frothing at mouth

Malcolm Fraser


John Malcolm Fraser, AC, CH (born 21 May 1930) is an Australian Liberal politician who was the 22nd Prime Minister of Australia. He came to power in the 1975 election following the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor government, in which he played a key role and, like its immediate predecessor, the term of the Fraser Coalition government was one of the most controversial periods in Australian political history. After three election victories, he was defeated by Bob Hawke in the 1983 election, and ended his career alienated from his own party.

Early life

Born in Toorak, he had a Jewish maternal grandfather, of whose ethnicity Fraser claims never to have been mindful. The Frasers have 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 Glamorgan (now part of Geelong Grammar School), Melbourne Grammar School, and completed a degree in philosophy, politics and economics ('Modern Greats') at the University of Oxford 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 (born 28 February 1936), a grazier's daughter. The couple have four children. Tamie Fraser professed to have no interest in politics.

Rise to Leadership

Fraser developed an early reputation as a right-winger, and he had a long wait for ministerial preferment. He was finally appointed Minister for the Army by Harold Holt in 1966, in which he presided over the controversial Vietnam war conscription. Under John Gorton he became Minister for Education and Science, and in 1968 he was made Minister for Defence: 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 election by the Labor Party under Gough Whitlam, he became a member of the opposition front bench under Billy Snedden's leadership.

Role in "the dismissal"

Fraser responded to Snedden's defeat at the 1974 election by successfully challenging for the opposition leadership. In 1975, in the context of a series of ministerial scandals that were rocking the Whitlam government, Fraser opted to use the Coalition opposition Senate numbers to delay the government's budget bills with the objective of achieving an early election (see Australian constitutional crisis of 1975). After several months of deadlock, during which the government secretly explored methods of obtaining supply funding outside the Parliament Governor-General Sir John Kerr intervened and revoked Whitlam’s commission on 11 November 1975. Fraser was immediately sworn in as caretaker prime minister on condition that he give the Governor-General immediate advice to dissolve both Houses and issue writs for an election for both Houses.

Malcolm Fraser's role in "the dismissal" remains one of the most passionately debated subjects in Australian political history.

Prime Minister

The Liberal-Country Party coalition won a landslide victory with the support of media, notably the Murdoch press, which had previously supported the ALP. The Coalition won a second term nearly as easily in 1977. The Liberal Party won a majority in their own right in both elections; there being no need to have a coalition with the Country Party, there was considerable speculation that the Liberals would govern alone, however the coalition was retained.

Fraser quickly dismantled some of the programs of the Labor government, such as the Ministry for the Media, and he made major changes to the universal health insurance system Medibank. He initially maintained Whitlam's real level of tax and spending, but real per-person tax and spending soon began to increase. He did manage to rein in inflation which had soared under Whitlam. Although his so-called "Razor Gang implemented stringent budget cuts across many areas of the Commonwealth Public Sector, including the ABC, the Fraser government did not carry out the radically conservative program that his political enemies had predicted, and that some of his followers wanted. He in fact proved surprisingly moderate in office, to the frustration of his Treasurer, John Howard, and other pro-Thatcherite ministers, who were strong adherents of monetarism (see New Right). Fraser's economic record was marred by rising unemployment, which reached record levels under his administration, caused in part by the ongoing effects of the 1973 oil crisis.

Fraser was active in foreign policy. He supported the Commonwealth in campaigning to abolish apartheid in South Africa, and refused permission for the aircraft carrying the Springbok rugby team to refuel on Australian territory en route to their controversial 1981 tour of New Zealand. However, an earlier tour by the South African Ski Boat Angling Team was allowed to pass through Australia on the way to New Zealand in 1977, and the transit records were suppressed by Cabinet order.

Fraser opposed white minority rule in Rhodesia. During the 1979 Commonwealth Conference, Fraser, together with his Nigerian counterpart, convinced newly-elected British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to withhold recognition of the internal settlement Zimbabwe Rhodesia government (Thatcher had earlier promised to recognise it). Subsequently, the Lancaster House talks were held and Robert Mugabe was elected leader of an independent Zimbabwe at the inaugural 1980 election. A former deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has stated that Fraser was 'the principal architect' in the installation of Robert Mugabe. Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere said he considered Fraser's role "crucial in many parts", and Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda called it "vital".

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 Summer Olympics in Moscow. But, although he persuaded some sporting bodies not to compete, Fraser did not try to the prevent the Australian Olympic Federation sending a team to the Moscow games.

Fraser also surprised his critics in immigration policy. According to 1977 cabinet documents, the Fraser government adopted a formal policy for "a humanitarian commitment to admit refugees for resettlement". Fraser 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.

Despite his support for SBS, the Fraser government imposed stringent budget cuts on the national broadcaster, the ABC, which came under repeated attack from the Coalition for its supposed left-wing bias and for allegedly "unfair" or critical coverage on TV programs including This Day Tonight and Four Corners, and on the ABC's new youth-oriented radio station Double Jay (2JJ). One of the results of the cuts was the plan to establish a national youth radio network, of which Double Jay was the first station. The network was delayed for many years, and did not come to fruition until the 1990s.

Fraser also legislated to give Indigenous Australians 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

At the 1980 election, Fraser saw his majority sharply reduced and his coalition lost control of the Senate. Fraser was convinced, however, that he had the measure of the Labor leader, Bill Hayden. But in 1982 the economy experienced a sharp recession; and also a protracted scandal over tax-avoidance schemes run by prominent Liberals plagued the government. 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 former trade union leader Bob Hawke was going to replace Hayden as Labor leader. Fraser was emboldened by a swing to the coalition in a by-election for the Division of Flinders, and wanting to defeat Hayden before Hawke could replace him, he called a snap election. However, 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 1983 election. He was the only Prime Minister whose term was marked by double dissolutions at both the beginning and the end.

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 bid to become Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, but it proved unsuccessful.


In retirement Fraser served 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. In 2006, he was appointed Professorial Fellow at the Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law, and in October 2007 he presented his inaugural professorial lecture, "Finding Security in Terrorism’s Shadow: The importance of the rule of law".

Memphis trousers affair

On 14 October 1986, Fraser, then the Chairman of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, was found in the foyer of the Admiral Benbow Inn, a seedy Memphis hotel, wearing nothing but a towel and confused as to where his trousers were. The hotel was an establishment popular with prostitutes and drug dealers. Though it was rumoured at the time that the former Prime Minister had been with a prostitute, his wife believes it more likely that he was the victim of a practical joke by his fellow delegates. Fraser himself refuses to comment on the matter.

The mysterious loss of his trousers resulted in national amusement, the incident passed into Australian folklore, and is still exploited for humorous effect.

Estrangement from the Liberal Party

After 1996, Fraser was critical of the Howard Liberal government over foreign policy issues (particularly Howard's alignment with the foreign policy of the Bush administration, which Fraser saw as damaging Australian relationships in Asia). He opposed Howard's policy on asylum-seekers, campaigned in support of an Australian Republic and attacked what he perceived as a lack of integrity in Australian politics, together with former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam, finding much common ground with his predecessor.

The 2001 election completed Fraser's estrangement from the Liberal Party. Many Liberals criticised the Fraser years as "a decade of lost opportunity," on deregulation of the Australian economy and other issues. In early 2004, a Young Liberal convention in Hobart called for Fraser's life membership of the Liberal Party to be ended.

In 2006, Fraser launched a "scathing attack" on the Howard Liberal government, attacking their policies on areas such as refugees, terrorism and civil liberties, and that "if Australia continues to follow United States policies, 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". Fraser also said the way the Howard government handled the David Hicks, Cornelia Rau and Vivian Alvarez Solon cases, was questionable. On 20 July 2007, Fraser sent an open letter to members of the large activist group GetUp!, encouraging members to support GetUp's campaign for a change in policy on Iraq including a clearly defined exit strategy. Fraser stated: "One of the things we should say to the Americans, quite simply, is that if the United States is not prepared to involve itself in high-level diplomacy concerning Iraq and other Middle East questions, our forces will be withdrawn before Christmas."

After defeat of the Howard government at the December 2007 federal election, Fraser claimed Howard approached him in a corridor, following a cabinet meeting in May 1977 regarding Vietnamese refugees, and said: "We don't want too many of these people. We're doing this just for show, aren't we?" The claims were made by Fraser in an interview to mark the release of the 1977 cabinet papers. Howard, through a spokesman, denied making the comment.

In January 2008, a dissident Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella launched an attack on Fraser, after a speech he gave at Melbourne University on "the Bush Administration (reversing) 60 years of progress in establishing a law-based international system", claiming errors and "either intellectual sloppiness or deliberate dishonesty", and that he tacitly supports Islamic fundamentalism, should have no influence on foreign policy, and that his stance on the war on terror has left him open to caricature as a "frothing-at-the-mouth leftie".

The Malcolm Fraser Collection at the University of Melbourne

In 2004, Malcolm Fraser designated the University of Melbourne the official custodian of his personal papers and library to create the Malcolm Fraser Collection at the University of Melbourne.


Fraser was made a Privy Councillor in 1976, a Companion of Honour in 1977 and a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1988. In 2000 he was awarded the Human Rights Medal. He received the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun from the Emperor of Japan in 2006.

He has been awarded honorary doctorates from Deakin University, Murdoch University and the University of South Carolina, and is a Professorial Fellow at the Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law at the University of Melbourne.


See also

Further reading

  • Ayres, Phillip, Malcolm Fraser, a Biography, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1987.
  • Kelly, Paul, "Malcolm Fraser", in Michelle Grattan (ed.), Australian Prime Ministers, New Holland, Sydney, 2000.

External links


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