Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser, who died today at 84, has been remembered as a “fierce Australian patriot”.
Mr Fraser’s office confirmed that Australia’s leader from 1975 to 1983 had passed away earlier today. “It is with deep sadness that we inform you that after a brief illness John Malcolm Fraser died peacefully in the early hours of the morning of 20 March 2015,” a statement said.
“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.”
Mr Fraser was born in May 1930 and entered politics at the age of 25, winning the Victorian seat of Wannon for the Liberal Party in 1955. He became Liberal leader in March 1975 and was appointed caretaker prime minister on November 1975 11 after governor-general Sir John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam Labor government, and won a landslide election in December that year.
After losing office in 1983 Mr Fraser took up the cudgels against apartheid in South Africa. He was appointed a Commonwealth eminent persons group by Bob Hawke.
He continued to play a role in humanitarian affairs into the 1990s, heading the foreign aid group Care International.
Mr Fraser became estranged from the Liberal Party over John Howard’s asylum-seeker and terrorism policies.
Mr Fraser advocated for a change of policy during Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war.
In December 2009 he resigned from the Liberal Party after Tony Abbott won the leadership from Malcolm Turnbull. He said it was no longer a Liberal Party but a conservative party.
Tony Abbott released a statement listing Mr Fraser’s achievements in office, saying he had “restored economically responsible government while recognising social change” and that “in a long and active retirement, he maintained a keen interest in our country’s direction”.
On the Dismissal, the Prime Minister said: “Malcolm Fraser held true to the belief that his actions were in the best interests of Australia. He was determined to ‘turn on the lights’ and restore Australia’s economic fortunes.
“The greatest win in Australian political history confirms that he had correctly read the mood of the public. “The friendship he built in later life with Gough Whitlam spoke volumes about the character of both men at the centre of the crisis: in their own different ways, they were both fierce Australian patriots.”
He expressed sympathy to the Fraser family and said flags would be lowered to half-mast today and on the day of Mr Fraser’s memorial service. “On Monday, parliament will honour our 22nd Prime Minister.”
Mr Howard said the two men enjoyed “very close professional harmony and co-operation”.
“He was very generous to me in promoting me very early and giving me the opportunity in politics. I always valued that and was always grateful for it,” he said.
“Perhaps we probably had one or two too many cabinet meetings; he liked meetings, and he was certainly somebody who was remarkably well-briefed.”
Mr Howard said Mr Fraser “projected a clear image of Australian nationalism” although people “didn’t always agree with him”.
“I won’t pretend that after we left government we didn’t have areas of disagreement and he was critical of some of the policies of my government. I acknowledge that.
“That was his right and the public will make its own judgment about the validity of different points of view taken.”
The pair disagreed on the introduction of a consumption tax or deregulating financial sectors, he said.
Former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard honoured Mr Fraser’s service to the country and said with his death and that of Whitlam the controversial Dismissal chapter was now closed.