from ABC rural reporters

Mar 20

Photo: Malcolm Fraser as a young man at Nareen Station, about 1958. (Supplied by University of Melbourne Archives)

Audio: Hugh Beggs a former wool industry leader and brother in law to Malcolm Fraser says he was a true humanitarian to both animals and people. (ABC Rural)

Tributes have begun flowing from regional Australia for former Prime Minister and farmer Malcolm Fraser.

Mr Fraser was brought up on family farms, and later ran the western Victorian wool and beef property, Nareen.

Elected at the age of 25, he represented the south-west Victorian seat of Wannon for the Liberals for 28 years, and was a strong supporter of the Coalition.

After serving in the Lodge from 1975 to 1983, Mr Fraser returned to Nareen.

He maintained an active interest in human rights and formed the aid organisation CARE Australia in 1987.

His brother in law, Hugh Beggs, from Glenthompson in Victoria, said Malcolm Fraser always wanted the best for people and his livestock.

"Malcolm was an intensely humane person, not only with human beings but also with his animals," he said.

"We didn’t go into detail about refugees. We all agree they should be treated humanely.

"He was a very responsible person for the human race."

Mr Beggs said Mr Fraser raised Merino sheep and Simmental cattle.

"His livestock, as with everything Malcolm did, it’s fair to say, he wanted it to have excellence. He wasn’t interested in running second rate cattle or second rate sheep. He wanted them as good as could possibly be made," Mr Beggs said.

As Prime Minister, Mr Fraser refused to float the dollar or deregulate the banks.

Mr Beggs said that it was important to hold out, because farmers had not benefitted from the economic liberalisation.

"The dollar is made of metal and doesn’t float all that well and it hasn’t served us as farmers terribly well. I think it was better the other way," he said.

Malcolm Fraser was a strong supporter of the Country Party, which became the National Party.

"He realised Australia was a very disparate nation, with most of its population concentrated in the very big cities along the coast, with an enormous and vitally productive hinterland, of which agriculture played a vital part," Mr Beggs said.

"So our earnings from grain and wool and had to be looked after and the National Party represented that very well."

In a 1983 interview with the ABC, Malcolm Fraser said his early years in the NSW Riverina during drought were a particularly formative time for him, and he learned quickly how to be resilient.

"I can remember three years in a row knocking lambs on the head as they dropped, trying to save the ewes. Now that was as a very young child," he told the ABC’s Ngaire Creed.

"I think I was eight in the last of those particular droughts."

National Farmers’ Federation president Brent Finlay said that Mr Fraser was "a remarkable man from a distinguished farming family".

"Before he was a politician, he was a grazier," Mr Finlay said, noting that the former PM went back to the farm after he left office.

"Mr Fraser gave long and distinguished service to his country. On behalf of the farming community of Australia and all our members, I extend our deepest sympathies to his wife and family."

Fraser successor in Wannon pays tribute

The man who currently holds the seat of Wannon for the Liberal Party, Dan Tehan, said Australia had "lost a very distinguished individual" in Mr Fraser, who was still regarded "incredibly fondly" in his former electorate.

"He left a lasting legacy. Every time I go out to Hamilton Airport, that’s a Malcolm Fraser electorate legacy," Mr Tehan said.

"To have someone who was a farmer and who understood regional and rural Australia as a prime minister was very significant.

"Canberra can seem a long way away from regional and rural Australia at times, and his legacy of ensuring that it was remembered around the Cabinet table, and then as prime minister, is a lasting legacy.

"It’s extremely sad news, and I offer my deepest sympathies to [his wife] Tamie and Malcolm’s children and grandchildren."

Former National Party leader and deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, also from the NSW Riverina, paid tribute to Mr Fraser on Friday.

"Malcolm Fraser once came to Narrandera for a big wool crisis meeting years ago and I have to say he gave all present a very good hearing," Mr Fischer said.

"He never forgot his rural roots, from Moulamein to Hamilton."