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Malcolm Fraser's split with party no surprise for today's MPs

SENIOR Liberal figures were not shocked by Malcolm Fraser's decision to quit the Liberal Party, citing his disaffection for nearly a decade with policies on a range of social issues including asylum-seekers and the Iraq war.

Mr Fraser, Liberal prime minister from 1975 to 1983, confirmed yesterday through his office that reports were accurate that he had quit the party, saying it was no longer a liberal party and he could not stomach the way it operated.

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard leapt on Mr Fraser's resignation, saying it highlighted how extreme the party had become under Tony Abbott.

"Mr Fraser's resignation is highlighting some of the extreme policies that Mr Abbott and his opposition have been drawn to," Ms Gillard said.

But Mr Abbott said he would not criticise Mr Fraser, who resigned in December soon after Malcolm Turnbull was deposed as Liberal leader.

"I think he was a fine Liberal prime minister," Mr Abbott said.

"He was a distinguished leader of our party through some difficult times as well as some successful times. He obviously has a right to make his judgments about where he stands these days.

"I thought the most interesting thing that Malcolm Fraser's done recently, though, was declare that the Rudd government was worse than Whitlam, given that Malcolm Fraser knew something about the horrors of the Whitlam era."

Sydney Institute executive director Gerard Henderson -- who was a political staffer in the Fraser government and worked as John Howard's chief of staff in the mid-1980s -- said anyone who had been following politics would have realised Mr Fraser had lost faith in the Liberals as far back as 2001 around the time of the Tampa incident.

"I think the separation occurred a long time ago and this is just the divorce," he said.

Mr Henderson said Mr Fraser had not changed his views on social issues such as refugee policy and asylum-seekers nor on economic policy. But he had changed his attitude to foreign policy, national security, the American alliance, and Israel and the Middle East.

"So it's not simply that the Liberal Party has changed; it is that on some of the big issues Malcolm Fraser has changed."