Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fraser's unreliable memoirs rewrite history

Greg Sheridan

MALCOLM Fraser's memoirs, co-authored with Margaret Simons, are the most error-riddled, factually unreliable, tendentious, consistently nasty and overall disgraceful political memoirs I have ever read. Naturally they won the NSW Premier's Literary Award.

This infamous award demonstrates why the Premier's Literary Awards should be abolished. In their nonfiction section, at least, they are not about literature but promoting ideological conformity.

Fraser was prime minister from 1975 to 1983. In office, he had the reputation of being an arrogant, right-wing bully. Later, he decided to reshape himself as a grand man of the Left.

I don't doubt his motives, though it is noteworthy that you get a lot more comfort, certainly more awards, on the Left.

Fraser now has the attraction for the Left of any radical convert. Metaphorically, he has crossed the Berlin Wall, except he went from West to East. The Left is constantly surprised that it dominates the culture in Australia but is repeatedly rejected by voters.

In truth, it dominates the culture only because of its stranglehold on taxpayers' funds, such as these awards. John Howard's memoir - the bestselling political autobiography in our history - is truly popular. It will be fascinating to see if it wins any of these wretchedly compromised awards.

Fraser's visceral hatred of Howard and his relentless denigration of him, often with highly dubious stories, along with Fraser's support of free entry for the boatpeople, more than anything else endear him to the Left.

Fraser's book contains some astounding factual errors. Two among many that Gerard Henderson has pointed out are that Fraser cannot even remember how many elections he won, claiming four, when in fact he won three. Fraser also claims George Orwell's book Nineteen Eighty-Four was inspired by British society of the 1950s whereas it was a satire of East European communist dictatorships. Henderson might have pointed out further that as Orwell died in January 1950 and Nineteen Eighty-Four was published two years before that, he couldn't have been inspired by much in the 50s.

But even Henderson's splendid industry omits many of Fraser's howlers. Fraser claims the neo-conservatives wielded great influence in the Bush administration of the 90s. But George W. Bush was not even elected until November 2000.

But it is not really this sloppiness and inaccuracy that is the main problem. It is the tendentious misrepresentation of the past. Fraser wants to pretend - who knows, perhaps he even believes - he was always a man of the Left. Fraser has every right to change his mind on the big issues that defined his political life, but he should own up to being a Liberal rat, who has ratted on his previous views and his previous party, and not pretend that he was always a Patrick White fellow traveller.

Let me give you just a couple of central examples. Fraser claims that when he became prime minister on November 11, 1975, he was unable to change Gough Whitlam's policy towards Indonesia because he was in caretaker mode, and that this policy required accommodation of Indonesia in East Timor. He further claims that he watered down a letter to then president Suharto expressing understanding of Indonesia's position, that he was extremely reluctant to send this message and did so only because he was told it was vital to do so.

This is wrong on every count and its wrongness is documented in the memoir of Dick Woolcott, who was Australia's ambassador to Indonesia at the time. Whitlam's policy was to favour East Timorese incorporation into Indonesia but that this should be achieved peacefully and by East Timorese self-determination.

Whitlam's policy may well have been self-contradictory but it certainly allowed Fraser to emphasise self-determination if he wanted to. However, in opposition Fraser and his shadow cabinet colleagues had labelled the East Timorese independence party, Fretilin, communist and Fraser and gang at that time were comprehensively anti-communist.

Woolcott's memoir records surprise that the confidential letter Fraser sent to Suharto did not include, as Whitlam had included in all his communications, a statement that Australia opposed the use of force. Woolcott rang Canberra to try to get opposition to the use of force included in the letter and was told not to change or interpret Fraser's remarks.

In other words, Fraser watered down Whitlam's opposition to the use of force, exactly the opposite of what Fraser claims in his book.

An even more bizarre claim Fraser makes, in rationalising his support for the Vietnam War, is that he did not know until 1995 of the US involvement in the coup against South Vietnam's president Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963.

Fraser was Australia's defence minister at the end of the 60s. If he didn't know about the US involvement he was surely the worst informed defence minister in the history of this country or any other. The US involvement was absolutely common knowledge, a routine part of any discussion of Vietnam in those days. Morris West, Australia's bestselling author at that time, wrote a novel about the American role in the coup, The Ambassador, which sold more than a million copies.

The anti-communist B. A. Santamaria, whom Fraser much admired, broadcast numerous television commentaries about it. In one, in November 1968, Santamaria said the US "had organised the overthrow of president Diem five years ago, without even taking the precaution to see that he was not killed". American involvement in the coup was discussed routinely in classrooms and university lectures at this period.

Fraser is either misrepresenting his knowledge at the time to suit his ideology today or has forgotten about his knowledge at the time, or was indeed an astonishingly incompetent defence minister.

Fraser presents himself as a great hero on refugees, but Australia took in far more refugees under Howard than it did under Fraser. Fraser claims to have taken in 20,000 refugees a year in his last years in office, a claim completely untrue. Similarly in opposition he called for "a small number" of Vietnamese to be admitted.

His scabrous slanders of Howard, the worst based only on his memory and backed up by no corroborating testimony or documentation, reveal a nastiness of spirit remarkable even in the ego-mad world of Australian politics. This shameful book deserves no awards.


Warmist economist scorns his country

Ross Gittins is a prominent Australian economist. He criticizes the Australian character, as well he may, given his own defective character. His slavish acceptance of authority is very un-Australian. Australians are traditionally irreverent. No wonder he does not like his fellow Australians. He would have been wearing a brown uniform in Hitler's Germany

It's a sore test of faith when people put power bills before their children's future.

Like most people, I'm an instinctive optimist. In any case, I see no margin in pessimism. If you concluded the world was irredeemably wicked, or destined for certain destruction, what would be left but to curl up and die? Since we can never be certain the end is nigh, much better to keep living and keep plugging away for a better world.

I confess, however, I've needed all my optimistic instincts to avoid despair over the terrible hash we're making of the need to take effective action against global warming. We're showing everything that's unattractive about the Australian character.

We pride ourselves that Aussies are good in a crisis, but until the walls start falling in on us we couldn't reach agreement to shut the door against the cold.

This week's report from the Climate Commission - established to provide expert advice on the science of climate change and its effects on Australia - tells us nothing we didn't already know, but everything we've lost sight of in our efforts to advance our personal interests at the expense of the nation's.

Its 70 pages boil down to four propositions we'd rather not think about. First, there is no doubt the climate is changing. The evidence is clear. The atmosphere is warming, the ocean is warming, ice is being lost from glaciers and ice caps, and sea levels are rising. Global surface temperature is rising fast; the last decade was the hottest on record.

Second, we are already seeing the social, economic and environmental effects of a changing climate. In the past 50 years, the number of record hot days in Australia has more than doubled. This has increased the risk of heatwave-associated deaths, as well as extreme bushfires.

Sea level has risen by 20 centimetres globally since the late 1800s, affecting many coastal communities. Another 20-centimetre increase by 2050 is likely, on present projections, which would more than double the risk of coastal flooding.

Third, these changes are triggered by human activities - particularly the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation - which are increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, with carbon dioxide the most important of these gases.

Fourth, this is the critical decade. Decisions we make from now to 2020 will determine the severity of climate change our children and grandchildren experience. Without strong and rapid action, there is a significant risk that climate change will undermine society's prosperity, health, stability and way of life......

Australians are proud of their inbuilt bulldust detectors, but on this issue they seemed to have turned them off, happily believing whatever self-serving nonsense politicians, business people and media personalities serve up to them.


School discipline on agenda for Vic Libs

Discipline in Victoria's public schools, the rising cost of construction for major projects and federal Labor's carbon tax will be under the spotlight at the Liberal State Council meeting this weekend.

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will address the meeting at the Melbourne Convention Centre on Saturday, while Premier Ted Baillieu on Sunday will thank party members for their contribution to the coalition's state election victory.

There is likely to be an air of celebration at the event, the first official Victorian Liberal Party gathering since the coalition swept to office six months ago.

There is also optimism about the party's prospects federally, as opinion polls have consistently shown the coalition in an election-winning position and Mr Abbott closing in on Julia Gillard as preferred prime minister.

Motions on the agenda include setting up a tribunal to toughen up discipline at public schools. The Waverley North branch, which is moving the motion, says there is a discipline crisis in many state schools, with teachers under siege from unruly pupils.

It wants teachers to have the power to report serious breaches of discipline to the tribunal, including physical and verbal assaults and intimidation.

In its motion, the branch says almost 14,000 students were suspended in state schools last year and a lack of discipline in public education is the reason many parents send their children to private schools. "Parents want more confidence to choose a government school," the motion reads.

A call from the Geelong branch to have speed camera revenue directly invested in road safety initiatives is also on the agenda. "The loss of public confidence in the validity of speed cameras as a tool to reduce road trauma requires attention," the motion reads. "To not address these issues would mean the party risks the same voter backlash which the Labor Party received in the lead-up to the last election."

Auditor-General Des Pearson is investigating the state's speed camera system and is expected to report to government in about August.

Australian Education Union Victorian branch president Mary Bluett said it was wrong to suggest only government school students had behavioural issues. "I ... get offended by the notion that these issues are only issues for government schools," she told AAP. "In terms of bullying and physical altercations, it's hardly a government school issue only."

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Frank Sal said he welcomed more support from the Department of Education in dealing with abuse or violence from students and parents.

But he denied there was a lack of discipline in government schools. "The notion that there is a discipline crisis in government schools is a real furphy," Mr Sal said.


Failing Federal solar scheme

COMPLAINTS about shonky solar power companies are rising as homeowners cry foul over bad contracts and half-finished work. The Queensland Office of Fair Trading is receiving a complaint every business day from people who believe they have been ripped off, although there have been no prosecutions. There have been 75 complaints so far this year.

Most complaints relate to delays or failure to supply the product, incorrect installation, faulty components or misleading representations about the solar panel system's performance.

Thirty-five companies, mostly based in the state, had been the subject of complaints in relation to solar panel systems, the OFT said. Of these, 12 were the subject of multiple complaints. It said it had not needed to "initiate any prosecution", as the complaints had been "largely contractual disputes" between the trader and consumer. "The majority of these matters have been resolved through conciliation to the satisfaction of the complainant," the OFT said.

Following an $850 million solar spending blowout, the Commonwealth next month is reducing by $1500 the subsidy for a typical home solar system, prompting high-pressure sales tactics on the part of some solar retailers ahead of the deadline. Some solar contracts contain hidden charges, including extra hook-up and maintenance costs and warranties with questionable value.

The problems come after the Federal Government was forced to scrap the failed Green Loans and home insulation programs.

Industry insiders said some of the worst offenders in the solar industry were previously involved in the Commonwealth's failed Batts insulation scheme that resulted in widespread rorting as well as the deaths of some installers.

There has been an explosion in the number of solar installers, from 280 across Australia in 2007 to more than 3500 today, and a 17-fold jump in Queensland in the same period to 785.

Consumer body Choice this week warned customers to be wary of very cheap quotes and short warranty periods.

Reputable installers say they are frustrated by "cowboys" giving the industry a black eye, yet are reluctant to name and shame competitors.

AllSafe, a major solar franchiser, has helped victims of improperly installed work. Lorraine Biggin, a Toowoomba-based AllSafe franchisee, said a recent customer was dudded by an installer who didn't supply all the racking for his home solar system and left the job unfinished. "He paid for everything and they just left him twisting in the wind," she said.

Complaints about solar installers are commonplace on consumer websites. Homeowners have vented anger at the quality of some solar systems, delivering less electricity than predicted, unprofessonal installations, and installers who disappeared, making their 10-year warranties worthless.

Homeowners also are frustrated when state and federal governments change the rules for their solar schemes reducing the expectations for a return on investments.

The Queensland Government has stopped subsiding new large solar systems to keep people from profitting from its scheme, but that was precisely why some "solar farmers" invested heavily in solar systems.

Homeowners also have discovered that electicity providers are knocking back some solar systems or their systems don't pass inspection because they haven't been installed to standard.

Consumers have attempted to protect themselves by turning to websites such as, where the work of solar installers is discussed.

Website spokesman Finn Peacock said it appeared from the discussions there were dodgy contractors involved previously in insulation work who jumped into solar when the federal money dried up. "Any time you have government throwing money around, you'll get all sorts," he said.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Have you noticed the renewed push on the topic of climate change, with a renewed attack on anyone who questions the imposed orthodoxy. I would dare call it a conspiracy among politicians and (most) media owners to railroad this thing (tax) through, regardless of what we the people want or believe. Australia is the global lab for this experiment, and if it works here it will spread worldwide. It used to be called treason before the age of globalism. Comments are interesting too, you can usually spot the ones sponsored by the PR firms hired to create "grassroots" support.