Saturday, November 12, 2005

Living in interesting times

The last week or two have been so filled with horror of various kinds in our hitherto tolerant, peaceful, laid-back country that somehow a pink-and-tortoiseshell blog doesn't seem a sufficiently solemn forum in which to mention it. Besides, the blogosphere is already ringing and buzzing with the shrill cries of the indignant or (far worse, of course) the triumphant. Some conservatives seem positively thrilled by the pre-terrorist bust, as though its whole point were to vindicate any government-endorsed violation of human rights you care to name.

It would be nice to try to be funny about all this, but it has all gone well beyond funny. This was brought home to me on Thursday, the night before the 30th anniversary of the Dismissal, when Kerry O'Brien dedicated a whole 7.30 Report to extended interviews first with Whitlam and then with Fraser. (See transcripts here.)

I found myself trying to remember -- not for the first time -- exactly what we thought about Fraser, and why, in the days of his Prime Ministership. I was a bolshie undergraduate and took a dim view of the discovery, coming at lunchtime out of the English 3 exam into a peaceful, sunny Adelaide afternoon, that Whitlam had been sacked. Some very funny sketches on the subject were rapidly whipped up for that year's university revue. Characters were assassinated. Unkind remarks were made.

But Fraser, in retrospect, was nowhere near as bad as this mob. He let a lot of Whitlam's reforms stand, especially in education and the arts. He has always been just as good -- better, alas, in many cases -- as any Labor leader on human rights, civil liberties and race.

So it's impossible to tell from this historical distance whether, as Whitlam hooted the other night 'He's improved' -- or whether it's just that, compared to the current crop of Coalition commandants, he looks really, really good.

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