FOR the past five years, I’ve been fortunate enough to represent an electorate named after the great parliamentarian Jim Fraser. But after former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser passed away last year, the Australian Electoral Commission has decided to rename the ACT seat of (Jim) Fraser, with a view to creating a new seat of (Malcolm) Fraser in Victoria.
As of this week Fraser will become Fenner; for the remarkable Australian scientist and public health advocate Frank Fenner. Here’s five fascinating things you might not know about this electorate’s new namesake.
1) Fenner has been credited with playing a critical role in the defence of Papua New Guinea during World War II by keeping Australian troops safe from malaria. While serving with the Australian Army Medical Corps, he pioneered malaria control techniques which would ultimately earn him recognition as a Member of the Order of the British Empire. Fenner also served in Egypt, Palestine and Borneo during the Second World War, developing a lifelong interest in infectious diseases along the way.
2) After returning home from the war, Fenner shot into the national spotlight by making himself the subject of a famous (and fairly outlandish) experiment. Working with colleagues at the Australian National University, he invented the myxomatosis virus to tackle Australia’s damaging rabbit plague. To address community fear about mosquitoes transmitting the virus to humans, Fenner publicly injected himself with a dose of ‘myxo’ in order to prove that it was harmless. He must have had a lot of confidence in his own scientific knowledge, as the dose was powerful enough to kill 1000 rabbits.
3) About 2 million fewer people die each year because of his contributions in the fields of virology and biology. Fenner was instrumental in the global effort to eradicate smallpox, particularly through his roles as a scientific adviser to the World Health Organisation and later as chairman for the Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication. In fact, it was Fenner who stood before the World Health Assembly in 1980 to announce that the disease had finally been stamped out, leading some to describe him as ‘the man who killed smallpox’. Smallpox is the only significant disease to have been successfully eradicated through targeted public health efforts; a feat which is considered one of the World Health Organisation’s greatest achievements to date.
4) Despite spending over 30 years as a researcher at the ANU, publishing 22 books and 300 papers in top scientific journals, inventing myxomatosis and helping eradicate polio, Professor Frank Fenner never earned a PhD.
5) For much of his working life, Jim Fraser was Frank Fenner’s local MP. Fenner lived in Canberra for 60 years, arriving in 1949 just as the ACT gained its first seat in the federal Parliament. Over many decades he bore witness to our city’s transformation from a place of paddocks to a cosmopolitan capital. When Fenner first arrived here the creation of Lake Burley Griffin was still a decade away, Turner was one of the city’s northernmost suburbs and fewer than 40,000 people lived here. How different must Canberra have looked as Fenner surveyed it from his house in Red Hill in 2010, the year he died.
Frank Fenner was an extraordinary Australian, and it would be an honour to represent a seat named after him if I am re-elected in 2016.
In the same way, I have been proud to call myself the Member for Fraser these past five years because of the contribution Jim Fraser made to building our city during his time as ‘Member for the ACT’ from 1951 to 1970. Jim will continue to be remembered through the suburb of Fraser in Canberra’s north, while a new electorate of Fraser will be gazetted in Victoria in the next few years to commemorate the life of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. As Jim’s son, Andrew, recently put it in a moving open letter to his dad about the change: “that’s about correct weight, isn’t it? A suburb for the loved local representative and an electorate for a respected former PM?”
Reflecting on Frank Fenner and Jim Fraser’s lives has reminded me that there are many ways to make a contribution to your country and your community. There’s saving people’s lives, and there’s making them better by improving the basic infrastructure they rely on day-to-day. There’s pushing the frontiers of knowledge, and there’s making people feel valued by knowing their names and the issues that matter to them. In between, there’s a multitude of ways to make a difference and I meet Australians every day who are doing just that through their words and deeds.
Only a few will ever wind up with an electorate named after them, but those who do – like Frank and Jim – are a source of inspiration to us all.
Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Member for Fraser until the 2016 Federal Election.