Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Playing politics with people's lives - Booktown at Clunes with Malcolm Fraser

Ok ... I pay scant attention to politics despite the fact that I know quite a number of people who are passionate about the idea of government and its policies and policy makers. To me, politics, like philosophy, has the annoying ability to make me feel frustrated in some instances, and both witless and stupid in others. Arguments are circular and very little is achieved beyond the realms of rhetoric and the persuasive sound bite. Admittedly distance has given Malcolm Fraser the luxury of candor, but rarely have I heard anyone connected with politics speak with such compassion and clarity. It was worth the special trip out to Clunes for the Booktown weekend. That and the town itself which is deliciously quaint. It was like stepping out onto a set when we got out of the car.

We had just enough time to grab a coffee before heading to the marquee for a conversation between Fraser and his co-biographer,Margaret Simons. They talked about the process of writing the book and the archival research that went into it. And Mr Fraser also offered some of his opinions on the policies and performance of both the Labour and the Liberal party in recent times.

He was dismissive of the attitudes of both parties towards immigration. He said that they were playing politics with people's lives and opined that both parties were simply trying to show how tough each other can be whilst doing nothing to dispel the fears and misguided notions of the general public. 85% of the people who arrive in boats are genuine refugees. But there are a whole lot more who come in via student and tourist visas, effectively lying about their intentions, and end up as illegal immigrants. He's appalled that the government is re-opening the Curtin detention centre in WA as far away from legal representation as possible.

He is also concerned about the denigration of our civil liberties with the anti-terrorist laws. He jokingly said "Watch out cause ASIO is watching" and reckons that the ASIO building should be located in the dessert instead.

Someone asked him if he regrets any decisions made when he was leader during the Vietnam war years. His response was that regret in hindsight was not necessarily confirming that given the chance he would have done things differently. Communist insurrections were sprouting up all over the world ... it was hard not to have felt threatened by its pervasiveness ... but I guess its all down to splitting idealogical hairs. And you know what they say "hindsight is always 20/20 and foresight is about as good as a blind man's". And Mr Fraser is glad that Malcolm Turnbull is dipping his toes back into the political stew.

All in all this was an illuminating and in many ways inspiring hour and a bit spent with a former political figure that I do not necessarily hold in regard in terms of his bias. But hearing him speak there was no doubting his compassion and his sincerity.

The rest of our afternoon was spent traipsing through endless book stores and (guess what!) stuffing our faces. M had already scoffed a baked potato and I inhaled a Bacon and Egg bun, but we still couldn't go past the Roast Beef and gravy roll.

We wolfed this down to the strains of the Wesley college combined school band. Wesley has a branch here in town ... and yes it is a little posh round these parts.

We also had a chance to look in wonder at Goldfields era architecture and filligree.

 There were lots of bargains to be had and we were pretty much maxed out on musty old rooms filled with musty old books so we sat outside and had ourselves a pot of mulled wine. The perfect ending to a perfect day.


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