Page 988 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 24 March 2015

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MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo): John Malcolm Fraser was born into a family with a political tradition. His grandfather had been one of Victoria’s original senators in 1901. Author Paul Kelly has described Malcolm Fraser as “a rich farmer with a nation-building philosophy, an anti-communist ideologue, an aggressive politician ambitious for himself and his country, and a patrician imbued with a sense of public duty”.

He studied at Melbourne Grammar before attending Oxford, where he benefited from the philosophy, politics and economics program. It was at Oxford that he became politicised, learning two enduring lessons—the folly of Britain’s pre-war appeasement, and the limitations of post-war British socialism.

In 1954 he won Liberal preselection for the Labor-held seat of Wannon in south-western Victoria. At the 1955 election, at the age of 25, he went on to win the seat, and at 10 subsequent elections. He grew up in parliament, watching Menzies operate and internalising the Menzian agenda built on free enterprise, social progress, home ownership, a strong welfare net, high immigration, national development, ministerial integrity and anti-communism.

It was not until the first Holt government in 1966 that Fraser was rewarded with a cabinet position, becoming Minister for the Army, and later education and science minister. It was during this time that Fraser was a vociferous supporter of full Australian involvement in Vietnam. He presided over the conscription that sent 60,000 young Australian men to the jungles of South-East Asia to fight a proxy war.

Fraser took down his first Prime Minister in 1971, when he resigned from the cabinet and effectively ended John Gorton’s political career. His resignation speech has been called “a methodical and public exercise in destruction”. It was four years later that Fraser overthrew Bill Snedden in a bitter contest. Whitlam and Fraser then confronted each other in a clash of the titans.

Malcolm Fraser will, of course, always be remembered for the primary role he played in engineering the greatest constitutional crisis that our country has experienced. The 1975 decision to force an election by blocking supply was his ultimate piece of brinkmanship. Paul Kelly goes on to say:

During the crisis, Fraser displayed a remarkable strength and a judgement of Kerr far superior to Whitlam’s. He won a record 55 seat majority in the House as well as a Senate majority, yet the Whitlam dismissal undermined Fraser’s ability to unite the nation in a fashion implied by such a sweeping mandate.

Fraser gave Indigenous people more control over their traditional lands, set up the multilingual broadcaster SBS and also oversaw the development of a uranium industry in Australia.

Fraser is well known as a father of multiculturalism in Australia, something he often stated was his government’s most important legacy. The immigration program had been slashed under Whitlam, and Fraser gradually restored immigration numbers to 120,000 in 1982. Fraser saw multiculturalism as accepting both the legitimacy of ethnic culture and assisting the integration of immigrants into Australia.

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