How Malcolm Fraser changed Australia

This 31 January 1980 file photo shows then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser at the White House in Washington Image copyright AP
Image caption Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was a champion of multiculturalism and racial equality

Despite his reputation as a conservative who wanted to slash government spending, Malcolm Fraser continued progressive reforms begun under his Labor predecessor Gough Whitlam - notably on multiculturalism and immigration - and introduced many of his own.


Mr Fraser embraced multiculturalism and greater rights for Indigenous Australians. He established an Australian Refugee Advisory Council to advise on the settlement of refugees, many of whom had been arriving by boat from Vietnam from 1978. At the time, Australia took the highest number of Indochinese refugees of any nation, on a per capita basis.

He also established the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) for multilingual radio and television services, a much-loved service among Australia's immigrant community. Mr Fraser strongly believed immigrants did not have to cut all their ties with their birth country to be good Australian citizens.

World stage

A strong opponent of South Africa's Apartheid, Mr Fraser played a key role in ending the racial war in the former UK colony of Rhodesia, and holding elections that created black rule in what became Zimbabwe.

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Image caption Mr Fraser met UK leader Margaret Thatcher to discuss the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

In 1980, in protest at the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, his government cut wheat sales to the USSR and discouraged Australian participation in the Moscow Olympics.

Following in Gough Whitlam's footsteps, he visited China in 1976, a country he identified as a future key ally for Australia.


The establishment by Mr Fraser's government of the Family Court of Australia to resolve the most complex legal family disputes was a giant step forward for troubled families who found themselves before the courts. The court delivered high-quality and timely judgments while at the same time respecting the needs of separating families.

Mr Fraser also established the Federal Court of Australia.

Parliament House

Australia's first parliament house was built in 1927 as a temporary base for the Commonwealth Parliament after its relocation from Melbourne to the new capital of Canberra.

It was another 50 years before planning began for a new, permanent parliament building, which now graces Capital Hill in Canberra. It was Mr Fraser who pushed ahead with approval for the new building, which was finished in 1988.


In 1981, Mr Fraser's government declared 36,000 sq/km of the Cairns section of the Great Barrier Reef a marine park. The park has been vital in protecting a large part of the reef - the world's largest coral reef - from damaging activities such as fishing.

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Image caption Malcolm Fraser helped protect a major section of the Great Barrier Reef

In the late 1970s, the Tasmanian government announced plans to flood the Franklin River for hydroelectricity. Saving the river, which ran through the heart of the island's wilderness, became a cause celebre.

Mr Fraser unsuccessfully offered the state government A$500m ($383m, £260m) to stop the dam. In 1983, Labor leader Bob Hawke beat Mr Fraser at the polls in part because of his promise to stop the dam.

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