Bill's Speeches




We give thanks for Malcolm Fraser’s six decades of service to our nation, as a parliamentarian, Prime Minister and statesman.

And we farewell a person of hidden depths and many parts, a man often misunderstood.

For some Malcolm Fraser was a hero who became a villain, for others he was a villain who became a hero.

But neither of these simple sketches are fair - and in time history’s judgment will be kinder than either.

The good that Malcolm Fraser did will live after him, to his great and enduring credit.

Malcolm Fraser came to public life as a man in a hurry.

A candidate for parliament at 24, the Member for Wannon by 25, a Minister at 35 and Prime Minister at 45.

His appetite for hard work, his formidable intellect and his healthy ambition drove this rapid rise.

But Malcolm Fraser was always more than the sum of his aspirations.

He was broader and bigger than his opponents imagined possible.

He was both shyer and smarter than people appreciated.

Beyond the stern visage and the Easter Island jaw beloved of cartoonists, beat the heart of a humanitarian.

His concern for the welfare of the vulnerable and his belief in the equal treatment of all, won Malcolm Fraser many new admirers in the long third act of his public life.

Yet as both Bob Hawke and Paul Keating remarked in their warm tributes last week, Fraser’s belief in racial equality was a lifelong article of faith.

It was a golden thread of integrity that began in the lonely days of his childhood in the Riverina, where his closest friend was a young Aboriginal girl.

An experience that had not left him when, as the Minister for Education, he would ease that great patrician frame of his into the red dirt of the Territory to sit with community elders.

A memory that abided when, as Prime Minister, he passed the Whitlam Land Rights Act, the Racial Discrimination Act and kept faith with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

And as an elder statesman, resplendent in pinstripe suit and waistcoat, he continued to champion the cause of reconciliation.

But Fraser’s commitment to human rights ran deeper even than this.

As Prime Minister, he led Australia’s independent condemnation of the evil of Apartheid.

He took a principled stand, declaring that South Africa’s regime of racial prejudice was “repugnant to the whole human race”.

And he matched his words with deeds: visiting Mandela in prison, imposing international sanctions and, perhaps most famously in our sport-loving nation, refusing to allow the Springboks plane to stop here on its way to New Zealand.

Later, Fraser delighted in telling the anecdote of Mandela’s first question to him at their meeting:

Mr Fraser, can you tell me, is Donald Bradman still alive?’

And when Mandela became President, Fraser took him a bat inscribed by the Don: 'To Nelson Mandela, in recognition of a great unfinished innings,'.

Malcolm Fraser laid the broad foundation of our great, generous, modern multicultural society.

He had the wisdom to understand that there was nothing for Australia to fear, or lose, in embracing people from every culture, faith and tradition.

He knew that diversity would enrich our nation and our lives.

Under Fraser, Australia offered refuge to tens of thousands of Vietnamese people driven from their homes by the terror of war and dictatorship.

Many of these families, who made Australia their second home, have paid touching tribute to Malcolm Fraser as their ‘second father’.

Fraser’s Australia also quietly moved to the reality beyond White Australia, giving a second chance to people from South Africa, shut out of their nation by apartheid.

The new nation he built was given voice, music, news and stories by SBS.

For some it was a glimpse of another, wider world - for others it was the songs and sound of the home they left behind.

Multicultural Australia will always stand as the tallest monument to the life and legacy of Malcolm Fraser.

It is an achievement we celebrate, enjoy and give thanks for every day.

Madam Speaker, much has been said and written about the central role Fraser played in the dismissal of the Whitlam Government.

Never, before or since, have political passions run higher in this country.

Even now, the acrimony, the vitriol showered on each side by the other, the sheer ugliness of those days leap from the pages of old newspapers and bark at us from old footage.

But the passing of the last of the protagonists of the drama of 1975, is not the time for re-litigating old arguments or resuscitating old grievances.

As Malcolm’s great friend Ian McPhee said, Malcolm never spent time regretting the past, he was always looking at the future.

So let us take our inspiration from Malcolm Fraser and Gough Whitlam…

Let us remember Whitlam and Fraser standing together on the steps of Victorian Parliament in 1999, arms aloft, rallying support for the Republic.

Or that wonderful ad created for the ‘Yes’ campaign, where Whitlam, looks at Fraser, eyes twinkling and says: ‘Malcolm, it’s time’.

And Malcolm looks back at Gough, with that same good-humoured glint of irony, and says ‘It is’.

Let us remember that the second Whitlam Oration was given by Malcolm – at Gough’s insistence, with a video introduction by Gough Whitlam.

Most fittingly of all, let us remember Whitlam’s hand resting on Fraser’s shoulder, on the morning of the National Apology by the Rudd Government.

Two champions of the rights and opportunities of the First Australians, standing with their successors, united in celebrating a day of justice and healing.

If those two titans could find it in themselves to make peace and build a friendship, to campaign together for their shared beliefs, then none of us have the right to hold onto the bitterness of that bygone era – this chapter in our nation’s life is closed.

We will always remember Gough Whitlam for so much more than the way he left office, and we will remember Malcolm Fraser for much more than the way he came to office.

This is not to pretend that Malcolm Fraser was not a political opponent of Labor for a major part of his public life, or that he was not antagonistic to many of our policies and principles.

He would not want us to minimise our differences or disagreements.

But when we look at Malcolm Fraser’s life and legacy

  • The humane treatment of Vietnamese refugees

  • An independent foreign policy for Australia

  • Support for a Republic

  • Australia’s active role in the resolution of international situations

There is no disputing that he was involved in the creation of good values.

If that is what you leave behind – acting for good in the name of the public good – then that is a truly remarkable contribution.

Madam Speaker, the passing of a former Prime Minister always gives us pause.

Last year, Labor farewelled the author of our modern identity.

It was a time of sadness, joy and contemplation, a time to revisit the standards Gough set for us and to ask ourselves how far we had come to fulfilling his vision for Australia.

So it is with the passing of Malcolm Fraser, a transformed political leader, Gough’s fierce foe who became his firm friend.

Perhaps all of us in this place can ask ourselves if we can do better by each other and the people we serve.

Perhaps we can recognise that while we are all people of different beliefs, we share a common faith – we all believe in the value of public life, the noble calling of politics and the greatness of the nation we love.

Let this respect for each other, and our democracy, be Malcolm Fraser’s final act of public service.

My final words today are for Malcolm’s loving wife Tamie and their children.

I should confess that about a dozen years ago, Tamie Fraser told me that her grandfather was one of the first graziers in the district to employ union shearers in their woolshed – and ever since then I’ve had something of a soft spot for her.

Tamie Fraser once described herself as ‘just someone in the back row’.

But she was so much more than that, she performed the public duties of a Prime Ministerial spouse with poise, class and verve and her contribution to our nation continued long after she and Malcolm had left the Lodge.

She is in our hearts today, as are all the members of the Fraser family.

Farewell Malcolm Fraser.

His duty done, may he rest in eternal peace.