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Malcolm Fraser's 1953 preselection speech

Malcolm Fraser decided to stand for preselection of the Liberal Party of Australia in the Labor-held seat of Wannon in 1953. At 23 years of age and just a year out of Oxford University, no one really expected him to win. Indeed, it was thought even by his close supporters that the tilt at preselection was more of an opportunity to become known for the next contest. The Liberal Party preselection took place on 11 November 1953 in the Hamilton Temperance Hall. In his book Common Ground, Fraser recalls:

'I had hardly made a speech in my life. I was so nervous I wasn't even sure that I would be able to make one. I was determined not to stand up with a prepared text and read it; that would be equivalent to vacating the field.'1

There are two extant drafts of the speech. The first is typewritten, five pages long and reads much like his political philosophy essays from Oxford, with which the preselection speech notes are housed. The typescript shows handwritten notes by a person from the University of Melbourne. It is likely that the notes were written by Sir John Medley, a former principal of Fraser's old school (although Fraser was not a student there at the time) and a family friend.

It is interesting to note the differences between the first draft and the four pages of handwritten notes that were used during the speech itself. However, the central themes remain: a philosophical argument for the merits of liberalism; strident opposition to socialism; and the movement towards nationalisation of both postwar British and Australian Labor parties.

Malcolm Fraser lost in the 1954 election by 17 votes. But Prime Minister Robert Menzies' desire to capitalise on Labor's woes saw another election the following year, and Fraser built on the momentum of the previous campaign to become the youngest member of parliament at the time.

 

1. Malcolm Fraser, Common Ground: Issues that should bind and not divide us, Camberwell, Vic.: Viking, 2002, p. xviii.

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