Malcolm Fraser I knew well, he was basically a shy bushie and certainly no redneck determined to trash Constitutional precedents. He more than anyone realised at the time that Whitlam, one way or another, should go with all but the hard Left at Fairfax and the ABC expressing relief at the dismissal.
I was working for the Sydney Morning Herald at the time and witnessed the tears of anguish, the utter despair, that engulfed the entire building.
After the dismissal and his subsequent election to Office, big Mal changed noticeably, he became almost reclusive, doubting his judgment while hiding a lost agenda.
Many castigate him for his inaction in Office, his failure to embrace his clear mandate, and that criticism is well deserved. The turmoil that went with everything Whitlam suddenly became introspective in the Liberal camp.
It was hushed with uneasy reflections on what had just happened but the doubts were never to be publically expressed.
Historians were already writing into history a one-sided account of a crucifixion rather than a dismissal.
How many times did Mal reflect on his prior discussions with Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick and his advice to Sir John Kerr on whether an intended dismissal was Constitutional?
How often did he reflect on his discussions with Sir John Kerr himself?
Whitlam felt safe, Kerr was his own appointment, what was about to happen was unthinkable in Whitlam’s mind, he was certain that, given time, Fraser would have to back down and pass those supply Bills.
And who knows, given time, Whitlam may have been proven right.
Whitlam’s bitterness never subsided, Fraser’s anguish also lived on, and it’s hard to tell who suffered most.
Fraser’s subsequent shift to the Left was predictable, psychologically. He was to be remembered for all the wrong things and Whitlam for all the right things, at least in a Constitutional sense.
There was a reason for Fraser’s torpidity in Office. He had forced the gates of the palace but was reluctant to participate in the spoils. Something felt wrong.
Had he put Barwick and Kerr in impossible positions? Was the remainder of Kerr’s life to be lived in a bottle of alcohol hiding the pain of endless revilement and public abuse? “Was that as a result of my personal ambition?” Fraser must have asked himself.
Was it worth taking the nation to a such a divisive Constitutional precipice in order to kill Gough prematurely, after all he was going to be slaughtered at the next election anyway? No, it wasn’t really worth it, and Fraser belatedly realised that.
I firmly believe Fraser would have been a different Prime Minister had it not been for the dismissal.
I broached the subject with him at a country function once, where both bush toilets were full, we were both pissing on the same rose bush and his reticence to discuss the subject roared loudly.
It was clear Fraser’s remorse had eclipsed Whitlam’s bitterness.
Whitlam’s legacy will ring far louder than Fraser’s and he knows that. If he had his time over again I firmly believe he would pass supply.
So next time you see him paying penance and leaning unbelievably Left, cut him a little slack… he is a good, if flawed, man and there are reasons for everything in politics.
What appears right at the time, history will often prove wrong.