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Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser dies, aged 84

ABC News ABC News 20/03/2015

Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser has died aged 84.

A statement released by his office confirmed Mr Fraser died peacefully earlier today.

"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," the statement 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."

Mr Fraser was Australia's 22nd prime minister.

Born into a wealthy pastoral family in 1930 he first entered Parliament in 1955 as its youngest MP.

He spent nearly 20 years as a backbencher and in the ministry until, in 1975, he became Opposition Leader facing off against Gough Whitlam.

The dismissal later that year led to persistent debate about the new government's legitimacy and Mr Fraser's role.

But he went on to win the next three elections.

He embraced multiculturalism and Aboriginal land rights, led the Commonwealth push to end apartheid in South Africa and argued for an independent Zimbabwe.

The nation's finances were managed with traditional conservatism and cutbacks at first but later the political pressure grew and the purse strings loosened.

However in 1982 the country was facing recession, drought and social unrest.

After suffering a back problem and being treated in hospital, Mr Fraser called a snap election on the same day Bob Hawke became opposition leader. But the strategy backfired and Mr Fraser was defeated.

Life after the Lodge remained busy for Mr Fraser. He became a key figure in humanitarian and diplomatic circles.

But the former PM always kept an eye on the political arena and he became a staunch critic of the Liberals under the next Coalition PM, John Howard, speaking out particularly on indigenous issues, refugees and antiterrorism laws.

Just last month Mr Fraser launched a scathing attack on Tony Abbott over the Government's treatment of the Human Rights Commission and, in particular, its president Gillian Triggs following The Forgotten Children report.

"If the Government had wanted to handle the matter sensibly, they would have said they recognise there have been abuses," Mr Fraser said at the time.

Mr Fraser seemed to have more in common with his former political rivals than with his own party, joining Labor PMs past and present for the apology to the Stolen Generation.

Eventually he quit the Liberals citing his belief that the party he had been a member of for more than six decades had tilted too far to the right.

Nation mourns loss of great leader

Treasurer Joe Hockey has offered his condolences to Mr Fraser's widow Tami and paid tribute to the former Liberal leader.

"Many people have contributed to public life over a long period of time that have helped to build a better Australia and unquestionably he was one of them," Mr Hockey said.

ABC's Insiders host Barrie Cassidy said Mr Fraser was active up until his death.

"I don't know whether anybody saw this coming," he said.

"He tweeted as recently as Wednesday, just two days ago, when he was talking about time for a new China vision.

"I remember seeing another tweet just six weeks ago where he showed his catch after some ocean fishing.

"So he was still in reasonably good health right to the end and still thinking about big global issues."

Mr Fraser is survived by his wife and four children

"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."

Malcolm Fraser was Australia's 22nd prime minister.

He began his term as caretaker prime minister on November 11, 1975, after Governor-General Dr John Kerr dismissed Gough Whitlam's Labor government.

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