Ian Macphee. Personal memories of Malcolm Fraser.

Mar 22, 2015

I first met Malcolm in 1973 when he was shadow minister for Industrial Relations in the Coalition opposition. I was Director of the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures and intensely involved in industrial relations. Malcolm had just been given that responsibility and wished to explore issues seriously. We did so for over two hours. I told him that I would always be happy to advise him and that I felt sure that he would form a harmonious working relationship with Clyde Cameron, Minister for Industrial Relations in the Whitlam government. He soon did. And Malcolm and I continued contact. With the advice of Malcolm’s close friend, Peter Nixon, I entered federal parliament as Member for Balaclava for the Liberal Party at the 1974 election and formed an increasingly deep friendship with Malcolm and Peter. That bond continued ever after.

The Australian industrial relations system was exceedingly complex then and few in the coalition understood it. Malcolm soon did and in 1982, when I was Minister for Industrial Relations we negotiated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions and employer organisations to try to ensure that a sensible process of dispute settlement could be agreed upon. The March 1983 election was called as we were on the cusp of agreement and the Hawke government soon completed it as the Accord. That greatly transformed industrial relations.

In 1976 Malcolm had the foresight to create a Department of Productivity to incorporate human resource management, quality control, innovation, skill enhancement and enterprise bargaining. A vast range of departmental activities were merged to enable Australians to understand the nature of productivity, a word rarely used in Australia then. Unions and employers were engaged where possible with scientists and others trying to set an example for cost reduction and increased efficiency and job satisfaction. Research and development was a major part of the interaction. It was during this period that I encountered Graeme Clark who was inventing the bionic ear. Despite the oil crisis and the inherited deficit Malcolm, Peter and Doug Anthony persuaded cabinet to fund further research for what became the cochlear ear implant. There were other achievements but that is one of the most notable.  Employees in the department exchanged jobs with some in the private sector so that each sector could understand the role of the other better. That was an initiative with which Malcolm agreed.

From 1976-79 I was also minister assisting the Prime Minister on what was then termed “Womens’ Affairs”. Later it was more aptly named the Status of Women. In those three years I realised how strongly liberal Malcolm was on all socially progressive issues. We had many discussions on racial and gender equality and the need for specific policies that would ensure Australia lived up to its boast as an egalitarian society. Malcolm’s support ensured that many reforms were implemented.  Today’s research students are exploring how such progress was made then.

In 1979 Malcolm was keen to extend reforms begun while Michael McKellar was Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and he encouraged my subsequent work in that role.   Students are continuing to document our refugee programs especially the handling of the large scale settlement of Vietnamese boat people!.  The policy was implemented with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and our neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia and embraced the humanity that was the essence of Malcolm Fraser’s ethics and an Aussie “fair go”. The Hawke government continued that but the contrast with policies of later years could not be greater.

In my final ministerial year Malcolm again revealed his humanity as we strove to reform our constitutionally impeded industrial relations system. We continued to try to encourage enterprise bargaining, increased skill formation and productivity.

My friendship with Malcolm deepened each year. The first resolution proposed by the Hawke government in the new Parliament House in 1988 stressed non-discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity in particular. The words in that resolution were consistent with those given by Malcolm and I in many speeches. Yet the opposition coalition led by John Howard opposed it. As we conversed on the telephone I told Malcolm that I would vote with the government. He was delighted to hear that and flew to Canberra to witness that. Fortunately for me the Deputy Opposition leader, Charles Blunt, was late in arriving in the chamber and I was given the right to speak. I did so with the conviction Malcolm and I shared about equality. With Phillip Ruddock and Steele Hall I then voted with the Hawke government. That effectively ended my political career but deepened even more the bond that Malcolm and I shared.

Malcolm then devoted his extraordinary intellect and energy to so many humane causes. He was Chairman of CARE Australia (and placed me on its board for five years) and for the next twenty years I joined hundreds of others in trying to devise a return to humane refugee policies. Sadly all that work was to little avail. Neither major political party would listen. Malcolm’s quest for humanity and equality never ceased. His latest book, Dangerous Allies, also revealed his wise vision for Australian foreign policy. We must be a part of the Asia Pacific region and not Deputy Sheriff to the United States of America. That vision is what drove me into Australian politics in the first place and it was a joy to share it with Malcolm over so many years.

There are so many things I will not forget about Malcolm but the outstanding one is his refusal to dwell in the past. Having analysed the past he devised strategies for the future.  Many of us are prepared to continue that reform to honour his memory.

While I shall never forget Malcolm I will also cherish so many memories of Tamie who was the most loving, considerate and wise companion he could have had.   Many of us admired the dedicated work of Julie Gleeson and others in Malcolm’s office over many years.

My condolences to you all

Ian Macphee was Minister for Industrial Relations and Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in the Fraser Governments.

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