Malcolm Fraser

From Academic Kids

This article is about the Prime Minister of Australia; for the Western Australian public servant, see Malcolm Fraser (surveyor).
Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser
Rt Hon Malcolm Fraser

John Malcolm Fraser (born May 21 1930), Australian politician and 22nd Prime Minister of Australia, came to power in the circumstances of the dismissal of the Whitlam government. After two huge election victories and many legislative achievements, he was defeated by Bob Hawke in 1983, and ended his career alienated from his own party.


Rise to Leadership

Born in Melbourne, Victoria, but growing up on a property near Deniliquin in western New South Wales, Fraser was the son of a wealthy grazier. His mother, Una Fraser (nee Woolf), was Jewish, a fact which influenced his attitudes towards multiculturalism. The Frasers had had a long history in politics: his grandfather, Simon Fraser, had served in the Victorian parliament and later in the Australian Senate. Fraser was educated at Melbourne Grammar School and completed a degree in politics and economics at Oxford University in 1952.

Fraser contested the seat of Wannon, in Victoria's Western District, in 1954 for the Liberal Party, losing by 17 votes. The following year, however, he won the seat with a majority of more than five thousand, becoming the youngest member of the House of Representatives, and continued to represent Wannon until his retirement. In 1956 he married Tamara "Tamie" Beggs, a grazier's daughter. The couple had four children. Tamie Fraser professed to have no interest in politics but was influential behind the scenes.

Fraser developed an early reputation as an extreme right-winger, and he had a long wait for ministerial preferment. He was finally appointed Army minister by Harold Holt in 1966. Under John Gorton he became Minister for Education and Science, and in 1969 he was made Defence Minister: 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. Under McMahon, Fraser once again became Minister for Education and Science. When the Liberals were defeated at the 1972 elections by the Labor Party under Gough Whitlam, he became a member of the Opposition front bench under Billy Snedden's leadership.

Fraser soon became convinced that Snedden was a weak leader, and Snedden's defeat at the 1974 elections hardened his view. In March 1975 he staged a leadership coup and became Leader of the Opposition, on a policy of using the conservative parties' control of the Senate to force the Whitlam government to an early election as soon as possible. A tall, patrician figure with a hectoring speaking style, Fraser was detested by Labor voters, but seen as a hero by conservatives.

Prime Minister

In 1975, amidst a series of ministerial scandals that were rocking the Whitlam Government, Fraser decided to use his Senate numbers to block Supply, preventing the government's budget bills from passing the Senate, where the Coalition had a majority, and thus forcing Labor out of office (see Australian constitutional crisis of 1975). Several months of deadlock followed, and although Whitlam later claimed that he was about to end the crisis, ensure the passing of Supply and call elections, he was pre-empted by the actions of Fraser. After secret consultations with Australia's Chief Justice Sir Garfield Barwick and the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, Kerr intervened and dismissed Whitlam on November 11, 1975. Fraser was immediately sworn in as caretaker Prime Minister, despite not having a majority in the House of Representatives, and immediately advised Kerr to call elections for both Houses. He then immediately returned to the House and ensured the swift passing of the Supply bills before the ALP senators were even aware of the dismissal.

The Liberals won a landslide victory, greatly assisted by the strong support of the media, notably the Murdoch press, which had previously supported the ALP. The Coalition won a second term nearly as easily in 1977. Fraser used this period to dismantle some of the programs of the Labor government, notably the universal heath insurance system Medibank, as well as abolishing the Media Ministry. He embarked on a round of sharp cuts to public spending as part of the Coalition's policy to reign in inflation, which had soared under Whitlam; as a result of the cuts, which affected many areas of the federal public service, he earned the nickname "Fraser The Razor", and his economic reform team was dubbed "The Razor Gang". But Fraser did not carry out the radically conservative program that his enemies had predicted, and that some of his followers wanted. He in fact proved surprisingly moderate in office, to the frustration of his Treasurer (finance minister), John Howard and other Thatcherite ministers, who were strong adherents of monetarism. Fraser's economic record was marred by soaring unemployment, which reached record levels under his administration. He also brought in an unpopular "children's tax" which has however never been removed by subsequent governments.

Fraser was active in foreign policy. He supported the Commonwealth in campaigning to abolish apartheid in South Africa and white minority rule in Rhodesia. In 1979 Fraser played a leading role in the settlement which created an independent Zimbabwe and installed Robert Mugabe in power, which was applauded at the time. Under his government, Australia also 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 Olympic Games 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.

In immigration policy Fraser also surprised his critics. He expanded immigration from Asian countries and allowed more refugees to enter Australia. He supported multiculturalism and established a government-funded multilingual radio and television network, the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), a Whitlam initiative. He legislated to give Australia's Aboriginal people control of their traditional lands in the Northern Territory, but would not impose land rights laws on the conservative governments in the states.

Decline and fall

Fraser the elder statesman
Fraser the elder statesman

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

By the end of 1982 it was obvious that the popular trade union leader Bob Hawke was going to replace Hayden as Labor leader. Fraser wanted to call a snap election to defeat Hayden before Hawke could replace him, but he was prevented by the tax-evasion scandal and by an attack of ill-health. When Fraser acted, he had left his run too late. On the day Fraser called the election for 5 March, Hawke replaced Hayden as leader of the ALP and Leader of the Opposition. Fraser was heavily defeated by Hawke in the election.

Fraser immediately resigned from Parliament. 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, and Fraser grew resentful of this and distanced himself from his old party. The Hawke Government supported his unsuccessful bid to become Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Elder statesman

In retirement Fraser served with distinction as Chairman of the United Nations 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. Fraser became president of the foreign aid group Care International in 1991, and worked with a number of other charitable organisations.

After 1996 Fraser was critical of the Howard Liberal government over foreign policy issues (particularly support for the foreign policy of the Bush administration, which Fraser saw as damaging Australian relationships in Asia). He campaigned in support of an Australian Republic in 1999 and in the 2001 election campaign he opposed Howard's policy on asylum-seekers.

This completed Fraser's estrangement from the Liberal Party. Indeed, he and Whitlam say they are now good friends. Many Liberals became unrestrained in their attacks on the Fraser years as "a decade of lost opportunity," on deregulation of the Australian economy and other issues. This was highlighted when in early 2004 a Young Liberal convention in Hobart called for Fraser's life-membership of the Liberal Party to be ended. As Fraser passed 70 he had lost none of his combativeness and generally gave as good as he got in these exchanges.

See also

External links

  • Malcolm Fraser ( - Australia's Prime Ministers / National Archives of Australia

Preceded by:
Billy Snedden
Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia
Succeeded by:
Andrew Peacock
Preceded by:
Gough Whitlam
Prime Minister of Australia
Succeeded by:
Bob Hawke

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