Obituary: Malcolm Fraser (1930–2015)

Malcolm Fraser was Australia's twenty-second Prime Minister, serving from 1975 until 1983. He began his term as caretaker Prime Minister on 11 November 1975, after Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed Gough Whitlam's Labor government.

The Fraser Coalition government was returned with the largest landslide of any federal election a month later, and remained in office until 1983. Nonetheless, the constitutional crisis led to controversy which marked Fraser's prime ministership.

Fraser had an important influence on the changing relations of countries within the British Commonwealth, and on shaping Australia's relations with the countries of East and Southeast Asia. Though economic rationalism was introduced in policy debate during his term of office, his government reflected more traditional principles in financial management and fiscal policy.

Before becoming Prime Minister, Fraser had spent ten years as a backbencher in the government of Robert Menzies. He then became Minister for the Army in 1966, under Harold Holt, and was also a minister in the governments of John Gorton and William McMahon.

Malcolm Fraser's term as Prime Minister ended when Bob Hawke was sworn in on 11 March 1983 after Labor won the federal election. Fraser resigned from parliament on 31 March 1983.

Malcolm Fraser became a prominent figure in Australia's diplomatic relations in the following decades. In 1984 and 1985 he held fellowships at two US institutions: the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and then the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.

His first major international role concerned United Nations and Commonwealth efforts to further the process of dialogue and reform in South Africa to achieve the end of apartheid. In 1985 Fraser was chairman of the United Nations Panel of Eminent Persons on the Role of Transnational Corporations in South Africa and, from October 1985 to August 1986, he jointly chaired the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons against Apartheid in South Africa. He also played other roles in ending apartheid, including lobbying the US Congress to impose sanctions on South Africa. From 1989 to 1990, he chaired the United Nations Secretary-General's Expert Group on African Commodity Issues.

In 1987 Malcolm Fraser formed CARE Australia as part of the international CARE network of humanitarian aid organisations. He was chairman from 1987 until 2002, when William Deane succeeded him. Malcolm Fraser was also president of CARE International from 1990 to 1995, and its vice-president for the next four years.

In July 1996, Prime Minister John Howard despatched Malcolm Fraser to Africa to lobby support for Australia's candidacy for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

Malcolm Fraser was a member of the Commonwealth observers group in Pakistan for the October 1993 election, and visited Tanzania in October 1995 and Bangladesh in June 1996. He also led the observer mission for the Pakistan national election on 3 February 1997.

In 1988, Fraser was awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia and, in November 2000, he was awarded Australia's Human Rights Medal for his contribution to the advancement of human rights in Australia and internationally.

Throughout the 11 years of Liberal Coalition government under John Howard, Malcolm Fraser was an outspoken critic of policy in relation to Indigenous Australians, the United Nations, refugees and the war in Iraq. An ‘enduring liberal', under subsequent governments Malcolm Fraser continued to be a strong advocate for more humane policies on refugees arriving in Australia.

Malcolm Fraser passed away on 20 March 2015.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019