Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser passed away today following a brief illness. He was 84.
Fraser was first elected to Australia’s House of Representatives in 1955 when he was only 25. He would rise steadily through the Liberal Party ranks and become Minister of the Army under Harold Holt (who would disappear while swimming the following year). After the Liberals lost power to Gough Whitlam’s Labor Party in 1972, Fraser campaigned to be Liberal Party leader but lost to Bill Snedden. However, when Snedden could not unseat Whitlam in the 1974 federal election, Fraser successfully challenged Snedden for the Liberal Party leadership and become leader of the official opposition in March 1975.
Eight months later, Fraser would become Prime Minister. After months of refusing the to approve the Whitlam Labor government’s budget unless he called an election, Australian Governor General Sir John Kerr dismissed Whitlam from power and named Fraser the head of a new caretaker government. Although Kerr’s decision was arguably the most controversial in Australia’s history, Fraser’s Liberals would win the largest majority in Australian history in the election of December 1975. Fraser would also earn majority victories in 1977 and 1980 before his luck ran out in 1983 against Bob Hawke of the Labor Party.
Fraser and Whitlam would eventually reconcile and Fraser’s death comes less than six months after Whitlam’s passing. As I noted in my obit of Whitlam, both men supported the Yes forces during unsuccessful 1999 referendum to move Australia away from the monarchy. No doubt their pro-republic sentiments were a product of the 1975 constitutional crisis.
In his later years, Fraser made a leftward turn in his politics and would leave the Liberal Party in 2010 when current Aussie PM Tony Abbott turfed out Malcolm Turnbull to become its leader.
Despite this, Abbott paid tribute to Fraser while acknowledging their differences. “I often disagreed with his positions. But I always appreciated his insights and the wisdom born of long experience,” said Abbott. The PM went on to say, “It’s a particularly sad day for all who cheered Malcolm Fraser on in those stirring days when he led the fight against what many of us thought was a bad government.”