Precocious talent, notorious clients and a $1,000-a-day cocaine habit made Melbourne lawyer Andrew Fraser a high-flier
Despite being jailed and disbarred in 2001, notorious Melbourne lawyer Andrew Fraser has proved to be indefatigable. He may have been banned from officially practicing his profession ever again, but that's a mere speed bump to a man like Fraser. He's gone on to write several books that give the dirty laundry of the Australian legal system a good airing – the most recent of which, In Any Case, will hit shelves next month, and he's currently working on a documentary he hopes will lead to a retrial for Bradley John Murdoch – a man he believes has been wrongly imprisoned for murder. And he's doing all of this while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for a recent cancer diagnosis.
Fraser has had a life of extreme highs and faced some lows most of us will never encounter. Time Out chatted to him about Killing Time – the controversial TV series based on his seemingly unstoppable career and his ultimate downfall.
Andrew, how does it feel to see actor David Wenham playing you and re-enacting your story?
I think he’s done a terrific job, I really do, and I’m glad he’s played it very much warts and all – he certainly doesn’t pay me too many accolades along the way! It’s a redemption story but there’s no holds barred, and it’s pretty hard hitting.
Looking back on your actions, is the series almost a penance for you?
I don’t know about that. I’m not sure what to think of it frankly. I’ve opened Pandora’s box, and yes, it’s very exciting, but it’s also hugely confronting.
The first episodes are like watching a sports car crash at high speed…
Oh yeah. Living the life, I watched the car crash. You’ve got an addiction on one hand, and on the other, a delusion to yourself that you haven’t. During lucid moments you think, “this can’t last” and then you score and you’re away again.
If you hadn’t gone to jail, would you have beaten that addiction?
By the time I went to jail I was clean, and I had the resolve to stay away from cocaine. But without the massive jolt that jail is? It’s crossed my mind… now I just don’t go anywhere where cocaine is and for me that precludes a lot of places. I was at a certain hotel the other night with a mate, had one look, saw what was going on and said, “See you later, I’m outta here.” If I get accused of being an ostrich, so be it.
How do you feel about the justice system now?
I’ve seen the system now as a practitioner, as an accused, and as a crown witness. And I know that the mealy mouthed platitudes that judges and barristers waffl e about the system – ‘Justice must be upheld!’ and all that – is all crap. The system is broken. It needs to be fi xed, but there would be massive resistance to that because there’s a huge industry based on it. There’s what? Fifteen thousand coppers on the beat in Victoria alone and I don’t how many lawyers working in this archaic, broken system. I think the whole thing should be pulled down – as should the political system – and started again.
You’re known for being very vocal on these issues – do you think your books and media appearances have made any difference?
Oh yeah. I think I shit people more than I did before. I take the view that if you’re going to say it, you say it, or you shut up. But if you say what you think, you’ve got to be prepared to back it up.
Do you see the potential for more backlash against you when the Killing Time TV series starts up?
How much more can we have? No, I think everyone’s backlashed out. Killing Time tells the story of my demise and those that I consider to be culpable to some degree. Whether it is the system that is culpable, whether I didn’t see it coming, whether I believed my own bullshit… who knows? I mean when you’ve got a head full of coke you’re ten foot-tall and bulletproof. For somebody with my personality type, coke is the wrong sort of drug to take. You become even louder and more opinionated… if that’s humanly possible.
When you were staring down the barrel of fi ve years gaol, and you’d lost everything, what did you grab onto to stop yourself from spiralling into complete despair?
Well, you do spiral into complete despair. But there are three options in jail that I worked out fairly quickly. One: you neck yourself – and a few blokes do that but that option was a bit permanent for me. Two: they sit in their cell and cry the entirety of their sentence – and quite a lot do that, or medicate to be out of it. Or, three: you get on with it. And that’s always been my personality type. I was thinking straight by then and decided to start reading and get my fi tness back. So that became my life. I read books, and I ran. And I ran more and more and more. I ran a half marathon in jail. I was the oldest in it by 20 years, but I wasn’t the last.
Did you feel you deserved some form of punishment?
You mean was it a payback? Well, yes. I got a big whack because of who I was. The system I worked all my life for came back to bite me on the bum. If I was an engineer, or a vet or a bloody dentist, I’d have been able to come out of gaol and practice again, but I’m still unable to pursue my chosen career. Everybody says that’s fair. Maybe, but isn’t that a cruel and unusual punishment? Which is precisely what the law says you shouldn’t receive.
There’s a scene in Killing Time where you successfully defend a biker gang against an assault charge, and while it’s a very clever defence, it’s also heartbreaking for the victim. Do you regret any of the cases you undertook?
As a lawyer, you can’t think in those terms. I thought it was a pretty clever defence, actually. The guy said “it was not me”, so I got the whole gang in their biker gear and asked the witness to pick him out, and he couldn’t. You’re not paid to think about the victim. Your job is to follow your instructions to the best of your ability. You become very clinical, and you can’t take your result home and agonise over it.
What’s your next project?
Bradley John Murdoch, the fellow convicted of murdering Peter Falconio the British backpacker. I say ‘convicted’ because I think he’s comprehensively not guilty, and I think I can prove it. If so, he’s done eight years for nothing – another example of how the system is broken.
Is there anything else you want known?
It was a hard road to rebuild my relationship with my kids and they’ve been fantastic. But the system doesn’t rehabilitate you. The concept of prison as a rehabilitative tool is a myth. You either do it yourself or it doesn’t happen.
Killing Time premieres Sun Oct 7 on Channel 7.