First published in Time Out Sydney, August 2014
Australia’s 22nd Prime Minister asks, how many dangerous ideas can one person have?
Malcolm Fraser has been remarkably busy since leaving the Lodge in 1983. His legacy as PM is overshadowed by the circumstances under which it began – the Constitutional Crisis of 1975 that saw the dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s Labor government – but over the last three decades Fraser has been a tireless advocate for refugee rights, Indigenous rights and greater Australian involvement in Asia.
Needless to say, these values do not align with the current government. Technically Fraser is no longer a member of the Liberal Party; he resigned in 2009 in protest of the party’s lurch to the right with new leader Tony Abbott. And he’s not shy when it comes to sharing his feelings on the matter.
Over the space of a half-hour conversation with Time Out, Fraser expresses his genuine, heartfelt disappointment in the current state of politics and is scathing about the “Abbott and [Julie] Bishop” government, and expressing his genuine concerns about the current geopolitical environment and the risks of continuing with our current military alliance with the US – which is what has inspired his new book, Dangerous Allies, and his upcoming appearance at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas.
“The major point is because of the uses of [the US-Australian joint satellite tracking facility] Pine Gap, which is capable of targeting drones almost in real-time and contributes to the arming of a number of highly-sophisticated US weapons systems, what used to be a defensive facility has in many ways become a thoroughly offensive one,” he explains. “And you’ve also got that [US] task force in Darwin, and the Prime Minister here talking about America maybe increasing the number, maybe establishing another task force close to Townsville.”
So we’re making ourselves a target?
“We’re not only making ourselves a target, we’re making ourselves totally complicit in American actions,” he declares. “We’ve abdicated our soverienty to America. If they go to war in these circumstances, we go to war. And that wasn’t perhaps as important when it was in South Asia or the Middle East, but this is our part of the world – and if there’s a conflict here of a serious kind, it would end up being between China and the United States. Japan, it seems to me, would be the most likely trigger.”
The rhetoric has been heating up betwen Japan and China over a disputed and largely deserted island chain in the East China Sea, and the US has already made clear that they would back Japan if matters escalate. And that’s where we could be drawn into war with China, whether we wanted it or not.
“If America uses those troops in Darwin, even if an Australian Prime Minister says ‘look, we’ve joined America in too many wars that have ended in failure, we’re not going to participate in this one’, I don’t believe such a statement would be believable if Pine Gap’s being used to target missiles on the mainland of China,” Fraser points out. “They’re being targeted from Australian soil.”