Malcolm Fraser may have abandoned the political party he once led but Liberals will always claim him as one of their own, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has told parliament.
“He was surely one of us,” Mr Abbott said on Monday as he led tributes to Australia’s 22nd prime minister, who died on Friday aged 84.
Mr Abbott noted the former prime minister’s fractured relationship with the Liberal Party in the latter years of his life.
The “estrangement” grew as the Howard government introduced the GST, expanded mandatory detention of asylum seekers and joined US-led military coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But Mr Abbott recalled that when he was working for another Liberal leader – John Hewson – during the early 1990s he was rightly chided for being critical of the Fraser government when drafting the opposition’s Fightback document.
“It was hard to disown your past without diminishing your future,” he observed.
The Liberals owed Malcolm Fraser more than a farewell.
“Our challenge is not to say goodbye; it’s to be more magnanimous in his death than we were in his life.”
Treasurer Joe Hockey said the hardest thing about being in the Liberal Party was that its toughest critics were its own.
“The modern Left is trying to own Malcolm Fraser but no-one owned Malcolm Fraser – he was his own man,” he said, describing him as a genuine Liberal.
Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop said it was Mr Fraser’s deeply-held humanity and compassion for refugees that led to his self-imposed estrangement from the party.
But he led with strong ambition for Australia, backed by Liberal principles of opportunity and an abhorrence of prejudice.
Ms Bishop noted Mr Fraser could make life uncomfortable for some politicians, but the nation would be poorer for the loss of his oversight.
Cabinet minister Christopher Pyne said he remained a great admirer of Mr Fraser even after his departure from the party.
He was grateful for advice about the importance of maintaining contact with your electorate, something the Member for Sturt has employed to great effect at close-run elections.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Mr Fraser would be remembered as a either “a hero who turned into a villain or a villain who turned into a hero”.
He achieved much good in supporting Vietnamese refugees, creating SBS, and his anti-apartheid stance on South Africa.
“The good that Malcolm Fraser did will live after him to his great and enduring credit,” Mr Shorten said.
Other Labor MPs, including Tanya Plibersek, Chris Bowen and Anthony Albanese, also paid tribute to Mr Fraser.
“In losing Malcolm Fraser we have lost a link to an era not just his own, but the Menzies era before it also,” Mr Bowen said.