The Right Honourable Malcolm Fraser, AC, CH.

As part of our regular segment, Our Community Leaders - Great Australian Leaders in Focus which features the thoughts of some of Australia's great leaders, this month we feature The Right Honourable Malcolm Fraser, AC, CH..

Malcolm Fraser was elected to Parliament in 1955 during the Menzies Government and was Prime Minister of Australia from 1975 to 1983. He is currently Honorary Chair of the InterAction Council of Former Heads of Government (Member since 1983).

Among Mr Fraser's many post-parliamentary roles has been the founding of human rights project, The Justice Project, as well as the website, dedicated to opposing all forms of racism and discrimination, and publication of a book Common Ground - Issues that should bind and not divide us.

Mr Fraser's memoirs, Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs (co-written with Margaret Simons), were recently published by Miegunyah Press.

Who do you consider to be three great leaders of our time and why?

  • Nelson Mandela: He stood for principle, he never compromised. Through 27 years in jail he never became bitter or sour. He maintained a Christian view of humanity.
  • John McEwen: He could see a future for Australia and was prepared to fight for it. He looked to the long term. He wasn't interested in focus groups or whatever.
  • Winston Churchill: Without Churchill Britain would have given in but if it had been occupied by the Germans, America would have done a deal with Hitler. I am not sure what would have happened to us.

What are the attributes you would consider to be essential to a leader?

Knowing what is right, knowing what is right for your country, knowing how to achieve it; picking better people on your staff than you are yourself; knowing there are more things you do not know than the things you do know, and that you need good advice; and capacity to judge character and to know who is true and who is not.

What are the greatest barriers to new leaders emerging in Australia?

The structure of party organisations, the narrowness of the pre-selection process, and the factionalism that dominates the major political parties. Perhaps we should move to a system of American based primaries and have not less than 5000 people voting for a candidate.

What advice would you give to a potential leader to take them to the next stage?

Have a vision for Australia and have the courage to fight for it. Know how to persuade others to be true to values, to recognise that you will have to make very difficult and painful choices about friendship and about values. If you place friendship over and above values, you will lose your way.

What insights have you gained personally and on your leadership journey and how have they impacted on your style of leadership?

These are recounted in the book (The Political Memoirs).

Who have been your own leadership mentors and how did they assist in developing your own leadership style?

In my time there weren't any particular mentors. In the electorate there was a man called Claude Austin. He flew Sunderlands over the Bay of Biscay during the war, hunting submarines, with four chances of falling into the water because if one in four engines stopped, the plane couldn't stay in the air. He was a farmer and ornithologist and friend.

Thinking about your own leadership journey, what are you most proud of and what would you change if you hand the chance?

I wouldn't have had an election in March of 1983. I would have postponed it until the end of the year.

If you had a magic wand, what would you change about community life in Australia right now?

I want seven or eight newspaper proprietors instead of 1½ or 2. It is important to promote new means of exchanging information, new means of disseminating news to allow no one news vehicle to gain too much dominance or power.

Published April 2011