Malcolm Fraser has died aged 84

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Malcolm Fraser, Australia’s 22nd prime minister and sometimes a controversial figure, has died aged 84 after a brief illness.

He was prime minister and Leader of the Liberal Party from 1975 to 1983.

A statement said:

“It is with deep sadness we inform you that after a brief illness John Malcolm Fraser died peacefully in the early hours of 20 March 2015. 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.”

He became caretaker Prime Minister from November 11, 1975, after Governor-General Sir John Kerr sacked Gough Whitlam’s Labor government.

Gough Whitlam called Fraser “Kerr’s cur”, a label taken up by Labor supporters.

Whitlam said: “Well may we say ‘God save the Queen’, because nothing will save the Governor-General! The Proclamation which you have just heard read by the Governor-General’s Official Secretary was countersigned Malcolm Fraser, who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr’s cur.”

He won the subsequent election with the largest landslide of any federal election (adding 30 seats for a 55 seat majority) a month later and stayed until 1983 when Labor’s Bob Hawke became prime minister.

The constitutional crisis dogged Fraser but later in life he and Gough Whitlam became close.

In recent years, Fraser was a vocal humanitarian advocate and a critic of the Howard government’s policies of mandatory detention of asylum seekers. John Howard had been Fraser’s Treasurer.

He quit the Liberal Party in 2010, without making a public statement but finally saying the party was no longer a liberal party but a conservative party. It is said Fraser disliked the racist overtones adopted by the party in the debate on immigration.

Malcolm Fraser a week before the 1975 election. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Flags will be lowered to half-mast today and on the day of Mr Fraser’s memorial service.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that on Monday, the parliament will honour Mr Fraser.

“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,” Mr Abbott said.

“The sympathies of all Australians are extended to Tamie and their children and grandchildren.”

Today Liberal politician Philip Ruddock, Father of the House, said: “Those who recall the manner of his election discouragingly should remember Malcolm as a liberal on issues of race and human rights.”

Fred Chaney, a minister in the Fraser government, said Australia has lost one of its great moral compasses.

“His support for Indigenous people has been consistent over the whole time I’ve known him, his opposition to racism has been consistent, and I feel desperately sad,” Chaney told the ABC. “He really brought, in my view, a moral quality to politics.”

Commentators often described Fraser as aloof. Chaney, however, said: “Malcolm did seem aloof, he seemed at times a bit distant and I really put that down to his basic shyness and reserve.”

Labor senator Doug Cameron said: “I am absolutely devastated. I was very friendly with Malcolm Fraser, believe it or not. I had dinner with Malcolm and Tamie and his sister only a few months ago. He seemed in good health and I am just devastated that Australia has lost a great voice for human rights.”

From 1987 until 2002 he was chair of CARE Australia, a network of humanitarian aid organisations, and an organisation for which his daughter Phoebe worked.

Fraser, a graduate of Oxford University and a farmer, won the seat of Wannon in 1955 at the age of 25 and was a backbencher in the government of Robert Menzies.

His grandfather, Sir Simon Fraser, was a member of the Victorian Parliament.

After politics, Fraser played a role in ending apartheid. He chaired the United Nations Secretary-General’s Expert Group on African Commodity Issues. From October 1985 to August 1986, he jointly chaired the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons against Apartheid in South Africa.

He had four children — Mark, Angela, Hugh and Phoebe — with his wife Tamie.

Malcom and Tamie Fraser at the memorial service for Gough Whitlam in November 2014.

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