Canberra — Two ministers have been forced to resign from the crisis-ridden Fraser government after one of them failed to make a customs declaration covering a six-inch television set.
This is the latest in a series of events that for six weeks have caused the business of government to take second place to political crisis management for Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.
In that time he has had to cope with a disastrous rebuff in a federal special election, defeat for his party in a state election in Victoria for the first time in 27 years, and a direct but unsuccessful challenge to his leadership of the Liberal Party and the government by former Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock.
The morale of the government has hit a new low, and public opinion polls taken before the latest crises show that support is at its lowest point ever. With most commentators predicting a gloomy economic outlook for Australia for the rest of the year, the government is desperate to avoid any further crises or scandals - no matter how minor their causes might be.
Minister for Health Michael MacKellar was a rising star in Fraser's Cabinet until the airing of what is being called the ''color television set affair.'' Recently the national newspaper, the Australian, revealed that an unnamed federal minister had brought a color television set through customs without declaring it for the payment of import duty.
It alleged there had been a cover-up in the Department of Customs and that junior customs officers had been threatened in order to keep the affair under wraps. Then it was revealed that MacKellar was the minister in question and that he had brought the set openly through customs last October.
However, his customs declaration form had said he did not have a television set. The minister for customs, John Moore, intervened to reprimand MacKellar for making a false declaration, but according to the files subsequently made public, he told the department the television was a black and white set, and therefore not liable for duty.
After much publicity and a meeting with Fraser, both MacKellar and Moore resigned. But their resignations have not ended the affair. The opposition has called for a judicial investigation of the administration of the customs department and the attempted cover-up. The government has agreed only to an internal investigation of the department's administration.