Saturday, March 19, 2016

In Memoriam - Don Fraser

Slowly surfacing after recent pressures, I find that the world has gone on without me. I will come back to active duty, but for the present I just wanted to record a piece of sad news.

JCW advised me that Don Fraser died on 17 March. This will mean nothing to most of my readers, but it will to some.The funeral notice reads:
DONALD JOHN FRASER 6 September 1934 Glasgow, Scotland to 17 March 2016 Canberra, Australia 
Suddenly, while working on his companion computer. 
Dear, dear husband of Corille. 
Beloved father and father-in-law of Helen, Douglas, Kenneth, Meryl and Liz.
Fond and inspiring grandfather of Lizzy, Cassie, Harley and Yssa. 
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne. 
The funeral service for Don will be held in
the Chapel of Norwood Park Crematorium,
Sandford Street, Mitchell on Tuesday, 22 March 2016. 
Don was my Division Head in the Australian Department of Industry and Commerce, then Industry Technology and Commerce, from around mid 1983 to some time in 1985. This was a golden period in my memories of my own life, for we had a window to bring positive change about. And we did, if no where near as much as we hoped.

We failed in our primary dream of creating a global sustainable future for Australia in the high technology industries, of a major Australian base in the global electronics, aerospace and information industries. It is hard to sell a dream, an aspiration, within our institutional structures, harder now than it was then. But we did achieve smaller tangible results. One was the removal of tariffs on computer products. This did not mean that Australians could buy computers at global prices, market imperfections made that difficult, but it did mean that Australian Government tariffs were removed.

Don played an important role in the process. Very early in my reign as newly established branch head in a newly established branch, my senior director Michael Blake sat me down to explain Don to me. Michael was a key figure in the evolution of our ideas and the person who crafted the strategy for removing tariffs on computer products. Don was, he said, into time management. Be organised, present your ideas and recommendations. Don't waste his time. I adopted this approach and it worked well.

Don was very busy, working with Bob Samarcq and his team on the Button Car plan. 2tanners, who worked with me at the time, argued several years ago that the obsession with cars sucked the life out of our plans, that we were not able to get the funding that we needed to start and build new things because of the obsession with the past. There is a fair bit of truth in that. But that is not Don's fault.

In retrospect, the freedom that Don (and the Department) gave us was quite remarkable. A graduate clerk could come to me or a Director on the Monday with an idea or a problem that they considered to be important, and we could have it on the Minster's desk by the Friday. Obviously questions of trust were important, we were trusted, but there were no decision layers. I was the final decision point and bore the responsibility. Everything I did was transparent, documented, could be challenged or reviewed, but it was my decision.

I had no idea that any of this was remarkable until, after a long break, I moved back into the public sector as a contractor within the NSW system. I found the decision reporting systems incredibly complex. By the time I jumped in June last year, there were seven reporting/decision layers between me and the minister within the new mega department. It was quite hard to get new ideas up the chain, especially those that didn't quite fit in with existing plans or KPIs.

In private life, Don was a stalwart supporter of Canberra Repertory Company for over thirty years. This is, I think, how JCW met him. His wake is to be held at the Rep's Theatre 3.

My commiserations to Corille and his family and also to all Don's friends.


2 tanners said...

My fondest memory of Don is also a silly and humorous one. It was when he'd come back from the US having inspected the new telecoms satellite that we were launching (it was either Big Bird or Third Bird). His email announced "My fingerprints are going into space!"

As Jim implies, in work he was a serious, fair and robust SES Band 2, and how we needed more of those, then and now! And no, the car industry was not his fault. We had a branch under Jim for everything that could possible be labelled technology and an entire division just for the motor industry.

Which in those days had nothing to do with technology. Times do change.

Jim Belshaw said...

They do! Lovely story, 2t. Two minor corrections. Don was a band 4 in the old money, I was a band 2. And the branch wasn't so small in the end. 33-37 staff!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim and 2 tanners,

As funerals go, it was lovely. The service was entirely conducted by the family, so no celebrant/minister pretending to know the person. I passed on your satellite story and your sympathy to Corille, and she was so glad that you have fond memories of Don, and that you can recall his memory after 30 years.


Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you for that feedback, Judi. It was nice that you were there to pass on. It eases the sense of loss a little to know that the loved one was appreciated. And he was.