Malcolm Fraser: a controversial PM who left an impressive legacy

Australia’s 22nd Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, died yesterday, aged 84. He was a complex politician whose allegiances shifted—some say he moved to the left, while he maintained Australian politics moved to the right. During his term in office, he was a divisive figure due to his role in the Dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s government (though the two men became friends later in life), and in retirement he became estranged from his Liberal Party—even campaigning for the Greens in 2013 due to his opposition to Tony Abbott’s refugee policies. He will be remembered as a “giant of Australian politics”, in part because he was 193cm tall, but mainly because the Fraser Government made lasting changes in a number of significant areas. In 1977, it conducted four referendums. Three passed: giving ACT and NT residents the right to vote in referendums, requiring federal judges to retire at 70 years old, and ensuring Senate casual vacancies would be filled by the same party. A plebiscite endorsing Advance Australia Fair as the national anthem also passed. On governance, Fraser established self-government for the Northern Territory, freedom of information laws, the Federal Court of Australia, and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (which provided a model for VCAT). He cemented an official policy of multiculturalism, establishing the Australian Ethnic Affairs Council, the Institute of Multicultural Affairs and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS),  and welcoming the Vietnamese “boat people” as refugees. On human rights, Fraser established land rights for Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, campaigned against apartheid in South Africa, and set up the Human Rights Commission—whose necessity and independence he defended until this year.