In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with WL Central, former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has accused the current Gillard government of acting as though Julian Assange "doesn't exist, that he's not an Australian citizen." Mr Fraser slams the existing relationship between Australia and the United States as "far, far too close" and claims Australia is "a strategic colony of the United States, under current circumstances."
Condemning both major parties for doing "everything they can to help the United States and nothing that would offend the United States", Mr Fraser claims that "in many ways our parliament has abdicated Australian sovereignty".
"If we could ever again get a government that would stand up for Australian independence, that government would of necessity have to do a number of things that the United States would not like," said Mr Fraser, citing a range of issues, from US bases to immigration policies, where the government was failing in its duties.
"And nobody is held accountable. Nobody pays the price. Nobody loses their job. Nobody is demoted. Nobody is fined. Now, you have to have accountability."
The former right wing Liberal Party leader says today's supposedly left wing ALP government is "far more right than I was". Defending his own record in government, which included conscription for the Vietnam War, the establishment of "shared" military facilities such as Pine Gap, and rumours of CIA involvement in the dismissal of the Whitlam government, Mr Fraser insisted that even former ALP PM Paul Keating, who recently condemned Australia's' diminishing influence, "underestimates the danger of the current relationship with the United States."
Full transcript below the fold. Audio link here.
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TRANSCRIPT (starting after 1 min chat)
"I've really enjoyed following your tweets. I guess it's interesting to see a person in your position using Twitter as a way to make your voice heard because it's something that the rest of us all struggle to do."
"Well I think it's important that people be heard. The way political parties operate today, you get a great deal of regimentation and not much individuality. There's certainly individuality on Twitter."
"There certainly is - there's no shortage of it! Speaking of individuals, Bradley Manning's finally had his day in court, Julian Assange is still in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. How do feel that the Australian government, in particular, has handled the issues of WikiLeaks, and Assange in particular?"
"The government to me appears to have acted as though Assange doesn't exist, that he's not an Australian citizen. Quite clearly the United States has been very annoyed and put out at what has happened. The government has demonstrated - and the Opposition would be no different - on more than one occasion that they want to do everything they can to help the United States and nothing that would offend the United States. You know in many ways our parliament has abdicated Australian sovereignty. That's something that I think is more than disappointing."
"Assange... Bradley Manning, if he you know did as alleged, took secrets or whatever, and then gave them to WikiLeaks, or for that matter to anyone else, then he is guilty of all sorts of things under American law. It would seem though from some of the reports that he's been pretty harshly treated in the lead-up to the trial. At least now he gets his day in court.
"For Assange, at one level what WikiLeaks has published is no different from any newspaper publishing something that they get told by a public servant. It might be more serious, it might be more wide ranging - it certainly has been - but if you are going to say that if any whistle-blower or any person in the public service who tells something to a newspaper - and then that newspaper publishes it - is guilty of a serious offence, well then that is going to stifle the media in a very, very major way. The person who gives the information might well be, and probably is, guilty of an offence, but so far we have not tried to suggest that the person who publishes it is guilty of an offence."
WLC: "I guess from Bradley Manning's point of view, if you are a witness to war crimes then you have an obligation to speak up for them. So as far as, I guess that's a legal argument in his case."
MF: "Well I guess it is. But the West in recent times - and not only the United States - has been prepared to condone things from their own administrations or from their allies which they would certainly brand as war crimes or terrorist acts if undertaken by an opponent. In other words, you know, double standards most certainly apply. The torturing that went on in American jails in Iraq or Afghanistan or Guantanamo Bay, the way that 'enhanced interrogation' was approved right at the very top by Rumsfeld and the President himself, and his signatures on documents approving the techniques - I've seen it - that, I think, is really guilty of War Crimes. The other thing about it is -"
"I was just wondering, in your own time as Prime Minister of Australia, how you would have dealt with something like WikiLeaks. Obviously, the technology is totally different, but I was looking through your Wikipedia entry, and you were Minister for the Army in 1966 and actually handling Vietnam conscriptions, and became Minister for Defence in 69, and resigned in 1971 because you thought the Prime Minister was getting too involved in your portfolio, allegedly, which lead to the downfall of Prime Minister Gorton. People would say, especially with regards to the, with the possibile CIA involvement in the overthrow of the Whitlam government, those issues of US involvement with Australian politics go a long way back. So how do you think that things have changed since then?"
"I don't really believe that the CIA has been involved in domestic Australian politics. I didn't at the time, I don't now. There are many faults that we have in the relationship that we have with the United States, including during the Vietnam War. Because while we made a very substantial contribution - about 8,000 troops for Phuoc Tuy Province - we had no say in terms the overall strategy and conduct of the war. And you know I think that's very difficult. And even in those days I said I would never want to be involved in a war with the United States unless I had somebody in the inner councils, with strategy in relation to [the way] that war was undertaken. You know, we've never achieved that.
"But at another level, Americans influence on our defence machine, on the purchase of defence equipment, on the way that equipment operates, joint exercises, joint planning, I think the relationship between Australia and the United States is far, far too close. I am told - I can't prove it but I am told - that when a new White Paper comes out on Defence programs a few years ahead, as happened two or three years ago, that America is almost involved every step of the way. Now this should be an Australian matter. There are many things where we might have interests in common with the United States, but there are certainly Australian interests which we do not share with the United States.
"You know, we live in this part of the world, the United States doesn't. They can ultimately withdraw to the Western Hemisphere. We are part of East South East Asia and this is where our future lies. And what Paul Keating said about it all the other day is totally right, but I think Paul underestimates the danger of the current relationship with the United States."
"I think you have spoken out about, I think you had a letter to the 'White Paper on Australia's Asian Century' where you spoke about US drones coming to the Cocos Islands and troops in Darwin and the possibility of a [US] Naval Base in Perth and again - without trying to have a go at you, I'm just looking back at history - and like, Pine Gap started in the 60s and got underway in the 70s, and then we've got North West Cap and the Geraldton base, which are all part of ECHELON, and that's a history of perhaps conceding sovereignty to the US over time. And again I am just interested, how you think it's come to the point, that the US influence has become so sort of toxic now."
"Well, the relationship has gone far further and is far deeper than it used to be. There'd be, um, Pine Gap, as originally established, was an information gathering operation. It was not something that was integral to American space warfare or nuclear warfare. North West Cape, as I am advised, is now critical in relation to cyber warfare, it's um, well it's again warfare in space. Its purpose has changed very significantly from that which it was in the earlier days.
"But look, a number of things have changed. The Cold War is over. I believe the West needed to show a concerted, if possible, unified, approach to the Soviet Union, which I regarded as an aggressive, outward-thrusting power, looking for opportunities. You know, we forget these days, and it's before most Australians were born: they put down the Hungarian Revolution in 56, they put their tanks into Czechoslovakia for the third time in 1968, there were Communist insurgencies in Thailand, in Malaya, an attempted Communist coup in Indonesia. So it was really a very, very different world.
"But when the Soviet Union blew apart, there was then an opportunity to establish a different kind of world. Instead of having two major Superpowers sort of balancing each other, as the Soviets and the United States did, there was just then one Superpower, absolutely supreme militarily and economically. Now there was a great opportunity to try to make a partner of Russia, for example. But that was blown totally by pushing NATO, whose job had been done - its job was to hold the Soviet Union and not to allow them to take over all of Europe, they only took over half of it, but that half had been freed. Instead of saying NATO's job was done, that's fine, that's great, they pushed NATO to the very boundaries of Russia, including all the countries of Eastern Europe, and trying to include the Ukraine and Georgia. Now, in other terms that would be like trying to include Mexico in an offensive alliance against the United States. If anyone tried to do that, they'd go bananas. So the chance to establish a co-operative relationship with Russia was pushed aside.
"And in addition to those mistakes, I think the United States has changed very significantly. It has become deeply divided ideologically, we've seen the recent debate and the Tea Party's philosophy is deep and strong. The idea of American supremacy, of American Exceptionalism, of America's obligation to spread Christianity and Democracy worldwide, is very deep in a lot of America. And I don't think that existed through the 50s, 60s, 70s. It's a different America, in my book."
"Would you agree with Eisenhower's characterisation of the military-industrial complex, and do you think that those people have perhaps acquired too much power in the US, and that same sort of power is now corrupting Australian policy and politics?"
MF: "Well, it's not power from Australian terms. It's the influence and power of the American Defence machine within Australia. It's influence over our own Defence Department, over our Armed Forces, over the equipment they buy, over their operational procedures. We really, we are a strategic colony of the United States, under current circumstances."
"I know in 2006 you warned against the continued involvement in the Iraq War and the possibility of Islamophobia growing in Australia, and the treatment of David Hicks, and in 2007 you supported a Getup campaign along those lines, and the following year you were being called out by a Liberal MP as a "frothing at the mouth leftie". And after that you resigned from the Liberals. Do you think that Australian politics has moved so far to the right that, like, you were the leader of a right wing government in Australia but looking at Gillard's government today do you feel that they are in some ways more right than you ever were?
"Oh, they're far more right than I was. Because whatever my reputation in terms of - and I suppose I was regarded as leading a right wing government because of my attitude to the Soviet Union, which I did regard as a dangerous force in the world. But if you look at the record of my government in relation to human rights, human rights legislation, the Human Rights Commission, the Ombudsman, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Freedom of Information legislation - which was stronger then than it is now - the way Vietnamese refugees were treated compared to the way refugees are treated today, the values which I carried out in government are really the values which I still fight for."
"Just going back to what you said about not believing that the CIA was involved in Australian politics. I know that Gough Whitlam in his book, he said, he claims that Warren Christopher, the former US Secretary of State, said to him that "the USA would never again interfere in Australian politics." So I guess his interpretation is that that word "again" implies that they did interfere. And Sir John Kerr was a member of a CIA-backed "Association for Cultural Freedom" before he became Attorney General. Do you have any comment on that?
"Well, you know, what you've said, I know that Association. I think many of its members were good and honourable people and they were determined to oppose Communism and it was their way of doing it. I knew a little of what they were doing and I didn't know of anything that was untoward or that would cause concern. They were certainly very much opposed to Communism. But I was too. I still do not believe that the United States was involved in any way.
"Look, if you look at the record, Gough had many grand ideas, but he could not run a team. And look at his changes of ministers and the arguments he had with his own ministers, look at the scandals that went on for 18 months before the end of 75. The 1974 budget was budgeted for increasing expenditure of 14% in real terms, and you know if anyone tried to do that today they'd be told they had to get out of power very quickly. The next budget was a 22% increase in real terms. So you didn't have to look to any foreign influence, you just had to look to things that Gough did himself.
"One of things I would agree with Gough... No if I could just... Gough had a sense of Australian identity. Keating had a sense of Australian identity. And I think I did. And I would agree with both of them when they stood up for Australia and for Australia's independence. Now, the United States may not like that. If we could ever again get a government that would stand up for Australian independence, that government would of necessity have to do a number of things that the United States would not like. I mean one of them: take troops out of Darwin!"
"One of the interesting things which Gough Whitlam set up which your government overturned was a Ministry of Media. I'm just looking now at what's happened with the media landscape in Australia and round the world, particularly the Leveson inquiry in the UK, and perhaps Rafael Correa's changes to the media in Ecuador, and wondering if others?"
"Well, I think it's an absolute nonsense to say that the media can self-regulate. This is like saying that banks can self-regulate, that you don't need a Reserve Bank. Or it's like saying that the corporate community does not need an ASIC to see that corporations stay within the law and don't rob their shareholders blatantly and openly. So there needs to be an appropriate supervisory structure for banks, er, for the media. It will be interesting to see how the debate unfolds. You know I don't, I wouldn't want a Ministry for Media, I wouldn't want a Minister involved in doing this. It needs to be independent. But I also think it needs to be established by a statute, so that the media itself will have to pay attention to what it does. But once it's established by statute, that's the end of whatever the government does. If the government want to have any influence on it, they are going to have to change the law. And you really need a process which will enable you to put people in charge of that media supervisory body who are totally independent. You know, one way of helping to ensure this may be that the appointment has to have the agreement of both the government and the opposition. But it would not be all that easy to get the balance of such a body right. But I am sure that if it is going to be effective, it would need to be established by legislation."
"Yeah, personally I think if you have corruption in government then it's hard to see how anything that is set up to control the media or the banks is going to be effective. And I guess that's why I'm a strong supporter of WikiLeaks because I think that transparency that WikiLeaks provides is really the key to change in a real sense. For example, the Visa-MasterCard blockade on WikiLeaks is an example of corporate ability to try to silence media. Now we're in a landscape where the media - the mainstream media as it's called - is struggling to make profits, so perhaps that whole media landscape is changing and the way ahead is more to be defending independent voices such as Julian Assange's.
"Well, independent voices certainly need to be defended. Those independent voices though, need to stay within the law as it is. If the law is wrong, then there has to be a campaign or an attempt to get that law changed. Look, I passed the first Freedom Of Information legislation. The major opponents of that legislation were not my own ministers but the Commonwealth Public Service. And a lot of things are classified, at different levels of security, that do not need to be classified. I agree with you that maximum transparency is very important. And people sometimes classify documents for no other reason than to protect themselves.
"Transparency, openness - but for that to work you need something else. You need accountability. And if you take the Palmer and Crowley reports into the Department of Immigration, they reveal great grievances were exposed, wrongs against individuals, an Australian deported and nothing done about it even though it was known that the Australian had been illegally deported. And nobody is held accountable. Nobody pays the price. Nobody loses their job. Nobody is demoted. Nobody is fined. Now, you have to have accountability."
"We've had calls for inquiry into the Iraq War..."
"Well, I've supported that. Because I believe we just followed Britain and America. And I have no doubt that they knew that what they were saying about Weapons of Mass Destruction was false. They just thought they could get everyone's agreement, that's a good reason to have the war."
"I'd like to get back to something you said a while ago, because I think it's not the most malign influence in the United States. You referred to the Military-Industrial Complex. The changes in American ideology which I think have done enormous damage were the changes that were initiated really by the formation really of the Neoconservatives, by their statement of principles which was published in 1999. And by their consequent influence, especially in the second Bush government, their influence in think-tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. And if you look at that statement of principles clearly, and boiling it all down, it's really saying America will only be safe if the whole world is a Democracy. It's America's job to try and persuade the world to be a Democracy. But if we can't persuade them, then we do it by force of arms. I think that people who probably passed exams with First Class Honours at Yale or Harvard were totally naive, even stupid. They believed that if you get rid of Saddam Hussein, a benign democracy would emerge and Democracy would flow from Iraq throughout the Middle East. Now you might find that far-fetched but I really believe that is what the Neo-".
(APOLOGIES: recording was cut short just before end of interview. I thanked Mr Fraser and said I would urge readers to follow him on Twitter: @MalcolmFraser12)