Delivered in the House of Representatives, March 23rd 2015.
Madame Speaker, today this house marks the passing of a giant of our modern political life.
In John Malcolm Fraser our nation has lost a distinguished Australian in every sense.
A passionate liberal, a successful farmer, a devoted gardener, a talented angler and an extraordinarily skilful politician.
When I met him for the first time, I was a student at Melbourne University and had been asked to present a paper on his government’s policies towards Southern Africa at an international conference.
I thought it would only be polite that I should give him the opportunity to rebut some of his critics and so I called him seeking an interview.
The request was met with an immediate yes and two weeks later we had an hour and half on his strident opposition to South Africa’s apartheid regime, colonisation and communism.
Never realising that I would one day represent his former seat, the thing that struck me above all else at this first encounter was the size of the man.
He had the physical presence of a large draught horse and gave the realistic impression that he would work just as hard.
In fact, in the local press when he became the member for Wannon in 1955, it was reported that he was both the youngest and the tallest Member of Parliament.
How times have changed, Madame Speaker, where now we have the youngest and smallest Member of Parliament.
Malcolm Fraser approached politics with the same resolve as he did any of life’s challenges? with a belief in hard work and the individual.
In winning the electorate of Wannon in 1955 on an 8.5 percent swing, he ended a 55 year stretch where the seat had been tacking back and forth between parties of all persuasions.
Fraser had a self-deprecating sense of humour. As we all do, he used to love telling campaign stories but, in his case, only if it was at his own expense.
On one occasion, being driven on the back of a truck, he campaigned through the small country town of Merino using a large megaphone.
After twenty minutes of strong political rhetoric in front of the town hall, the only interest in his speech, Fraser recalled, was from a mob of Friesian dairy cows who had wandered over to a nearby fence to see what all the noise was about.
David Hawker, who succeeded Malcolm in Wannon, recalls Malcolm laughing at himself when only one person turned up to a campaign event he had organised in Dergholm.
Fraser suggested to the gentleman that they adjourn and have a chat across the road over a beer at the pub instead.
The gentleman insisted he had turned up to hear what Malcolm had to say and so the would-be PM started delivering his prepared stump speech.
Five minutes in, Fraser was interrupted by the man’s raised hand.
Do you have a question? he asked hopefully.
Yes, could we that beer? Maybe it wasn ‘t such a bad idea after all.
This reflected one of his perfected campaigning techniques. Each election campaign, Fraser liked to have a beer at the front bar of the local pub as he visited towns across the electorate.
His record for this was 26 in one day.
David Hawker remembers the day well as he was there to greet him at the final watering hole at Apsley. Fraser was in fine form and full flourish he recalls.
When I met with the former PM on being preselected as the Liberal Party candidate for Wannon he was extremely keen to impress on me the need to work hard for your electorate.
He told me how he was one of the first parliamentarians to advertise in the local newspapers that he would be visiting towns and be available to meet with people at a certain time.
As his good friend Digby Crozier reminded me, what we today politely call listening posts, Fraser called “growling posts”.
Some things in politics never change.
His family farm, Nareen Station, in Western Victoria gave him a great appreciation and understanding for regional and rural life.
The news of his passing has been saddening for many Australians but particularly so for the communities in his former home of Western Victoria, where due to his tireless hard work on their behalf he was a much-admired local member.
First elected at the age of 25, Malcolm Fraser served the electorate of Wannon for nearly three decades.
Being a rural member was never lost on Fraser. Ever with a mind to his local community, he strove to improve the lives of those he represented.
He campaigned personally for the upgrade of the Port of Portland.
While the upgrade was primarily for getting more crops and cattle to ships, it has now allowed for further improvements that have brought cruise ships directly into the heart of Western Victoria.
He also pushed for the establishment of an Education Institution in Western Victoria which led to the Deakin University campus in Warrnambool, it now hosts over 1,300 students studying courses from arts and law to psychology and nursing.
These graduates are now an integral part of our local businesses, hospitals and service industries.
His loyalty to Wannon was never far from his mind.
Upon hearing that the television antenna on Black Mountain in Canberra was to be taken down, he requested it be put up on Mount Dundas, north of Hamilton.
This caused some controversy at the time but certainly not with the viewers in Hamilton and surrounds, who before this had seen their local member on television with a large dose of snow.
This was no doubt a boon for political accountability, as the local voters could now see with clarity what he was up to in Canberra.
Fraser’s origins on the land led him to a great understanding of agriculture’s place in Australia? its history, its economy and its future.
He was aware that Australia could provide the international consumers with produce that was unmatched in the world. Clean, fresh food in abundance to feed them and a surplus of wool to clothe them.
Unsurprisingly, this attitude made him a natural ally of the Country Party, where he made firm friends with Doug Anthony, Ian Sinclair and others.
While still in government, Fraser continued to run Nareen Station where he established a well regarded Simmental stud.
One stock agent recalls that Big Mal, was happy to turn a blind eye when enterprising agents labelled his bulls for sale from “the Prime Minister” rather than from Nareen , especially when it led to a premium being paid.
When not running Nareen Station, Fraser was often found angling in the rivers of the Western District’s and along its beautiful coastline.
Those who accompanied him always delighted in his presence, particularly as he was known to bring one of Tamie’s marble cakes as a thank you for getting him out of the house.
When asked by the Portland Guardian now the Portland Observer in 1953 what persuaded him to run for parliament as a Liberal, Fraser responded that every man had the right to go his own way unhampered as long as he did not interfere with the rights of anyone else.
This commitment to the individual marked Fraser as a classical liberal and remained an intractable part of his philosophy for the entirety of his life? a constant in a very complex man.
These complexities played out when his infamous remark life wasn ‘t meant to be easy was misinterpreted.
While delivered as part of his 1971 Alfred Deakin Lecture, it was a sentiment that had been a part of his world view much earlier.
In an interview reflecting on his entry to parliamentary life, Fraser remarked that he was challenged by a constituent when he first stood for election.
The voter wanted to know why a man who had a property that would give him a comfortable living wanted to stand for parliament.
He recalled first giving his infamous line, life wasn ‘t meant to be easy .
Hard work was not an ethos for Fraser, it was a simple necessity of being human.
When delivering this sentiment again as part of his 1971 lecture, he summarised Arnold Toynbee’s 12 volume work into one sentence: through history nations are confronted by a series of challenges and whether they survive or whether they fall to the wayside, depends on the manner and character of their response .
For Fraser, the response, which remains as true today as it did then, involved: a conclusion about the past that life has not been easy for people or for nations, and an assumption for the future that that condition will not alter.
Later in his career, he would remark that If you want the kind of Australia we want it to be, you ‘re not going to do it on a 35-hour week.
In valuing the individualism of the Liberal Party, Fraser often chose not what was easy but what he believed to be right.
His legacy of contrast and complexity is summed up in his role as the creator of both the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Australian Federal Police, institutions that are at the forefront of recent discussions on national security.
He was a conservationist and an industrialist, both prohibiting the further mining on Fraser Island and initiating the mining and export of uranium.
He created the Kakadu National Park and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in the same year as he decided to establish a dedicated counter-terrorism assault team.
Policy under Fraser was not decided on an ideological bent or without regard to real world implications.
As the headline of the same Portland Guardian article of 1953 reports: Young Liberal impatient of hidebound political doctrines.
Along with hard work, the individual was everything to Fraser.
In establishing the Special Broadcast Service he said: We used to have a view that to really be a good Australian, to love Australia, you almost had to cut your links with the country of origin. But I don ‘t think that was right and it never was right.
The over 56,000 Vietnamese immigrants who came to call Australia home are a reflection of how Fraser saw the individual as a means to change the society for the better.
A monopoly, he pointed out, cannot alter human nature.
There are those who have looked to Malcolm Fraser’s public life as being only one of contradictions; a man of the right who found his home in the left.
This is unfair to both him and his beliefs.
In the years after his retirement from politics, particularly with regard to his views on immigration, he held steadfastly to his own beliefs.
It is also unfair to overly criticise his lack of economic rationalism. His was a time when economic theory was more Black Jack McEwen than Bert Kelly.
Protectionism was not his stance solely due to his rural constituency but his own experience.
The only attempt at a cut in the tariffs also coincided with further economic downturn.
The public incorrectly linked the two and solidified their resistance to any further liberalisation.
In the end, this failure proved to be the Fraser government’s undoing. Australia suffered again from the boom-bust cycle that had plagued the Whitlam government’s finances.
No government can accomplish all things and his achievements are not diminished by his failures.
Instead, Fraser’s great economic achievement was his application of financial restraint on the national budget.
As he outlined in 1971: Many have come to regard budget time as they regard Christmas. It should not be so regarded. No responsible government can behave like Father Christmas and look after the affairs of this nation.
As time would show, the establishment of his?razor gang ‘ to reduce the size of government along with the Campbell Inquiry’s recommendations laid the path to Australia’s future economic reform.
Having entered Parliament together, his contemporary and Defence Minister, Sir Jim Killen, is said to have remarked of Malcolm Fraser, that he was the most complex character ever to walk through the doors of the House of Representatives.
The two men were part of the end of a Liberal era. Before his retirement, Malcolm was briefly the father of the house in 1983 with Killen.
The two characters had reflected the nature of the time in which they served.
No leader is without their flaws. In resigning his life membership of the Liberal party, many lifelong supporters in Wannon were crushed.
The only comparable feeling I believe would be if Jack Dyer, that great Richmond legend, had resigned his life membership of the Tigers and spent his final days supporting Collingwood.
This was Malcolm’s choice. Ever the champion of the individualism that drew him to the Liberal party, it was a path that he knew would disappoint many.
As Liberals, we may not have liked it. But we must respect it.
Life could have been very easy for Malcolm Fraser if he had remained at Nareen Station in Western Victoria.
But the fact that it would have been easy meant that it would never have suited him.
In the dismissal of Whitlam, for which he will always be remembered as either hero or villain, Fraser could have happily waited for the government to be thrown out at the end of its term. But for him, it would not have been right.
Malcolm Fraser held only one title that was perhaps of more pride to him than Prime Minister of Australia? Malcolm Fraser was King of the Camellias.
At his property in Western Victoria, Fraser and his wife Tamie grew over 90 varieties of Camellia, often opening their garden to the public and the community.
So prolific was Fraser’s green thumb that he accidentally cross-bred a new variety of Camellia. He named his one life-long love after his other? the Camellia japonica?Tamie Fraser ‘.
This beautiful pink bloom can now be found just down from F Gate in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens.
My thoughts are with those who knew this hard worker, classical liberal, farmer, gardener, angler and extraordinarily skilful politician best: his beloved wife Tamie and their four children.