Appointed Prime Minister by the
Governor-General in 1975 and subsequent winner of three elections. His
eight years of government saw support for big business and the reduction
of welfare benefits in an effort to curb inflation and reduce
unemployment. After the turbulence of the Whitlam years Malcolm Fraser's
period in office saw a return to conservative values and dismantling of
some of Labor's programmes. Fraser's policies were designed to reduce
the unemployment rate, high interest rates and inflation. By the 1980s,
as the world recession grew deeper, the living standards of Australians
began to fall. When he lost the 1983 election he resigned from
parliament. As an anti-racist he became one of the 'eminent persons'
group fighting to end Apartheid.
John Malcolm Fraser was born in Toorak,
Melbourne on 21 May 1930, son of a wealthy landowner. His grandfather
had been a senator in the first Federal Parliament. After graduating
from Oxford he returned to Australia in 1952 to manage the family
property "Nareen", situated in the Western District of
Victoria. At age 25 with help from Gorton and Fadden he won the
previously safe Labor seat of Wannan. The following year he married
Tamie Beggs and together they had four children.
Harold Holt appointed him Minister for
the Army in 1966. Under McMahon he held the position of Minister for
Education and Science, where he enthusiastically supported private
schooling. In the leadership contest following McMahon's defeat by
Whitlam, Snedden beat Fraser to become leader of the Liberal Party.
After the 1974 election loss Snedden was seen as the wrong candidate to
take on the powerful Gough Whitlam.
Fraser's supporters believed that he
would make an effective opposition leader and engineered two leadership
challenges. On the second challenge in March 1975 Fraser was elected
Party leader. Fraser attacked the Government on its mismanagement, shady
dealings and political naivete. The Liberal/Country Party Coalition's
refusal to pass the supply bills resulted in the constitutional crisis
of November 11 when the Governor-General sacked Whitlam. Fraser was
appointed caretaker prime minister until the general elections of
Fraser won a resounding victory with a
big enough majority to govern without the Country party. He chose to
retain the coalition and appointed Doug Anthony as his deputy. The task
of the new government was to bring down inflation, now running at 20%,
to reduce unemployment and the high interest rates. To achieve these
goals Fraser believed that Australian industry should be boosted by
added protection (Whitlam had reduced tariffs), by maintaining
monopolies (e.g. the two airline policy), by standing up to union claims
for higher wages and by persuading overseas buyers and investors that
they could have confidence in Australia's economy.
Public expenditure was drastically cut
and many of Labor's reforms were abandoned or modified. Medibank was no
longer compulsory, Fraser abandoned regional development as too costly
and funding for the National Sewerage Program was withdrawn. There was a
crack-down on 'dole bludgers', and a 12 month wage freeze in 1982.
Like Whitlam, the Fraser Government was
dogged by sackings, resignations and scandals. Treasurer Lynch was
forced to resign accused of using insider financial information to
improperly profit from land transactions; Sheil was sacked for defending
Apartheid; Withers was sacked for misleading Parliament about proposed
changes to electoral boundaries in Queensland; MacKellar was forced to
resign for failing to declare a colour television set. Peacock resigned
accusing Fraser of disloyalty, and McMahon retired, complaining that
Fraser never listened to him on economic matters.
On foreign affairs Fraser took a pro
British and American stance, supporting ANZUS and the presence of
American communications bases in Australia. He strongly protested the
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and wanted Australia to boycott the 1980
Olympic Games being held in Moscow. He continued to support China as an
enemy of the Soviets, which meant accepting China's ally Kampuchea, then
under the Pol Pot regime.
Fraser is held in great respect in black
Africa for his participation in framing the agreement to end the civil
war in Rhodesia, paving the way for the new state of Zimbabwe. He never
lost an opportunity to speak on the evils of Apartheid, refusing visits
to Australia by sporting teams chosen on racial grounds.Fraser faced
three elections after 1975. He promised tax cuts prior to the 1977
election, which had been called a year early fearing the economic
situation would deteriorate. Fraser won the 1980 election by raising
fears of a Labor capital gains tax which would extend to profit from the
sale of a family residence, but his majority was halved.
Fraser decided to call an election in
March 1983, anticipating a change of Labor Party leadership later in the
year. At the very same time he was asking the Governor-General for a
double dissolution, Bob Hawke replaced Bill Hayden as leader.
The election was very much a contest
between the two leaders. Hawke was confident, had a good record as ACTU
leader of handling industrial disputes and his promises, like stopping
the damming of the Franklin River, appealed to conservationists and some
With the defeat of the Liberal Party
Fraser resigned from Parliament and retired to run his property. He has
since won world respect and admiration for his role as joint-head of the
Eminent Persons Group, committed to ending Apartheid.