Fraser’s date with destiny



Malcolm Fraser might have been celebrating his rise to federal opposition leader this weekend, forty years after it happened on March 21, 1975. Instead, Australians will be reflecting on his death and almost certainly recalling what occurred just eight months after the day he grabbed the Liberal leadership from Sir Billy Snedden.

For, despite his best efforts, Mr Fraser will forever be remembered as one of the key players in the dramatic dismissal of the Whitlam government on November 11, 1975. He would have preferred otherwise. As Margaret Simons, co-author of his 2010 political memoir, noted in a chapter devoted to the dismissal, the reality of his position in Australian political history frustrated and annoyed him.

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“In the interviews for this book he had to be persuaded to talk about the crisis of 1975 and the dismissal,” Ms Simons wrote in Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs. “The idea made him more than cross.”

Mr Whitlam’s dismissal came after the Fraser-led Liberal opposition blocked supply in the Senate. The Labor leader aimed to strategise around it but was unsuccessful.

Amid nationwide protests Mr Fraser went on to win the next election in his own right with, as the National Archives record, a “devastating swing against the former government”.

He held power until being unseated by Bob Hawke in 1983.

Ms Simons writes that Mr Fraser never looked to dwell on how he came to power, nor did he read the memoirs of Whitlam or Sir John Kerr, the governor-general who dismissed him.

In fact, he became friends with Mr Whitlam later in life and believed the former Labor leader would have considered the dismissal nothing more than “politics”.

“He wasn’t the type of person who bore grudges,” Mr Fraser once said of Whitlam. “He was a much larger person than that, a more generous man than that.”

Prodded to talk about the dismissal by his biographer, Fraser grew impatient.

“This whole issue has been so chewed over. I’m so totally bored with it,” he said to Simons.

Simons came to the view that Fraser and Whitlam “had more in common with each other than either of them had with their successors”.

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