Malcolm Fraser, who was appointed prime minister of Australia by the British crown during a constitutional crisis and led his country for eight years, winning three elections, died on Friday. He was 84.
A family statement released by his office in Canberra, the capital, said he died “after a brief illness.”
A fiscal conservative, Mr. Fraser rose to power in November 1975, when Governor General Sir John Kerr, Queen Elizabeth II’s appointed representative in the Commonwealth of Australia, dismissed Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s Labor government and dissolved both houses of Parliament during a paralyzing spending crisis and a year of economic weakness.
Mr. Fraser, as head of the Liberal Party opposition, was appointed to lead a caretaker government. He had refused to approve Labor’s 1975-76 budget unless Mr. Whitlam, whose approval ratings had sunk, called a new election. The deadlock prompted Sir John’s unexpected move.
An incensed Mr. Whitlam, whose party had held a majority in the House of Representatives, complained that he was the first prime minister to be dismissed by the British crown since King George III ousted Lord North 200 years earlier. Mr. Whitlam died in October.
The move shocked Australians. In Sydney, protesters broke into the offices of an anti-Whitlam newspaper and burned its afternoon edition. Mr. Fraser received death threats, and Labor lawmakers jeered his first speech to the House, shouting, “It’s war!”
Mr. Fraser’s coalition government went on to win majorities in both houses of Parliament in the 1975 election as well as in the next two.
In a statement on Friday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, leader of the Liberal Party, called the 1975 constitutional crisis “one of the defining political events of our nation.” He hailed Mr. Fraser as having “restored economically responsible government while recognizing social change” at a crucial moment in the country’s history.
Dour and awkward in manner, sometimes abrasive and physically imposing — he stood 6 foot 4 and weighed 220 pounds when he became prime minister — Mr. Fraser dominated Australian politics until 1983.
He championed economic conservatism — his favorite author, he said in 1975, was Ayn Rand — but rejected deregulation. He embraced multiculturalism and land rights for Australia’s indigenous Aboriginal people, and welcomed tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees fleeing their war-ravaged country. And he denounced apartheid in South Africa and white minority rule in Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe.
“Malcolm Fraser weathered a lot of storms, but he remained true to core values which were important to him, and one of them was antiracism,” said Michael Kirby, a former justice of the High Court of Australia.
Though Mr. Fraser owed his political ascent to Australia’s connection to the Commonwealth of Nations as a former British colony, he weakened the link by abolishing the right of Australians to appeal legal decisions to the Privy Council, a British court. The High Court became the country’s final court of appeal for the first time in its history.
John Malcolm Fraser was born into a wealthy family on May 21, 1930, in Toorak, in the Australian state of Victoria. His parents, John Neville and Una Fraser, had moved to an 8,000-acre ranch there. He was educated at the elite Melbourne Grammar School and in England, at Magdalen College, Oxford.
Returning to his hometown as a grazier, the Australian term for gentleman rancher, Mr. Fraser turned to politics, becoming the country’s youngest lawmaker at age 25.
He married Tamara Beggs, a granddaughter of a Russian aristocrat who had been trapped in Australia during the Russian Revolution in 1917 and stayed there. His wife survives him, as do their four children, Mark, Angela, Hugh and Phoebe.
After his party lost the 1983 election, Mr. Fraser remained active in public affairs, campaigning for human rights and founding the Australian chapter of an international relief agency, Care Australia.
Scandal enveloped him in 1986, when, during a visit to Memphis as head of a commonwealth organization, he was found wearing only a towel in the foyer of a seedy hotel that was popular with prostitutes. His wife later said that he had no recollection of the circumstances and that she believed he had been the victim of a practical joke by others in his delegation.
In later years he wrote a column in the newspaper The Australian and regularly used social media, posting to Twitter two days before his death.
Speaking to reporters after Mr. Whitlam died in October, Mr. Fraser said that despite their differences during the 1975 crisis, the two never bore each other any personal animosity.
“Gough Whitlam wasn’t the sort of person who bore grudges,” Mr. Fraser told an Australian news site. “He was a prime minister who did many different things, and many of his ideas were good.”