ing “an ul­ti­ma­tum to the whole civilised world”. The pug­na­cious Hughes replied, “That’s about the size of it, Pres­i­dent Wil­son.”

Un­like Churchill, who wanted to de­feat the Bol­she­viks, Hughes was firmly against any such in­ter­ven­tion, ar­gu­ing in the Im­pe­rial War Cab­i­net of De­cem­ber 23, 1918, that the Al­lies “should leave Rus­sia and its people to de­cide what govern­ment it wanted for it­self”. The only ex­cep­tion would be if the Bol­she­viks en­gaged in ex­ter­nal ag­gres­sion, es­pe­cially if it threat­ened the in­ter­ests of Bri­tain and its em­pire.

On June 28, 1919, Hughes, ac­com­pa­nied by for­mer prime min­is­ter Joseph Cook, signed the Treaty of Ver­sailles on be­half of Aus­tralia in the Palace of Ver­sailles’ glit­ter­ing Hall of Mir­rors. Not only did this en­able Aus­tralia to be a full mem­ber of the League of Na­tions but it was the first time Aus­tralia had signed any in­ter­na­tional treaty.

Pos­si­bly as a re­sult of Roberts’s con­sid­er­able in­put, Dan­ger­ous Al­lies does not boast a sin­gle nar­ra­tive voice, which is a pity.

It is also a shame that the book’s tone some­times rather hec­tor­ing.


Mal­colm Fraser pre­sents US pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan with a sad­dle on a state visit in 1981

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