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Malcolm Fraser

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Malcolm Fraser

The Right Honourable
Malcolm Fraser
Fraser in the United States in 1982
22nd Prime Minister of Australia
Elections: 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983
In office
11 November 1975 – 11 March 1983
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor General Sir John Kerr
Sir Zelman Cowen
Sir Ninian Stephen
Deputy Doug Anthony
Preceded by Gough Whitlam
Succeeded by Bob Hawke
Minister for Education and Science
In office
20 August 1971 – 5 December 1972
Prime Minister William McMahon
Preceded by David Fairbairn
Succeeded by Gough Whitlam
In office
28 February 1968 – 12 November 1969
Prime Minister John Gorton
Preceded by John Gorton
Succeeded by Nigel Bowen
Minister for Defence
In office
12 November 1969 – 8 March 1971
Prime Minister John Gorton
Preceded by Allen Fairhall
Succeeded by John Gorton
Minister for the Army
In office
26 January 1966 – 28 February 1968
Prime Minister Harold Holt
John McEwen
John Gorton
Preceded by Jim Forbes
Succeeded by Phillip Lynch
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Wannon
In office
10 December 1955 – 7 May 1983
Preceded by Don McLeod
Succeeded by David Hawker
Personal details
Born John Malcolm Fraser
(1930-05-21) 21 May 1930
Toorak, Victoria, Australia
Political party Liberal Party of Australia (1954–2009)
Spouse(s) Tamie Fraser (m.1956–present)
Children 4
Alma mater Magdalen College, Oxford
Profession Politician

John Malcolm Fraser ACCHGCL (; born 21 May 1930) is a former Australian Liberal Party politician who was the 22nd Prime Minister of Australia.[1] He came to power in 1975 through the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor government, in which he played a key role. After three election victories, he was defeated by Bob Hawke in the 1983 election and ended his career alienated from his own party.

Early life and education

Malcolm Fraser in 1956

John Malcolm Fraser was born on 21 May 1930 in Toorak, Victoria to a family with a history of involvement in politics and the pastoral/grazing industry. His grandfather, Simon Fraser, Sr., emigrated from Nova Scotia in 1853, becoming a successful pastoralist and speculator, as well as a member of the Victorian Parliament, the Federation Conventions of 1897–98 and the Australian Senate. An uncle, Simon Fraser, Jr., was a noted sportsman who rowed for Australasia at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm and also played Australian rules football for Essendon and University in the Victorian Football League.[2]

Malcolm Fraser's father, John Neville Fraser, had been educated at Trinity College (University of Melbourne), and was a pastoralist at Deniliquin in the Riverina region of New South Wales and later at a property called "Nareen station", in Nareen, near Hamilton in the Western District of Victoria.[3][4] Malcolm Fraser's mother, Una Woolf, was of Jewish descent on her own father's side.[2][5]

Fraser grew up on the family's pastoral properties and was educated at Glamorgan (now part of Geelong Grammar School) and Melbourne Grammar School, before completing a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE; "Modern Greats") at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1952. At Oxford, Fraser was a classmate and friend of future Canadian cabinet minister and Prime Minister John Turner. Partly due to his education at Oxford, he began speaking in the RP-like "cultivated" version of Australian English.


Early political career

Fraser contested the seat of Wannon, in Victoria's Western District, in 1954 for the Liberal Party, losing to Labor incumbent Don McLeod by 17 votes. However, a redistribution made Wannon notionally Liberal, and McLeod retired before the election held a year later. Fraser won the seat with a majority of more than 5,000 on a swing of 8.5 per cent. Aged 25, he was the youngest member of Parliament. He continued to represent Wannon until his retirement in 1983.

Rise to leadership

Malcolm Fraser in 1966

Fraser had a long wait for ministerial preferment. He was finally appointed Minister for the Army by Harold Holt in 1966, in which he presided over the controversial Vietnam war conscription. Under John Gorton he became Minister for Education and Science, and in 1969 he was made Minister for Defence: a challenging post at the height of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War and the protests against it.

In March 1971, Fraser resigned abruptly in protest at what he said was Gorton's interference in his ministerial responsibilities. This led to the downfall of Gorton and his replacement by William McMahon. Gorton never forgave Fraser for the role he played in his ouster, and to the day he died in 2002 could not bear to be in the same room with him.

Under McMahon, Fraser once again became Minister for Education and Science. When the Liberals were defeated at the 1972 election by the Labor Party under Gough Whitlam, he became Shadow Minister for Labour under Billy Snedden's leadership.

Role in "the dismissal"

After Snedden led the Coalition to defeat in the 1974 election, Fraser unsuccessfully challenged him for the opposition leadership in November. However, with Snedden still unable to get the better of Whitlam, Fraser again challenged Snedden for the leadership in March 1975. This time, he won.

Later in 1975, in the context of a series of ministerial scandals that were rocking the Whitlam government, Fraser opted to use the Coalition opposition Senate numbers to delay the government's budget bills with the objective of achieving an early election (see 1975 Australian constitutional crisis). After several months of deadlock, during which the government secretly explored methods of obtaining supply funding outside the Parliament,[6] Governor-General Sir John Kerr intervened and revoked Whitlam's commission on 11 November 1975. Fraser was immediately sworn in as caretaker prime minister on condition that he secure Supply and advise an immediate election for both houses.

On 19 November 1975 a letter bomb was sent to Fraser, but it was intercepted and defused before it reached him. Similar devices were sent to Governor General Kerr and Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.[7][8]

Prime minister

Fraser in June 1977.

At the December 1975 election, the Liberal-Country Party coalition won a landslide victory. The Coalition took 30 seats from Labor en route to a 55-seat majority, the largest in Australian history. The Coalition won a second term nearly as easily in 1977. The Liberals won a majority in their own right in both elections—something not even Holt or Robert Menzies had been able to achieve. Although there was no need for a coalition with the Country Party, the traditional non-Labor coalition was retained.

Fraser quickly dismantled some of the programs of the Labor government, such as the Ministry of the Media, and he made major changes to the universal health insurance system Medibank. He initially maintained Whitlam's real level of tax and spending, but real per-person tax and spending soon began to increase. He did manage to rein in inflation which had soared under Whitlam. His so-called "Razor Gang"[9] implemented stringent budget cuts across many areas of the Commonwealth Public Sector, including the ABC.

Although Fraser had long been identified with the Liberal Party's right wing, he did not carry out the radically conservative program that his political enemies had predicted, and that some of his followers wanted. Fraser's relatively moderate policies disappointed his Treasurer, John Howard, and other pro-Thatcherite ministers, who were strong adherents of free market economics. Fraser's economic record was marred by rising unemployment, which reached record levels under his administration, caused in part by the ongoing effects of the 1973 oil crisis.

Fraser and U.S President Jimmy Carter in June 1977.

Fraser was active in foreign policy. He supported the Commonwealth in campaigning to abolish apartheid in South Africa, and refused permission for the aircraft carrying the Springbok rugby team to refuel on Australian territory en route to their controversial 1981 tour of New Zealand.[10] However, an earlier tour by the South African Ski Boat Angling Team was allowed to pass through Australia on the way to New Zealand in 1977, and the transit records were suppressed by Cabinet order.[11]

Fraser opposed white minority rule in Rhodesia. During the 1979 Commonwealth Conference, Fraser, together with his Nigerian counterpart, convinced newly elected British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to withhold recognition of the internal settlement Zimbabwe Rhodesia government (Thatcher had earlier promised to recognise it). Subsequently, the Lancaster House talks were held and Robert Mugabe was elected leader of an independent Zimbabwe at the inaugural 1980 election. A former deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has stated that Fraser was 'the principal architect' in the installation of Robert Mugabe. Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere said he considered Fraser's role "crucial in many parts", and Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda called it "vital".[12]

Under his government, Australia recognised Indonesia's annexation of East Timor, although many East Timorese refugees were granted asylum in Australia. Fraser was a strong supporter of the United States and supported the boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. But, although he persuaded some sporting bodies not to compete, Fraser did not try to the prevent the Australian Olympic Committee sending a team to the Moscow games.

Fraser also surprised his critics in immigration policy. According to 1977 cabinet documents, the Fraser government adopted a formal policy for "a humanitarian commitment to admit refugees for resettlement".[13] Fraser expanded immigration from Asian countries and allowed more refugees to enter Australia.

Fraser supported multiculturalism and established a government-funded multilingual radio and television network, the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), though their first radio stations were established under the Whitlam government.[14]

Despite his support for SBS, the Fraser government imposed stringent budget cuts on the national broadcaster, the ABC, which came under repeated attack from the Coalition for its supposed left-wing bias and for allegedly "unfair" or critical coverage on TV programs including This Day Tonight and Four Corners, and on the ABC's new youth-oriented radio station Double Jay (2JJ). One result of the cuts was a plan to establish a national youth radio network, of which Double Jay was the first station. The network was delayed for many years, and did not come to fruition until the 1990s. Fraser also legislated to give Indigenous Australians control of their traditional lands in the Northern Territory, but would not impose land rights laws on the conservative governments in the states.


The Frasers and Reagans at the White House in 1982.

At the 1980 election, Fraser saw his majority more than halved, from 48 seats to 21. The Coalition also lost control of the Senate. Fraser was convinced, however, that he had the measure of the Labor leader, Bill Hayden. But in 1982 the economy experienced a sharp recession; and also a protracted scandal over tax-avoidance schemes run by prominent Liberals plagued the government. A popular minister, Andrew Peacock, resigned from Cabinet and challenged Fraser's leadership. Although Fraser won, these events left him politically weakened.

By early 1982, it was obvious that popular former union leader Bob Hawke was to replace Hayden as Labor leader. Fraser was well aware of the infighting between Hayden and Hawke and planned to call a snap election for 1982, but those plans were derailed due to a severe back injury. On 3 February 1983, Fraser called a double dissolution election for 5 March, several months before it was due. Fraser was emboldened by a swing to the coalition in a by-election for the Division of Flinders. He also believed he'd finally caught Labor before Hawke took the leadership. However, Fraser made his run too late. Unknown to Fraser, Hayden had resigned in favour of Hawke that morning—literally hours before the writ was dropped. In the election, the Coalition was heavily defeated, suffering a 24-seat swing—the worst defeat of a non-Labor government since Federation. It also made him (to date) the last Prime Minister from a non-metropolitan seat.

Fraser immediately resigned as Liberal leader, and retired from politics altogether two months later. Over the 13 years that the Liberals then spent in opposition until 1996, they tended to blame the "wasted opportunities" of the Fraser years for their problems. Fraser distanced himself from his old party, resigning from the party in 2009.


In retirement Fraser served as Chairman of the UN Panel of Eminent Persons on the Role of Transnational Corporations in South Africa 1985, as Co-Chairman of the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons on South Africa in 1985–86, and as Chairman of the UN Secretary-General's Expert Group on African Commodity Issues in 1989–90. He was a distinguished international fellow at the [15]

Memphis trousers affair

On 14 October 1986, Fraser, then the Chairman of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, was found in the foyer of the Admiral Benbow Inn, a seedy Memphis hotel, wearing nothing but a towel and confused as to where his trousers were. The hotel was an establishment popular with prostitutes and drug dealers. Though it was rumoured at the time that the former Prime Minister had been with a prostitute, his wife stated that Fraser had no recollection of the events and that she believes it more likely that he was the victim of a practical joke by his fellow delegates.[16]

Estrangement from the Liberal Party

Malcolm Fraser at Parliament House in 2008, for Kevin Rudd's national apology to the Stolen Generations.

In 1993, Fraser made a bid for the Liberal Party presidency but withdrew at the last minute following opposition to his bid due to Fraser being critical of then Liberal leader John Hewson for losing the election earlier that year.[17]

After 1996, Fraser was critical of the Bush administration, which Fraser saw as damaging Australian relationships in Asia). He opposed Howard's policy on asylum-seekers, campaigned in support of an Australian Republic and attacked what he perceived as a lack of integrity in Australian politics, together with former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam, finding much common ground with his predecessor and his successor Bob Hawke, who is also republican.[18][19]

The 2001 election completed Fraser's estrangement from the Liberal Party. Many Liberals criticised the Fraser years as "a decade of lost opportunity" on deregulation of the Australian economy and other issues. In early 2004, a Young Liberal convention in Hobart called for Fraser's life membership of the Liberal Party to be ended.[20]

In 2006, Fraser launched a "scathing attack" on the Howard Liberal government, attacking their policies on areas such as refugees, terrorism and civil liberties, and that "if Australia continues to follow United States policies, it runs the risk of being embroiled in the conflict in Iraq for decades, and a fear of Islam in the Australian community will take years to eradicate". Fraser claimed that the way the Howard government handled the David Hicks, Cornelia Rau and Vivian Solon cases was questionable.[21][22]

On 20 July 2007, Fraser sent an open letter to members of the large activist group GetUp!, encouraging members to support GetUp!'s campaign for a change in policy on Iraq including a clearly defined exit strategy.[23] Fraser stated: "One of the things we should say to the Americans, quite simply, is that if the United States is not prepared to involve itself in high-level diplomacy concerning Iraq and other Middle East questions, our forces will be withdrawn before Christmas."

After the defeat of the Howard government at the 2007 federal election, Fraser claimed Howard approached him in a corridor, following a cabinet meeting in May 1977 regarding Vietnamese refugees, and said: "We don't want too many of these people. We're doing this just for show, aren't we?" The claims were made by Fraser in an interview to mark the release of the 1977 cabinet papers. Howard, through a spokesman, denied making the comment.[24]

In January 2008, Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella[25] launched an attack on Fraser, after a speech he gave at Melbourne University on "the Bush Administration (reversing) 60 years of progress in establishing a law-based international system", claiming errors and "either intellectual sloppiness or deliberate dishonesty", and that he tacitly supports Islamic fundamentalism, should have no influence on foreign policy, and that his stance on the war on terror has left him open to caricature as a "frothing-at-the-mouth leftie".[26]

In December 2009, shortly after the election of Tony Abbott to the Liberal Party leadership, Fraser resigned from the Liberal Party.[27] Fraser said "the party was no longer a liberal party but a conservative party."[28]

Later political activity

In December 2011, Fraser was highly critical of the Australian government's decision (also supported by the Liberal Party Opposition) to permit the export of uranium to India, relaxing the Fraser government's policy of banning sales of uranium to countries that are not signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.[29]

In 2012, Fraser criticised the basing of U.S. military forces in Australia.[30] In 2014, speaking on the Russian RT television network, he criticised the concept of American exceptionalism and U.S. foreign policy.[31]

In late 2012, Fraser wrote a foreword for The Journal Jurisprudence where he openly criticised the current state of human rights in Australia and the Western World. "It is a sobering thought that in recent times, freedoms hard won through centuries of struggle, in the United Kingdom and elsewhere have been whittled away. In Australia alone we have laws that allow the secret detention of the innocent. We have had a vast expansion of the power of intelligence agencies. In many cases the onus of proof has been reversed and the justice that once prevailed as been gravely diminished."[32]

In July 2013, Fraser endorsed Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in a television advertisement.[33]

Personal life

In 1956, Fraser married Tamara "Tamie" Beggs, with whom he has four children; Mark (1958), Angela (1959), Hugh (1963) and Phoebe (1966).

Titles, styles and honours

Bust of Malcolm Fraser by political cartoonist, caricaturist and sculptor Peter Nicholson located in the Prime Minister's Avenue in the Ballarat Botanical Gardens


Foreign honours


Academic degrees


Malcolm Fraser Collection at the University of Melbourne

In 2004, Fraser designated the University of Melbourne the official custodian of his personal papers and library to create the Malcolm Fraser Collection at the University of Melbourne.[37]

See also


  1. ^ "Prime Facts 22" (PDF). Old Parliament House. The Australian Prime Ministers Centre. Retrieved 20 August 2008. 
  2. ^ a b "Prime Ministers of Australia: Malcolm Fraser".  
  3. ^ Australian Biography profile of Malcolm Fraser, part 10, 14 April 1994
  4. ^ "John Malcolm Fraser, PC, AC, CH". The Australian Prime Ministers Centre. Archived from the original on 18 July 2008. Retrieved 22 December 2008. 
  5. ^ "Fraser biodata". Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  6. ^ In Matters for Judgment, Sir John Kerr recounted having to reject (on the ground that it was unsigned) government advice to that end proffered by Attorney-General Kep Enderby.
  7. ^ "Letter Bomb Injures Two". The Palm Beach Post. 20 November 1975. p. A14. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  8. ^ O'Malley, Brendan (8 October 2009). "Letter bomb spells an explosive end to innocence". The Courier-Mail. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  9. ^ "The 7:30 Report". Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  10. ^ "When talk of racism is just not cricket". Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax. 16 December 2005. Retrieved 19 August 2007. 
  11. ^ "Australia let apartheid-era team pass through to NZ". New Zealand Herald. 2 January 2008. 
  12. ^ Colebatch, Hal G.P. (16 April 2008). "You got him in, so help kick him out". Australian. News. Retrieved 14 December 2012. 
  13. ^ Steketee, Mike (1 January 2008). "Howard in war refugee snub: Fraser". Australian. News. Retrieved 6 January 2008. 
  14. ^ A brief history of SBS, SBS web site
  15. ^ "Finding Security in Terrorism's Shadow: The importance of the rule of law". The Malcolm Fraser Collection. The University of Melbourne. 25 October 2007. Retrieved 17 December 2007. 
  16. ^ Madden, James (25 August 2007). "Mal's trousers and me: Tamie". The Australian. Retrieved 22 April 2012. 
  17. ^,+Tony+Staley,+John+Hewson&source=bl&ots=0CtcVeDkC-&sig=S79O0urPH7TtTt5HC0ESZI4sE7o&sa=X&ei=mowpUOGCJaeuiQeNlYC4Bw&ved=0CBoQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=Malcolm%20Fraser%2C%20Tony%20Staley%2C%20John%20Hewson&f=false
  18. ^ "7.30 Report – 10/11/2005: Fraser speaks out on Whitlam dismissal". Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  19. ^ Mayoh, Lisa (12 November 2007). "Malcolm Fraser, Gough Whitlam attack political integrity | Herald Sun". Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  20. ^ "Panellist: Malcolm Fraser". Q&A. ABC TV. 
  21. ^ "Fraser urges Iraq policy rethink". ABC News. Retrieved 30 December 2006. 
  22. ^ "Howard rejects Fraser's concerns". 20 October 2005. Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  23. ^ "A Message From Malcolm Fraser, Former PM". GetUp!. Retrieved 20 July 2007. 
  24. ^ Mike Steketee, National Affairs editor (1 January 2008). "Howard in war refugee snub: Fraser– The Australian 1/1/2008". Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  25. ^ Schubert, Misha; Cooke, Dewi (14 February 2008). "'"Ms Mirabella boycotted the historic national apology to the 'Stolen Generations. Melbourne: Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  26. ^ Sexton, Reid (6 January 2008). "Liberal MP attacks 'frothing' Fraser– National". Melbourne: Retrieved 25 April 2010. 
  27. ^ Austin, Paul (26 May 2010). "Malcolm Fraser Quits Liberal Party: The Age 26/5/2010". Melbourne: Retrieved 5 June 2010. 
  28. ^ Gillham, Alexis (26 May 2010). "Former PM Malcolm Fraser quits Liberals: Herald Sun 26/5/2010". Retrieved 5 June 2010. 
  29. ^ Fraser, Malcolm (12 December 2011). "Why Gillard's uranium-to-India policy is dangerously wrong". Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  30. ^ "A flap grows Down Under over new USMC rotations." Marine Times. 23 April 2012.
  31. ^
  32. ^ (September 2012). The Journal Jurisprudence 15. 
  33. ^ [1] Malcolm Fraser endorses Sarah Hanson-Young in TV ad
  34. ^ It's an Honour – Companion of Honour
  35. ^ It's an Honour – Companion of the Order of Australia
  36. ^ "Former Aust PM awarded top honour", The National, 31 December 2009
  37. ^ "The Malcolm Fraser Collection".  

Further reading

  • Ayres, Philip (1987), Malcolm Fraser, a Biography, Heinemann, Richmond, Victoria. ISBN 0-85561-060-3
  • Kelly, Paul (2000), Malcolm Fraser, in Michelle Grattan (ed.), Australian Prime Ministers, New Holland, Sydney, New South Wales. ISBN 1-86436-756-3
  • Kerr, John (1978), Matters for Judgment. An Autobiography, Macmillan, South Melbourne, Victoria. ISBN 0-333-25212-8
  • Lopez, Mark (2000),The Origins of Multiculturalism in Australian Politics 1945–1975, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Victoria. ISBN 0-522-84895-8
  • O'Brien, Patrick (1985), Factions, Feuds and Fancies. The Liberals, Viking, Ringwood, Victoria. ISBN 0-670-80893-8
  • Reid, Alan (1971), The Gorton Experiment, Shakespeare Head Press, Sydney, New South Wales
  • Reid, Alan (1976), The Whitlam Venture, Hill of Content, Melbourne, Victoria. ISBN 0-85572-079-4
  • Schneider, Russell (1980), War Without Blood. Malcolm Fraser in Power, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, New South Wales. ISBN 0-207-14196-7
  • Simons, Margaret with Fraser, Malcolm (2010), Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs, Melbourne University Publishing Limited (Miegunyah Press), Melbourne, Victoria. ISBN 978-0-522-85579-1
  • Snedden, Billy Mackie and Schedvin, M. Bernie (1990), Billy Snedden. An Unlikely Liberal, Macmillan, South Melbourne, esp. Ch. XV and XVI. ISBN 0-333-50130-6

External links

Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Don McLeod
Member for Wannon
Succeeded by
David Hawker
Political offices
Preceded by
Jim Forbes
Minister for the Army
Succeeded by
Phillip Lynch
Preceded by
John Gorton
Minister for Education and Science
Succeeded by
Nigel Bowen
Preceded by
Allen Fairhall
Minister for Defence
Succeeded by
John Gorton
Preceded by
David Fairbairn
Minister for Education and Science
Succeeded by
Gough Whitlam
Preceded by
Billy Snedden
Leader of the Opposition of Australia
Preceded by
Gough Whitlam
Prime Minister of Australia
Succeeded by
Bob Hawke
Party political offices
Preceded by
Billy Snedden
Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia
Succeeded by
Andrew Peacock
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