Tributes have continued to pour in across the spectrum of Australia’s political and multicultural communities for former Prime Minister the Right Honourable Malcolm Fraser, who died following a short illness on 20th March.
Parliament suspended its usual business on Monday for a day of condolence to remember Mr Fraser whose legacy and political activism after his eight years as Prime Minister transcended and often confounded the traditional boundaries of bipartisan discourse.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Monday that Mr Fraser “was never considered a popular politician although he won three elections, including the two biggest landslides in Australian history.”
Mr Fraser polarised and recast the Australian political landscape in November 1975 after the then Coalition opposition blocked supply in the Senate ultimately culminating in the controversial sacking of then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam by Governor General Sir John Kerr and an ensuing Constitutional crisis.
Following Mr Whitlams’s dismissal, Mr Fraser went on to win a landslide victory in an election held in December the same year, events that largely defined the core of politics until former ACTU leader Bob Hawke deposed Labor Opposition leader Bill Hayden and went on to win the 1983 election.
Importantly, in later years, Mr Fraser ultimately put aside former political animosities to find common ground with Mr Whitlam and spoke out on what he felt was the debasement of moral and humanitarian issues for domestic electoral expedience including human rights and the welfare of refugees and migrants to Australia.
Although Labor has often been characterised as the historical political defender of the concept of a ‘multicultural’ Australia, particularly after John Howard remained at best limited in his support of the concept during his government, Mr Abbott openly acknowledged Mr Fraser’s role in broadening Australia’s cultural base and fabric.
“He established the Special Broadcasting Service and began large-scale Asian immigration to Australia by accepting 50,000 Vietnamese refugees fleeing communism,” Mr Abbott told Parliament on Monday.
The word ‘multiculturalism’ was conspicuously absent from his speech.
Mr Abbott was also candid and frank about the rift between Mr Fraser and the Liberal Party from which he [Mr Fraser] ultimately resigned.
“As the Howard government implemented reforms such as the GST and privatisation; expanded mandatory detention to stop the boats; and joined US-led military coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq, an estrangement grew between [Mr Fraser] and the party he’d led for eight years, for most of that time triumphantly,” Mr Abbott said.
On the Dismissal Mr Abbott said neither Whitlam nor Fraser “ever resiled from the positions they took at that time, yet they ultimately came to see the good in each other.”
“Some years ago, Whitlam observed, with characteristic wit, that Fraser had supplanted him as the principal bogey man of the hard right – and that this second usurpation had been easier to take than the first!”
Despite the clear differences, Mr Abbott said it was the Liberals’ duty to recognise Mr Fraser as one of them.
“In a sense, today’s proceedings are a farewell — to this complex and driven man, to this forceful and effective leader, to this rare public personality who gained the support of all points on the political spectrum, but almost never at the same time,” the Prime Minister said.
“But we Liberals owe him more than that; our challenge is not to say goodbye; it’s to be more magnanimous in his death than we were in his life, and to acknowledge this giant who is surely one of us.”
Writing on his blog, Communications Minister and Member for Wentworth Malcolm Turnbull said Mr Fraser “grew into a great leader of the Liberal Party and a reforming, visionary Prime Minister who laid so many of the foundations for the diverse, multicultural nation we are today.”
“Malcolm Fraser’s Government established the Family Court, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission and our first Freedom of Information legislation,” Mr Turnbull said.
“Modern Australia would be very different without his vision and leadership.”
“Whether one agreed with him or not, in whole or in part, one thing was never in doubt. Malcolm Fraser was a passionately patriotic Australian with a big, liberal vision for our country and its people,” Mr Turnbull said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said that Mr Fraser was and elder statesmen that had given “six decades of tireless service to our nation.”
“As Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser showed international leadership of great integrity in condemning the evil of Apartheid,” Mr Shorten said.
“He immeasurably enriched Australia’s multicultural society, offering refuge to tens of thousands of vulnerable people driven from Vietnam by the horror of war.
“He maintained the Whitlam Government’s commitment to the cause of reconciliation and recognising the land rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”
Mr Shorten said that in the “long third act of his public life” Mr Fraser won many new admirers as “a powerful voice for human rights and reconciliation and a deep thinker regarding Australia’s place in the world.”
Describing the friendship that grew between Mr Fraser and his former adversary Mr Whitlam, Mr Shorten said this was “more than just an act of personal forgiveness, it was a symbol of national healing.”
On the weekend former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating lauded Mr Fraser as a principled politician who had “no truck with race or colour and no tolerance for whispered notions of exclusivity tinged by race. These principles applied throughout his political life.”
Labor’s Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, told Paliament there would “hardly be an adult Australian who has not been in both violent disagreement with him and passionate agreement with [Mr Fraser] at some point in the course of his public life.”
“In losing Malcolm Fraser we have lost a link to an era — not just his own era but the Menzies era before it.”
Preparations have commenced for a State Funeral for Mr Fraser, with this Friday reported as a likely date pending finalisation with the former Prime Minister’s family.
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