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Malcolm Fraser

Malcolm Fraser
Prime Minister 11 November 1975–5 March 1983

Malcolm Fraser was a wealthy grazier in the state of Victoria, born to wealth in the wealthy Melbourne suburb of Toorok. He entered Parliament at age 25, in 1955, for the seat of Wannon as a member of the Liberal Party, the dominant party in the conservative government coalition. He held various ministerial positions in the Menzies, Holt, Gorton, and McMahon governments until 1972, when the coalition lost governments. He played a pivotal role in the removal of John Gorton as leader of the Liberal Party and as Prime Minister in favor of William McMahon.

In opposition, Fraser twice challenged Liberal Party leader Billy Sneddon for the job of Leader of the Opposition. His colleagues feared that Sneddon was a "nice guy" but wasn't strong enough to be seen as a viable alternative Prime Minister to the dynamic Gough Whitlam, the Labor Prime Minister. Fraser was successful in taking over the leadership of the Liberal Party in March 1975. A combination of poor economic performance, the Loans Affair, and casual senate vacancies led to one of the most dramatic political scenes in Australia's history. The senate, controlled by the coalition opposition parties, deferred passing the budget, starving the government of funds in what became an epic clash of wills between Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam. On November 11, 1975, the Governor General intervened by dismissing the Whitlam government and installing Malcolm Fraser as a caretaker Prime Minister, subject to an election that was advised the same day.

Malcolm Fraser won the election by a landslide on December 13, 1975. He became the second-longest-serving prime minister in Australia at the time and today remains the fourth-longest-serving Prime Minister in Australian political history. He was seen by many as arrogant and aloof, an impression aided by his height (6'5"), his wealth, and his natural shyness. His government was attacked for cutting back government-funded services. In fact, his government also retained many of the welfare and legislative reforms initiated by the Whitlam government, and extended Whitlam's policies of multiculturalism. His former nemesis Gough Whitlam reconciled with Fraser in latter years. Fraser lost government to Bob Hawke on March 5, 1983, and retired from Parliament the same night in a tearful concession speech.

In life after politics he came to be seen as having more in common with the left than the right of politics. He became an advocate of refugees and human rights. He criticised the policies of both Labor and Liberal governments towards refugees, and became estranged from the Liberal Party. Liberal Party officials, including John Howard as Liberal Prime Minister, criticised the former Fraser government policies. In December 2009, Fraser resigned from the Liberal Party.

Malcolm Fraser came easily to personality clashes with others, owing in part to his background of emotional reservation and little open affection. It was said that Fraser could relate effectively to those of lower or higher social standing but had the most difficulty with those of equal standing, such as government ministers, and his history in Parliament reflects this. In spite of these flaws and his record as a conservative Prime Minister with a key role in the 1975 constitutional crisis, Fraser has become an icon of the Australian left.

--Mr Catfish

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