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John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library
Curtin University Library

Brief biography of the Rt. Hon. Malcolm Fraser

Malcolm Fraser was Australia's 22nd Prime Minister, leading the nation from November 1975 to March 1983.

He was an Oxford graduate and a grazier when he won the Victorian seat of Wannon for the Liberal Party in December 1955. Entering politics aged just 25, he was the youngest member of the 22nd parliament. His first ten years were spent as a backbencher in the Menzies Government but when Harold Holt became prime minister in 1966, Mr Fraser was appointed as Minister for the Army. He also served as a minister in the governments of John Gorton and William McMahon.

When the Labor Party won office in December 1972 under the leadership of Gough Whitlam, Mr Fraser sat on the Opposition benches for the first time. Looking to reassert Liberal principles and provide the Liberal Party with a new sense of purpose and direction, he stood for leader in a ballot in March 1975, defeating Billy Snedden to become Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Fraser was appointed as caretaker Prime Minister on 11 November 1975, after Governor-General Sir John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam Government. The Fraser Coalition government won office a month later with the largest landslide of any federal election.

(John) Malcolm Fraser (1930-) Prime Minister 1975-1983.  JCPML00036/21.
(John) Malcolm Fraser (1930-)
Prime Minister 1975-1983.
Records of the Government
Photographic Service.
JCPML00036/21.

The Liberal and National Country Party Coalition remained in office, winning strong majorities in both the 1975 and 1977 elections and a third term in 1980, until defeated by Labor under Bob Hawke in 1983.

Prime Minister Fraser was influential in changing Australian relations abroad, both within the Commonwealth and with the countries of East and Southeast Asia. He was an adamant opponent of apartheid and a strong supporter of reform in South Africa. He also played a prominent part in the Commonwealth's efforts to establish an independent Zimbabwe. His government supported strong defence spending and reinforced Australia's diplomatic and trade relations with the countries in our region, viewing defence and foreign policy as key means of forestalling the advance of Communism.

Though economic rationalism was debated during his term of office, the Fraser government pursued more traditional approaches to financial management and fiscal policy.

In the years of the Fraser Government a significant piece of legislation for Indigenous people, the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (NT) 1976, was passed. The position of Commonwealth Ombudsman was established in 1977 and Australia's first Freedom of Information law was enacted in 1981. The same year, the government passed the Human Rights Commission Act and established the Human Rights Commission.

The Fraser government revitalized Australia's immigration program, bringing migrants from Asian countries, including nearly 56,000 Vietnamese refugees. Over 2000 'boat people' were granted entry. The immigration program focused on resettlement and 'multiculturalism' with the Institute of Multicultural Affairs being set up in 1978.

Mr Fraser resigned from parliament on 31 March 1983 and, within two years, had become a key figure in Australia's international and diplomatic relations.

Notably, he was Co-Chairman of the Commonwealth Committee of Eminent Persons against Apartheid which was formed to encourage a process of dialogue and reform in South Africa in 1985-86 and in 1989 he was appointed Chairman of the United Nations Committee on African Commodity Problems which reported to Secretary-General de Cuellar in June 1990.

In 1987 Mr Fraser formed CARE Australia as part of the international CARE network of humanitarian aid organisations. He was chairman from 1987 until 2002. He was also president of CARE International from 1990 to 1995, and its vice president for the next four years.

In 1996, he was appointed by the Howard government as Special Envoy to lobby in support of Australia's candidacy for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. He visited Zimbabwe and Ghana and attended the Heads of Government Meeting of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Cameroon.

Mr Fraser led a Commonwealth election observer mission to Pakistan in 1997, to observe the national elections which followed the dismissal of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's government.

Malcolm Fraser
Malcolm Fraser today

In 1999 he was appointed as the government's special envoy to Yugoslavia to seek the release from a Yugoslav prison of two CARE Australia workers, eventually securing their release later that year. Mr Fraser then worked with Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, and Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari to free a third CARE worker still in prison.

In recognition of the legislative record of his government in Indigenous land rights, as well as his personal commitment for all of his public and private life to anti-racism, Aboriginal reconciliation and minority rights, Mr Fraser was awarded Australia's Human Rights Medal in 2000 for his contribution to the advancement of human rights in Australia and internationally. Mr Fraser has been a Member of the InterAction Council for Former Heads of Government since its inauguration in 1983 and is currently its Chairman.

In 2002 Mr Fraser published his book Common Ground - Issues that should bind and not divide us.

For further information see the National Archives of Australia's Australia's Prime Ministers website at http://primeministers.naa.gov.au/meetpm.asp?pmId=22