Malcolm Fraser, Australia’s 22nd Prime Minister, has passed away this morning after a short illness.
"It is with deep sadness that we inform you that after a brief illness John Malcolm Fraser died peacefully in the early hours of the morning of 20 March 2015,” a statement released by his office in the early hours of this morning said.
"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.”
Born in Toorak in 1930, Mr Fraser went on to become Prime Minister of Australia in 1975 after the then Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, dismissed Gough Whitlam’s Labor government.
In recent years Fraser moved away from the Liberal party he once led, eventually handing back his membership in 2009.
And in the years since, Fraser had been a staunch defender of asylum seekers and critic of Australia's foreign policy, regularly penning articles condemning Australia’s mandatory detention policies and its relationship with the United States.
He was 84 at the time of his death.
As news of Fraser's passing circulates, tributes are rolling in from political figures on all sides.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has released a statement crediting Fraser with restoring the nation’s economy in the wake of the turbulent ‘crash or crash through’ Whitlam years “while recognising social change”.
Fraser maintained many of the socially progressive policies implemented by the Whitlam government, including the precursor to Medicare, Medibank, and free tertiary education.
The current Prime Minister said the friendship which developed between Fraser and his former political enemy, Gough Whitlam, who also passed away recently, was testament to his character.
“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,” Abbott said.
Abbott said Malcolm Fraser's work to end the aparthied regime in South Africa both during and after his time in political office domonstrated his commitment to equality.
“His subsequent appointment to roles with the United Nations and the Commonwealth of Nations reflected his high international standing.”
The Prime Minister offered his condolences to Fraser’s family, and said that flags will be lowered to half-mast today and on the day of Fraser’s memorial service.
Labor Leader Bill Shoten has also paid tribute to Fraser’s “six decades of tireless service to our nation”.
“He immeasurably enriched Australia’s multicultural society, offering refuge to tens of thousands of vulnerable people driven from Vietnam by the horror of war,” Shorten said.
“He maintained the Whitlam Government’s commitment to the cause of reconciliation and recognising the land rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“In the long third act of his public life, Malcolm won many new admirers as a powerful voice for human rights and reconciliation and a deep thinker regarding Australia’s place in the world.”
The Greens spokesperson on refugees, Sarah Hanson-Young, said she is “devastated” at Fraser’s passing.
Hanson-Young had enjoyed the support of Fraser in her advocacy for more humane policies on refugees.
He was “a politician of principle and leader of compassion” and “a true gentleman with a heart full of empathy”, she said.
Malcolm Turbull has also applauded Fraser for establishing the Family Court, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the nation’s first freedom of information laws and the Human Rights Commission.
However, as Turnbull points out, “Malcolm was a fierce political warrior”.
Only last month Fraser wrote this piece for the Sydney Morning Herald criticising the government’s treatment of the President of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs.
Fraser continued to lead the public debate until his death, publishing his last Tweet, at 11:20 am yesterday.
“Above all he was utterly committed to Australia and its independence and maintained his writing and advocacy on foreign policy right up to his death,” Turnbull said.
“Modern Australia would be very different without his vision and leadership.”
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