1971 – Gorton and McMahon governments

The McMahon Ministry was sworn in on 24 March 1971. Shown here are the Governor-General Sir Paul Hasluck (front left), Prime Minister William McMahon (front right) and his Cabinet.
The McMahon Ministry was sworn in on 24 March 1971. Shown here are the Governor-General Sir Paul Hasluck (front left), Prime Minister William McMahon (front right) and his Cabinet. (NAA: A1200, L94874)

The 1971 Cabinet records

The third Gorton ministry spanned the period from 14 November 1969 to 9 March 1971 and the McMahon ministry covered the period from 10 March 1971 to 26 October 1972.

Submissions, decisions and files

Each submission is filed in numerical sequence with its decision. Copies of withdrawn submissions are also included in the submission series. While withdrawn submissions are not always found in the folders of submissions, they can usually be found in the relevant Cabinet file.

Cabinet did not consider all submissions.  A number were withdrawn before before being considered. Copies of all withdrawn submissions are included in the 1971 submission folders, accessible in the Archives' Canberra reading room. A number of other submissions were only for Cabinet's information, and did not require a decision. The submission title notes where this is the case.

Submission number 702 in the third Gorton ministry was not received. Submission numbers 200, 226 to 239, and 279 in the McMahon ministry were not allocated.

Although most Cabinet business was conducted through formal submissions, the prime minister could raise, or allow a colleague to raise, a matter without submission. Cabinet decisions are the only formal record of such deliberations and they're termed 'decisions without submission'. The decision number is not the same as the submission number to which it relates though. This is because decisions are not made in order of receipt of submissions and many decisions were made without a submission. Decisions on some 1971 submissions were not made until the following year.

Copies of decisions without submission can be found in the folders of Cabinet decisions in the Canberra reading room of the National Archives. The folders contain all the decisions of Cabinet for 1971 in a numerical sequence.

Cabinet Office 'CO' files and Prime Minister's Department 'C' files contain a copy of the submission, briefing papers and relevant decisions. They also contain departmental advice and exchanges between officials and ministers not included in the formal Cabinet papers.

Collection references

Cabinet notebooks

In 1971, the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (Sir Edward John Bunting), the Deputy Secretaries (Peter Lawler and Peter Bailey) and the First Assistant Secretary (Robert Linford) attended most Cabinet meetings. Their role included the recording of proceedings so that minutes accurately reflecting the decisions made or conclusions reached could be prepared. These records of proceedings are referred to as Cabinet notebooks.

Under section 22A of the Archives Act 1983, Cabinet notebooks are not available to the public until 50 years have lapsed since their creation, unlike other Commonwealth records which are released after 30 years. Information relating to Cabinet notebooks for the years 1950 to 1954, is available on this website.

Viewing the records

Folders containing copies of lists of the 1971 submissions and decisions from both ministries are available for public access in the National Archives' Canberra reading room. All 1971 submissions, including those withdrawn, are included in these folders.

The Cabinet submissions and decisions are listed at item level on RecordSearch.  Digital copies of submissions and decisions can be viewed in RecordSearch also.  The original records can be ordered for viewing in the National Archives' Canberra reading room.

Members and committees of the 1971 Cabinet

The Cabinet members of both the Gorton and McMahon ministries and the Cabinet committees and their abbreviations are listed below.

Cabinet members

There were two ministries and cabinets in 1971:

  • the third Gorton ministry; and
  • the McMahon ministry.

Members of the two cabinets are listed below. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held in 1971. During 1971 parliamentary sittings and cabinet meetings were usually held twice weekly and lasted for around four hours.

Third Gorton Ministry

At the 25 October 1969 federal election, the Gorton government was returned with its majority reduced from 39 to just 7. Despite being challenged for leadership by McMahon and Fairbairn, Gorton retained leadership and put in place a reshuffled third ministry. The third Gorton ministry was in place from 12 November 1969 to 10 March 1971 and its Cabinet consisted of the following 13 ministers.

MinisterPortfolio

Gorton, The Rt Hon. John Grey

Prime Minister

McEwen, The Rt Hon. John

Deputy Prime Minister and
Minister for Trade and Industry

McMahon, The Rt Hon. William

Minister for External Affairs

Anthony, The Rt Hon. John Douglas

Minister for Primary Industry

Hulme, The Hon. Alan Shallcross

Postmaster-General and
Vice-President of the Executive Council

Bury, The Hon. Leslie Harry Ernest

Treasurer

Sinclair, The Hon. Ian McCahon

Minister for Shipping and Transport and Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Industry

Anderson, Senator the Hon. Kenneth McColl

Minister for Supply

Fraser, The Hon. John Malcolm

Minister for Defence

Swartz, The Hon. Reginald William, MBE ED

Minister for National Development

Snedden, The Hon. Billy Mackie, QC

Minister for Labour and National Service

Bowen, The Hon. Nigel Hubert, QC

Minister for Education and Science

Nixon, The Hon. Peter James

Minister for the Interior

McMahon Ministry

On 10 March 1971 at a Liberal Party meeting, John Gorton made the casting vote against himself (34–33) and stood down as prime minister and Leader of the Liberal Party. William McMahon stepped into both roles and the McMahon ministry was in place from 10 March 1971 to 26 October 1972.

There were a few reshuffles, most notably in August 1971, with Fraser joining Cabinet as Minister of Education and Science, Bowen taking over Foreign Affairs from Bury, and Fairbairn replacing Gorton as Minister for Defence.

MinisterPortfolio

McMahon, The Rt Hon. William

Prime Minister

Anthony, The Rt Hon. John Douglas

Deputy Prime Minister and
Minister for Trade and Industry

Gorton, The Rt Hon. John Grey CH

Minister for Defence (to 13 August 1971)

Sinclair, The Hon. Ian McCahon

Minister for Primary Industry

Anderson, Senator the Hon. Kenneth McColl

Minister for Health and
Leader of the Government in the Senate

Swartz, The Hon. Reginald William, MBE, ED

Minister for National Development and
 Leader of the House

Snedden, The Hon. Billy Mackie, QC

Treasurer

Bowen, The Hon. Nigel Hubert, QC

Attorney-General (to 2 August 1971) and Minister for Foreign Affairs (from 2 August 1971)

Fairbairn, The Hon. David Eric, DFC

Minister for Education and Science (to 20 August 1971) and
Minister for Defence (from 13 August 1971)

Hulme, The Hon. Sir Alan Shallcross, KBE

Postmaster-General and Vice-President of the Executive Council (to 30 May 1971)

Bury, The Hon. Leslie Harry Ernest

Minister for Foreign Affairs (to 2 August 1971)

Nixon, The Hon. Peter James

Minister for Shipping and Transport

Lynch, The Hon. Phillip Reginald

Minister for Labour and National Service

Fraser, The Hon. John Malcolm

Minister for Education and Science (from 20 August 1971)

Cabinet committees

Cabinet committees were first formally established by Prime Minister Menzies in 1950. Their role was to assist Cabinet to make decisions more expeditiously and efficiently by:

  • having a committee of ministers sift through the issues and the facts and present Cabinet with a clear recommendation for action; and
  • relieving Cabinet of much business of lesser importance.

1971 committees of Cabinet included the following.

CommitteeAbbreviation

Aboriginal Affairs

AA

Ad Hoc Committee

AD HOC

Budget, Revenue and Expenditure Committee

BRE

Ex Servicemen’s Committee

EX-S

General Administrative Committee

GA

Government Purchasing Policy Committee

PP

Housing, Works and Construction Committee

HWC

Legislation Committee

LEG

Ministry

M

Papua New Guinea Committee

PNG

Tariff Committee

T

Taxation Committee

TAX

Decisions made by a committee are indicated by the addition of the committee abbreviation to the decision number.

Key political figures

Some of the political figures in Australia in 1971 who are still active in the community are listed below. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held in 1971.

Government Ministers

MinisterPortfolio

Anthony, The Rt Hon. John Douglas

MHR for Richmond, NSW
Deputy Prime Minister and
Minister for Trade and Industry

Chipp, The Hon. Donald Leslie

MHR for Hotham, Vic
Minister for Customs and Excise and
Minister Assisting the Minister for National Development

Cotton, Senator the Hon. Robert Carrington

Senator for New South Wales
Minister for Civil Aviation

Forbes, The Hon. Alexander James

MHR for Barker, NSW
Minister for Health (to 22 March 1971)
Minister for Immigration (from 22 March 1971)

Fraser, The Hon. John Malcolm

MHR for Wannon, Vic
Minister for Defence (to 8 March 1971)
Minister for Education and Science (from 22 August 1971)

Garland, The Hon. Ransley Victor

MHR for Curtin, WA
Minister for Supply (from 2 August 1971)

Gorton, The Rt Hon. John Grey

MHR for Higgins, Vic
Prime Minister (to 9 March 1971)
Minister for Defence (to 13 August 1971)

Howson, The Hon. Peter

MHR for Casey, Vic
Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and Arts

Hughes, The Hon. Thomas Eyre, QC

MHR for Berowra, NSW
Attorney-General (to 22 March 1971)

Hunt, The Hon. Ralph James Dunnet

MHR for Gwydir, NSW
Minister for the Interior

Killen, The Hon. Denis James

MHR for Moreton, Qld
Minister for the Navy (to 22 March 1971)

Nixon, The Hon. Peter James

MHR for Gippsland, Vic
Minister for Shipping and Transport

Peacock, The Hon. Andrew Sharp

MHR for Kooyong, Vic
Minister for the Army and
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister (to 27 May 1971) Minister Assisting the Treasurer (from 27 May 1971)

Sinclair, The Hon. Ian McCahon

MHR for New England, NSW
Minister for Primary Industry

Wentworth, The Hon. William Charles

MHR for Mackellar, NSW
Minister for Social Services and
Minister in charge of Aboriginal Affairs

Government Members of Parliament

Jess, John David

MHR for La Trobe, Vic

MacKellar, Michael John Randal

MHR for Warringah, NSW

Street, Anthony Austin

MHR for Corangamite, Vic

Withers, Reginald Grieve

Senator for Western Australia

Opposition Members of Parliament

Beazley, Kim Edward

MHR for Fremantle, WA

Cairns, James Ford

MHR for Lalor, Vic

Cameron, Clyde Robert

MHR for Hindmarsh, SA

Cohen, Barry

MHR for Robertson, NSW

Crean, Francis Daniel

MHR for Melbourne Ports, Vic

Cross, Manfred Douglas

MHR for Brisbane, QLD

Grassby, Albert Jaime

MHR for Riverina, NSW

Hayden, William George

MHR for Oxley, Qld

Keating, Paul John

MHR for Blaxland, NSW

McClelland, Senator Douglas

Senator for New South Wales

Scholes, Gordon Glen Denton

MHR for Corio, Vic

Uren, Thomas

MHR for Reid, NSW

Wheeldon, Senator John Murray

Senator for Western Australia

Whitlam, Edward Gough, QC

MHR for Werriwa, NSW
Leader of the Opposition

Wriedt, Senator Kenneth Shaw

Senator for Tasmania

Senior Public Servants

Bailey, Peter Hamilton

Deputy Secretary, Prime Minister and Cabinet

Hewitt, Sir Cyrus Lenox, OBE

Secretary, Department of the Vice President of the Executive Council

Jones, Kenneth Norman, CBE

First Assistant Secretary, Department of Education and Science

Kingsland, Richard, CBE, DFC

Secretary, Department of the Interior

Lawler, Peter, OBE

Deputy Secretary, Prime Minister and Cabinet

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017