FRASER, Alexander John (1892–1965)
Senator for Victoria, 1946 (Australian Country Party)

For a number of senators, a career in the Commonwealth Parliament has followed one in a state Parliament, but for Senator Alexander Fraser the reverse was the case. A senator for only four months, Fraser went on to a distinguished career in the Victorian Parliament. Alexander John Fraser was born at Fairfield, Melbourne, on 22 August 1892, the son of Scottish‑born parents, Simon Fraser, a police constable, and his wife Jane, née McLennan. Fraser spent much of his youth in Leongatha, and was educated at Kyneton College, after which he worked as a buttermaker and assistant manager of a dairy factory before enlisting in the AIF on 12 July 1915. He was commissioned as a second Lieutenant on 6 March 1916, and served with the 10th Machine Gun Company on the Western Front. For his bravery at the Battle of Messines, Belgium, on 7 June 1917, when he was badly wounded, Fraser received the Military Cross. Invalided out in early 1918, Fraser left the AIF on 30 April, but rejoined the army on 26 October, and was finally discharged on 23 January 1919.

During the 1920s and 1930s Fraser established himself as a leading figure in the dairy industry in Victoria’s Gippsland region. He was ‘an indefatigable organiser’ of educational trips and delegations for Gippsland’s dairymen, not only within Victoria, but also interstate and to New Zealand. Various positions in dairy industry management culminated in his appointment as general manager of the Great Southern Co-operative Company (1929–37). Between 1930 and 1937 he was also a director of the Australian Sunny South Service Company, a dairy produce marketing and research organisation. State government recognition of Fraser’s managerial abilities was reflected in his appointment as chairman of the Victorian Transport Regulation Board (1937–46). During World War II he chaired Victoria’s Liquid Fuel Control Board and served as a member of the Victorian Cargo Control Committee and the State Emergency Council. Until 1942 he represented Victoria on the Commonwealth War Road Transport Committee and held the post of director of Emergency Road Transport for Victoria.[1]

Fraser’s performance of his wartime duties in the spheres of transport and energy combined with his gregariousness made him a respected and popular public figure. At a meeting of the parliamentary members of the state’s two conservative parties (the Liberal Party and the Country Party) on 7 May 1946, Fraser was nominated to fill the vacancy arising from the death of Labor’s Senator Keane. Fraser, who was active in the organisational side of conservative politics but held no party positions, defeated the Liberal Party candidate, J. A. Spicer. On 15 May, at a meeting of both houses of the Victorian Parliament, Fraser was chosen by secret ballot to fill the casual vacancy. His Senate career was to be short-lived, as he was defeated at the general election of 28 September 1946. However, between 18 June (when he took his seat) and 9 August (when the Senate adjourned prior to the election) he contributed substantially to parliamentary debate, principally on the subjects of primary industry, wages and working conditions, government financial accountability and education.

Fraser spoke forcefully and at length in opposing the Constitution Alteration (Organised Marketing of Primary Products) Bill 1946. The bill sought to enable the Commonwealth to make laws governing the organised marketing of primary products, untrammelled by section 92 of the Australian Constitution. He was even less enthusiastic about the Chifley Government’s Wheat Industry Stabilization Bill 1946, asserting that ‘the measure before us is nothing more than a big bass drum—an instrument upon which to make a noise, but which is hollow within’. ‘Ned Kelly was a highwayman’, Fraser declared, ‘but he did not compare with the propounders of this scheme’.[2]

Fraser’s interest in politics did not diminish following his defeat. He served as secretary of the United Country Party of Victoria from November 1946 until April 1948, failed in his attempt to become a Victorian Country Party vice-president in April 1948, and was one of the rebels who left the Country Party in March 1949 to form the Liberal and Country Party (as it was known in his home state). In April 1949 he sought endorsement for the federal seat of Isaacs as a Liberal and Country Party candidate, but was unsuccessful. However, Fraser’s political future lay in the state arena, and he was to hold the seats of Grant (1950–52), Caulfield East (1955–58) and Caulfield (1958–65) for the Liberal and Country Party in the Victorian Legislative Assembly.

Fraser was one of six Liberal and Country Party MLAs who made affidavits (Fraser’s was dated 19 September 1952) that they had been offered bribes by the ALP as an inducement to vote in support of T. T. Hollway’s 17 September motion of no confidence in the Government. Fraser had been promised ‘the premiership, a cash payment of up to five figures, a trip to England, immunity from Labor opposition and Labor support at the next State election or, in the event of defeat, £5,000 as compensation’. At the Royal Commission appointed to investigate the matter, Fraser refused to answer questions in relation to his earlier allegations, claimed parliamentary privilege, and was allowed to stand down at the outset of proceedings. He later served as Chairman of Committees (1955–56), Minister without Portfolio (1956–59), Minister of Forests (1959–61) and Minister of State Development (1959–64). His other major contributions to Victoria’s growth during the 1950s were made as chairman of the National Parks Authority, the Central Planning Authority, and the Latrobe Valley Development Advisory Committee.[3]

Fraser had been an accomplished sportsman who excelled at Australian Rules football. In later life his main recreations were reading, golf and membership of the Cronies’ Club. He was a Freemason and a regular churchgoer, a Justice of the Peace, and a member of the Caulfield Technical College Council. He was thrice married: on 15 March 1919 at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Kyneton, to Ivy Elizabeth Hume, who died in 1928; on 12 January 1929 at Scots Church, Melbourne, to Catherine Boyd, who died in 1953; and on 30 July 1955 at the Ewing Memorial Presbyterian Church, East Malvern, to Ilene Blackley.

Fraser died in a Malvern private hospital on 9 July 1965 and was given a state funeral. After a service at the Ewing Memorial Church, he was cremated at Springvale following an RSL service. Fraser was survived by his wife, one son, Keith Hume, and two daughters, Betty Jean and Alwyn Joan, of his first marriage, and the son of his second marriage, Thomas Alexander Simon. Fraser’s eldest son, Alexander John, had been killed on active service during World War II. Alexander Fraser was a warm-hearted man, at ease with himself and others. He would greet his sons effusively, always embracing them. He gave freely of his time to sporting organisations and was always ready to talk to young people with an interest in politics.

The Victorian Premier, Henry Bolte, in whose cabinets Fraser had served, referred to the former minister as ‘a fighter’, an accurate description of a man who, despite considerable personal misfortune and his share of political setbacks, left a mark on public life. Bolte attributed Fraser’s success to a ‘partiality’ for detail, which he said had its roots in his father’s insistence that he clean his boots every morning, even if this meant neglecting other chores: ‘You’ll be sure then to shine at one end’, explained the elder Fraser.[4]

Derek Drinkwater

[1] L. H. S. Thompson, ‘Fraser, Alexander John’, ADB, vol. 14; Fraser, A. J.—War Service Record, B2455, NAA; C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France 1917, A & R, Sydney, 1939, p. 625; Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 30 Mar. 1929, p. 7; Argus (Melb.), 12 Aug. 1930, p. 5; Herald (Melb.), 28 Apr. 1937, p. 2; Age (Melb.), 28 Apr. 1937, p. 11, 24 Aug. 1942, p. 2; The author is indebted to Claire McKenna, Kyneton Historical Society.

[2] Argus (Melb.), 7 May 1946, p. 3, 10 May 1946, p. 1, 15 May 1946, p. 3; Age (Melb.), 16 May 1946, p. 2; CPD, 19 June 1946, pp. 1523-6, 31 July 1946, pp. 3349-50.

[3] Argus (Melb.), 22 Nov. 1946, p. 3, 3 June 1948, p. 5; Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 31 Jan. 1948, p. 2; Argus (Melb.), 7 Feb. 1948, p. 7, 18 Feb. 1948, p. 5, 9 Apr. 1948, p. 9, 3 Feb. 1949, p. 1, 5 Feb. 1949, p. 1, 10 Feb. 1949, pp. 1, 3, 22 Mar. 1949, p. 1, 23 Mar. 1949, p. 5; Age (Melb.), 2 Apr. 1949, p. 3; VPD, 17 Sept. 1952, pp. 1894, 1960; Katharine West, Power in the Liberal Party: A Study in Australian Politics, F. W. Cheshire, Melbourne, 1965, pp. 23-34; Herald (Melb.), 9 Oct. 1952, pp. 1, 2; Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 10 Oct. 1952, pp. 1, 2; Age (Melb.), 10 Oct. 1952, p. 3, 28 Mar. 1956, p. 3; Herald (Melb.), 1 Sept. 1962, p. 5; Age (Melb.), 7 July 1964, p. 3.

[4] Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 13 July 1965, p. 10, 9 July 1965, p. 2; Age (Melb.), 10 July 1965, p. 5; Herald (Melb.), 12 July 1965, p. 6; Age (Melb.), 13 July 1965, p. 5; Information provided by Brian Wimborne, former member of the Young Liberal Movement, 25 Feb. 1997; CPD, 17 Aug. 1965, p. 21; VPD, 14 Sept. 1965, pp. 14–15; Sun News-Pictorial (Melb.), 30 Mar. 1929, p. 7.

This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic., 2004, pp. 160-162.

FRASER, Alexander John (1892–1965)

National Library of Australia

Commonwealth Parliament

Senator, Vic., 1946

Victorian Parliament

Member of the Legislative Assembly; Grant, 1950–52; Caulfield East, 1955–58; Caulfield, 1958–65