International law and governance

Commonwealth leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the Melbourne Town Hall, 1981. Photographer: Australian Information Service, University of Melbourne Archives 2005.0104.00118
Commonwealth leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the Melbourne Town Hall, 1981. Photographer: Australian Information Service, University of Melbourne Archives 2005.0104.00118

Throughout his lengthy parliamentary career and beyond, Malcolm Fraser was keenly interested and involved in matters of international law and governance. His first parliamentary speech on international affairs was given at the age of 26, just a month after his maiden speech. The speech is remarkable in that it touched on concerns that were to guide Fraser in the international sphere for many decades; the role of the Commonwealth and the responsibilities of Commonwealth nations, the threat of communism, and the crucial role of international trade in upholding a free and fair international order.

Fraser was appointed Minister for the Army from 1966 until early 1968 at the height of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. He was Minister for Defence in late 1969 to early 1971. Fraser’s belief in the primacy of stability in the region also saw his government recognise Indonesia’s annexation of East Timor in 1978

Fraser played an important role in the Commonwealth over decades. He strongly opposed apartheid in South Africa and actively sought reform, a commitment that extended past his time in office to his appointment as co-chair of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons group in 1985-86. He advocated for a Pacific Regional forum, which later became the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. He also sought Commonwealth support for an independent Zimbabwe. In 1989, Fraser unsuccessfully sought to be elected the Secretary-General.

In 1976 Fraser visited the People’s Republic of China and advocated for greater relations between the two countries. Again, this was a commitment that Fraser continued to hold after his parliamentary career, to which his foreign policy book Dangerous Allies and his numerous public speeches and articles attests.

Upon leaving office, Fraser continued his involvement in international affairs, becoming a distinguished international fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (1984-86), a founding member of the InterAction Council (active from 1983-2014), a Professorial Fellow at the Asia Pacific Centre for Military Law at the University of Melbourne, and a founder of CARE Australia and President of CARE International.

This subject guide focuses on material in the University of Melbourne Archives Malcolm Fraser collection that relates to his interest and involvement in international law and governance. It is not a comprehensive guide for material on foreign policy, although such material is included where it touches on questions of law and governance. For more details about Malcolm Fraser and the Pacific, see our Australia in the Pacific subject guide (forthcoming).


Biography of Malcolm Fraser, written by Margaret Simons, in Elizabeth Masters and Katie Wood, Malcolm Fraser: Guide to archives of Australia's prime ministers, National Archives of Australia, 2010.

Malcolm Fraser and Margaret Simons, Malcolm Fraser: The political memoirs, The Miegunyah Press, 2010.

Renouf, Alan, Malcolm Fraser and Australian Foreign Policy, Australian Professional Publications, Sydney, 1986.


  • 2007.0015.00007 unit 1 - file of congratulations of appointment to Her Majesty’s Privy Council.
  • 2005.0083 items 167-172 units 23-25 - bid for secretary general of the Commonwealth 1978-1989. Item 178 unit 25 news cuttings.
  • 2005.0083 item 181-182 unit 26 - Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group 1986.
  • 2005.0088 three units of background material relating to the Commonwealth Observer Group's association with elections in Pakistan (Oct 1993), Tanzania (Oct 1995), Bangladesh (June 1996) and Ghana (December 1996) together with records of the Commonwealth Observer Group during the Pakistan elections held in early 1997.
  • 2019.0109.00124 – Interview with Margaret Simons. Role of the Commonwealth and Mr Fraser's attitude to it: set up of Regional Commonwealth meetings. Role of Commonwealth in Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe, 2007.

South Africa

2005.0071 - Papers relating to the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group and the United Nations Panel of Eminent Persons. This series was accumulated in the period 1985-89 by former Prime Minister J M (Malcolm) Fraser as, firstly, Chair of the United Nations Panel of Eminent Persons on the Activities of Transnational Corporations in South Africa and Namibia and, secondly, as Co-Chair of the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons. The United Nations Secretary-General appointed Mr Fraser to the eleven-member Panel of Eminent Persons (EP) in August 1985, when there was worldwide concern over the links between transnational corporations and South Africa's apartheid regime and the latter's control of Namibia. Mr Fraser visited South Africa prior to chairing the panel's public hearings in New York in 1985. The seven-member Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons (COMGEP) was established on the initiative of Australian Prime Minister R J L (Bob) Hawke. 18 boxes, access currently closed.

Speech to Parliament, South Africa's Membership of the Commonwealth, 12 April 1961.

2019.0109.00107 – Interview with Margaret Simons. Main discussion is about Fraser becoming an Eminent Person in the 1980s and negotiations with the South African Government and Nelson Mandela re the end of Apartheid. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan's attitude to developments in South Africa, 2007

Interaction Council

The InterAction Council was established in 1983 as an independent international organization to mobilise the experience, energy and international contacts of a group of statesmen who have held the highest office in their own countries. The Council was founded by the former Prime Minister of Japan Takeo Fukuda and is based on his long-held pacifist and egalitarian philosophy. He remained the Honorary Chairman and guiding force of the Council until his death in 1995. Malcolm Fraser was Co-chairman of the InterAction Council 1998-2005 and Honorary Chairman 2006-2014.

  • 2020.0047 - The records in this series comprise the complete set of papers for Interaction Council (IAC) plenary meetings from the IAC's inception in 1983 to its dissolution in 2014. This series also includes documents from meetings: A Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities (1997) and Interfaith Dialogue "Global Ethics in Decision Making", led by Malcolm Fraser. All records in this series are available online.
  • 2005.0080 – items 10, 24, 27-9, 64, 80 - travel files for InterAction Council visits, 1984-1988.
  • 2005.0083 - items 124-128, 206, 354-355– meeting papers 1984-1987.

CARE International and CARE Australia

CARE Australia and CARE International correspondence, board papers, minutes and corporate council records. J M (Malcolm) Fraser founded CARE Australia, one of the country's largest overseas aid organisations, in 1987. From 1990 to 1995 he was President of CARE International. During this time, CARE was involved in providing aid following the earthquake and tsunami in Papua New Guinea (July 1998), floods in China (July 1998) and Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua and Honduras (October-November 1998). In 1999 two CARE Australia workers, Steve Pratt and Peter Wallace, were charged with espionage and imprisoned in Yugoslavia. Malcolm Fraser was appointed special envoy to work to secure their release. Pratt and Wallace were released in September after five months in prison.

  • 2005.0083 item 197 unit 28 - CARE General 1987-89. Item 250 unit 39 - peace in Croatia. Items 296-303 unit 45-46 - International and Australia, 1993-1994.
  • 2006.0028 – 9 boxes -  1997-2003 access closed.
  • 2013.0150 - units 1-3 CARE Australia and CARE International papers. 1992-2020 Access closed.
  • 2005.0087 - Records of Fraser in his capacity as Chair of CARE Australia (1987-2002). The series contains material relating to both organisations. The records consist of correspondence concerning projects Mr Fraser was directly involved with, responded to or initiated. 12 boxes 1993-2000 access closed
  • 2005.0086 - Chairman's records, United Nations Secretary General's Expert Group on South African Commodity Problems. The series consists of drafts and a copy of the final report, background papers, minutes of meetings and correspondence. It also contains reference materials including statistical data and publications. 15 boxes 1976-92 access restricted

Common Ground

Published in 2002, Common Ground is the first book written by Malcolm Fraser, comprising a series of speeches and other writings by Fraser on many issues, both domestic and global. The central theme of these speeches is that humanitarian issues are the 'common ground' we can all share. The speeches and writings include discussions of how Australia is positioned in the Asian region and within a new world order, whether globalisation can work for rich and poor alike, rather than creating greater inequality and environmental degradation, and why governments that claim to take a global view of money should also take a compassionate, global view of people.

2013.0150 units 7-11 include book notes and index, general correspondence and other papers, and book proofs.

Dangerous Allies

Published in 2016, Dangerous Allies argues that Australia should adopt a much greater degree of independence in foreign policy, and that we should no longer follow other nations into wars of no direct interest to Australia or Australia's security. Dangerous Allies examines Australia's history of strategic dependence and questions the continuation of this position.

  • 2014.0154 units 14-38 includes correspondence, drafts and other papers relating to the book.
  • 2015.0165 items 258-265 contain research files for Dangerous Allies.

Interviews with Dr Margaret Simons, 2007

  • 2019.0109.00155 - Discussion of organising 1987 meeting of Leaders of all Religions at the Vatican; wanting to produce a statement of ethical standards which all religions could sign on to; draft by 1997 had limited success.
  • 2019.0109.00131 - Discussion of MUP publication 'Drawing the Global Colour Line' co-authored by Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds. Brings together consideration of Western and Dominion racism and its impact on Twentieth Century wars.
  • 2019.0109.00174 – interview with Margaret Simons. Menzies; South East Asia; and political systems.
  • 2019.0109.00162 - China mid-1976 and why Mr Fraser visited China and Japan; escalation of the Arms Race under George H. W. Bush; possibility of democracy in Russia given its history; discussion of the long genesis of English democracy and the current effect of financial power on it.
  • 2019.0109.00160 - Main discussion is of the war in Vietnam; response to Robert McNamara's book on 'In Retrospect'. Discussion of archival documents about the commencement of Australian's involvement in the war and Australia's ignorance of the American strategy. Terrorism and the Second Gulf War.
  • 2019.0109.00159 – Discussion includes Soviet Union and the Cold War; Middle Eastern politics; independence in Papua New Guinea.
  • 2019.0109.00117 - Philip Ayres's biography of Malcolm Fraser and his misunderstanding, in the chapter on Defence, of what a middle power such as Australia could achieve. Reflections on the reduced economic power of Britain after the Second World War and the actions of the USA to increase its own power at Britain's expense. Discussion of devaluation; privatisation of Government instrumentalities and more.
  • 2019.0109.00116 - Discussion of archived documents from Mr Fraser's period as Minister for Defence 1969-1971; his relationship with Prime Minister John Gorton; and matters relating to the war in Vietnam and the American alliance.
  • 2019.0109.00104 - Fraser's concern with the threat of the Cold War; Vietnam War from Australia's perspective and becoming Minister for the Army.

Speeches and radio talks

Listed here in chronological order are numerous speeches Malcolm Fraser made (outside of Parliament) on matters relating to international law and governance. For research files on the post-1983 speeches, consult the finding aid for the 2015.0165 accession. Speech transcripts are also available.

Other material

  • 2005.0083 items 99-103 units 9-11 - American Enterprise Institute World Forums, 1980s
  • 2005.0080 items 1-8 unit 1 - trip to the US with the American Enterprise Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, 1983-1986.
  • 2005.0083 - items 260-362 - White paper committee on Australian foreign and trade policy, 1996-1997
  • 2005.0083 - items 422-429 unit 68-69 - International Crisis Group correspondence relating to conflicts including Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Bosnia Herzegovina, 1996


The University of Melbourne Archives online digital images catalogue holds over 300 photographs from the Malcolm Fraser collection. Hundreds of these are photographs taken by the Australian Information Service whilst Fraser was Prime Minister. These albums capture the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Australia in 1981, plus numerous overseas visits and meetings with dignitaries.