Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser died today, aged 84, following a brief illness. He was Australia’s 22nd prime minister, holding the position from 1975 to 1983 as leader of the Liberal Party.
Fraser is most remembered as the person who replaced Gough Whitlam as PM following the turbulent 1975 dismissal of the Labor government. However, it should also be remembered that he was the first Australian politician to describe the nation’s future as multicultural, and his government was the first to pass Aboriginal Land Rights and Freedom of Information legislation.
In later years, he remained active as a humanitarian spokesman. He also became a very vocal critic of his own Liberal Party, eventually renouncing his lifetime membership in 2009.
Malcolm Fraser is survived by his wife Tamie Fraser, and four children Phoebe, Mark, Angela and Hugh.
Upon his death, tributes have flowed from current and former politicians and activists.
From former prime minister, John Howard
“He was very generous to me in promoting me very early and giving me the opportunity in politics. I always valued that and was always grateful for it.
“We worked together very closely, particularly when I became treasurer at the end of1977 and remained in very close professional harmony and cooperation until the defeat of his government in March of 1983.”
After acknowledging very public policy disagreements during his own prime ministership, Howard added: “Anybody who achieves what Malcolm Fraser achieved in his life deserves respect as a quite extraordinary Australian. He brought to the government of this country, he brought great integrity.”
From former prime minister, Bob Hawke
“Of course, Malcolm Fraser and I were on opposing sides of the political fence.
“I had an absolute unqualified respect and admiration for one particular aspect of the political career of Malcolm Fraser and that was he was impeccable on the questions of race and colour.
“During his time as prime minister he was also extraordinarily generous in welcoming refugees from Indochina. So those things will always be remembered. They were an enduring monument to Malcolm Fraser.”
From Prime Minister Tony Abbott
“I made it my business to renew my contact with him on becoming party leader back in 2009. Although his politics had changed over the years, he led us triumphantly into government and deserved the continuing respect of all Australian Liberals.
“I had quite a number of long talks with him since then, most recently late last year. I didn’t always agree with all of his positions. In fact, I often disagreed with his positions. But I always appreciated his insights and the wisdom born of long experience.”
From former prime minister, Julia Gillard
“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. 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.”
From former prime minister, Paul Keating
“I always thought Malcolm would be around a lot longer. I must say, I wished he had been.
“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.”
From federal Labor leader, Bill Shorten
“Famously, he and Gough made their peace in these later days too. The friendship that grew between these two titans was more than just an act of personal forgiveness, it was a symbol of national healing.”
From Labor deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek
“Mr Fraser never retired from public life. Especially in his later decades, he was a great champion of human rights in Australia and around the world. Mr Fraser’s efforts to help end Apartheid in South Africa, his support for immigration from Asia, and his promotion of a multicultural Australia will always be remembered.
“I particularly admired his advocacy for an independent Australian foreign policy.
“History will forever record the controversy of the dismissal. But so too it will record Mr Fraser’s enduring contributions to our national life.”
From ACTU President Ged Kearney
“The Australian Union movement today pays its respects to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.
“Malcolm Fraser will always be remembered for his strong opposition to apartheid and his commitment to multiculturalism through his work with Vietnamese and Cambodian migrants.
“In recent years Malcolm Fraser has been a strong, powerful and socially progressive advocate for human rights in particular the rights of refugees and his support for more humane and compassionate immigration policies. Our thoughts are with his family today.”
From Greenpeace CEO, David Ritter
“Malcolm Fraser was a powerful advocate for a more humane and independent Australia. We celebrate his achievements as Australia’s prime minister, in particular his protection of the Great Barrier Reef.”
IMAGE: Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser with his wife Tammy in 2012. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)