I rise to speak on behalf of the South Australian Liberal Party on the passing of the Hon. Malcolm Fraser AC, CH, GCL, 22nd prime minister of Australia and, in particular, to extend our sympathies to his friends and family.
It is indeed a sad moment in the history of our nation as we bid farewell to one of Australia's most recognisable and charismatic prime ministers and one of the giants of the Liberal movement. Malcolm Fraser was born on 21 May 1930 in Toorak, Victoria. He was raised in the Riverina and his early years were shaped by the education he received at Melbourne Grammar and later at Magdalen College, Oxford.
It was while at Oxford that his political philosophies, particularly those of liberalism, were shaped under the great tutelage of renowned lecturers, including Isaiah Berlin and A.J.P. Taylor. It was here that he fully developed the strong set of values which would be his touchstone for his entire political career and beyond.
Upon his return to Australia he was elected to the seat of Wannon in December 1955, aged only 25. He was the youngest future prime minister to enter federal parliament. An excerpt of the preselection speech he wrote while campaigning for Wannon shows his idealism and his commitment to public life.
He spoke about:
…the necessity for liberalism to reach out to everybody...I want to play some part in this. I am young and would like nothing better than to devote a lifetime to this end.
I think that we can all agree that he was successful in achieving this ambition.
A year after his election to Wannon in 1956, he married the love of his life, Tamie Beggs, who would remain by this side until his death. They had four children together: Mark, Angela, Hugh and Phoebe. Barry Jones said in recent days that having a wife and family humanised Malcolm and that as his children grew they enlarged his range of issues and interests.
Mr Fraser served for more than a decade on the backbench, passionately representing his constituency before he was appointed to the cabinet by prime minister Harold Holt in 1966 as minister for the Army, his first of many key positions within the federal Liberal Party. As opposition leader, Mr Fraser was a formidable opponent to Gough Whitlam's government and the rivalry between him and the prime minister was legendary. Malcolm Fraser will, of course, be remembered as one of the key players in this most tumultuous period of history and the dismissal of the Whitlam government.
Following the Whitlam dismissal, Mr Fraser led the Liberal country party coalition to win the largest parliamentary majority as a proportion of seats in Australia's political history. He would go on to serve as prime minister for 7½ years and restore much needed fiscal and budget discipline and political stability after the chaos of the preceding Whitlam administration.
In much later years, Mr Fraser and Gough Whitlam grew to become friends and the chemistry between them, even in casual social situations, remained energising, according to many who knew them both. It is notable that these two bookends of Australia's political history would depart this world less than six months apart.
For the son of a wealthy pastoralist from country Victoria, Mr Fraser had a deep affinity for those from distant shores. He was the first person to introduce the word 'multiculturalism' into the political lexicon and he surprised many of his opponents by adopting a formal policy to resettle refugees from the Vietnam War in Australia on humanitarian grounds. The positive impact that the Vietnamese settlement had upon Australia's culture cannot be understated. As South Australians, all we need to do is look at our Vietnamese-born Governor His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le to truly appreciate this.
Mr Fraser established the Australian Ethnic Affairs Council in 1977, set up the Institute of Multicultural Affairs in 1978 and established the Australian Refugee Advisory Council in 1979. However, it was the establishment of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) in 1980 that remains his greatest legacy to Australia's bilingual communities.
Mr Fraser was a prime minister with one eye fixed on the international arena and was a highly respected leading figure in the commonwealth of nations. Under his prime ministership, Mr Fraser strengthened Australia's international standing as a country with the ability to punch well above its weight. He had a keen sense of justice and was vocal in his disapproval of South African apartheid. He refused to allow the Springbok rugby team to land here en route to New Zealand in 1981 and strongly opposed the white minority rule in Rhodesia.
However, Mr Fraser was not just a prime minister who recognised injustice in other lands, he also understood that in order to better our nation we needed to reform at the domestic level. He extended native title rights, passed the Northern Territory Aboriginal Land Rights Act, was the first prime minister to introduce freedom of information laws and established Australia's first commonwealth ombudsman. In 1981, he successfully introduced the Human Rights Commission Act and established the Human Rights Commission.
Following his retirement from parliament in 1983, Mr Fraser remained committed to humanitarian issues. In 1987 he formed CARE Australia as part of the international CARE network of humanitarian aid organisations where he served as chairman from 1987 until 2002. He continued to be involved with CARE Australia well into his senior years. In 2000 he was awarded Australia's Human Rights Medal in recognition of his Aboriginal land rights legislation as well as his personal and professional commitment to anti-racism, reconciliation and minority rights both in Australia and abroad.
Malcolm Fraser was a giant, both physically and figuratively, of the Australian Liberal Party and the nation. He was a man of principle who followed through with his convictions and did not ask for forgiveness. He did not go gently into that goodnight but continued to rage, advocating and lobbying for the causes that he believed in right up until the end of his days. I believe that the history books will be kind to the legacy of the Hon. Malcolm Fraser. He was a prime minister who keenly understood the times in which he served, valued and enhanced Australia's place on the stage and was a true friend of our multicultural communities. His imprint upon our nation's history will forever be remembered. Vale Malcolm Fraser.