News National ‘Voice for human rights’: tributes flow for Malcolm Fraser

‘Voice for human rights’: tributes flow for Malcolm Fraser

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Australia’s leaders have mourned the death of former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, 84, whose contentious views were applauded and challenged by both side of politics.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has voiced the conflict felt by many in conservative politics, some of whom respect Mr Fraser while others disparage him.

“Right or wrong, many people have contributed to public life over a long period of time that have helped to build a better Australia and unquestionably he was one of them,” Mr Hockey said.

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Prime Minister's Tea Break
Fraser at home in the kitchen with his wife Tammie in February 1977.

“These events just indicate how in one way or another we all stand on the shoulders of those that were before us,” said the Treasurer, whose recent defamation case against Fairfax Media sought to use a tweet from Mr Fraser to prove he had been slandered.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard remembered Mr Fraser’s “brave stance” against apartheid in South Africa, mirroring the focus of many others on his strong stance on human rights.

“Malcolm will always be remembered kindly for his commitment to multiculturalism and his specific actions to resettle Vietnamese boat people in Australia,” Ms Gillard said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the late leader was a “fierce Australian patriot”.

He praised Mr Fraser for conferring self-governance to the Northern Territory and for his creation of the Australian Federal Police.

“He had a deep interest in the advancement of indigenous people,” Mr Abbott said.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop described him as “a giant” of Australian politics, and lauded his contributions to foreign policy both in government and in retirement.

Gough Whitlam (R) with Mr Fraser (L).

“His contribution to Africa will be long remembered,” she said.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said Mr Fraser was an “overwhelming presence” with “robust principles”.

“He was a very strong character who was never afraid to stand up for what he believed to be right.”

“Malcolm Fraser will always have a very significant place in the heart of the Liberal Party.”

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Mr Fraser was a man with a compassionate heart, which he showed both in and out of office.

Sarah Hanon-Young with Malcolm Fraser
Greens Senator Sarah Hanson Young speaks to Fraser at the parliamentary asylum seeker debate in 2012. Photo: AAP

He praised the former prime minister for his belief in immigration and called him a “fierce political warrior”.

“Modern Australia would be very different without his vision and leadership,” Mr Turnbull said.

“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.”

Former Prime Minister John Howard, who served under Mr Fraser as treasurer, said he was a man with “extraordinary strength”.

“He restored tranquillity to the affairs of government in the nation,” Mr Howard said.

Malcolm Fraser receives  Doctorate of Law
Malcom Fraser receives a Doctorate of Law in 2003.

“Anybody who achieves what Malcolm Fraser achieved in his life deserves respect as a quite extraordinary Australian.”

Attorney-General George Brandis was first bitten by the political bug when he heard Mr Fraser’s 1971 speech resigning from the Gorton government.

“It was the first political event I took notice of as a teenager and I remember feeling that it was a very dramatic and exciting event,” he told ABC radio.

Mr Fraser’s changing views over his life showed that people could mellow and soften, he said.

ronald reagan 1981
Malcolm Fraser with Ronald Regan at the White House in 1981.

“Although in his older years he was a very emollient figure and perhaps even more fondly thought of by the left than by the right, in his early days he was actually a divisive and rebarbative figure,” Senator Brandis said.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten paid tribute to Mr Fraser’s six decades of service to Australia.

He mentioned Mr Fraser’s condemnation of apartheid, offers of refuge to those fleeing the Vietnam war, and commitment to reconciliation and land rights for indigenous people.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who formed a close friendship with Mr Fraser over their shared concern for the plight of asylum seekers, said she was “devastated” by the news.

Mr Fraser was a politician “of principle and a leader of compassion” and a “true gentleman with a heart full of empathy,” the Senator said.

Labor Senator Doug Cameron said he was “very close with Malcolm”, acknowledging that for a centre-left politician that might be seen as unusual.

“I’m absolutely devastated. Australia has lost a great voice for human rights,” Senator Cameron said.

“I had dinner with him a few months ago and he seemed in good health.”

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