August 26, 2015

Horse 1968 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 22 - Malcolm Fraser

XXII - Malcolm Fraser

Depending on how you want to read events, Malcolm Fraser's first term of government lasted for something in the order of two and a quarter hours on that fateful afternoon of 11th November 1975.

Whitlam was offficially decommissioned as Prime Minister by the Governor-General Sir John Kerr, during their 1pm meeting. The Senate had still not been informed officially and it would have appeared really strange when at 2:24pm, the appropriation bills which formed the 1975 Budget bills passed the Senate.
At 02:34pm Fraser stood in the House of Representatives and announced that he had been appointed as the new Prime Minister by Kerr and immediately the House passed resolution after resolution defeating the "new" government, which included passing a no confidence motion in Fraser.
With supply secured, Fraser then advised Kerr that there were no fewer that 21 bills which counted as election triggers under section 57 of the Constitution and so approval was given to dissolve the parliament and an election was called for 13th December 1975.

To Whitlam's surprise, 30 seats changed hands and Fraser's Liberal/National coalition was installed as the government with 91 seats to 36. The Liberal Party by themselves won 68 seats which meant that they could have held government in their own right but they chose to remain in coalition with their partners the National Country Party who had changed their name from the Country Party.

Fraser's government sought to cut back many of the Whitlam Government's program and this meant a vast reduction in overall government expenditure. The new universal health insurance system Medibank was vastly altered, the ABC saw a series of deep cuts which would last from 1976 to 1985 and the public service began to shed jobs.

In the meantime Fraser's Government would establish the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission, the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) as well as passing the first piece of aboriginal land law with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976.

Under the Fraser government, Australia took in more than 200,000 Asian migrants with about a quarter of those being Vietnamese refugees. In order to help people resettle and start a new life, the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs was also established.

At the 1977 election Fraser's Government retained government but lost 5 seats in the process. Whitlam who was still Opposition leader going into the election resigned not long after. Three years later, the government lost a further 12 seats in the 1980 election but was still awarded a third term in government.

Under pressure from Fraser, the Treasurer Phillip Lynch resigned and John Howard was promoted to the position but facing a period of double digit inflation and double digit unemployment known as "stagflation" the task was never going to be easy. Fraser wanted to pass an expansionary budget in the face of a looming recession and he and Howard frequently disagreed on what that should look like. By 1983 there was significant increases in spending on national highways and aviation infrastructure, as well as increases in welfare and transfer payments. At the same time construction of the new Parliament House began and this was expected to be completed in time for the bicentenary of British settlement in 1988.
In 1982, a Federal Enquiry was launched into the Australian banking system and foreign banks were allowed to open for the first time.

Following a by-election in the seat of Flinders in January 1983, Fraser called for an election for the 5th of March. On the morning of 3rd February as Fraser was visiting the  Governor-General, the Opposition Leader Bill Hayden resigned his post and Bob Hawke replaced him as Labor leader.
Ultimately the Fraser Government would lose the 1983 election, 24 seats in the process and suffer the worst defeat by any non-Labour government ever. Fraser would not go on to lead the Liberal Party in Opposition and did not stay in Parliament too long afterwards either, resigning two months later.

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