Robert Manne and Mara Moustafine.
09 April 2009
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I would think he became serious about politics when he got interested in multiculturalism. He was very close to Malcolm Fraser and we haven’t said anything about this but in fact, if you ask Malcolm Fraser, what’s the most important thing he did as a prime minister, he would answer, I’m almost certain, “Support for multiculturalism.” And so Petro really began his career working, partly working in Fraser’s office, partly also he established a multicultural office of some sort and supporting policies in regard to breaking down assimilation and policies for ethnic television and ethnic radio and all the other things to do with the first generation of multicultural policy.
And Petro just stuck to his guns. I mean, I think it’s been the most important part of his political identity and he is – he’s in a way the most – he’s the last completely committed representative of Fraser kind of, Liberalism in that area, not in others, but in that area. Being a Greek, probably in an environment where it’s been quite hard, to get on, you know, where there are not that many at that time particularly, you know he became important in the Victorian Liberal Party at a time when there wouldn’t – there were probably fewer ethnic, you know, really powerful figures, there probably are more now.
But at that time it probably wasn’t all that easy to succeed in that environment and he was probably very sensitive to the difficulty of you know, and to the way in which Australia had to be re-shaped so that, you know he didn’t have to assimilate but the society would change for his generation, his parents’ generation. I think he remains a very popular local member, I don’t think – I can’t think that it’s had any influence there and he – every challenge to him has been fought off. He should have been a senior minister and he’s a very talented person, everyone would have thought when he – he was sort of, in a way in charge of the Victorian division, for a while when he moved into federal politics he should have had a trajectory like Andrew Robb or Malcolm Turnbull or you know, he was clearly a very talented person.
I don’t think myself, that his ethnicity was the problem, I think the problem was that he stood up against Howard once or twice. I – and the story is that he was offered a very minor secretaryship instead of a junior ministry and he said, “No,” and he’s never been forgiven. But I think that – I think the one bit of truth might be that the big difference when Howard, who served as treasurer under Fraser and Fraser was that Howard was never sympathetic to multiculturalism, never sympathetic to the anti-racism that was at the core of Fraser’s being. And I suspect that Howard sees in Petro, the kind of stuff, policies and attitudes that he’s unsympathetic too and so that may have played a bit of a role in his career.