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Fraser was a prodigious supporter of human rights

By Sev Ozdowski - posted Monday, 23 March 2015

On Friday morning 20 March Australia learnt that we had lost our 22nd Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Malcolm Fraser.

Malcolm Fraser was an important figure in my life and civic education in Australia. I arrived in Sydney as a refugee in June 1975 shortly before the constitutional crisis of 11 November 1975. Until now it has been difficult for me to comprehend why there was so much hate coming from the left against him.

It was Whitlam who in my eyes was the villain, because of his handling of the economy, attitude against South Vietnamese refugees and Australia's recognition of the incorporation of the Baltic republics into the Soviet Union.


My next significant experience of the Fraser government was that of losing my job in the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission in Canberra as a result of "razor gang" actions. However, soon new opportunity emerged.

In 1981 I gained employment when the Fraser government created the Australian Federal Human Rights Commission under the Chairmanship of Dame Roma Mitchell, where I spent 5 years working on a range of issues, including on the first human rights review of the Migration Act 1958.

The Commission was created to implement domestically provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other antidiscrimination measures.

However, possibly the deepest impact on my life in Australia were made by Fraser's multicultural policies.

New multicultural policy frameworks were created and racial discrimination removed giving greater access to jobs, English language training and social welfare to new settlers. Fraser firmly believed that Australia's culture is greatly enriched by the maintenance of diversity and linked his political success with advancement of multicultural policies.

Under Fraser, multiculturalism also emerged as a normative ideal of a society based on the principles of social cohesion, equality of opportunity and cultural identity. The Fraser government also believed that it is the government's responsibility to respond to the settlement needs of migrants and the 1978 Galbally report identified a need to provide special services and programs for all migrants to ensure equal opportunity of access to government funded programs and services with a view to helping migrants to be self-reliant.


To implement this ideal a range of bodies were established including an advisory body the Australian Ethnic Affairs Council, the research oriented Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs and the Special Broadcasting Service "to provide multilingual and multicultural radio and television services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australia's multicultural society".

Fraser was also strong anti-communist. For me, being a refugee from communist Poland this was very important. I admired his work in this area and collaborated with the Fraser initiated 1979 Parliamentary Inquiry on Human Rights in the Soviet Union under the Chairmanship of Senator John Wheeldon, with Professor Owen Harries, Fraser's senior adviser on foreign affairs, Richard Krygier, founder of Quadrant and many others. The Polish community in Australia was particularly grateful to Malcolm Fraser for his active support for the Polish workers movement "Solidarity" and in particular for his boycott of the Moscow Olympics and for his generous and personal assistance for the Help Poland Live Appeal in 1981.

Many observed that political Fraser's views has moved from the right to the left in the years after he has left government. Last year I have attended the Whitlam Oration delivered by Fraser at the University of Western Sydney and found his change of opinion about usefulness USA-Australia military alliance to be particularly challenging and difficult to explain.

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About the Author

Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM is Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, The University of Sydney and was Australian Human Rights Commissioner and Disability Discrimination Commissioner (2000-05).

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All articles by Sev Ozdowski

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