Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser dead at 84

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser.Obituary: a towering figure who crossed the political divideMalcolm Fraser condolence bookMalcolm Fraser: full coverageLive coverage
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Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser has died.

“It is with deep sadness that we inform you that after a brief illness John Malcolm Fraser died peacefully in the early hours of the morning of 20 March 2015,” a statement from Mr Fraser’s office read.

“We appreciate that this will be a shock to all who knew and loved him, but ask that the family be left in peace at this difficult time.”

Mr Fraser was prime minister of Australia and leader of the Liberal Party from 1975 to 1983.

He was Australia’s 22nd prime minister, taking the job in events so dramatic they still reverberate decades on.

Mr Fraser was sworn in as caretaker prime minister in 1975 after the Whitlam government was dismissed in a constitutional crisis that followed months of budget deadlock in the Senate.

He led the Liberals to victory in the 1975 election before being succeeded by Labor’s Bob Hawke in 1983.

While the political left loathed Mr Fraser for his role in the 1975 “coup” against Gough Whitlam, the pair developed a close friendship post politics.

Mr Whitlam died in October last year.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, said Mr Fraser’s death marks “a sad moment for all Australians”.

“It’s a particularly sad day for all who cheered Malcolm Fraser on in those stirring days when he led the fight against what many of us thought was a bad government, the days of 1975,” he said.

“He was, as he put it, determined to turn on the lights and to restore Australia’s economic fortunes.”

Treasurer Joe Hockey said “history will be much kinder to Mr Fraser than many of his critics have been over the years”.

“He was a very strong character who was not afraid to stand up for what was right. The Liberal Party will be mourning his passing.”

“I think many Australians will be mourning his passing because he provided stability and reassurance at a time when Australia had gone through incredible upheaval,” he said.

“It is the end of an era, two towering figures,” he said, in reference to the deaths of political rivals Mr Whitlam and Mr Fraser.

Former prime minister John Howard, who also served as treasurer in the Fraser government, spoke to the media, paying tribute to the “remarkable strength and capacity Malcolm Fraser displayed in holding the Coalition together” during the constitutional crisis of 1975.

“Anybody who achieves what Malcolm Fraser achieved in his life deserves respect as a quite extraordinary Australian. He brought to the government of this country, he brought great integrity. As chairman of cabinet he had a fiercer knowledge of any submission that came across the cabinet table and pity help any minister who hadn’t sufficiently read the submission that had been prepared for him or her by the respective department,” he said.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard issued a statement of condolence, saying: “Malcolm Fraser in and beyond politics was a leader in the fight for racial equality.

“His brave stance against the evil of South Africa’s apartheid helped changed the world for the better. Malcolm will always be remembered kindly for his commitment to multiculturalism and his specific actions to resettle Vietnamese boat people in Australia.”

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd issued a statement honouring Mr Fraser’s achievements in fighting apartheid in South Africa, advancing the interests of Indigenous Australians and the passage of the Human Rights Act in 1981.

“Prime Minister Fraser will be remembered as a compassionate Australian, who cared for people at home or abroad, who had little or nothing to protect them,” he said

In recent years, Mr Fraser had become an outspoken critic of the Liberal Party and quit the party in 2010 over the party’s lurch to the right on issues such as immigration.

In a statement, former prime minister Paul Keating described Mr Fraser’s death as a “great loss to Australia”

“He detested what he saw as our strategic subservience to the United States and our willingness to be easily led from the path of a truly independent foreign policy.

“His public life also enshrined other important principles: no truck with race or colour and no tolerance for whispered notions of exclusivity tinged by race. These principles applied throughout his political life,” Mr Keating said.

Just last month, Mr Fraser wrote in Fairfax about what he saw as a worrying expansion of ministerial powers over asylum seekers.

Mr Fraser was a prolific user of Twitter in recent years.

His last message, a day ago, linked to an Australian National University website story: “Time for a new China vision – Asia and the Pacific – ANU” MPs pay tribute

In a statement, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Mr Fraser would be remembered, among many achievements, for introducing the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 1976 and for his fight against racism.

Mr Turnbull said Fraser’s passionate belief in immigration and multiculturalism enabled large scale migration from Asia, including more than 50,000 refugees from Vietnam, and the establishment of multicultural broadcaster SBS.

“In office and out of it he showed himself to have a big and compassionate heart,” he said.

“Modern Australia would be very different without his vision and leadership.

“Whether one agreed with him or not, in whole or in part, one thing was never in doubt. Malcolm Fraser was a passionately patriotic Australian with a big, liberal vision for our country and its people.”

Attorney-General George Brandis credited Mr Fraser for inspiring him to enter politics when as a teenager he was struck by his dramatic resignation from the Gorton government in 1971.

“Although in his older years he was a very emollient figure, perhaps even more fondly thought of by the left than by the right, in his early days he was actually a divisive and rebarbative figure. He was the opposition leader who was responsible for the blocking of supply in 1975, so it just goes to show that in the course of a long life and in the course of a long career, people can mellow and soften as Malcolm Fraser undoubtedly did.”

Father of the House, Philip Ruddock, pleaded for people to look past the way Mr Fraser came to office in the wake of Gough Whitlam’s dismissal.

“Those who recall the manner of his election discouragingly should remember Malcolm as a liberal on issues of race and human rights,” Mr Ruddock tweeted.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said: “Vale Malcolm Fraser. A life dedicated to the service of our country. We will be poorer without him. Thoughts are with his family.”

Assistant Education Minister Simon Birmingham wrote: “Though many disagreed with him at different times #MalcolmFraser was a man of conviction & compassion who gave much to public life – vale.”

Human Services Minister Marise Payne tweeted: “Vale Malcolm Fraser. A Liberal leader, great Australian, mentor to many in the political generations who followed him.”

Labor senator Doug Cameron was shocked to hear of Mr Fraser’s death on Friday, having only recently dined with the former prime minister and his wife Tamie.

“I am just devastated that Australia has lost a great voice for human rights,” Senator Cameron told reporters in Canberra.

Liberal Party pollster Mark Textor passed on his condolences on Twitter.

“Rest In Peace Malcolm #Fraser. A Man of considerable dignity and rare gravitas.”

Senior Labor MP Michelle Rowland tweeted: “Malcolm Fraser provided strong leadership on matters of multiculturalism and racial equality. May he rest in peace.” Time for a new China vision – Asia and the Pacific – ANU http://t上海龙凤419/vbSJiGDcmW — Malcolm Fraser (@MalcolmFraser12) March 18, 2015The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Fair Trading cracks down on illegal tongue studs at Paddy’s Markets

Consumer protection officers from the NSW Department of Fair Trading force a stall owner at Paddy’s Markets to remove magnetic tongue studs which pose a swallowing danger. Photo: Ben Rushton A stall at Paddy’s Markets selling tongue studs. Photo: Ben Rushton
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A stall at Paddy’s Markets selling tongue studs. Photo: Ben Rushton

You may not have heard of it, but an illicit trade in fake tongue studs is alive and well in NSW – and the Department of Fair Trading is cracking down on it.

Plainclothes consumer protection officers from the department conducted a sting on sellers of the illegal studs at Paddy’s Markets in Sydney’s Haymarket on Thursday.

Although the tongue studs may not appear to be a pressing issue for consumer protection bureaucrats, the items in question – namely magnetic or suction suds – are potentially quite dangerous, the department says.

“There is a strong concern that consumers could be harmed by these small devices and we are strongly urging people not to purchase or use these,” Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe said.

Unlike traditional studs, which poke through a  hole in the tongue, these newer studs do not require a piercing, instead using magnetic or suction force to stay attached. Because they are not permanently fixed, they can be swallowed.

In the case of the magnets, the department is concerned they can do bowel damage if they connect up with each other, because of their strength.

The woman who sold the earrings, which have been illegal since 2010, claimed she did not own the market stall.

She claimed they were not for tongues, but for earlobes.

“What [the sellers] tell you is rubbish,” director of Fair Trading’s Consumer Protection, Compliance and Enforcement Division, Michael Cooper, said.

“These items are [often sold by] spray-on tattoo artists, and fake tattoo artists,” Mr Cooper said.

They were often sold at fairs, he said,

The department fined the stall $550 for each piece of jewellery sold for “supplying a good in contravention of a prohibition order”, Mr Cooper said.

Consumer protection officers procured two items from the stall, so issued a fine of $1100. Offending sellers can contests the fines.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

YVONNE CAMPBELL: Taxout of house and home

THE NSW Greens propose to reinstate the vendor duty introduced by the former Labor government in 2004 but abolished in 2005.
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The 2.25per cent tax was payable by the seller of land where the sale value exceeded the purchase value by more than 12per cent. (The family home or farm was exempt).

They say reinstating the duty would raise $645million a year. But this is flawed thinking.

Last time round, the vendor tax stalled the real estate market.

Then the thriving investment property market, driven largely by mums and dads, turned into a ghost town overnight. That extra tax on the already over-taxed property market caused them to flee to other asset classes.

Scroll forward a decade and little has changed. The industry is still heavily taxed and much of the burden falls on owners.

In recent times, we’ve been given the message ‘‘don’t rely on a pension, invest to prepare for retirement’’. And many mums and dads have done just that – buying investment properties to fund their own retirement and, in the process, providing much needed housing stock for renters.

Investors bear a heavy burden – stamp duty, lender’s mortgage insurance, legal fees, interest, maintenance costs, property services costs, and capital gains tax when they sell.

Is it any wonder many see a more liquid, less costly share portfolio as a better bet?

But that doesn’t increase housing supply.

Greens NSW MP John Kaye said, as before, the vendor duty would not apply to the family home or farm, and would help prevent first-home buyers being priced out by another housing bubble.

But that is simplistic, to say the least.

First-home buyers are not being priced out of the market by increasing property prices alone, but by general economic circumstance.

Those first-home buyers who choose to buy new property are supported into ownership through grants and stamp duty relief.

Those who are struggling to get onto the property ladder do so for reasons other than purchase price. The lack of employment, too little deposit, too many debts or not enough income to qualify for a loan are common reasons. Or they are resistant to buying new properties over old, better located ones that don’t attract grants and stamp duty relief.

The Greens assume revenue would be in the order of $645million a year, over four years.

But that is assuming that investors continue to buy property. History shows they do not.

With unemployment now over 6per cent, the Reserve Bank has been confronted with a dilemma: how to stimulate job growth without fuelling a renewed property bubble in Sydney.

The Greens say their package offers a unique response: ensuring that lower interest rates and new spending will stimulate jobs, not speculation.

Stimulating jobs should be the focus of any policy, but it should not involve taxing those who are trying to plan for their retirement.

Jobs growth needs to be aimed at our youth, not at infrastructure schemes that benefit big business, which can then argue a need to employ foreign skilled labour at the expense of our own unemployed.

And while the Reserve Bank may have its hand on the interest rate brake, that is of no use in controlling Sydney’s property market.

What will, though, is the market forces.

Major banks will eventually put a brake on that market by tightening lending criteria, so they are not exposed to too much risk.

Real Estate Institute NSW president Malcolm Gunning has warned that the government should not turn to the property market every time it needs money.

“The data from the last time we had a vendor duty is clear. The NSW government will be significantly worse off, as revenue from total tax collected will reduce because the property market will freeze up as it did last time,” Mr Gunning said.

NSW Labor’s policy to allow first-home buyers to pay stamp duty in instalments is also flawed. Many elect to roll that cost into their home loan. When interest rates rise, which they will, those young homeowners may find the looming stamp duty instalment difficult to pay, along with other regular housing costs such as insurance, rates and maintenance.

Deferring paying a tax that shouldn’t be as high in the first place is not going to pave an easier path for next generation home owners.

A towering figure who crossed the political divide

Malcolm Fraser in his office at 101 Collins Street in 2007. Photo: Rebecca Hallas Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam share a platform at a rally in 1991 for the Save the Age campaign. Photo: John Lamb
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21-5-1930 — 20-3-2015

No Australian politician became Prime Minister in more controversial circumstances than Malcolm Fraser, whose name will be forever associated with the dismissal of the Whitlam government, and no prime minister’s accession to power has been more hotly debated ever since. Certainly, few political events convulsed the nation as that did.

Yet, however shocked and outraged people were at the time, at the subsequent election, just a few weeks later, on December 13, 1975, the electorate ignored Whitlam’s appeal to “maintain the rage”, and confirmed Fraser in office with the largest majority in Australian history.

From being  opposition leader, Fraser, who has died aged 84, won his way to The Lodge by blocking Supply and creating a House of Representatives-Senate deadlock, which Governor-General Sir John Kerr broke by dismissing the Whitlam Labor government and appointing Fraser as caretaker prime minister until an election was held.

But  Fraser’s seven years in control of the Treasury benches were dogged by turbulence, contention and a difficult and intractable economic situation. Even so, he won three elections and was the Liberal Party’s longest serving prime minister after Menzies until John Howard surpassed that record.

He revealed himself to be one of the Liberal Party’s most progressive leaders. Yet after his defeat by Labor’s rising star, Bob Hawke, at the March, 1983 election, he was disparaged and cast into the wilderness for nearly a decade. Even his own party kept its distance. When he offered himself as the Liberal Party’s federal president in 1987, he withdrew when soundings indicated clearly that party preference was for businessman John Elliott. His role in the dismissal of the Whitlam Government still rankled, even among some Liberals. He again withdrew in 1993 when Tony Staley became a candidate. In some eyes, Fraser’s reputation also was still smudged by his resignation as defence minister in 1971 — an act that led to the downfall of his leader and Prime Minister, John Gorton.

He had precipitated that crisis by charging that Gorton had been disloyal to a senior minister (himself) and was not fit to hold office. Added to that was his move to topple Billy Snedden as  opposition leader. He failed in his first attempt, but succeeded in his second bid on March 21, 1975, when he won a party-room ballot by 37 votes to 27.

All these events left a mark. Perhaps more so, because he was never a popular figure, though respected for his strength and political authority. So he was politically excommunicated, dashing his hopes of fulfilling an elder statesman role in Australia. Full public rehabilitation did not come for him until  the Liberal Party decided to bring him in from the cold in June 2000 and bestow the party’s highest honour, life membership. Even John Howard, whom Fraser had criticised savagely a week earlier, was prepared to be magnanimous, declaring him to have been a “great Liberal leader”. Howard’s praise for his former leader stopped there.

Even though Fraser went on to win public support for his strong anti-Howard stand on humanitarian issues and other social causes, Howard never publicly criticised Fraser. That restraint probably stemmed from the fact that when he became prime minister, Howard was concerned about the way Fraser had been treated. One of his first actions was to offer Fraser a diplomatic appointment, but it didn’t suit the former prime minister’s lifestyle and commitment at that time.

The 1990s also saw a reconciliation between Whitlam and Fraser. In a speech paying tribute to Fraser’s strong anti-Howard stand on humanitarian issues, Whitlam said: “Malcolm Fraser has now replaced me as Public Enemy Number One in the demonology of the Australian right wing. I must say I am much more relaxed about being supplanted by Malcolm Fraser for a second time than I was the first time”.

Fraser won respect for seeking to use his post-PM years constructively. Much of that respect emanated from his role in establishing the CARE organisation in Australia, thus enabling him to make a major impact on overseas aid, both through the Australian arm and the worldwide body, CARE International; he led both at different stages. He was also outspoken on affairs of the day, ranging from media ownership, the rights of asylum seekers and their detention, the treatment of Aborigines to the role of the High Court, to name  a few.

Fraser faced a tough task after winning the 1975 election with a mandate to curb the excesses of the Whitlam years, restore order to the economy, confidence to investors and sound government. To do this, he set about slashing public-sector expenditure, reducing the tax burden and initiating a drive to beat inflation. But the economic recovery he sought eluded him. It foundered on unemployment, demands for higher wages and developing globalisation. The challenge of globalisation demanded deregulation, whereas Fraser, ever the traditionalist, put his faith in regulation. He also failed to take the opportunity to reform the industrial system.

Nevertheless, he chalked up significant achievements in other areas of government. He championed multiculturalism; revived Australia’s flagging immigration program, accepted thousands of Vietnamese boat people as refugees and accepted by regular refugee entry more than 50,000 others; extended native land title rights and appointed three particularly sensitive Aboriginal Affairs ministers in Fred Chaney, Ian Viner and Peter Baume.

In foreign relations, he strengthened Australia as a middle power able to punch well above its diplomatic weight, and for most of his years as prime minister, he was the leading figure in the Commonwealth of nations.  He played a prominent part in negotiations that saw Zimbabwe become an independent nation, staring down British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the process.  However, he missed out on the Commonwealth secretary-generalship because then Prime Minister Hawke was heavy handed in pressing Fraser’s nomination and because many saw it as “Africa’s turn”.

On other fronts, where Whitlam had failed, Fraser negotiated a practical border arrangement between Australia and Papua New Guinea. He also supported environmental undertakings, reformed the family support system, established the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), and banned whaling around the Australian coast.

After his retirement Fraser admitted “the major mistake we made was not to go for full industrial power for the Commonwealth in 1976”. A radical approach was needed and Fraser never took it. He also felt he made a mistake with the timing of the 1983 election by setting it in March rather than later in the year. A further error of judgement, he  admitted,  was his decision to quit politics immediately after the 1983 poll. If he had stayed on for a time, he believed the Liberals might not have spent a decade locked in a destructive leadership struggle between Howard and Peacock.

As Prime Minister he was in the Menzies mould.  His philosophy in politics was to “stay totally in control all the time”.  He ran cabinet meetings on the basis of “consensus by exhaustion”. He had complete command over the machinery of government, was a stickler for due process, while his ability to master briefs and his cross-portfolio knowledge was said to be “awesome”.

Tony Eggleton, who worked closely with Fraser as director of the Liberal Party’s Federal Secretariat and was a political adviser,  has a vivid recollection of Fraser’s determination, which could be translated into bloody-mindedness. “I still smile”, he said, “when I remember Big Mal striding across the ballroom at the Savoy Hotel in London, convinced that he was taking a short cut to his suite. Despite the protestations of personal and hotel staff, Malcolm headed for a door and disappeared into the broom cupboard to an accompanying clatter of mops and buckets. Despite some loss of dignity, he managed to crack a smile”.

Fraser was a formidable and aggressive politician, a patrician with a high sense of public duty, ambitious for himself and his country.  He was also his own man, uncompromising but compassionate. He did not dodge controversy and didn’t place great store on personal popularity. Though often described as a “poor communicator”, he could, and did, make effective public speeches. With his wooden, Easter Island like face, he was shy and uneasy with people at a personal level and had no small talk at social occasions. His tendency to be “a loner” was noted during his school days and undoubtedly emanated from his early childhood.

Fraser was born in Melbourne  into a wealthy Victorian pastoral family with a background in politics. His grandfather, Sir Simon, whom he came to greatly admire, had served in the Victorian Parliament and then as a senator in the first Commonwealth Parliament.

His early childhood was spent on his parents’ 11,000-hectare grazing property, “Balpool-Nyang” on the banks of the Edward River, near Moulamein in the NSW southern Riverina.  After his only sibling, his sister Lorri, went away to boarding school, Malcolm was very much on his own. The only other child nearby was the rabbiter’s daughter, with whom he played occasionally.

In 1940, he was plucked from that environment, where he had developed a robust self-sufficiency, to board at Tudor House on the outskirts of Moss Vale in the NSW southern highlands. He flourished there both academically and at sport until the end of 1943. Then it was Melbourne Grammar in 1944, after his parents sold “Balpool” and moved to “Nareen” in Victoria’s western district.

Fraser disliked the atmosphere at Melbourne Grammar, which he found repressive. Then it was on to Oxford and Magdalen College, where he took the modern greats tripos — philosophy, politics and economics, rather than law, which his father had done. He struggled with the economic component of his degree, but finished with a third — not a bad result.

Fraser developed an interest in politics at Oxford, and not long after he returned to Australia in 1952, he joined the Liberal Party while working with his father on “Nareen” until the opportunity came for pre-selection for the seat of Wannon.  He eventually won in 1955, and in the following December he married Tamara (Tamie) Beggs, daughter of a grazier from Willaura, near the Victorian town of Ararat.

An elegant and engaging woman with her social ease and charm, Tamie turned out to be Fraser’s best political asset. She supplied the touch with people that her husband lacked. Soon after they married, Fraser became one of the first MPs to set up home in Canberra. The Fasers moved into rented accommodation, which they occupied during parliamentary sittings.

When he took his seat in Parliament, Fraser, at 25, was the House of Representatives’ youngest member, but he had to wait 11 years before advancement came his way. He was frustrated and puzzled when people such as Billy Snedden and Peter  Howson, who had also entered Parliament in the same year that he did became, ministers ahead of him. However, his chance came with Harold Holt in 1966 as minister for the army. He handled the portfolio with flair and competence during the testing Vietnam war, before becoming minister for education and science 1968-69, then minister for defence 1969-71. He served again in education and science under McMahon until the Coalition lost the 1972 election to Labor.

Fraser left his mark in each portfolio, but particularly defence, where he had a strong rapport with the departmental head, Arthur Tange.  The fruit of their cooperation came with the Tange Report of 1973,  which was adopted by the Whitlam Government  and led to the abolition of single service departments;  their responsibilities merged under a single Defence Department. He also initiated planning for what became the Australian Defence Force Academy and was a strong advocate of forward defence.

Fraser was prepared to sacrifice ministerial rank by moving against Gorton.  For a time he pondered whether he had any “future at all in politics” until  McMahon brought him back into the ministry. In so many respects a strong leader, he was a complex man of many contradictions. Doing the right thing was always important for him, yet many of his actions could only been seen as questionable. While demanding personal loyalty from his colleagues, they couldn’t always be sure that it would be reciprocated.

His aloofness alienated many within the Liberal fold and beyond. Yet  he had a natural rapport with people of other races. As then senator Fred Chaney once famously remarked, “He doesn’t have a racial bone in his body, otherwise I wouldn’t work for the bastard”.

Fraser’s third term in office was not an altogether happy one. It was marked by damaging leaks, reshuffles and forced resignations. Several of the resignations, insisted upon as a matter of principle, were not really necessary, especially those of Senator Reg Withers over impropriety but not illegality, Michael MacKellar and John Moore over a customs issue. But most destabilising of all was the resignation of Andrew Peacock as minister for industrial relations in April 1981.

Earlier, as foreign minister, Peacock had been at odds with Fraser over the government’s recognition of Cambodia’s Pol Pot regime. Then, having been shifted to the industrial relations portfolio, Peacock, who favoured a more diplomatic approach, took exception to Fraser’s confrontationist stance against the 35-hour week and resigned, electing to go to the backbench.

Fraser had always seen Peacock as a potential rival, and relations between the two continued to deteriorate, until Peacock finally made a direct challenge in 1982. But at the subsequent party meeting Fraser convincingly retained the leadership, defeating Peacock 54-27. These ministry upheavals not only rocked the government, projecting an image of instability, they also showed up Fraser’s poor management of people.

For decades, Fraser was stalked by his celebrated enjoinder to the Australian people, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy”. What few people realised was that the quote from George Bernard Shaw’s play Methuselah continued “but take courage child, for it can be delightful”.

Wherever Fraser’s name comes up, so, too, does the  incident in 1986 when he was robbed of his passport, money and trousers in a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. Reports, which were greeted with hilarity in Australia, said he had wandered into the hotel lobby wearing a towel and saying he thought he had been drugged. His biographer, Philip Ayres, has suggested that Memphis softened and reduced Fraser: softened the image of the man, reduced the stature of the politician.

It certainly depicted him as more human, as did the emotion he showed when making his speech conceding defeat in the 1983 election — his voice faltered and his eyes became wet.

In retirement,  Fraser also had to deal with the future of his 3500-hectare family property. “Nareen” had been in the family since 1944, but neither of the Frasers two sons, Mark and Hugh, wanted to take on the place. To boost the property’s income, the Frasers turned it into a bed and breakfast establishment, while retaining their own privacy. Finally in 1997 they decided to sell and in 1998, and moved to a property at Red Hill, on the Mornington Peninsula.

Many people thought the move would be a wrench,  but he had never felt for “Nareen” as he did “Balpool”, which he loved. So he and Tamie quite happily settled into their new home, which they called “Thurulgoona” after the property in Queensland where Fraser’s grandfather had drilled the first bore that inaugurated the artesian well system that was to so benefit Australian agriculture. There, too, among other things, Fraser always found time to practice his wood-turning hobby in which he was quite skilled — another unexpected side of the former prime minister.

As his retirement years progressed, there was greater appreciation of the constructive and positive nature of his post-prime ministerial contribution. His international stature went unquestioned, being enhanced significantly by his determined, and ultimately successful, efforts to secure the release of three CARE Australia aid workers — Steve Pratt, Peter Wallace and Branko Jelen — captured and imprisoned by Serbian forces during the 1999 Kosovo crisis. Fraser flew to Belgrade where, in two separate meetings, he argued and negotiated with the then Serbian President, Slobovan Milosovic, for the men to be set free.

There was also a growing respect for his liberal and forthright views on domestic issues. His was the voice that was most often heard when he felt that the government of the day was acting inappropriately at home and abroad. He did not hesitate to register his concerns when, in the context of the terrorist threat, he felt the Howard Government was introducing measures that impinged on basic rights and were a betrayal of Australian principles of a “fair go” and the abrogation of UN conventions.

History may be much kinder to Malcolm Fraser than opinions in contemporary times suggest. In some respects at least, he might well be judged as having contributed as much, if not more, than John Howard.

His wife, Tamie, sons Hugh and Mark, and daughters Angela, Phoebe and their families, survive him.

John Farquharson is a longtime Canberra journalist. 

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Russian Church secretly funds cartoonish anti-Western propaganda video

An image from a Russian propaganda video which has been viewed millions of times. An image from a Russian propaganda video which has been viewed millions of times.
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Another image from the video.

Another image from the video.

Another image from the video.

The video was framed as a message to US President Barack Obama.

An image from a Russian propaganda video which has been viewed millions of times.

An image from a Russian propaganda video which has been viewed millions of times.

London:  A slick, wildly popular Russian propaganda video that casts Russians as heroic invaders and warns the West “don’t mess with me” was secretly funded by the Russian Orthodox Church, its makers have claimed.

The church commissioned the video from a viral internet studio established as a kind of Russian “Funny or Die” – previous hits include a man groping 1000 women’s breasts then shaking hands with Vladimir Putin.

The same group is almost certainly behind a video released late last year that features Mr Putin riding a bear firing laser beams out of its eyes, and which blames Ukraine and the West for shooting down MH17 in an attempt to provoke a war.

“I – Russian Invader”, the latest video that went viral in the old Eastern bloc with over 5.5 million views in the three weeks since its release, unapologetically paints Russia as a nation of invaders and occupiers who improved every country they conquered.

“I once occupied Siberia. Now they produce oil, gas, aluminium and other useful stuff,” it says. “I invaded Central Asia. In bare steppes I built canals, factories, spaceports, hospitals and stadiums.

“I occupied Ukraine. Together with the Ukrainians I built aircraft engines, ships, tanks and cars. I was asked to leave them. Now they are destroying all that is left.

“Yes, I’m an occupant! And I’m tired of apologising for it! I’m an occupant by birthright, an aggressor and a bloodthirsty monster. Be afraid!”

The video, which is framed as an email to Barack Obama, rejects “freedom”, “democracy” and “Western values”, which it portrays as a scrapbook of Pussy Riot, CIA renditions, Charlie Hebdo, Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst and a book on gay parenting entitled Daddy, Papa and Me.

The Russian hero narrator is portrayed as a computer hacker with a machine gun resting by his keyboard.

“I politely warn you for the last time – don’t mess with me! I build peace, I love peace, but I know how to fight better than anybody else.

“Sincerely, your Russian occupant.”

The video provoked outrage in the West, in news outlets such as Newsweek and the New York Times (which noted that the text had been adapted from a prose poem published last year by Russian writer Alexei Ivanov). US ambassador to NATO Alexander Vershbow called the video “astounding” and “imperialism for dummies”. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin tweeted a link to his followers.

At the time it appeared that the Invader video, and the MH17-themed one before it, had been created by ‘Evgeny Zhurov’, a Russian video blogger in Novosibirsk, Siberia.

However Russian website saw a clear similarity to other videos produced by the Russian professional video studio My Duck’s Vision (MDV) – and a producer from the studio confessed it was their work.

The producer did not reveal who had funded the project, saying only their customers were “associated with the state” and “at the top”.

However when contacted by Fairfax, an MDV spokesman revealed their identity. “It was an order from [the] Russian Orthodox Church,” MDV spokesman Damian Degtyarev said in an email. “It was not our idea.”

“It was an order we’ve been paid, but still for us it’s just a stupid script, we’ve made [it] for fun.”

Many senior figures in the Russian Orthodox Church are strong supporters of the Putin regime. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow once famously called Mr Putin’s long rule “a miracle of God”.

The character of the Siberian blogger that hid the true identity of the video’s creators was “just part of a deal for a while”, Mr Degtyarev said.

The studio advertises itself as “professionals in video production, advertising, public relations and secret media operations”: “You need an advertising campaign? Virus? Then you’ve come to the right place.”

Mr Degtyarev said his favourite of the studio’s previous work was the man who touched 1000 breasts, “cause it went viral! And boobies,” he said.

But is the new video just outrageous propaganda or does it conceal a subtle satire on Russian patriotism and Western gullibility?

Back in 2009, MDV’s Yuri Degtyarev, in an interview with Radio Liberty, was asked about a viral video that pretended to be a job ad for undertakers at a funeral home in Jacksonville, USA – saying it would be the perfect job for Russians who hate America: “You will have the opportunity to personally bury more than 300 Americans in just one year.”

He said the basic idea had been to satirise the old Soviet habit of blaming everything on America, and to “make fun of the Russian patriots who do not make a damn thing, just go to marches . . . if anti-Americanism is used as a marketing joke it ceases to be radical”.

Asked about the studio’s previous work satirising the same attitudes expressed – apparently in earnest – in the new video, Damian Degtyarev told Fairfax: “Yeah, we like to confuse people :)”

“It was humour for sure, for trolling,” he said.

The entire message in the video came from the commission and “we didn’t agree at all” with the sentiments in the video, he said.

So was this propaganda? Or satire? Or just a massive exercise in trolling the internet? In modern, weird-turned-up-to-eleven Russia, is it even possible to tell?

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Heartbroken Haiti striker Fabrice Noel dreams of gold after starting Singapore chapter

He thinks about it less than he used to, but the pain will never completely go away.
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Haiti international striker Fabrice Noel is one of the new imports to Singapore’s S.League this season, playing for glamour club, Tampines Rovers, after a stint with Malaysia’s ATM FA last season.

Turning 30 in July, Noel has carved out a successful professional career after coping with the tragedy of having two of his brothers murdered in 2002 when he was a teenager at a junior tournament in the United States.

“When I call my Mum in Haiti, I think about it,” he told ESPN FC. “It affects me less now than before because it happened a long time ago. I wish I could change it but it’s already passed so I just have tried to adapt and get used to it.”

Noel was away in South Carolina in when masked gunmen entered his family’s home in Haiti. The assailants were allegedly linked to rivals of his hometown club, Racing Club Haitien, and were looking for the young striker. After the murders of his two older brothers Luckner and Kenson, his parents and younger brother went into hiding and Noel was granted political asylum in the United States.

Sitting before evening training at the Jurong West Stadium, Noel hints that he isn’t after sympathy; he just wants to get on with his career in a new country.

“What happened made me stronger in life and in general,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason. If that didn’t happen I don’t where my life would take me. Now I’m used to it. It made me grow as a person.”

Noel was born in Gressier, near Port au Prince, which has been rated as one of the most dangerous places in the world. So how did he find himself in Singapore, one of Asia’s safest cities, for the 20th season of the S.League?

Playing for ATM last season, Noel caught the eye of Singapore legend V. Sundramoorthy, who was coaching Malaysian second tier side, Negeri Sembilan and is now in charge of Tampines.

“I came to Singapore because I liked the coach [Sundram] and told me he had a job in Singapore,” he said.  “The advantage of having played for ATM is that I get used to Asian players as those from Singapore and Malaysia are similar. It makes it easier to adapt to the system.”

Noel was recommended to ATM by the club’s former St Vincent and the Grenadines striker, Marlon Alex James. James was forced into retirement after breaking down with an injury late in the 2014 season and suggested that his former Caribbean international rival fill his import slot.

“He is fast and a good dribbler and has power with both feet plus he is strong, with a great leap,” ATM head coach B. Sathianathan told ESPN FC. “He plays mostly on the flanks or as a backup striker and his important goals was one of the reasons we avoided relegation last season.”

On March 2, Noel scored on his S.League debut against Albirex Niigata (S) and he helped Tampines win their first two matches of the season. But he has since been sidelined with a hamstring problem.

Singapore is the third Asian country that Noel has lived in. He also spent a season with Shanghai East Asia in the Chinese Super League in 2010, netting 10 goals in 28 matches.

He was selected for Haiti’s March 27 friendly against China in Guangzhou, but may be ruled out because of his injury. Even so, he hopes to play in his third CONCACAF Gold Cup in July with the US and China hosting the 2015 edition.

“It’s going to be exciting because I haven’t played for the national team in a long time,” he said. “We have some players in France and Belgium now so for the Gold Cup we’ll have a strong team.”

Noel holds US citizenship after completing high school in Florida and playing for the Colorado Rapids in the MLS in 2006. When the Rapids waived him in the 2007 pre-season, he joined the Puerto Rico Islanders — who played in the American second tier — and helped them qualify for the 2008-09 CONCACAF Champions League, in what he considers one of his favourite football experiences.

Living in a high-rise apartment at Lakeside, near the border with Malaysia, Noel says that he’s still getting to know Singapore but marvels at the efficient public transportation system and the friendly people.

He’s set himself an S.League target of 22 goals this season – and to win as many trophies as possible. But, above all else, he just wants to keep playing football, which, he admits, helps him forget some of the tough things from his past.

“When you have a passion like football, as soon as you step on the field you forget about everything,” he said. “You focus on your team, your teammates, it helps you a lot. Football is really important to me.”

Former Herald journalist Jason Dasey is Singapore-based Senior Editor of global football website: www.espnfc上海龙凤419m 

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Amazon rainforest soaking up almost one-third less carbon in past decade

The Amazon: not the carbon sink many had thought. Photo: BrazilPhotos The Amazon: not the carbon sink many had thought. Photo: BrazilPhotos
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The Amazon: not the carbon sink many had thought. Photo: BrazilPhotos

The Amazon: not the carbon sink many had thought. Photo: BrazilPhotos

The Amazon rainforest has long been a vital sink for the world’s greenhouse gases, but new research shows the amount of carbon absorbed by the Amazon’s trees has dropped by almost one-third in the past 10 years.

The study of 321 plots in parts of the Amazon found forest growth had flatlined in the past decade, and estimated the net amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the forest had fallen 2.0 billion tonnes a year in the 1990s to 1.4 billion tonnes in the 2000s.

“The net carbon uptake of forests has significantly weakened…The whole forest is living faster – trees grow faster, die faster,” lead author Roel Brienen of the University of Leeds told Reuters.

The implications of the study’s findings are “enormous,” said Professor David Ellsworth, senior scientific advisor for the Eucalyptus Free-Air CO2 Enrichment (EucFACE) experiment in the Cumberland Plain forest.

“It is just enormous, because the land area were talking about is huge. The tropics represent an extremely large sink for carbon,” he said, adding, “carbon that they are not storing is landing in the atmosphere and results in rising atmospheric rising of Co2.”

“We rely on plants to put the skids on the increase in atmospheric Co2, because they take up that carbon. If they are taking up less carbon than we thought we’ve got to consider other options for slowing that rise in Co2 in the atmosphere.”

The scientists of the study said it was unclear if the decline would continue and if the trend applied to other tropical forests such as the Congo basin or Indonesia.

To measure the change scientists observed 200,000 trees in 321 plots across eight countries, studying any changes in height, diameter, wood density and births and deaths.

They suggested increased tree deaths, of more than a third since the mid-1980s, could be linked to severe droughts, such as in 2005.

The paper, published by Nature, HYPERLINK, acknowledged that the behaviour was at odds with expectations, underlining “how difficult it can be to predict the role of land-vegetation feedbacks in modulating global climate change.”

Professor Ellsworth said the findings are relevant for his own research in understanding how the Australian carbon sink will change into the future.

“We would want to know, does this apply to Australian rainforests or not? The authors are very clear this applies in the Amazon region of South America,” he said.

“My research would need to dovetail the information that comes out of what I’m doing, and the carbon release from the Amazon…to understand what it means in terms of atmospheric carbon dioxide and how fast it’s rising, or whether its slowing.”

Carbon dioxide is rising at a rate greater than two per cent per year, which, “if it’s your bank account is really good, but if its not then you might have pause to think,” Professor Ellsworth said.

– with Reuters

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Kazakh uses toilets to hedge against ruble fallout

Russia has been badly affected by the slide in oil prices, and the ruble has plunged as much of Russia’s economy is based on energy. Photo: Alexander ZemlianichenkoWhen the ruble plunged 37 per cent in the first half of December, Kazakh businessman Marat Mukhamedov spotted an opportunity: Russian toilets. Realising the urinals, tiles and other bathroom accessories he needed to stock the warehouse of his office-refurbishing company were now half the cost of six months earlier, he ordered twice the quantity required for the coming year to take advantage of the exchange rate. “We spent the equivalent of about $US200,000 ($261,491) to double our stock,” Mukhamedov, 37, said from his office at MZ Gesheft in the Kazakh city of Almaty where he’s project manager for the seven-year-old company employing around 50 people. “Now, we have a price advantage against some of the competition.” At a time when President Vladimir Putin’s standoff with the West is slowing the economy and crimping sales at home, Kazakhs — the third biggest net buyers of Russian goods — are boosting orders to benefit from the 41 per cent depreciation that’s made the ruble the worst-performing currency of the past year. Purchases of rubles quadrupled in Kazakhstan in January from a year earlier to total 60 billion rubles ($1.3 billion) for the four months from October, according to data from Kazakhstan’s central bank in Almaty. Russia’s currency rout is part of the reason inflation has spiraled to the highest since 2002. It’s also helping the economy by making Russian goods cheaper to people like Mukhamedov. Even the country’s oil export revenue has remained stable when converted back to rubles despite the 53 per cent collapse of crude in dollars since last year. Samsung phones
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Bargain-hunting Kazakhs and Belarusians bought about 90,000 of the 500,000 cars sold in Russia in November and December, according to data compiled by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. That’s almost half of the total 182,000 sold domestically in the two countries in all of 2014. Gadgets are crossing the border too. One hundred kilometers from the Kazakh frontier, a unit of Media Markt, the German electronic retailer, has started taking orders online and delivering to Kazakh families. Its Russian stock of Samsung Electronics’s Galaxy Alpha phones were $100 cheaper than in Kazakhstan, according to a price comparison March 13 by Bloomberg. Chronopay上海龙凤419m, an Internet-payments operator, saw turnover from bank cards in former Soviet satellite states double in February compared with October, said Denis Dunyushkin, the company’s spokesman in Moscow. ‘Be patriotic’

President Nursultan Nazarbayev appealed last month for citizens to “be patriotic and buy Kazakh goods.” Yet demand for rubles is still rising in Kazakhstan, Moscow-based VTB Bank’s branch in Almaty said in a March 4 statement. Kazakhs bought almost 22 billion rubles ($470 million) in December and about 17 billion rubles in January, compared with 3.8 billion rubles in January 2014, according to the National Bank of Kazakhstan. “Although the volume of ruble demand from the former Soviet republics isn’t enough to strengthen the currency, it helps to slow down the plunge,” said Anton Tabakh, a director at RusRating, a Moscow-based credit ratings company. The ruble has pared its losses of 2014, climbing 2.1 per cent against the dollar for this year’s seventh-best performance among emerging- market currencies tracked by Bloomberg, The cross-border boost for retailers won’t save Russia from a recession. Gross domestic product may shrink as much as 4 per cent this year, the most since 2009, the central bank said March 13. Retail sales fell 7.7 per cent in February, the most since 2009. Car purchases dropped 38 per cent in Russia last month. Toilet hedge

Heightened Kazakh demand for rubles and Russian goods may also prove short-lived. Russia’s ex-Soviet trading partners are under pressure to stay competitive by devaluing their own currencies. Ukraine’s hryvnia is the worst-performing currency this year amid the conflict with pro-Russian separatists and Belarus is next, sliding 27 per cent against the dollar. By contrast, the tenge is little changed since a 19 per cent devaluation in February 2014. It’s costing Kazakhstan as much as $4 billion a month to keep the exchange rate at around 185 per US dollar as falling oil prices and capital flight put pressure on the tenge, Moody’s Investors Service said in a March 5 report. While Moody’s says a devaluation is unlikely before the country’s presidential election on April 26, futures traders are betting the exchange rate will weaken to 200 within three months and 231 by year-end, data compiled by Bloomberg show. With depreciation looming, Russian toilets provided the perfect solution for Mukhamedov. “We are a little bit hedged against a possible tenge devaluation by being able to save money on the cost of materials for some time,” he said.


The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Tony Abbott’s budget retreat rings alarm bells for business

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey during question time on Thursday. Photo: Andrew MearesCollapsing iron ore prices and an apparent U-turn by the Abbott government on tough budget repair have rung alarm bells in Australian business circles with leaders warning the problem of Commonwealth debt is growing and cannot be wished away for reasons of political convenience.
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But some business voices have also welcomed the prospect of a bit of extra stimulus in the short-term via small business tax cuts and money for childcare, which is set to provide a fillip in the next budget.

Iron ore fell to $54.50 a tonne over Wednesday night, a six-year low and nearly $10 below Treasury’s mid-year forecast price of $63 a tonne – a price Treasurer Joe Hockey said was more conservative than previous benchmarks.

It is understood that each $1 fall wipes more than $200 million off revenue flowing into Canberra.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott came under intense pressure in Parliament on Thursday after his comments on Wednesday were interpreted as suggesting that the hard work of reining in spending had been done and that a four-fold increase in the nation’s net debt-to GDP ratio was a reasonable outcome compared to other countries.

Mr Abbott had said the budget due in seven weeks would contain little of the harshness of the first budget because the main spending restraint had already been done.

This was despite the fact that only around half of the roughly $60 billion in future savings sought by the government had been approved by the Parliament.

Mr Abbott said a projected quadrupling of the debt ratio as set out in the government’s recent Intergenerational Report, while not ideal, was better than it would have been under Labor and was “a pretty good result looking around the world”.

But Labor said the blow-out would see the nation’s triple-A rating downgraded.

Mr Hockey also claimed credit for savings agreed to so far, arguing the rate of growth in projected borrowing is lower.

“What we’ve done is we have halved that trajectory,” he told Parliament.

“So we’ve halved, in our first budget we halved the amount of net debt that is going to exist in 2055.

“But there is much more to be done.”

The combination of declining revenue and a government that looks to have already shifted to a pre-election softly-softly approach, has fuelled concerns that promised budget surpluses will never materialise.

But some businesses have also welcomed the prospect of new spending with Innes Willox, the chief executive of peak manufacturing organisation the Australian Industry Group, telling Fairfax Media, it was a mixed picture.

“The economy needs a modest degree of fiscal stimulus now given the below-par conditions we are facing, but at the same time, the government needs to continue to introduce measures to fortify the national budgetary position over time,” he said.

“To its credit, in last year’s budget the government attempted to introduce measures, mainly on the expenditure side that had the potential to make very substantial headway in the critical task of longer-term fiscal fortification. Many of these measures have, however, lapsed or appear to have a low prospect of passage through the current Parliament. Further, many failed to attract the backing of the broader community.

“This highlights that the task of fiscal strengthening is undoubtedly a very difficult one politically.”

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott, however, urged the government to stay the course and not to go weak on structural changes to the burgeoning expenditure areas of health-care, pensions and superannuation rules.

Economists warn the Intergenerational Report projection of an average of 2.8 per cent annual growth continuously for the next 40 years was a pipe-dream because Australia had already broken records for 24 years of uninterrupted growth.

Ms Westacott noted that with $245 billion in debt, a deficit of more than $40 billion and an interest bill of more than $11 billion, there was no time to waste because “unless you do structural corrections, the problem will get bigger and bigger”.

“We have to start now so people can make adjustments,” she said.

With James Massola

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Wuxi Plastic Surgery Hospital.

Review: Macy Gray

Macy Gray performs at Lizotte’s. Picture: Jonathan CarrollREVIEW
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Lizotte’s Newcastle,March 17

MACY Gray never topped the commercial success of her worldwide hit I Try, the soulful ballad that earned the singer a Grammy award in 2001.

A good 15 years have passed since then and, though Gray may have fallen off the radar for some, one thing that can’t be forgotten is that unmistakable voice.

Her raspy, but equally smooth, voice has been described as “Marge Simpson crossed with Minnie Mouse” but that’s not exactly right.

She is a force, that’s for sure, and her voice really is something special.

It can be soft and delicate, then big and soulful.

And she makes it look entirely effortless.

Touring across Australia this month with her eighth album, My Way (released in October), Gray’s show in Newcastle was a complete sellout.

It actually sold so well that venue owners had to rearrange the floor plan to accommodate extra seating.

With everyone wedged in such close confines, there was a buzz of anticipation in the venue that erupted into wild cheers as Gray emerged on stage from behind the speaker stack. And, wow, she is a presence.

She is incredibly tall and with heels and a wild Afro adding a few extra inches, Gray towered over her four male band members.

She sparkled like a Las Vegas Christmas tree in a sequined floor-length gown, feather boa and elaborate fake lashes to compete the look.

Opening with Why Didn’t You Call Me? (from her hit album On How Life Is), Gray was cool, confident and irresistibly charming.

Her banter in between songs shifted from downright funny to flirty to coming up with oddball statements like “Google says the more you drink, the better we sound”.

Halfway through the set, she left the drummer to entertain the crowd for a slightly too-dragged out drum solo before returning in a new dress with a long, dangling fur draped around her body.

The set featured the hits (I Try, Do Something, Sweet Baby) and a couple of covers (Melanie’s Brand New Key and Radiohead’s Creep – the latter seemed the perfect choice for a woman who has lived a notoriously turbulent life on and off stage).

By the time they busted into her disco-flavoured groove of Sexual Revolution (fused with Rod Stewart’s Do Ya Think I’m Sexy), the crowd was up and dancing (after prompting from Gray) and the two mirrorballs on the ceiling were switched on.

Tonight it was just one big party at Macy Gray’s house.