Damn you, Malcolm Fraser.
You’ve gone and died on us just when we needed you most, but I’m fairly certain you’d be pretty pissed off with your timing.
During my many years with the ABC I strived to ensure that whilst my humanity was always on show, my voting preferences were not.
But in recent years I have despaired and the source of my despair has not just been Tony Abbott and the Liberal/National Party, but also the shenanigans and foolishness of the previous Labor governments. I heard Anthony Albanese recently refer to that time in both federal and state politics as he said, “Some of them have let us down. They do not deserve to be remembered.”
I think I’m far from alone in my despair about Australian politics and the national discourse in 2015. I am sick to death of being lied to – by politicians and shock jocks, of being used and abused for the interests of a few.
I have been playing with the idea that Australia needs its own group of ‘elders’, like the international organisation ‘The Elders’ that was established by the late Nelson Mandela. But, of course, what can I do about it. Seems like a good idea but no-one gives a toss what I think.
I ran the idea past former Australian senator Cheryl Kernot on my (former) show, asking her what she thinks Australians are afraid of.
“I think as nation we’ve been encouraged, by leadership at many levels, to lose sight of our empathy and we’re ready to fall for an appeal to our most base instincts – instincts of fear, of difference – all the sorts of things where you can just push the worst button. I would like leadership to NOT pander to that.”
I gently suggested this to my radio audience, ‘If Australia had a group of Elders – who do you think these Elders should be?’ There were numerous suggestions including Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam and Michael Kirby – just to name a few.
Oh how we laughed! Cheryl continued, “Sometimes I think wouldn’t it be good if we just get rid of all of them (politicians) and maybe we could put Australia into administration with all the people we’ve ever thought were fantastic running it!”
“Australian Elders!” I said!
Cheryl Kernot replied, “I don’t think we could do worse than what’s happening at the moment. In fact we might even do better because we might all have actually had enough experience of it at its worst to know that we could work together to do something that might actually think about the country first.”
My kids have been raised with lots of encouragement to think about stuff. Our household is obviously a news-consuming one – you can’t avoid it with parents like us. But we also try to encourage the kids to think about what matters to them and not just regurgitate their parents’ ideologies. I want them to know that politics isn’t something that just happens to you, but something you can be a part of and attempt to have influence on. I want them to know that politics is not passive.
Until recently, that has meant for me that my influence has been kept to election day and the polling booth. Mostly.
I did run the idea of a group of ‘Australian Elders’ past one highly-respected Australian who thought the idea was ‘very interesting but perhaps too political’. I actually think the idea is for this group to be above politics. To be an esteemed group of Australians who, together, can simply say, “No. This is not who Australians are.”
A respected group to call bullshit on politics. Because it’s needed.
Malcolm Fraser loved Twitter. He loved conversation. He loved stirring the possum. Many of us had the opportunity to engage with him in this way over the last few years and I’m incredibly grateful that I was one.
A couple of months ago we were tweeting about the fact that “Operation Babylift” – the mass evacuation of children from the war in South Vietnam by the US, Australia and other countries – was 40 years ago next month. 1975. I remember this.
I can’t begin to count the times I drafted a private message about the need for ‘Australian Elders’ to Malcolm Fraser but promptly deleted it because as if he’d give a shit what I thought and surely I was being an idiot.
But one day I did it. And I sent it.
And nothing happened.
Until a few weeks later when his assistant tracked me down via my website and asked for my contact details as, “Mr Fraser would like to talk to you.”
I replied with my phone number and, again, nothing happened.
Except for that time I was in my car in Sydney and my phone rang and this deep, dark voice said, “Carol Duncan? It’s Malcolm Fraser here – I’m acting as agent provocateur!”
Malcolm has been described by many as ‘droll’. Yes, that’s probably accurate. Droll, dry, and very funny whilst at all times very serious.
“I’m an OCTOGENARIAN! I’m too old for this!”, he declared, “I need some young people to be involved.”
I guess to an octogenarian my mere 49 years indeed classify me as ‘young’. Whatever.
“I like your ‘elders’ idea, Carol, but there’s something else I wanted to seek your thoughts on.” Because, you know, former Prime Ministers of the nation seek my counsel every day of the week.
“Mr Fraser,” I said, “It’s easy! All you have to do is get half a dozen of your besties together, call a media conference, and go nuts! Tell us what you really think!”
The man who didn’t laugh laughed and said, “The problem is, Carol, that no-one cares what former Prime Ministers think. This is why we need young people.”
“May I email you and you tell me what YOU think?”
And he did. And my heart leapt a little because I read about kindness and compassion and inclusion and hope and fairness and and and …
And today I wept a lot.
I didn’t know Malcolm Fraser at all. I’ve seen a lot of comments today along the lines of, “I hated him in 1975 but I loved him today.” He had the courage to grow and learn and change and to examine his own beliefs unlike some politicians today who doggedly hold to the party line for fear of … well, what? For fear of being seen as people who think? Who learn? Who grow and change? For fear of being seen as leaders?
I do know he wanted to make things better for all of us, not just the few. Because he told me so and I believed him.
I joked to a friend that, “Malcolm Fraser perhaps sees this as his last great blast. He’s gonna go out sideways with his balls on fire!”
His work was unfinished and as such it’s inappropriate that I share the details of it here, but I hope that it will be finished. And successful.
And the point of me sharing my feeble thoughts with you is that if, like me, you despair – there is hope. Be part of it. Be active. Be involved. Vote. Join a political party. Contact your politicians. Raise hell. (Nicely.) Do not be passive. Do not just let it happen to you.
If Malcolm could still get his cranky pants on as an octogenarian – you can, too. He wanted you to.
Who do you think would be an essential Australian Elder?
Vale, Malcolm Fraser. Apologies for the pants joke.
Yes. Yes he was. I hope this work is able to continue now that he is gone.