Malcolm Fraser’s opposition to racism

Malcolm Fraser and members of the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons meet with Desmond Tutu, 1986. Photographer unknown. University of Melbourne Archives, Malcolm Fraser collection, 2005.0034.00155
Malcolm Fraser and members of the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons meet with Desmond Tutu, 1986. Photographer unknown. University of Melbourne Archives, Malcolm Fraser collection, 2005.0034.00155

In his post-parliamentary career, Malcolm Fraser became known for his strong stand in opposition to racism through his involvement in the push to end apartheid in South Africa, his vocal opposition to One Nation and his support for the rights of refugees. That stance was in fact a reflection of a long-standing dislike of racism rooted in his liberal political philosophy.

In The Political Memoirs, Fraser locates his early opposition to racism in his puzzling over his father, John Neville Fraser’s anti-Catholic sectarianism. Fraser recounts Neville’s strong anti-Catholic prejudice, common among conservative Protestants at the time. This he attributed to PM Billy Hughes’ use of anti-Catholic rhetoric for political ends, specifically the conscription referenda in World War One.

Malcolm Fraser, on the other hand, was to become a life-long friend to one of Australia’s most prominent Catholic figures, BA Santamaria; the two shared an abiding opposition to communism in the context of the Cold War. Reflecting on his father’s anti-Catholicism, Fraser felt that the prejudice was “silly and ignorant”. From this experience he learned that racism (or sectarianism) should be countered by political leadership. His career-long promotion of multi-culturalism and support services for migrants can be seen in this light.

Some views expressed early in his political career would be contested or viewed as paternalistic today. Fraser’s anti-Communism tended to divide the world into two camps and there was less reflection on his own camp. In a radio talk dated 11 November 1956 he said of the British empire “in colonising a country she would teach the local people the art of self-government, she would raise their standard of life and team teach how to manage their own affairs. They were primitive people in most cases who were being brought up to what we regarded as a higher stage of civilisation.”

Despite this, Fraser was an early proponent of independence for former colonies, and an early opponent of apartheid in South Africa. In a 1959 radio talk to his electorate, he argued “So far as New Guinea is concerned, Australians must remember that the eyes of all South-East Asia and of the United Nations are watching what we are doing. There may be many who expect, or even hope, that we will fall in the find of error that has been made in South Africa.”

Fraser’s opposition to racism was rooted in his view of liberalism, itself a living political ideology that changed much over the long expanse of Fraser’s political and public career which began at the height of the Cold War and ended a decade and a half into the Twenty-first Century.

In 2000, Malcolm Fraser was presented the Australian Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The citation noted:

Mr Fraser had provided national leadership in the pursuit of human rights over a long period, including consistent support for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians and leadership in the fight against racism nationally and internationally


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

Related guides

Multiculturalism and immigration

Aboriginal affairs

Malcolm Fraser’s liberalism

International law and governance

Radio talks

‘A vision for Australia’, 24 January 1954

‘Men for Australia’, 11 April 1954

‘Reports on proceedings in Canberra’, 11 November 1956

‘The Colombo Plan’, 18 August 1957

‘Papua and New Guinea’, 3 September 1959

‘Voting rights for Aborigines’, 25 June 1961

‘Self-government for New Guinea’, 9 June 1963

‘Report on a visit to the United Nations’, 26 June 1964

‘Report from Washington: civil rights’, 1 July 1964

‘Proposed referendum’, 1967

Interview with Margaret Simons

Interview, 22 February 2008: Discussion of MUP publication 'Drawing the Global Colour Line' co-authored by Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds and launched by Fraser. Brings together consideration of Western and Dominion racism and its impact on Twentieth Century wars. Discussion with approval of Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; discusses Liberal Party reaction to it.


2007.0013 Senior Advisor’s research material. This series contains subject files and research papers relating to a broad range of topics. See item 166 for the Racial Discrimination Bill 1975, and 169 for a file on the Australian government’s attitude to Rhodesia.

2014.0154 Post-parliamentary papers. This series includes correspondence relating to the 2006 establishment of the website Australians All. The website aimed to promote a more inclusive society through discussion and reform of inequalities and discrimination in law and policy. The effort included prominent figures such as ACTU president Sharan Burrow, Reverend Tim Costello and Islamic Council of Victoria’s Waleed Aly.

2015.0165 Post-parliamentary papers. This series includes correspondence and papers relating to Fraser work on the Australians All website, and with the Reconciliation movement.

Post-parliamentary speeches

Multicultural Tolerance: The Truth About Lies, B'Nai B'Rith Anti-Defamation Commission, 26 May 2002

National Sorry Day: Journey of Healing, Sydney Opera House, 26 May 2004

From White Australia to Today, Australian Refugee Association Oration, Adelaide, 24 June 2011