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The rights of all Australians under focus at Curtin

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13 June 2008

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was highly critical of the Bush and Howard governments when delivering the 2008 John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library Anniversary Lecture at Curtin University of Technology yesterday.

Speaking on the topic John Curtin – a tribute: strengthening the rule of law and Australian democracy, Mr Fraser said that while the Second World War gave an impetus to leaders of nations throughout the world to move towards the establishment of a law-based international system, the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 “have seen a different, tragically reactionary response, the progressive destruction of that law-based international system, which had taken more than fifty years to build”.

Mr Fraser said the Bush administration’s pursuit of the war on terror had invented a new form of “unlawful enemy combatant” or “unprivileged belligerent”, not covered by the Geneva conventions or by any of the protections of civilian or military law.

He also said Australia was more vulnerable to the excessive and unwise use of government power than either the United States or the United Kingdom, because of our particular constitutional and institutional framework.

“In the name of national security in the period of the last government, there was increasing disregard for the Rule of Law,” he said.

“The forfeiture of rights of individual citizens can be seen by the growing number of individuals whose circumstances meant nothing to the government, which showed no decency, no concern.  People sent to Nauru, to prisons overseas, children kept in detention centres, Australian citizens illegally deported or in Immigration Department jails.”

Mr Fraser advocated the establishment of a Bill of Rights and changes to the constitution to require the approval of the Senate and House of Representatives before Australian forces could be committed to an armed conflict. He pointed to the need for an independent judicial review of the nation’s security laws and for establishing a basic set of obligations to individuals by government institutions.

Looking beyond Australia, he recommended the nation should work to re-establish strong support for the United Nations and push for reform of the Security Council to ensure its capacity was used in the resolution of disputes and its decisions respected.

Mr Fraser was Prime Minister of Australia from November 1975 until March 1983 and continues to play an active role in Australia’s public life and international relations.

Notably, he was Co-Chairman of the Commonwealth Committee of Eminent Persons which encouraged a process of dialogue and reform in South Africa in 1985-86 and in 1989 he was appointed Chairman of the United Nations Committee on African Commodity Problems.

As a strong supporter of the aid agency CARE he served as Chairman of CARE Australia and as President and Vice- President of CARE International. Mr Fraser was awarded Australia’s Human Rights Medal in 2000 for his contribution to the advancement of human rights in Australia and internationally. In 2002 he published his book Common Ground – Issues that should bind and not divide us.

The annual JCPML Anniversary Lecture commemorates the life of John Curtin and 2008 marks 63 years since his death in office in 1945.

Attention Editor/COS: Photographs are available on request. A text copy of the Mr Fraser’s address is available on the JCPML website at A video and audio recording is scheduled to be available from the same address within a few days of the lecture.

Modified: 13 June 2008

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