FORMER Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has died at the age of 84.“It is with deep sadness that we inform you that after a brief illness John Malcolm Fraser died peacefully in the early hours of the morning of 20 March 2015,” Mr Fraser’s office said in a statement this morning.
“We appreciate that this will be a shock to all who knew and loved him, but ask that the family be left in peace at this difficult time.”
He is survived by his wife Tamie and four children.
Mr Fraser was the Prime Minister of Australia and the Leader of the Liberal Party from 1975 to 1983. He came to power in controversial circumstances following the Governor-General’s dismissal of Gough Whitlam, proceeding to win the 1975 election in a landslide.
Speaking of Mr Whitlam’s death last October, Mr Fraser said although the two would forever be linked by their differences during the dismissal, the two never bore any personal animosity.
“Gough Whitlam wasn’t the sort of person who bore grudges,” he said.
“He was a Prime Minister who did many different things and many of his ideas were good.”
Mr Fraser became an MP in 1955, at the age of 25. Before becoming the party’s leader, he served as Army Minister, Defence Minister and Education and Science Minister.
As Prime Minister, Mr Fraser oversaw the formation of the Australian Federal Police force, and the creation of our first Freedom of Information Act. He supported the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, the establishment of an independent Zimbabwe, and the rise of multiculturalism in Australia.
His government rejuvenated the nation’s immigration program, accepting hundreds of thousands of migrants during its eight years in power, including more than 50,000 Vietnamese asylum seekers.
Mr Fraser also placed an emphasis on responsible fiscal policy. His government reduced spending and cut the size of the public service. At the same time, Mr Fraser resisted a push towards the “economic rationalism” advocated by many of his colleagues, which would have steered Australia down a similar road to the United Kingdom under Margaret Thatcher and the United States under Ronald Reagan.
After leaving office, he championed social justice causes and established the Australian arm of the CARE network, a humanitarian organisation, serving as president of CARE International from 1990 to 1995.
He also became a fearless critic of both Liberal and Labor governments. Mr Fraser quit the Liberal Party in 2010, saying it was “no longer a liberal party but a conservative party”, and just last month he criticised current Prime Minister Tony Abbott over the government’s response to the Human Rights Commission report.
Referring to the Forgotten Children report, Mr Fraser said Mr Abbott could have handled the issue very differently.
“If the Government had wanted to handle the matter sensibly, they would have said they recognise there have been abuses,” he told ABC Radio.
Mr Fraser strongly opposed Australia’s involvement in US military campaigns, arguing 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”.
Tributes for our former Prime Minister are pouring in from both sides of the political divide.
“I knew him well. I visited him on a number of occasions and he always gave wise council,” said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
“He didn’t always agree with the Liberal government of the day but he always had Australia’s best interests at heart.”
Treasurer Joe Hockey said the deaths of Mr Fraser and Gough Whitlam, so close together, mark “the end of an era”.
“He was a man of robust principles, never afraid to stand up for what he thought was right. He provided stability and reassurance at a time when Australia had gone through incredible upheaval,” Mr Hockey said.