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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 3974


Photo of Fraser, Malcolm

Fraser, Malcolm

Period of Service: 11/11/1975 to 11/03/1983

More information about Fraser, Malcolm on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 15/11/1975

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 3974

I QUESTION: Mr Fraser if Senator Milliner had been replaced by a
Whitlam supporter would you be Caretaker Prime Minister today?
MR FRASER: They would have had to then reject the Budget instead of
just deferring it. Having one more number than the Labor Party could
muster left us with an advantage because we could defer the Budget, and
the reason we took that choice was because I was fearful that if it
had been rejected Mr Whitlam would have left it rejected until after
an election was over. And that would have caused a lot of hardship to
a lot of individuals.
QUESTION: At the risk of going through some boring mathematics, the
figures would have been in the Senate 28 Labor-if Senator Milliner
had been replaced with a Whitlam supporter, it would have been 28 Labor,
2 independents and 30 Opposition Senators. It would
have been deadlocked. Now would you've been able to reject Supply or
defer Supply given thz~ se numbers?
MR FRASER: With 30, which is half, we could reject it because a tied
vote that way rejects it.
QUESTION: But it was ; Tite clear a number of your Senators, of Oppositi
Senators weren't prepared to take that step of rejection.
MR FRASER: Well, we ne7er discussed it. Because it was a much
preferable choice to defer it.
QUESTION: But Senator Bessell, for example, made it quite clear he
would never reject Supply. He felt that it was wrong in principle.
MR FRASER: Oh, well a statement was made; he made another statenient
later the same day or the next day. Now we never discussed it. Th i[
Senator Bessell was seeking to do was say he supported the decison
that we had taken. And that's what he said. -The deci,-t. ' i
was to defer and it was a better decision because it left it in our
hands to reinstate the Appropriation Bills once we knew there would
be a House of Representatives election. i745I

QUESTION: ' To pursue the point though. If you had been unable to
reject Supply because of splits within your own ranks,., then it is
true to say that Senator Milliner'Is death has given rise to you being
Caretaker Prime Minister?
MR FRASER: Oh, but there's a great, great big ! if'there. Now one of
the things that the Labor Party was banking on, over the last 3 or 4
weeks, there'd be a split from this person, a split from that personO
they were busy feeding out rumors out of Mr Whitlam's of fice. Now,.
there was never anything in it; we were rock solid, from start to
finish. QUESTION: In March of this year, you said that democracy rests much
more on adherence to convention than to the rigid application of rules
and laws. Now I wonder how you regard the Convention of replacing a
dead Labor Senator with a man of the same political complexion?
MR FRASER: Oh look, I've made my view on that quite plain. There's
no secret ' about I believe that if somebody dies or retires from
ill health he ought to be replaced by somebody from the same political
Party. QUESTION: He wasn't in this case, was he?
MR FRASER: If there is an appointment made of political purposes to
an Ambassadorship or a High Court, then I think it might be a different
Smatter. Look, I made my view about that known at the time, there's
no secret of that.
QUESTION: Could we take. another issue then of Convention. It seems to
me that it's a fairly well known Convention that a Prime Minister
resigns when he . no longer has the confidence of the House of Representatives.
Why didn't you resign on Tuesday?
MR FRASER: Well that's precisely what happened., because I reconmu'-n( 1nd
to the Governor-General, a double dissol~ ution of the Parliament, and
a double dissolution on the most favourable terms possible to the
Australian Labor Party. Because I don't think that it is generally note
that* the 21 Bills that were in a double dissolution position, most of
which are anathema to us, we hate the thought of nearly all of them,

are cited in the double dissolution document and if by some mischance
Labor happens to win on December 13, all those Bills would be in a
position to be put through, either if they controlled both Houses
or through a Joint Sitting. And I think that was having a dissolution
of the Parliament on the most favourable terms to the Labor Party.
QUESTION: Could we go back to the timing of the events though.
Mr Whitlam was dismissed-you were appointed Caretaker Prime Minister,
a matter of minutes later there was a vote of no confidence in you in
the House of Representatives. Wasn't it then your duty to go to the
Governor-General and say," I must resign, I no longer have the confidence
of the House."
MR FRASER: I went to the Governor-General and recommended a double
dissolution because the Appropriation Bills were through and that was
O the appropriate course. Look) when a Prime Minister loses the
confidence of the Parliament, or when a Prime Minister can't get a
Money Bill,-his Appropriation through the Parliament, the tradition
of all of our Parliaz. entary practice, and of hundreds of years in the
United Kingdom, is that that Prime Minister then immediately goes and
recommends an election. He fights that election as Prime Minister.
If Mr Whitlam had done what he ought to have done as soon as the
Appropriation Bills were deferred, he would have been fighting this
O eleciton as Prime Minister. But he chose to take a course.
QUESTION: Mr Whitlam claims that he was never told that he would be
O dismissed. Sir John Kerr never made it clear to him that he would be
dismissed. MR FRASER: Oh look, Lr WThitlam had said in public, I don't know how
many times~ he'd said it in private to me in that meeting we'd had
on Tuesday morning and if you read the substance of the letter that
Sir John Kerr wrote to Mr Whitlam, he must have said it to Sir J6T: r Ycrx
on a number of occasions.
QUESTION: He must have said to Mr Whitlam on a number of occasions?
MR FRASER: No, Mr ' Thitlam must have said it to Sir John Ferr. If you
read the letter, that Sir John Kerr wrote to Mr Whitlam he must have

said on a number.., but he'd done it in public. Held done it to me'
in private. But no matter what'happened in the Parliamrent he would never
recommend an election for the House of Representatives. Now that's
leaving the Governor-General with no choice except to do what Sir John
Kerr did.
QUESTION: When Sir John Kerr sacked Mr Whitlam did he know that you
would accept a commission to become Prime Minister?
MR FRASER: Urn, The normal course for a Queen or for the Queen's
representatives is to go to somebody else and see, you know, can
you form a Gover2ament.. In this case, could you get the Appropriation
Bills through the Parliament?
QUESTION: What I'm trying to get at is, when did he ask you whether
in fact you could -form a Government? After he'd dismissed Mr Whitlem?
MR FRASER: After he'd seen Mr Whitlam.
QUESTION: So at that stage Australia was without a Prime Minister
and he wasn't sure whe-ther you would accept the commission?
MR FRASER: Well I : Laagine he would have thought that I would. I
could get the Appropriation Bills through the Parliament, but I wou ld
also imagine that he would have thought I would do as I did do and
that's to recommend L--diately a double dissolution, an election.
so that the people of Australia could decide. Because our whole
fight right from the very beginning was not power for ourselves, it
was to give the people of Australia the right to decide; the right
to vote. And democracy is only under threat when you have a political
leader determined to deny that right to the average people in the
QUESTION: Was that not though, Mr Fraser, a vice-regal pune-. Tlv. re
was a serious risk that you may not have accepted the new C0Trnnj.-ir-rn
and that Australia would have been without a Prime Minister?
MR FRASER: He had a duty to do and I would have thought that he'd
regard it as my duty to do what in fact I did. I wouldn't have thought
that was a punt at all.

' WUESTION: But he didn't discuss it with you in advance as to whelh
you would accept the commission under those circumstances, until you
actually went into his office after he dismissed Mr Whitlam?
MR FRASER: Well he didn't know what Mr Whitlam was going to do.
QUESTION: Do you think that you have gained an electoral advantage,
perhaps an unfair electoral advantagejby being Prime Minister with the
election coming up?
MR FRASER: Maybe there is an advantage, but if there is it's
Mr Whitlam's fault because if he'd done what he ought to have done
he would have been fighting this election as Prime Minister.
QUESTION: If you are then conscious that it is an advantage, are
you taking steps to make sure you don't abuse that advantage?
O MR FRASER: ! ost certainly. And when we were in Government ifn the
past we always did that.'
QUESTION: What do you make then of the complaint by senior Treasury
men yesterday, that L'r Lynch is asking them for information which
they think is most unfair that they should supply to a Caretaker
0 MR. FRASER: Let's just look at this. Senior Treasury men are not too
sure how senior, because a union official earlier today...
0 QUESTION: There were 68 of them according to press reports.
MR FRASER: I know: 68 out of 2 or 3 thousand in the Treasury.
QUESTION: They were senior men apparently.
MR FRASER: No, I think that's doubtful. But my Departmentmy
Department, not me-drafted a minute in accordance with the undcrtak. ic
given to the Governor-General. I made one or two very minor alterations
to that minute which had the full agreement of the Department that
went to all other Departments. I issued a public statement, also
drafted by the Department-one or two minor alterations to that, agreed
by the Department as being fully in accordance with the guidelines,

the commitment to the Governor-General. Now if any Permanent Head,"
has any doubt about any instruction or request from a Minister
they'll try and sort it out between them. If there's a doubt it
should go to the Chairman of the Public Service Board, or to
Mr Menadue or to myself and I would be interpreting those guidelines2
that commitment very very strictly indeed, scrupulously and absolutely.
QUESTION: In view of that protest though by Treasury mendo you think
you'll be asking for less advice, less detailed advice, than you have
over recent days?
MR FRASER: No, no not at all because I'm quite certain that Mr Lynch
has not asked for advice that he ought not to have. Now look, the
commitment is not to make statutory appointments or dismissals, things
that involve the Executive Council; not to change Labor policy; not
to initiate-new pclicies; but obviously in administering Australia,
which we must do as a Caretaker Government for a month at least, and
what happens after that depends on a great many other people.-to bo
able to do that ad_-inistering job properly we do need the advice, we
do need the information that is available from the Public Service.
And that advice and infomation will be available to us.
QUESTION: You could be, of course, in a difficult position in that
administrative capacity couldn't you? For example, say Britain
devalued what sort cf decisions would you have to make? If you had
to make quick decisions as Prime Minister, how limited are your powers?
MR FRASER: Well if there was a major decision of that kind~ one of
the first things that I'd do would be to consult the most senior people
in the Public Service and if a very serious decision was required
urgently on Australia's behalf I'd also consult with the Governor-Cener-
But I would not go outside the guidelines, the commitment I gave to
the Governor-General at all.
QUESTION: You said also though that you would continue the policies
of the previous Goverrnent in the caretaker role.
MR FRASER: Well, that's part of the commitment -up til 13 December.

iwill be obviously over
the election period, advocating different policies, the sorts of
policies that we believe are necessary to get Australia out of the
economic mismanagement and decay which we find about us at the moment.
QUESTION: It's a small point, I know. But at the UN fairly soon
there's going to be a decision taken about the role of South Korea.
Now in the past Australian's have Astained on that vote, a Soviet
sponsored motion. You'll have to make a decision, I think, by Tuesday
of this week how Australia's going to vote. How will we vote?
MR FRASER: Well that's going to be very easy. Because Mr Harry, one
of our representatives, ambassadors, announced Australia's vote in
opposition to that particular resolution. I understand that unilaterallyl
Mr Whitlam reversed that and made it an abstension. And I think it
would be perfectly appropriate for us to stick with the earlier
S aInnHroaur nrcye, d decwihsiicohn , w aasn notuon coepdp oosne btehhaatl fp arotf ictuhle arf orrmeesro lGuotvieornn. ment, by
QuESTIoN: What about mcre frightening events perhaps events say
in Timor, if there was any blow-up there of military trouble, what
sort of decisions would you have to make there? Who would you consult?
Would you ever consult Mr Whitlam?
MR FRASER: Well I don't think that Mr Whitlam is a very consultative
mood at the moment. But if a matter of major crisis occurred which
required consultation with the Opposition I'd do it; of course I
would. But I don't see a major blow-up in that area and what I'm
saying is, that in a Caretaker capacity Australia will be well administered
until December 13. And I hope very much it will be well governed
after that.
QUESTION: In the forthcoming election campaign, how important do you
think the issue will be of whether Mr Whitlam was improperly dismissed?
MR FRASER: I think the major issues will be the economic issues, thve
decay, the disenchantment of three years, of three dark years of Labor.
Because.. QUESTION: It wouldn't be unfair to suggest that you'd like the issues
to be that, but perhapsdo you thinksthe body politic will take very

Briously the issue of whether in fact Mr Whitlam was improperly
dismissed? MR FRASER: Well some might but we ll see that when the time comes.
I believe that most people are going to be looking to the economic
issues that nearly a quarter of a million school leavers are going to
find it hard to get jobs. People from universities finding it hard
to get jobs, small businesses going bankrupt, retired people being
destroyed. These are the real issues before Australia; and theseare
the real issues. The scandals were other things, but it was the
economic issues that really led us to take the decision we did and
that decision was a decision only to allow every Australian, over 18
obviously, to put a piece of ballot paper in a ballot box.

Transcript 3974