Malcolm Fraser, the former Australian prime minister who was notoriously catapulted to power by a constitutional crisis that left the nation bitterly divided, has died aged 84.
Mr Fraser was active in public life until the end, and his death shocked the nation.
“It is with deep sadness that we inform you that after a brief illness John Malcolm Fraser died peacefully in the early hours of the morning,” a statement from his office said.
“We appreciate that this will be a shock to all who knew and loved him, but ask that the family be left in peace at this difficult time.”
Tributes poured in from members of the current conservative government, his contemporaries and from all walks of life.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australia’s 22nd prime minister had “restored economically responsible government while recognising social change”.
He said: “Malcolm Fraser held true to the belief that his actions were in the best interests of Australia. He was determined to ‘turn on the lights’ and restore Australia’s economic fortunes.”
Fred Chaney, a minister in Mr Fraser’s government, said: “We’ve lost a really great Australian and someone who I look to as an exemplar for values that I think are important.”
With the cultivated Australian accent of the old money families and a stony countenance that cartoonists lampooned as an Easter Island statue, many mistook him for a classical conservative.
But he later became a vocal critic of conservative politics in Australia and a thorn in the side of the centre-right Liberal Party that he once led, and eventually quit in disgust in 2010 following the party’s election of Mr Abbott as its leader.
Mr Fraser became the unelected leader of an unsuspecting nation in 1975 when the then Governor-General John Kerr took the unprecedented step of dismissing the chaotic, frenetically reformist government of Gough Whitlam.
It was a development that most Australians had not thought possible. Many were outraged that the Australian representative of the Queen, Australia’s distant constitutional head of state, would dare oust a democratically elected government.