John Malcolm Fraser

Malcolm Fraser (1930-2015) came to power during a time of crisis, following the dismissal of Gough Whitlam after the Senate refused to pass the government’s money bills. He won the 1975 election with a massive landslide, gaining a House of Representatives majority of 55. His government repudiated some of his predecessor’s initiatives but greatly extended others, such as indigenous land rights and with its endorsement of multiculturalism as a major factor in Australian life. Fraser entered Parliament in his twenties, after studies at Melbourne Grammar and Oxford University. He played a leading role in the Liberal infighting which led to the downfall of John Gorton as Prime Minister. His government was defeated by Labor in 1983.

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Events

11 November 1975

Malcolm Fraser becomes Prime Minister

In a controversial sequence of events, the government of Gough Whitlam is dismissed from office by Governor-General Sir John Kerr when the Liberal–Country Party opposition rejects supply bills in the Senate. The Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser, is appointed as caretaker Prime Minister pending a double dissolution election, which he wins. The Fraser government introduces the development of Australia’s uranium industry, grants self-government to the Northern Territory, creates the office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, establishes the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), supports independence movements in Africa, and opposes apartheid in South Africa. For more information, visit the Australian Prime Ministers Centre.

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Malcolm Fraser.
11 November 1975

The Dismissal

In the greatest constitutional crisis in Australia’s history, the opposition parties in the Senate block supply for 27 days in an attempt to force Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to call an election for the House of Representatives. He refuses, and the resulting crisis becomes a bitter contest for political power. Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, accepts the opposition argument and the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, acts on his advice by dismissing the Prime Minister. He commissions Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister on the assurance that Fraser will call a general election. He grants Fraser a double dissolution of both Houses, and Fraser’s Liberal–National Party Coalition wins a landslide victory at the general election held in December. This issue remains contentious in Australia. The question remains as to whether the exercise of the Governor-General’s reserve powers under the Constitution are compatible with Australia’s system of parliamentary democracy.

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‘Did my Xmas chopping early this year’ Alan Charles [Sir John Kerr after dismissing the Whitlam government]