Malcolm Fraser: Former Australian PM dies aged 84

Malcolm Fraser died following a brief illness, his office said. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Malcolm Fraser died following a brief illness, his office said

Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser has died aged 84.

A statement from his office said Mr Fraser, who led the nation between 1975 and 1983, died after a short illness.

He became its leader in controversial circumstances, after the unprecedented dismissal of PM Gough Whitlam.

Once in office, he championed the rights of Indigenous Australians and refugees, a stance that put him on a collision course with his own party in later life.

The statement from his office said he "died peacefully in the early hours of the morning" on Friday.

"We appreciate that this will be a shock to all who knew and loved him, but ask that the family be left in peace at this difficult time," it added.

'Keen interest'

The constitutional crisis that led to Mr Fraser becoming prime minister in 1975 formed an integral part of his image in Australia.

As leader of the opposition he blocked finance bills for government programmes, forcing Governor-General Sir John Kerr to dismiss Mr Whitlam as prime minister.

Mr Fraser was then appointed caretaker prime minister at the head of a Liberal-Country Party coalition government until an election in December, which he won by a landslide.

Gough Whitlam's dismissal shocked the country and, with Mr Whitlam calling on his supporters to "maintain your rage", sparked off protest strikes and violent demonstrations.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Malcolm Fraser pictured in 1978, three years after becoming prime minister

In office, Mr Fraser continued some of the reforms begun by Mr Whitlam, including the introduction of legislation that returned land to Indigenous Australians in the Northern Territory.

Other achievements during his three terms of office included the creation of Australia's family court.

The Fraser government also launched the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), a government-funded multilingual broadcaster much-loved by Australia's immigrant communities. The SBS was indicative of Mr Fraser's commitment to the rights of those born elsewhere who made Australia their home.

He was staunchly anti-apartheid, and campaigned during his leadership against the racial segregation in South Africa.

Mr Fraser's political legacy also protects Australia's greatest environmental treasure - his government declared 36,000 sq/km of the Cairns section of the Great Barrier Reef a marine park.

In later years, following his defeat by Labor's Bob Hawke in 1983, Mr Fraser adopted the mantle of the elder statesman and he became a key figure in humanitarian and diplomatic circles.

He was a staunch critic of his own party, particularly under John Howard's leadership between 1996 and 2007 because of the party's policies on rights of Indigenous Australians and refugees.

He became so disenchanted with the Liberal Party that in 2010 he renounced his membership.

Australian Prime Minister and current Liberal leader Tony Abbott, often a target of Mr Fraser's criticism, praised the former leader for his "unwavering" opposition to apartheid and "deep interest in the advancement of indigenous people".

"In a long and active retirement, he maintained a keen interest in our country's direction," Mr Abbott said.

'Great integrity'

Tributes to the former prime minister poured in from politicians across the party divide.

Many praised Mr Fraser for his efforts to create a home in Australia for refugees and to fight for the rights of those suffering racial discrimination.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said Mr Fraser had "immeasurably enriched Australia's multicultural society, offering refuge to tens of thousands of vulnerable people driven from Vietnam by the horror of war".

Former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called him "a compassionate Australian who cared for people at home or abroad who had little or nothing to protect them".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Malcolm Fraser married his wife Tammie in 1956 and together they had four children

Another former leader, Julia Gillard said he "was a leader in the fight for racial equality".

"His brave stance against the evil of South Africa's apartheid helped changed the world for the better," she said.

Former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard credited the former prime minister with bringing "great integrity" to governing Australia.

"Anybody who achieves what Malcolm Fraser achieved in his life deserves respect as a quite extraordinary Australian," Mr Howard said.

Christine Milne, leader of the Greens, said Mr Fraser made an "enormous contribution to Australia" and praised him for his "compassion and dedication to building a thriving and peaceful multicultural society".

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