According to the Australian Parliamentary Library, Malcolm Fraser was one of only three Australian Prime Ministers (out of 29 as of 2015) to list primary production in their previous employment experience (John Gorton is listed as Orchardist and John McEwen is listed as farmer). In his memoirs, Fraser revealed that he preferred to call himself a primary producer rather than a pastoralist or grazier because of the connotations of class and privilege with which these labels were imbued.
Fraser was the son of farming family, raised on wool and cattle stations on the Riverina and in the Western District of Victoria. At the age of thirteen his family were forced to sell their station at Balpool-Nyang due to a lengthy and devastating drought. During his time in parliament, he and his wife Tamie continued to run the Simmental stud and Merino station Nareen. It is therefore unsurprising that Fraser’s political career included an ongoing and diverse interest in rural affairs and policy, even if he belonged to the Liberal wing of the Liberal and Country/National Party coalition.
Fraser’s first major political victory upon achieving office was the re-establishment of wool sales at Portland harbour. Wool brokers had been boycotting sales in Portland in favour of Geelong and Melbourne sales for a number of years. In 1961 Fraser took up the fight in opposition to the Victorian Liberal Bolte government. Under pressure, Premier Bolte agreed to hold the Portland Wool Sales Inquiry in 1962 and Fraser led a delegation of wool growers to give evidence. According to Una Fraser, Malcolm’s father was contacted by future Victorian Premier and close family friend Dick Hamer to warn John Neville Fraser of the political enemies his son was making due to his advocacy of the Portland wool sales. The Inquiry found in favour of the Portland sales, which were resumed with much success, and an indication of the esteem this won for Fraser in his electorate was his increased majority at the next Federal election.
The 1970s were a pivotal time in the development of Australia’s wool industry, and Fraser played a role in government and industry debates. In part due to the rise in use and popularity of synthetic materials, in 1970 the price of wool dropped by 40 percent to the lowest level since 1946. The government swiftly established the Australian Wool Commission to moderate wool prices and provide direct financial relief to farmers.
In late 1972 the Liberal government passed legislation to establish the Australian Wool Corporation which took on the joint functions of the Australian Wool Board (established in 1962 to aid in the marketing of wool) and the Wool Commission. The Corporation aimed to promote the export, production and use of wool, and organise its marketing. The Corporation consisted of nine members: a Chairperson, four members from wool growers, one representing the government, and three others.
In 1971 GS Carson wrote, “The establishment of the Wool Commission and the change in wool-grower opinion will make a fascinating detailed research study, particularly if the researcher can probe behind the scenes and discover what really went on within industry organisations and within the Government.” The Fraser collection and the many related collections listed below would be an unmatched source for such a study.
As with the wool industry in particular, the 1970s was a period of change in all agricultural industries, a combination of effects from technological development, changes to financial and trade regimes, and ideological arguments over a government’s role in financial support for industries. In 1970, the liberal government introduced the Marginal Dairy Farms Reconstruction Scheme to encourage the consolidation of dairy farms into more viable businesses. The following year, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics released a report on debt reconstruction and adjustment that argued for similar moves in other agricultural industries. The government responded with the 1971 Rural Reconstruction Scheme. Between 1971 and 1976, even as the total national production area increased, the total number of farm businesses fell by 7.5 percent. In government, Fraser continued along the same lines with the Rural Adjustment Scheme in 1977.
Geoff Cockfield, Linda Botterill, “Rural Adjustment Schemes: Juggling Politics, Welfare and Markets”, Australian Journal of Public Administration, vol65 i2 Jun 2006, p70-82
GS Harman, “Wool and Politics”, The Australian Quarterly, vol43 no1 Mar 1971, p40-52
Malcolm Fraser and Margaret Simons, Malcolm Fraser: The political memoirs, The Miegunyah Press, 2010.
2005.0073 Electorate correspondence, primarily relating to organisations. This series includes seven files (items 150-156 in units 18-19) of correspondence under the title “Primary Industry”, two files of correspondence from the Australian Primary Producers’ Union (items 19 and 20 in unit 2), and one file from the Liberal and Country Party Federal Rural Committee (item 89 in unit 11).
2005.0107 Electorate correspondence, individuals. This series of electorate correspondence is organised by surname of the individual or name of the organisation with whom Fraser corresponded. The correspondence relates to a large range of topics, including the Rural Reconstruction Scheme, primary industry assistance and the rural bank scheme. This correspondence comes from organisations such as the Victorian Farmers’ Union, local councils and the National Catholic Rural Movement. One file item 1571 in unit 42) is from the Liberal Party Rural Committee.
2007.0012 Electorate correspondence. This series is organised by name of organisation or individual in alphabetical order. One file on the wool industry (item 47 unit 4) includes minutes from the Government Members' Wool Committee 1967 to March 1969. Organisations include the Australian Primary Producers; Union and the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria. Other files contain papers relating to roads and telephone services in rural areas.
Other correspondence series
2006.0012 Correspondence from Fraser’s time as Opposition Rural Spokesperson. There is one file with correspondence from representatives of the wool, dairying and other primary industries, 1971-1973 (item 2 unit 1)
2006.0015 General correspondence series as Leader of the Opposition. This series includes correspondence in 1975. It is organised alphabetically by correspondent, including organisations such as the Australian Woolgrowers and Graziers Council, and individuals.
2006.0017 Miscellaneous correspondence 1971-1975. This series includes two files of correspondence from Fraser’s period as Opposition Rural Spokesperson (items 46 and 47 in unit 6).
2006.0019 Correspondence with members of the Whitlam ministry. This series includes one file of correspondence with KS Wriedt, Whitlam’s Minister for Agriculture and relates to rural policy including live cattle export.
2006.0022 Correspondence with members of the Shadow Ministry. This series includes correspondence but also policy documents, research papers and so on from the Liberal Opposition during the Whitlam government. It includes a number of files relating to rural policy.
Subject and research files
2006.0024 Subject files maintained as Leader of the Opposition. This series includes specific files on beef and wool (items 36 and 37 in unit 2) as well as correspondence from the Graziers’ Association (item 22 unit 2)
2007.0002 Briefing notes. This series includes a file from the Liberal Party Rural Committee, 1970-1972 (item 1 unit 1) which includes policy development papers and reports.
2007.0019 Subject files maintained in Opposition. This series contains a substantial amount of material documenting Liberal Party rural policy, including several files from the liberal Party’s Federal Rural Committee 1971-1975.
2007.0023 Subject files during Fraser’s first period in government, 1955 to 1972. The series includes numerous files relating to rural affairs which contain published reports, correspondence minutes and more. One file (item 276 unit 31) contains minutes of the Rural Committee of the Liberal Party of Victoria from 1973 – 1974.
Speech notes and press statements
2007.0003 Press releases. Includes one file of press statements as Opposition spokesman on primary industry in 1973 (item 40 unit 1)
2007.0008 Speech notes. This series contains speech notes for numerous speeches relating to rural policy from 1973 to 1978.
Radio talk transcripts
Almost weekly for his entire parliamentary career, Malcolm Fraser provided his electorate’s local radio stations with recordings of 10-15 minute speeches for broadcast. It provided a means to inform his vast electorate of his activities and his views on a huge range of events and topics. The University of Melbourne archives has digitised and made available online over 700 transcripts from these radio talks.
Because his electorate was a rural one, and because of his special interest in matters relating to primary production, there is a heavy focus on matters relating to rural affairs. They include a broad range of topics, such as infrastructure for rural communities, drought relief, agricultural research and the CSIRO, the Rural Reconstruction Scheme, and of course, the wool industry. The transcripts can be viewed and searched online. Below is a selection in chronological order to demonstrate the scope of topics.
Development Bank, 15 November 1957, 2007.0023.00367
Post and telegraph charges, 30 August 1959, 2007.0023.00428
Australia's dependence on rural industries, 29 November 1959, 2007.0023.00444
Government decisions on dairy industry enquiry report, 19 March 1961, 2007.0023.00029
Terms of trade and rural credit, 16 April 1961, 2007.0023.00033
Commonwealth aid for roads, 29 March 1964, 2007.0023.00149
Agricultural Research and Extensions Bureau, 13 September 1964, 2007.0023.00178
Drought, 19 September 1965, 2007.0023.00214
Dairy industry stabilisation, 21 April 1967, 2007.0023.00509
Wool industry, 2 June 1967, 2007.0023.00516
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, 2 May 1968, 2007.0023.00537
Wheat industry plans, 11 May 1969, 2007.0023.00561
Rural reconstruction, 9 May 1971, 2005.0072.00005
Conservation, kangaroos, 29 November 1971, 2005.0070.00020
Rural Reconstruction Scheme, 9 April 1972, 2005.0072.00030
Beef cattle industry, wheat industry, 28 May 1972, 2005.0072.00038
Decentralisation, regional development, 24 September 1972, 2005.0072.00055
Portland wool sales, 25 March 1973, 2005.0072.00067
Primary industry, 10 March 1974, 2005.0072.00096
Meat industry, politics and slogans, 10 November 1974, 2005.0072.00106
Keynesianism, the Government and the Farmer, 20 April 1975, 2005.0072.00121
Beef industry, 19 October 1975, 2007.0003.00029
River Murray waters agreement, 20 October 1981, 2005.0072.00155
Related collections in the University of Melbourne Archives
The University of Melbourne Archives hold a huge collection relating to the primary production industry in Victoria. These collections provide a valuable complement to the Fraser collection and help to document Fraser’s impact on the industry.
Melbourne/Victorian Woolbrokers' Association
1891-1990, approx. 55 boxes, listed online, open access
The Association was formed by the major Melbourne wool brokers around 1897 to regularise wool trading, setting out rules and standards to be maintained. The Association maintained a boycott of Portland wool sales that was ended in 1962 after significant intervention by Fraser, who was a backbencher at the time. The Victorian Woolbrokers’ Association which was wound-up in 2006 was the last remaining organisation of state and regional associations. Through mergers these various organisations ultimately became part of The Victorian Woolbrokers’ Association.
Victorian Wheat and Woolgrowers' Association
1928-1966, 28 boxes, draft list, open access
The Victorian Wheat Growers' Association was formed in 1927 by farmers in the Wimmera-Mallee wheat belt and as a result of a division within the Victorian Farmers' Union over Country Party participation. The VWWA attracted growers who believed that besides a county political party, they needed strong, independent industrial organisations that could approach governments of any political persuasion. More generally the VWWA drew impetus from the feelings of frustration among farmers trying to grow wheat in a dry land and to sell it as profit in an unreliable international market. Its charter was expanded in 1939 to admit small woolgrowers to the organisation. The Association had close links with the Country Progressive Party but remained an independent political lobby group, especially in the matter of compulsory pooling and market rationalisation.
Australian Primary Producers' Union, Victorian Division
1946-1968, 131 units, part listed, open access
One of the many associations that have represented Victorian farmers, the APPU organised branches in most categories of farming. In 1967-1968 it amalgamated with the Victorian Wheat and Woolgrowers' Association to form the Victorian Farmers' Union. A year later, the union became the Australian Farmers' Federation. After a series of amalgamations with sectional unions, the National Farmers' Federation incorporated all the primary producers’ organisations in 1979.
Victorian Farmers' Union
1943-1975, approx. 200 boxes, not listed, some restricted access
The Victorian Farmers' Union was formed in 1968 by an amalgamation of the A.P.P.U. Victorian Division and the Victorian Wheat and Woolgrowers' Association. It has since absorbed a number of other small producers' associations and is currently called the Victorian Farmers' and Graziers' Association.
Victorian Farmers & Graziers' Association
1950-1976, 7 boxes, not listed, restricted access
The Victorian Farmers' Union was formed in 1968 by an amalgamation of the APPU Victorian Division and the Victorian Wheat and Woolgrowers' Association. It has since absorbed a number of other small producers' associations and is currently called the Victorian Farmers and Graziers' Association.
Dennys Lascelles Ltd
1862-1962, approx. 800 boxes, not listed, open access
The woolbroking business was established by C.J. Dennys in November 1857. It expanded in 1875 when his son-in-law, Harwood Lascelles, became partner and subsequently the company was named Dennys Lascelles and Company. Harwood Lascelles was later to figure prominently in the opening up of the Mallee country. In 1912 the company was reconstituted as a public company under the name of Dennys Lascelles Ltd. It is now in the Elders group.