FRASER, Sir Simon (1832–1919)
Senator for Victoria, 1901–13 (Protectionist; Anti-Socialist Party)
Simon Fraser, a successful entrepreneur who became wealthy from dealings in construction, grazing and banking, was a prominent and respected public figure. He was born in Canada, in the town of Pictou, Nova Scotia, on 21 August 1832, the youngest son of a Scottish migrant, William Fraser, a farmer and miller, and his wife Jane, née Fraser. Educated at a local school, Fraser emigrated to Australia at the age of twenty-one, arriving in Melbourne on the Aurorain 1853. Going immediately to the Bendigo goldfields to work on the diggings, he quickly recognised that a more reliable income could be earned selling stores to miners.
In 1855, he moved to Melbourne, setting up a store in Elizabeth Street, where he engaged in such ventures as importing potatoes from Sydney. He moved on to road and bridge building and, in 1864, completed the construction of the Bendigo-Echuca railway line in partnership with Collier, Barry & Co. As a result of Fraser suggesting the use of a more readily available ballast than that specified and inventing a truck to deposit the ballast on the tracks, the company cleared £100 000, of which Fraser received £30 000. He became adirector of the Deniliquin-Moama railway and, in 1877, was involved in building the line from Port Augusta to Government Gums (now Farina) in South Australia.
In 1867, Fraser went to Queensland, where he formed the Squatting Investment Company in partnership with three others. The company bought properties on the Dawson River, west of Bundaberg, and the pastoral stations ‘Bundaleer’ and ‘Thurulgoona’ in the south-west. On his return to Victoria in 1869, he and his partners purchased properties near Echuca. The land had appreciated due to the advent of the railways which he had helped to build and which made mass production of wool extremely profitable. He expanded his pastoral pursuits into New South Wales, buying the stations ‘Nyang’ and ‘Balpool’ near Moulamein. He acquired more property in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Between 1886 and 1887, Fraser had arranged for J. S. Loughead, a Canadian, to drill for artesian water on his Queensland properties. As a result, water was brought to usually dry pastures, and the Queensland Government employed Loughead to bore for water in other areas. Later, Fraser wrote a short paper on artesian water in Australia.
In 1874, Fraser was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly as the member for Rodney in the Echuca district. Re-elected in 1877 and twice in 1880, he served until 1883 when he resigned to travel abroad, returning to Australia in 1885. He made unsuccessful bids for the Victorian Legislative Assembly in 1885 and for the Legislative Council in April 1886. Elected to the Council in August 1886, Fraser served as Minister without Portfolio in the Munro Ministry (1890–92). In 1894, he represented Victoria at the Ottawa Conference on the Pacific Cable Scheme. Fraser was seen as ‘a powerful, if somewhat shadowy, figure in Victorian politics’ whose business connections gave him ‘considerable influence over many members in both Houses’.
An enthusiastic supporter of Federation, he was a Victorian delegate to the Australasian Federal Convention in 1897–98, where he waxed eloquent on issues in which he had particular expertise and interest. For instance, he opposed the federalisation of railways and a proposal that State parliamentarians should not sit in the Commonwealth Parliament. In 1901, Fraser stood as a Protectionist for the Senate for Victoria, was elected at the top of the poll; he was re-elected in 1906.
Fraser moved the first Address-in-Reply in the Senate. He spoke on defence and supported a strong citizen army rather than a regular army, arguing that the main defence capability should be ‘naval defence, supported by forts and mines and such like’. He tackled the ‘difficult and disputable’ Customs and Excise Bill, suggesting that the provision of bounties on butter in Victoria was the reason for the State’s prosperity. He expressed strong views on the management of Commonwealth loans, again quoting the example of the Victorian Government. He favoured White Australia though he did not oppose Kanaka labour for the Queensland sugar industry.
A frequent speaker in the Senate, Fraser was impatient if he felt debate was becoming bogged down by minor matters: ‘I often vote for the second reading of a Bill, in the hope that I may be able in Committee to secure some amendment of it’. He urged that legislation should not be so complex as to be counter-productive. He protested against restrictions on the sale of postage stamps: ‘I have often paid my tram fare with stamps’. He was also less than flattering in his assessment of the matter of a High Court of Australia saying ‘I have long held the opinion that the wisest course for a Government to pursue would be to select three Judges—three of the most suitable men from the State bench—who could be spared. I am told they have not much work to do’.
Fraser opposed the Conciliation and Arbitration Bill ‘in toto’, and said that if the Bill were applied to rural industry it would prove ‘the biggest obstacle yet placed in the way of the prosperity of this country’. He disagreed entirely with union preference, was convinced that the Bill would do more harm than good and objected to state railway employees being included in its provisions. He opposed the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway: ‘It is a mistake to build a line through country without natural water . . . ’. However, he voted for Yass–Canberra as the federal capital site in the two decisive ballots of 6 November 1908.
One of the richest men in the first Parliament, he had been a director of the City of Melbourne Bank, and was embarrassed by its crash in 1893, and perhaps even by some laughter at his expense when the issue later surfaced in the Senate. In debate on the Commonwealth Bank Bill in 1911, he argued against the establishment of a national bank, commenting that ‘Australia is almost over-banked now’. He considered that a proposal for the Commonwealth Government to reduce its holdings of gold would lead the country down ‘the road to ruination’.
In his last speech on 17 December 1912, prior to leaving politics at the age of eighty, Fraser reiterated his opposition to the Commonwealth encroaching on the powers of the states. In debate on the Constitution Alteration (Trade and Commerce) Bill, he argued that if the six Constitution Alteration Bills were carried powers possessed by the state Parliaments would be duplicated. This, he considered would lead to ‘confusion worse confounded’.
Fraser died in a private hospital in the Melbourne suburb of Ivanhoe on 30 July 1919 and was buried in the Presbyterian portion of the Brighton Cemetery, the cortege leaving his residence, ‘Norla’, Irving Road, Toorak. In Geelong in 1861, he had married Margaret Bolger; there were two daughters of the marriage. Margaret died in 1880, and in 1885 at Mundoolan, Beaudesert, Queensland, Fraser married Anna Bertha Collins; from this second marriage, there were three sons. Anna survived him as did one daughter, Marion Jane, and two sons, Douglas Martin and John Neville.
An ardent imperialist, Fraser was appointed KB in 1918. He had served as chairman of the Australian Widows’ Fund Life Assurance Society, a director of the Melbourne Evening Standard and a grand master of the Loyal Orange Lodge of the Grand Lodge of Port Phillip. In the Senate, Edward Millen said that Fraser was ‘one of those who did much to build up this Australia of ours’. Malcolm Fraser, who was Prime Minister of Australia from 1975 to 1983, is Sir Simon’s grandson.
Elizabeth M. Redmond, ‘Fraser, Sir Simon’, ADB, vol. 4; Pastoral Review (Melbourne),16 August 1919, pp. 703–704; Michael Cannon (ed.), Victoria’s Representative Men at Home, Today’s Heritage, Melbourne, 1977, pp. 41–42; Argus (Melbourne), 31 July 1919, p. 6; CPD, 21 May 1901, p. 43, 19 June 1901, p. 1221; James Smith (ed.), The Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol. 1, 1903, Cyclopedia Company, Melbourne, p. 148.
 Pastoral Review, (Melbourne), 16 August 1919, pp. 703–704; Simon Fraser, The True Story of the Beginning of the Artesian Water Supply of Australia, George Robertson, Melbourne, 1914.
 Herald (Melbourne), 1 May 1976, p. 26; Table Talk (Melbourne), 13 September 1889, p. 2.
 AFCD,24 March 1897, p. 81, 21 September 1897, p. 998.
 CPD, 21 May 1901, pp. 36–43.
 CPD, 23 November 1904, p. 7271, 14 June 1901, p. 1165, 4 July 1901, pp. 2045, 2053, 21 May 1901, p. 41.
 CPD, 23 November 1904, pp. 7271, 7273–7274, 7282, 17 November 1904, p. 7096, 30 November 1911, p. 3405, 6 November 1908, p. 2108.
 Gavin Souter, Acts of Parliament, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1988, p. 53; Michael Cannon, The Land Boomers, MUP, Carlton, Vic., 1995, pp. 222, 224, 226; Herald (Melbourne), 1 May 1976, p. 25; CPD,23 November 1904, pp. 7271–7272, 14 December 1911, pp. 4432–4433.
 CPD, 17 December 1912, p. 7189.
 Argus (Melbourne), 31 July 1919, p. 6; Punch (Melbourne), 28 December 1905, p. 928; CPD, 6 August 1919, p. 11217.
This biography was first published in The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 1, 1901-1929, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South, Vic., 2000, pp. 275-277.