Malcolm Fraser

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The Right Honourable
Malcolm Fraser
AC, CH, GCL, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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
Leader of the Liberal Party
In office
21 March 1975 – 11 March 1983
Deputy Phillip Lynch
John Howard
Preceded by Billy Snedden
Succeeded by Andrew Peacock
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
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Melbourne, Victoria
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Tamie Beggs (m. 1956; his death 2015)
Children 4
Education Tudor House School
Melbourne Grammar School
Magdalen College, Oxford
Profession Politician

John Malcolm Fraser AC, CH, GCL, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , (/ˈfrzər/; 21 May 1930 – 20 March 2015) was an Australian politician who was the 22nd Prime Minister of Australia and the Leader of the Liberal Party from 1975 to 1983.[1]

Elected to the Australian Parliament seat of Wannon in 1955 at the age of 25, Fraser was appointed to the Cabinet in 1966. After rising to become Minister for Defence in 1969, he was regarded as a contender for the leadership of the Liberal Party following their defeat in 1972, but he lost that contest to Billy Snedden. Fraser challenged Snedden in 1975 and was elected Leader of the Liberal Party, becoming the Leader of the Opposition.

Fraser was appointed as caretaker prime minister on 11 November 1975 by the Governor-General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, following the controversial dismissal of the Whitlam Government in which he played a key role. He went on to win the largest parliamentary majority as a proportion of seats in Australian political history at the subsequent election. After two further election victories in 1977 and 1980, he was defeated by the Bob Hawke-led Australian Labor Party in 1983 and left parliament shortly after.

Fraser was the last Liberal Party Prime Minister to practise Keynesian economics. In retirement, Fraser became involved in international relief and humanitarian aid issues and, domestically, as a forthright liberal voice for human rights. Shortly after Tony Abbott won the 2009 Liberal Party leadership spill, Fraser ended his Liberal Party membership, stating the party was "no longer a liberal party but a conservative party".

On 20 March 2015, Fraser died at the age of 84 after a brief illness.

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 industry. His grandfather, Simon Fraser, Sr., emigrated from Nova Scotia in 1853, becoming a successful pastoralist and speculator, and later a member of the Victorian Parliament, the Federation Conventions and the Australian Senate. Fraser's uncle, Simon Fraser, Jr., was a noted sportsman who rowed for Australia at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, and also played Australian rules football for Essendon and University in the Victorian Football League.[2]

Fraser's father, John Neville Fraser, had been educated at the University of Melbourne, and was a pastoralist at Moulamein in the western 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][5] Fraser's mother, Una Woolf, was of Jewish descent on her father's side,[2][6] which Fraser did not discover until he was an adult.[7]

Fraser grew up on the family's pastoral properties and was educated at Tudor House School, near Moss Vale in New South Wales, Glamorgan, now part of Geelong Grammar School, and Melbourne Grammar School, before completing a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Magdalen College, Oxford in 1952.[5] While at Oxford, Fraser was a classmate and friend of future Canadian Prime Minister John Turner.

Early political career, 1955–75

Upon returning to Australia from Oxford, Fraser contested the seat of Wannon in 1954 for the Liberal Party, losing to Labor incumbent Don McLeod by just 17 votes. However, a redistribution made Wannon a notionally Liberal seat, and McLeod announced his retirement shortly before the election in 1955. Fraser subsequently won the seat with a majority of more than 5,000 on a swing of 8.5 per cent. Aged just 25, he was the youngest Member of Parliament; he would continue to represent Wannon until his retirement in 1983.

Cabinet minister

Malcolm Fraser in 1966.

After more than a decade on the backbench, Fraser was appointed to the Cabinet by the prime minister, Harold Holt, in 1966. As Minister for the Army he presided over the controversial Vietnam War conscription program. Under the new prime minister, John Gorton, he became Minister for Education and Science and in 1969 was promoted to Minister for Defence, a particularly challenging post at the time, given the height of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War and the protests against it.

In March 1971, Fraser abruptly resigned from the Cabinet in protest at what he called Gorton's "interference in (his) ministerial responsibilities".[8] This precipitated a series of events which eventually led to the downfall of Gorton and his replacement as prime minister by William McMahon. Gorton never forgave Fraser for the role he played in his downfall and to the day he died in 2002 could not bear to be in the same room with him.[9] McMahon immediately reappointed Fraser to the Cabinet, returning him to his old position of Minister for Education and Science. When the Liberals were defeated at the 1972 election by the Labor Party under Gough Whitlam, McMahon resigned and Fraser became Shadow Minister for Labour under Billy Snedden.

Role in the dismissal

After Snedden was defeated in 1974, Fraser unsuccessfully challenged him for the leadership of the Liberal Party in November. Despite surviving the challenge, Snedden's position in opinion polls continued to decline and he was unable to get the better of Whitlam in the Parliament. Fraser again challenged Snedden on 21 March 1975, this time succeeding and becoming Leader of the Liberal Party and Leader of the Opposition.

Following a series of ministerial scandals engulfing the Whitlam Government later that year, Fraser began to instruct Coalition senators to delay the government's budget bills, with the objective of forcing an early election that he believed he would win. After several months of political deadlock, during which time the government secretly explored methods of obtaining supply funding outside the Parliament, the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, controversially dismissed Whitlam as prime minister on 11 November 1975.[10] Fraser was immediately sworn in as caretaker prime minister on the condition that he end the political deadlock and call an immediate election.

On 19 November 1975, shortly after the election had been called, a letter bomb was sent to Fraser, but it was intercepted and defused before it reached him. Similar devices were sent to the governor-general and the Premier of Queensland, Joh Bjelke-Petersen.[11][12]

Prime Minister (1975–83)

File:John Malcolm Fraser 1977.jpg
Fraser in June 1977.

At the 1975 election, Fraser led the Liberal-Country Party Coalition to a landslide victory. The Coalition won 30 seats from Labor to gain a 55-seat majority, which remains to date the largest in Australian history. Fraser subsequently led the Coalition to a second victory in 1977, with only a very small decrease in their vote. The Liberals actually won a majority in their own right, something that even Robert Menzies had not been able to achieve. Although Fraser thus had no need for the support of the (National) Country Party to govern, he retained the formal Coalition between the two parties.

Fraser quickly dismantled some of the programs of the Whitlam Government, such as the Ministry of the Media, and made major changes to the universal health insurance system Medibank. He initially maintained Whitlam's levels 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" implemented stringent budget cuts across many areas of the Commonwealth Public Sector, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).[13]

Fraser practised Keynesian economics during his time as Prime Minister,[14] in part demonstrated by running budget deficits throughout his term as Prime Minister.[15] He was the Liberal Party's last Keynesian Prime Minister. Though he 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 particularly disappointed the treasurer, John Howard, as well as other ministers who were strong adherents of emerging free market neo-liberal economics,[14] and therefore detractors of Keynesian economics. The government's economic record was marred by rising double-digit unemployment and double-digit inflation, creating "stagflation", caused in part by the ongoing effects of the 1973 oil crisis.

Fraser and US president Jimmy Carter in June 1977

Fraser was particularly active in foreign policy as prime minister. 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.[16] 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.[17]

Fraser also strongly opposed white minority rule in Rhodesia. During the 1979 Commonwealth Conference, Fraser, together with his Nigerian counterpart, convinced the 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 Agreement was signed and Robert Mugabe was elected leader of an independent Zimbabwe at the inaugural 1980 election. Duncan Campbell, a former deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has stated that Fraser was "the principal architect" in the ending of white minority rule.[18] The President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, said that he considered Fraser's role "crucial in many parts" and the President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, called his contribution "vital".[19]

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

Fraser also surprised his critics over immigration policy; according to 1977 Cabinet documents, the Fraser Government adopted a formal policy for "a humanitarian commitment to admit refugees for resettlement".[20] Fraser's aim was to expand immigration from Asian countries and allow more refugees to enter Australia. He was a firm supporter of multiculturalism and established a government-funded multilingual radio and television network, the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), building on their first radio stations which had been established under the Whitlam Government.[21]

Despite Fraser's support for SBS, his government imposed stringent budget cuts on the national broadcaster, the ABC, which came under repeated attack from the Coalition for alleged "left-wing bias" and "unfair" coverage on their TV programs, including This Day Tonight and Four Corners, and on the ABC's new youth-oriented radio station Double Jay. 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 resisted imposing land rights laws on conservative state governments.

The Frasers with the 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. Despite this, Fraser remained ahead of Labor leader Bill Hayden in opinion polls. However, the economy was hit by the early 1980s recession, and a protracted scandal over tax-avoidance schemes run by some high-profile Liberals also began to hurt the Government.

In April 1981, the Minister for Industrial Relations, Andrew Peacock, resigned from the Cabinet, accusing Fraser of "constant interference in his portfolio". Fraser, however, had accused former prime minister John Gorton of the same thing a decade earlier. Peacock subsequently challenged Fraser for the leadership; although Fraser defeated Peacock, these events left him politically weakened.

By early 1982, the popular former ACTU President, Bob Hawke, who had entered Parliament in 1980, was polling well ahead of both Fraser and the Labor Leader, Bill Hayden, on the question of who voters would rather see as prime minister. Fraser was well aware of the infighting this caused between Hayden and Hawke and had planned to call a snap election in autumn 1982, preventing the Labor Party changing leaders. These plans were derailed when Fraser suffered a severe back injury. Shortly after recovering from his injury, the Liberal Party narrowly won a by-election in the marginal seat of Flinders in January 1983. The failure of the Labor Party to win the seat convinced Fraser that he would be able to win an election against Hayden. As leadership tensions began to grow in the Labor Party throughout January, Fraser subsequently resolved to call a double dissolution election at the earliest opportunity, hoping to capitalise on Labor's disunity and prevent them from replacing Hayden.

On 3 February 1983, Fraser arranged to visit the Governor-General of Australia, Ninian Stephen, intending to call a surprise election. By coincidence and without any knowledge of Fraser's plans, Hayden resigned as Labor Leader just two hours before Fraser travelled to Government House. This meant that the considerably more popular Bob Hawke was able to replace him at almost exactly the same time that the writs were issued for the election. Although Fraser reacted to the move by saying he looked forward to "knock[ing] two Labor Leaders off in one go" at the forthcoming election, Labor immediately surged in the opinion polls.[22]

At the election on 5 March the Coalition was heavily defeated, suffering a 24-seat swing, the worst defeat of a non-Labor government since Federation. Fraser immediately announced his resignation as Liberal leader and formally resigned as prime minister on 11 March 1983; he retired from Parliament two months later. To date, he is the last non-interim prime minister from a rural seat.

Retirement (1983–2015)

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 American Enterprise Institute from 1984 to 1986. Fraser helped to establish the foreign aid group CARE organisation in Australia and became the agency's international president in 1991, and worked with a number of other charitable organisations.[23] In 2006, he was appointed Professorial Fellow at the Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law, and in October 2007 he presented his inaugural professorial lecture, "Finding Security in Terrorism's Shadow: The importance of the rule of law".[24]

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 only a pair of underpants 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.[25]

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, which was raised due to Fraser being critical of then Liberal leader John Hewson for losing the election earlier that year.[26]

After 1996, Fraser was critical of the Howard Coalition government over foreign policy issues, particularly John Howard's alignment with the foreign policy 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, another republican.[27][28]

The 2001 election continued his 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.[29]

In 2006, Fraser criticised Howard Liberal government 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.[30][31]

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.[32] 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."[33]

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.[34]

In October 2007 Fraser gave a speech to Melbourne Law School on terrorism and "the importance of the rule of law,"[35] which Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella[36] condemned in January 2008, claiming errors and "either intellectual sloppiness or deliberate dishonesty", and claimed that he tacitly supported Islamic fundamentalism, that he should have no influence on foreign policy, and claimed his stance on the war on terror had left him open to caricature as a "frothing-at-the-mouth leftie".[37]

Shortly after Tony Abbott won the 2009 Liberal Party leadership spill, Fraser ended his Liberal Party membership,[38] stating the party was "no longer a liberal party but a conservative party".[39]

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.[40]

In 2012, Fraser criticised the basing of US military forces in Australia.[41] In 2014, speaking on the Russian RT television network, he criticised the concept of American exceptionalism and US foreign policy.[42]

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."[43]

In July 2013, Fraser endorsed Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young for re-election in a television advertisement, stating she had been a "reasonable and fair-minded voice".[44]

Fraser's books include Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs (with Margaret Simons – The Miegunyah Press, 2010) and Dangerous Allies (Melbourne University Press, 2014), which warns of "strategic dependence" on the United States.[45]


On 20 March 2015, his office announced that Fraser had died in the early hours of the morning, noting that he had suffered a brief illness.[46][47] An obituary noted that there had been "greater appreciation of the constructive and positive nature of his post-prime ministerial contribution" as his retirement years progressed.[23] He was survived by his wife Tamara "Tamie" Beggs, whom he had married in 1956, and their four children, Mark, Angela, Hugh and Phoebe.[48][49]

Fraser was given a state funeral at Scots' Church in Melbourne on 27 March 2015.[50]

Published works

  • Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs (Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, 2010).
  • Dangerous Allies (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2014).

Titles, styles and honours

File:Malcolm Fraser bust.jpg
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

Titles and Styles


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.[54]

See also


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  3. Australian Biography profile of Malcolm Fraser, part 10, 14 April 1994
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  10. 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 the attorney-general, Kep Enderby.
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  21. A brief history of SBS, SBS web site Archived 7 May 2010 at the Wayback Machine
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  26. Simons & Fraser, p. 721.
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  41. "A flap grows Down Under over new USMC rotations." Marine Times. 23 April 2012.
  42. Former Australian PM Attacks America: Thinks its superior rules only apply to inferior nations. Breitbart. 2014.
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  44. Malcolm Fraser endorses Sarah Hanson-Young in TV ad. The Sydney Morning Herald. 28 July 2013.
  45. Book review: Dangerous Allies by Malcolm Fraser.
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  51. It's an Honour – Companion of Honour
  52. It's an Honour – Companion of the Order of Australia
  53. "Former Aust PM awarded top honour", The National, 31 December 2009
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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
  • 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 Member of Parliament for Wannon
Succeeded by
David Hawker
Political offices
Preceded by Minister for the Army
Succeeded by
Phillip Lynch
Preceded by Minister for Education and Science
Succeeded by
Nigel Bowen
Preceded by Minister for Defence
Succeeded by
John Gorton
Preceded by Minister for Education and Science
Succeeded by
Gough Whitlam
Preceded by Leader of the Opposition
Preceded by Prime Minister of Australia
Succeeded by
Bob Hawke
Party political offices
Preceded by Leader of the Liberal Party
Succeeded by
Andrew Peacock