Fraser Government

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The Right Honourable
Malcolm Fraser
Fraser in 1982
22nd Prime Minister of Australia
Elections: 1975, 1977, 1980, 1983
In office
11 November 1975 – 11 March 1983
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor-General John Kerr
Zelman Cowen
Ninian Stephen
Deputy Doug Anthony (1975–1983)
Preceded by Gough Whitlam
Succeeded by Bob Hawke

The Fraser Government refers to the federal Executive Government of Australia led by Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. It was made up of members of a Liberal Party of Australia-Country Party of Australia coalition in the Australian Parliament from November 1975 to March 1983. Initially appointed as a "caretaker" government following the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government, Fraser won in a landslide at the resulting 1975 Australian Federal Election, and won substantial majorities at the subsequent 1977 and 1980 elections, before losing to the Bob Hawke led Australian Labor Party in the 1983 election.


Billy Snedden led the Liberal-National Coalition in the 1974 Australian Federal Election which saw Whitlam Labor Government re-elected with a decreased majority in the House of Representatives. Malcolm Fraser unsuccessfully challenged for the leadership of the Liberal Party in November 1974, then on 21 March 1975, defeated Snedden, with Phillip Lynch remaining Deputy Leader.

Dismissal of the Whitlam Government[edit]

Following the 1974–75 Loans Affair in which Whitlam Government had operated outside the Loan Council and authorised Minerals and Energy Minister Rex Connor to conduct secret discussions with a loan broker from Pakistan to secure a $US4 billion loan, and the Treasurer, Jim Cairns, had misled parliament over the issue, Fraser told Parliament that the government was incompetent and the opposition Liberal-Country Party Coalition delayed passage of the government's money bills in the Senate, with the intention of forcing the government to an election.[1] Prime Minister Whitlam refused to call an election. The deadlock came to an end when Whitlam was dismissed by the Governor General, John Kerr on 11 November 1975 and Fraser was installed as caretaker Prime Minister, pending an election. At elections held in December 1975, Malcolm Fraser and the Coalition were elected in a landslide victory.[2]

First term[edit]

The 1975 double dissolution election which followed the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government saw the Liberal Party win 68 seats to Labor's 36, with the newly renamed National Country Party winning 23 seats in the House of Representatives.[3] The election result placed the Liberal Party in a position to govern in its own right, however, Fraser maintained the Coalition and Nationals leader Doug Anthony became deputy prime minister.[4]

In the Senate, 64 seats were contested and 27 Liberal, 27 Labor and 7 National Party Senators were elected, together with 1 Independent and 1 each from the Liberal Movement and the Country Liberal Party. After winning the 1975 election, Fraser won two subsequent elections: with further substantial majorities in 1977 (67 seats to the Labor Party's 38, with 19 seats going to the National Country Party) and 1980 (Liberals 54 and National Country Party 20 to Labor's 51).[3]

The economy[edit]

Australia had entered recession and faced high inflation under the later period of the Whitlam Government. Fraser maintained that reducing inflation should take priority over reducing unemployment and believed that the economy would benefit from a transfer of resources from the public sector to the private sector. In its early years, the Fraser government sought to address the economic situation by providing businesses with an investment allowance and reduced taxation on mining and on private companies, while it cutting expenditure on a range of government services, public service salaries and the arts.[4]

Fraser persuaded his first Treasurer, Phillip Lynch, to resign in 1977 and promoted the young John Howard to the portfolio.[4] Howard also replaced Lynch as deputy leader of the party in 1982. Howard served as Fraser's Treasurer from November 1977 and presented five federal budgets. During the 1970s Howard shifted from a protectionist to a free trade position – in the new 'economic rationalist' mould. Howard argued unsuccessfully for the introduction of a broad indirect tax, and in 1982 with an election looming, Howard disagreed with his leader's push for an expansionary budget, while the economy was suffering from the early 1980s recession.[5] The Fraser Government sought to reduce expenditure and streamline the public service, but a significant program of economic reform was not pursued. By 1983, the Australian economy was in recession, amidst the effects of a severe drought.[6]

Social policy[edit]

The Fraser Government was active in its support for multiculturalism and established the Special Broadcasting Service.

The Fraser Government maintained many of the social reforms of the Whitlam era, but sought to introduce increased fiscal restraint. It passed the Human Rights Commission Act 1981, which established the Human Rights Commission and gave effect to five international human rights instruments. This government also established the position of Commonwealth Ombudsman in 1977 and introduced Australia's first freedom of information law.[6]

A Liberal minister, Don Chipp had split off from the party to form a new social liberal party, the Australian Democrats in 1977 and the Franklin Dam proposal contributed to the emergence of an influential Environmental movement in Australia.

Indigenous Affairs[edit]

The Fraser government included the first Aboriginal federal parliamentarian, Neville Bonner. In 1976, Parliament passed the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976, which, while limited to the Northern Territory, affirmed "inalienable" freehold title to some traditional lands.


While prior governments had dismantled the White Australia Policy, it was under the Fraser Government that immigration became multiracial. Some 200,000 Asian migrants came to Australia between 1975 and 1982 – of whom 56,000 were Vietnamese refugees, among them around 2000 "boatpeople" who arrived without documents via sea voyages. The Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs was created and extensive assistance given to resettlement and multiculturalism, including the establishment of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS).[6]

Foreign policy[edit]

Malcolm Fraser and U.S President Jimmy Carter (1977).

Fraser travelled widely as Prime Minister. Andrew Peacock served as his Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The Fraser Government was in office during a period of change for the Commonwealth of Nations. Fraser vocally opposed minority white rule in Apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 1977 in Scotland, Fraser urged for widespread condemnation of the apartheid system in South Africa and called for support for African countries. The meeting concluded The Gleneagles Agreement against apartheid in sport, which isolated South Africa. At the 1979 CHOGM in Zambia, Fraser was influential in establishing progress towards independence for Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), which led to a Commonwealth-monitored ceasefire and election resulting in the election of Robert Mugabe and independence for the former British Colony.

The Frasers and Reagans at the White House in 1982.

In the Asia Pacific, Fraser sought to improve trade relations and oppose Communism. As a one time Army Minister and later Minister for Defence during the Vietnam War, Fraser was firmly anti-Communist. As Prime Minister he opposed Soviet expansionism but courted good relations with the People's Republic of China, which was then emerging from the era of chairman Mao Zedong.[2][6] In the name of "stability", the Fraser Government recognised Indonesia's take over of East Timor, achieved via a military invasion during the later period of the Whitlam Government. However, owing to Cold War sentiment, the Fraser government opposed Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia.[6]

The Fraser government criticised the protectionist policies of the European Economic Community and sought closer trade and military co-operation with the United States. To some observers, Fraser was seen to be preoccupied with international affairs by the end of his period in office.[6]

Final years[edit]

At the 1980 election, Fraser's majority was halved. With support for Fraser diminishing, Andrew Peacock challenged for party leadership. The challenge was unsuccessful and Fraser was to lead the party to the 1983 election.[6]

Fraser had promoted "states' rights" and his government refused to use Commonwealth powers to stop the construction of the Franklin Dam in Tasmania in 1982.[6]

Fraser sought a double dissolution of parliament and called the federal election for 5 March 1983, expecting to face Labor leader Bill Hayden. The Labor party moved to replace Hayden with Bob Hawke however, who went on to lead Labor to victory at the 1983 election.[6]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]