Presentation of the Fraser Collection to the University of Melbourne

Statement by Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser at a Ceremony to mark the Presentation of the Fraser Collection to the University of Melbourne

Thursday 5 May 2005

I am delighted the University of Melbourne are to be the custodians of my papers and, in the future, of my Library. I also hope that it may be possible for all papers associated with my time in office to be located in the University of Melbourne .

From the outset, I had wanted both public and private papers and the Library to be in one place.

I had come to know Professor Tim McCormack who had helped the InterAction Council in some work that we were doing on matters relating to the rule of law, to humanitarian intervention in affairs of a state. We were seeking to define what could or should be commonly accepted as international practice. Professor McCormack's assistance had been invaluable. Furthermore, his worldwide network of people well-versed in the subject, was of great value to the InterAction Council.

Since I had been thinking of the future location for my papers and for my library, it was only natural that the subject should be discussed with Professor McCormack. It was the natural location so far as Australia, Victoria and Melbourne are concerned. It is my home state, my home city. My father had studied law at the University of Melbourne, before taking his degree in Law at Oxford. Furthermore, my grandfather, Simon Fraser, was an immigrant, arriving in the late 1840s from Nova Scotia. He became a Member of the Victorian Upper House, the Legislative Council. He was an assiduous believer in Federation and attended most of the Federation conferences which preceded Federation. He became a Foundation Senator for Victoria until 1913. His links with this city and with Victoria were substantial.

The collection will ultimately consist of all my private papers from both pre-ministerial and post-ministerial activities. Some papers of Simon Fraser's, fewer still of my father's but including his war diaries from the First World War.

He was in England when the war broke out and thought it a waste of time to travel back to Australia to join up, only to be sent to Europe at a later point. So he joined the Royal Artillery in the British Army and served in France for most of the War. The diaries cover that period.

In the current venture, cooperation from everyone involved, including the National Archives, the University of Melbourne Archives and the University of Melbourne itself, and the Law Faculty, have all been substantial. I am grateful for it. The National Archives have been busy in the task of separating Government and Private papers and in forwarding private papers to the University Archives.

There is one unresolved matter where I believe my wishes have been clear from the first but which has yet to be decided. I really do want all my papers in one place. I think this is better for researchers, it is better for the historic record.

For another reason I am particularly happy that my library and papers will ultimately reside with the University of Melbourne, the Faculty of Law and University of Melbourne Archives. The Faculty of Law is one which has always shown a concern for the Rule of Law and Due Process. It has not been part of its philosophy to advise lawyers that their duty is to tell clients how clients may do what they want to do, even if it is ethically wrong or beyond comprehension in a modern and democratic society, such as Australia.

The very fact that, as part of the Faculty of Law, there is a Red Cross Professorship of International Humanitarian Law emphasises that point in clear terms. In addition, the recent establishment of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Military Law as a collaboration between the Law School and the Australian Defence Force Legal Service further emphasises the point. The Centre has been established to promote understanding of and commitment to the Rule of Law amongst militaries in the Asia-Pacific Region – a worthy if ambitious goal that I enthusiastically endorse.

This commitment on the part of the Faculty of Law is increasingly important. We live in a world which has been far too ready to push aside the Rule of Law and Due Process. The United States sought to put people beyond the reach of American or international law in Guantanamo Bay. To America's credit the Supreme Court ruled that those prisoners should have their day in court.

The United States Government is attempting to try some of those prisoners by military tribunals, which have been condemned by US Federal Courts on the grounds that the prisoners are not told the evidence against them and on the grounds that evidence obtained under torture could be admitted. The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it supports those Federal Courts or the United States administration.

The Torture Papers, published by New York University, represent a collection of official documents signed by many of the highest in the land in the United States, whose purpose seems to be to find legal cover for torture.

Australia has not been immune from the assumption that terrorism cannot be fought by adherence to our own principles. As I am advised, we are the only western country to legislate for the arrest and detention in secret of non-suspects. The lack of access to counsel and the secrecy provisions encompassed in the legislation means that somebody can really disappear. Indeed, even without that law, we now find that Australian citizens have, on an unknown number of occasions, been held in Department of Immigration jails improperly, illegally, unconstitutionally.

We are also advised that at least one Australian has been deported and has disappeared. What kind of country do these actions belong to? Is it a democracy? Is it one where the Rule of Law prevails or are such actions the hallmark of a tyranny?

Even more disturbing to me than these actions themselves is the appearance of apathy by those within the political process and by much of the community at large. Do people believe that these things only occur to other people, not like me, not like my friends and that they therefore do not matter?

One response so far has been to hold a secret enquiry. If we are to know what happened, we will only know it through an open, public enquiry, with power to compel evidence.

The lack of public outrage makes me feel Australia has travelled many leagues in the wrong direction since a former Chancellor of this university and some-time politician, founded the Liberal Party and in doing so emphasized, above all, maintenance of the Rule of Law, of due process under the law and equal access to the law.

To have these papers in a place which has a firm, unshakeable commitment to the Rule of Law and to Due Process, underlines a fundamental point of Australian life and a fundamental belief of my own.