Australia’s 22nd prime minister, Malcolm Fraser, has died at the age of 84.
A short statement issued by his office said Mr Fraser ‘died peacefully in the early hours of the morning of 20 March, 2015’.
John Malcolm Fraser came to power under a cloud in 1975 after then governor-general John Kerr unilaterally dismissed the elected Whitlam Labor government on November 11, known to most Australians as Remembrance Day.
The election that followed swept Fraser and the Liberals back into office after they had used their numbers in the upper house to prevent the government from passing budget bills, causing it to have to borrow money to pay public servants.
In the years after what became known as the Dismissal, Fraser went on to implement some good policies among the typical conservative agenda. He is particularly remembered for his support of multiculturalism and the creation of public broadcaster SBS. But much of what good he did do was marred for many by the manner in which his government came to power.
After 10 years as PM (third longest serving liberal prime minister after Menzies and Howard) Fraser used his retirement as a form of atonement, including supporting the ending of apartheid before it was popular to do so.
More recently it was said of Fraser that he ‘questioned everything in later life’, including the current conservative government’s policies on asylum seekers, terrorism and data retention.
What former PMs said of Fraser
Julia Gillard says a chapter of political history has closed with the death of Malcolm Fraser.
‘With the loss of the great Gough Whitlam last year, the chapter in our nation’s history that included the controversy of the dismissal has closed,’ she wrote on her Facebook page.
‘However, our memories of that era encompass far more than the days of the constitutional crisis and today we remember all of Malcolm Fraser’s life and works with respect.’
Paul Keating said it was a great loss.
‘I always thought Malcolm would be around a lot longer. I must say, I wished he had been,’ he said.
Mr Keating said the constitutional crisis of 1975 had rewritten the rulebook of Australian public life.
‘He made peace with Gough Whitlam. I would like to think had he had his time over, he would have let the 1974 parliament run its course.
‘The great pity for him of the budget crisis of 1975 was that it de-legitimised his government, at its inception, and with it, much of the value he otherwise brought to public life.’
Ms Gillard said she honoured Mr Fraser’s service to the country.
‘Malcolm Fraser in and beyond politics was a leader in the fight for racial equality,’ she said.
‘His brave stance against the evil of South Africa’s apartheid helped changed the world for the better.’
Mr Fraser had been committed to multiculturalism and would be remembered for his action to resettle Vietnamese boat people in Australia.
He was admired for his work internationally through his leadership of CARE Australia and then CARE International.
Mr Keating said Mr Fraser had detested Australia’s ‘strategic subservience’ to the US and promoted an independent foreign policy.
‘His public life also enshrined other important principles: no truck with race or colour and no tolerance for whispered notions of exclusivity tinged by race. These principles applied throughout his political life.’
Kevin Rudd said Mr Fraser would be remembered as a compassionate Australian.
Mr Rudd said the passage of the Northern Territory Land Act in 1976 was an important step forward in the long-term process of building bipartisan political consensus on justice for Aboriginal Australians.
The Human Rights Act was another important legacy of the Fraser government.
‘The fact that the Human Rights Commission through to this day continues to articulate an independent voice within Australian on the protection of the fundamental human rights of all Australians is a tribute to his leadership,’ Mr Rudd said.
However, Mr Rudd added the dismissal of 1975 ‘cannot be erased from history’.
John Howard described Mr Fraser as a passionate nationalist.
He conceded the pair had some disagreements over economic policy when Mr Howard was Mr Fraser’s treasurer.
‘I think he had a view about economic policy that was rooted in the relative success, the considerable success of the 1950s and 60s,’ he said.
‘Therefore he wasn’t so enamoured of some of the deregulatory policies of the 1980s.’
On Mr Fraser’s famous ‘life wasn’t meant to be easy’ comment, Mr Howard said the former prime minister was trying to make the point that to be a successful country sometimes difficult decisions have to be made.
Sometimes people interpreted Mr Fraser’s shyness as indifference, but it wasn’t, Mr Howard said.
– with AAP