Malcolm Fraser, the former Prime Minister of Australia, has died, aged 84, after a sudden and unspecified illness.
His office released a brief statement: “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. 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.”
The one time Liberal Party leader was appointed the nation’s 22nd prime minister in a caretaker role on November 11, 1975, by the Governor- General, Sir John Kerr, who had just controversially dismissed the Whitlam Government. Mr Fraser helped engineer Mr Whitlam’s downfall by blocking budget bills in the Senate. Mr Fraser went on to win the next three elections and was party leader until 1983.
Although politics dominated much of his life, Mr Fraser was widely admired for his humanitarian work toward a fairer, less racist world. With a socially progressive attitude, he worked to pass land rights legislation for Indigenous Australians saying “There are no quick fixes to Indigenous poverty and social disaster.”
In 1987 Mr Fraser formed CARE Australia as part of the international CARE network of humanitarian aid organisations and was chairman from 1987 to 2002. He was also president of CARE International from 1990 to 1995, and its vice-president for the following four years.
He continued to push for many social causes later in life and was awarded Australia’s Human Rights Medal in 1988 for his contribution to the advancement of human rights in Australia and internationally. While chairing several United Nations and Commonwealth advisory groups, he also worked to end apartheid in South Africa as a member of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group.
Malcolm Fraser eventually quit the Liberal Party, claiming it had shifted, and that it was no longer the party that he had joined in his youth. As a prominent social commentator in his later years he gave honest and diverse views that often contradicted Liberal Party policy, including comments on indigenous issues, refugees and anti-terrorism laws.
His public image was slightly marred in October, 1986, when Mr Fraser appeared in the foyer of a seedy Memphis hotel, popular with prostitutes and drug dealers, confused and wearing only a towel. While his wife Tamie put the US incident down to a practical joke, it was never explained precisely how Mr Fraser came to be caught in that state.
Politicians and the public paid their respects to Mr Fraser today, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott describing him as a “fierce Australian patriot”.
Mr Fraser is survived by his wife and four children. – Brooke McNeil
Government Information Service photo from the National Archives.