Koalas and Conservatives
PERHAPS THE most interesting aspect of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser's visit here last Friday to present a $1 million bicentennial gift is that Fraser made the trip at all. From the beginning, the decision to donate the money to Harvard was the responsibility of his opponent, former Prime Minister E. Gough Whitlam. It was Whitlam who announced on July 4, 1975, that the funds would go to the University. And it was supposed to be Whitlam here on Friday, making a speech that Harvard officials hoped would parallel the address that head of state Willy Brandt made at Harvard in 1972. Instead, the vicissitudes of Australian politics replaced Whitlam with Fraser, the leader of the conservative, big-business favored Liberal Party and a man with a distinctly different set of policies than Whitlam.
A look at each man's record bears out their differences. Whitlam, leader of the left-wing Labour Party, held office for only three years, between 1972 and 1975. But during that short period, he placed new items on the public agenda and pioneered major changes in Australia's foreign and domestic policies.
In foreign affairs, Whitlam tried to make Australia a power in its own right, seeking to broaden relations with producing Third World nation, with which, Australia, a major exporter of raw goods, has something in common. he was far less hostile to Communist governments in East Asia. Administrators in his cabinet, for the first time, created trouble for the United States at some of the American military installations in Australia. Whitlam was prepared to seek greater Asian ties at the expense of U.S. friendship/subordination.
Nationally he created a health insurance policy, boosted educational spending and pushed for federally coordinated aid for the development of cities. The health insurance plan, called Medibank, pays 85 per cent of the doctor's fees and extended coverage to about one million people formerly left out of Australia's old piecemeal health system. The plan eliminated the need for high-priced private insurance except for those who insisted on luxurious hospital accommodations. The four-fold increases in federal monies for education brought Australia within the proportional levels of England and the United States in that area of spending.
Members of Whitlam's cabinet, chosen by the Labour Party caucus, favored fairly radical redistribution of income. His first labour minister, whose position permitted him to influence the nation's wage rates markedly, consistently supported unions engaged in mandatory federal arbitration. he "came to office with the conviction that it was time to give the workers a bigger share of the cake," according to a recent issue of The Economist. Unions received favorable legislation and generous wage increases. Salaries doubled in two years with women's wages rising 85 per cent. Public employees' pay hikes paced the nation.
Naturally, all these public spending increases spawned a large budgetary deficit. And that, coupled with the whopping pay jumps that shot far beyond the productivity rates of the workers, set off rampant inflation.
Inflation was the issue when Fraser, then leader of the Liberal opposition in parliament, called last fall for a cutoff of funds for the Whitlam government. An impasse ensued. Finally in November 1975, the Australian governor general, using a little known emergency provision, sacked Whitlam and replaced him with Fraser, who would remain the caretaker prime minister until elections were held next month. Throughout the campaign Whitlam argued his sacking had been unconstitutional. Although he originally won broad support with that appeal, the inflation issue triumphed in the end. A landslide deposited Fraser in the prime minister's office, and his new Liberal-Country Party coalition in power. (The Country Party represents the nation's extreme conservatives.)
The switch was major. Where as Whitlam represents a highly interventionist strain of progressive government stressing social change, Fraser symbolizes government based on solely conservative principles. Last Friday, some of the Australian visitors in Cambridge privately noted the similarities between Fraser and presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. A look at some of Fraser's recent policy stands extracted from speeches, corroborates the comparison:
The Soviet Union:
The fabric of negotiations with the Soviet Union--which we strongly support--has unfortunately had limited success in winning restraint. President Ford's abandonment of the term 'detente' clearly shows a recognition that the more extreme claims made for changes in the superpowers' relationship were quite unrealistic. Stability is disturbed and tension increased if the Soviet Union makes geo-political gains through its support of wars of national liberation, by the use of surrogates.
We look forward to a continuation of good working relationships with the Chinese government both now and in the future. A realistic view requires us to recognize that despite ideological differences there are important areas where our interests overlap. ..China is clearly concerned at the Soviet role on her northern and southern frontiers. Australia and China have a like interest in seeing that Soviet power in the Pacific and South East Asia is balanced by the power of other major states or by appropriate regional arrangements.
The main priority must be to bring inflation under control. Unless inflation is controlled there can be no return to soundly based economic growth, no long term solution to unemployment and no return to prosperity on which the realization of private and public goals depends. The government has had a consistent strategy to achieve these objectives. The main elements of this strategy have been to bring government spending under control; to free resources to the private sector and to individuals; to pursue a responsible monetary policy with clearly announced goals, and to generate a climate of national responsibility in which wage and salary restraint will be possible and in which both business and unions will act with a principal regard for the national interest... We took a number of steps to help investment and ease the cash crisis for many businesses. These included a 40 per cent investment allowance; suspension of quarterly tax installments; inquiry into operation of restrictive practices legislation and we stated our intentions for the long term growth of the money supply.
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