1972 – McMahon and Whitlam governments

Second Whitlam Cabinet having been sworn in Government House, Canberra, 1972
Second Whitlam Cabinet having been sworn in Government House, Canberra, 1972 (NAA: A6180, 20/12/72/1)

The 1972 Cabinet records

The 1972 Cabinet records consist of 364 submissions with related briefing notes and decisions, and 360 decisions without submission. A further 39 submissions were withdrawn before being considered by Cabinet, while decisions were not made on 17 submissions which were for the information of Cabinet only.

Cabinet submissions

Submissions normally consist of the departmental submission and briefing notes placed before the Cabinet by sponsoring ministers, as well as Cabinet’s decision on the submission. Each submission is filed in numerical sequence with its decision. Copies of withdrawn submissions are included in the submission series.

The first Whitlam ministry, which spanned the period 5 to 19 December 1972, did not consider formal submissions, but did announce approximately 40 decisions via press statements and Federal Executive Council minutes. Copies of many of the press statements are held in the item 'First Whitlam Ministry decisions and other administrative actions' (A5931, CL48). Copies of the Federal Executive Council minutes are held in series A1573.

Twenty-one press statements are held in the item ‘First Whitlam Ministry decisions and other administrative actions’ (A5931, CL48).

Copies are held in the folders of Whitlam Ministry submissions and decisions in the National Archives Canberra Reading Room. They have also been digitised as part of item A5931, CL48. Clicking on the link will take you to our RecordSearch database. You will then need to click on the ‘view digital copy’ icon to view the digital image of the item A5931, CL48. You will then need to browse through the digital image to find the press statement you are interested in.

Newspaper clippings relating to several decisions announced by the Whitlam government are also held in item A5931, CL48. These press clippings have not been included in the table below as they do not constitute a formal record of the decision. They can however be viewed by clicking on one of the links below then browsing the digital image of the item A5931, CL48.

Cabinet did not consider all submissions. A number were withdrawn before being considered by Cabinet. These are indicated in italics. Copies of all withdrawn submissions are included in the 1972 submission folders. 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.

The McMahon ministry considered 419 submissions in 1972. These include 17 submissions on which a decision was not made in addition to 39 submissions which were withdrawn before a decision was taken. In some cases, this was due to the impending election in December. Others did not get listed for attention at a Cabinet meeting for some weeks or months due to the pressure of business and changing priorities.

The first Whitlam ministry did not consider any formal submissions in the 14 days it was in place in 1972. The second Whitlam ministry considered only one formal submission from its commencement on 19 December to the end of 1972.

Cabinet decisions

Although most Cabinet business was conducted through formal submissions, the Prime Minister could raise, or allow a colleague to raise, a matter without submission. The Cabinet decision itself is the only formal record of such deliberations and these decisions are termed ‘decisions without submission’.

Cabinet decisions were allocated a unique number and are recorded in the form of Cabinet minutes, usually with details of Cabinet’s discussion.

Copies of decisions are attached to the submission to which they relate. Copies of decisions without submission will be found in the folders of Cabinet decisions. The folders contain the full set of decisions of Cabinet for 1972 in numerical sequence.

The McMahon ministry made a total of 773 decisions in 1972, of which 355 were made without submission. The first Whitlam ministry did not make any Cabinet decisions. The second Whitlam ministry made five Cabinet decisions, four of which were made without submission.

Cabinet Office files

The Cabinet Office (‘CO’ and ‘CL’) 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. The ‘CO’ files (A5882) span the period February 1968 to October 1972 and were recorded by the Gorton and McMahon Cabinets, while the ‘CL’ files (A5931) span the period December 1972 to November 1975 and were recorded by the Whitlam Cabinet.

The main groups (series) of 1972 records are:

Collection references

Viewing 1972 Cabinet records

A complete listing of the 1973 Cabinet records (submissions, decisions and Cabinet Office files) can be accessed through the National Archives' online collection database, RecordSearch. Digital copies of the submissions and decisions can also be viewed in RecordSearch.

Folders containing copies of 1972 submissions and decisions from these ministeries are available for public access in the National Archives' Canberra reading room.

The original records can be ordered and viewed in the National Archives' Canberra reading room.

First Whitlam Ministry

The first Whitlam ministry was an interim government which spanned the two-week period from 5 to 19 December 1972. This ministry did not consider any formal submissions or decisions. They did, however, announce approximately 40 decisions, mainly via press statements and Federal Executive Council minutes.

Press statements

Twenty-one press statements are held in the item 'First Whitlam Ministry decisions and other administrative actions' (A5931, CL48).

A copy of the press statements are held in the folders of Whitlam Ministry submissions and decisions in the National Archives' Canberra reading room. They have also been digitised as part of item A5931, CL48.  To view the digital copy, log on to RecordSearch and conduct a search entering A5931, CL48 into the Reference numbers field.  Click on the 'view digital copy' icon to view the digital images.  You will then need to browse through the digital copy to find the press statement you are interested in.

Newspaper clippings relating to several decisions announced by the Whitlam government are also held in item A5931, CL48. These press clippings are included in the digital copy on RecordSearch.

Federal Executive Council minutes

The first Whitlam ministry, together with the Governor-General, The Right Honourable Sir Paul Hasluck, also approved 18 recommendations at meetings of the Federal Executive Council between 5 and 19 December 1972.

Copies of the Federal Executive Council minutes are held in series A1573.  There are also copies of these minutes included in the folders of Whitlam Ministry submissions and decisions, which are held in the National Archives' Canberra reading room.

The minutes have not been digitised on the RecordSearch database.

Second Whitlam Ministry

Submissions

The second Whitlam ministry was formed on 19 December 1972. Between then and the end of the year, it considered one formal submission. This submission and related decision is held in series A5915. More information on this submission is contained in the Cabinet Office file A5931, CL14.

Submission number 1 has been digitised and can be viewed online in RecordSearch.

Decisions

The second Whitlam ministry made four decisions without submission in December 1972. A full set of decisions is held in series A5925. Submissions and related decisions are held in series A5915.

Each decision has been digitised and is viewable in RecordSearch. Enter A5925 into the Reference numbers field on the search screen and change the Search level to Series. Once the list of items in A5925 is displayed, you will need to click on the 'view digital copy' icon to view the digital image.

Cabinet notebooks

In 1972, the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (Edward John Bunting), the Deputy Secretaries (Peter Lawler and Peter Bailey), the First Assistant Secretary (RJ Linford) or the Assistant Secretary, Cabinet (MJ Wilson) 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.

Members and committees of the 1972 Cabinet

There were three ministries and Cabinets in 1972:

  • the McMahon Ministry
  • the first Whitlam ministry
  • the second Whitlam ministry

Members of the three Cabinets are listed below. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held in 1972.

McMahon Cabinet

The McMahon ministry was in place from 10 March 1971 to 5 December 1972. There were a few reshuffles, most notable 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.

Following the practice introduced by the Menzies Ministry in 1956, the McMahon Cabinet comprised some, but not all, members of the Ministry. This practice was discontinued with the resignation of the McMahon Cabinet on 5 December 1972.

MinisterPortfolio

McMahon, The Rt Hon. William, PC

Prime Minister

Anthony, The Rt Hon. John Douglas, PC

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade and Industry

Sinclair, The Hon. Ian McCahon

Minister for Primary Industry

Anderson, Senator the Hon. Sir Kenneth McColl

Minister for Health and
Leader of the Government in the Senate

Swartz, The Hon. Sir Reginald William, KBE, ED

Minister for National Development and
Leader of the House

Snedden, The Rt Hon. Billy Mackie, QC

Treasurer

Bowen, The Hon. Nigel Hubert, QC

Minister for Foreign Affairs

Fairbairn, The Hon. David Eric, DFC

Minister for Defence

Hulme, The Hon. Sir Alan Shallcross, KBE

Postmaster-General

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

First Whitlam Cabinet

On 5 December 1972, following the general elections on 2 December 1972, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) came into government for the first time in 23 years.

Pending conclusion of the counting of votes in closely contested marginal seats, an interim Ministry was formed with Edward Gough Whitlam, QC, MP (Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Labor Party) as Prime Minister and Lance Herbert Barnard, MP (Deputy Parliamentary Leader of the Australian Labor Party) as Deputy Prime Minister.

The two members of the first Whitlam ministry, Mr Whitlam and Mr Barnard, shared between them the administration of the various government departments until the full ministry was elected on 19 December 1972.

The allocation of portfolios during the first Whitlam ministry (5–19 December) is indicated below.

MinisterPortfolio

Whitlam, Edward Gough, QC

Prime Minister
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Treasurer
Attorney-General
Minister for Customs and Excise
Minister for Trade and Industry
Minister for Shipping and Transport
Minister for Education and Science
Minister for Civil Aviation
Minister for Housing
Minister for Works
Minister for External Territories
Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts

Barnard, Lance Herbert

Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Defence
Minister for Supply
Minister for the Army
Minister for the Navy
Minister for Air
Postmaster-General
Minister for Labour and National Service
Minister for Social Services
Minister for Immigration
Minister for the Interior
Minister for Primary Industry
Minister for Repatriation
Minister for Health
Minister for National Development

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

There were no meetings of the Whitlam Ministry Cabinet committees in 1972.

Second Whitlam Cabinet

The Second Whitlam Ministry was elected at a meeting of the parliamentary caucus of the ALP on 19 December 1972 and remained in place until a general election on 18 May 1974. It was succeeded by the Third Whitlam Ministry which was dismissed by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, on 11 November 1975.

The Second Whitlam Ministry reverted to the original practice which existed before 1956 with all members of the Ministry sitting as members of Cabinet. The allocation of portfolios from 19 December 1972 is indicated below.

MinisterPortfolio

Whitlam, The Hon. Edward Gough, QC

Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs

Barnard, The Hon. Lance Herbert

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence and Minister for the Navy and Minister for the Army and Minister for Air and Minister for Supply

Cairns, The Hon. James Ford

Minister for Overseas Trade and Minister for Secondary Industry

Hayden, The Hon. William George

Minister for Social Security

Crean, The Hon. Frank

Treasurer

Murphy, Senator the Hon. Lionel Keith, QC

Attorney-General and Minister for Customs and Excise and Leader of the Government in the Senate

Willesee, Senator the Hon. Donald Robert

Special Minister of State and Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister assisting the Prime Minister and Minister assisting the Minister for Foreign Affairs

McClelland, Senator the Hon. Douglas

Minister for the Media

Patterson, The Hon. Rex Alan

Minister for Northern Development

Bishop, Senator the Hon. Reginald

Minister for Repatriation and Minister assisting the Minister for Defence

Daly, The Hon. Frederick Michael

Minister for Services and Property and Leader of the House

Cameron, The Hon. Clyde Robert

Minister for Labour

Uren, The Hon. Thomas

Minister for Urban and Regional Development

Jones, The Hon. Charles Keith

Minister for Transport and Minister for Civil Aviation

Beazley, The Hon. Kim Edward

Minister for Education

Stewart, The Hon. Francis Eugene

Minister for Tourism and Recreation and Minister assisting the Treasurer

Cavanagh, Senator the Hon. James Luke

Minister for Works

Wriedt, Senator the Hon. Kenneth Shaw

Minister for Primary Industry

Bryant, The Hon. Gordon Munro, ED

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs

Connor, The Hon. Reginald Francis Xavier

Minister for Minerals and Energy

Grassby, The Hon. Albert Jaime

Minister for Immigration

Johnson, The Hon. Leslie Royston

Minister for Housing

Enderby, The Hon. Keppel Earl, QC

Minister for the Northern Territory and Minister for the Capital Territory

Bowen, The Hon. Lionel Frost

Postmaster-General

Everingham, The Hon. Douglas Nixon

Minister for Health

Cass, The Hon. Moses Henry

Minister for the Environment and Conservation

Morrison, The Hon. William Lawrence

Minister for External Territories and Minister for Science

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.

The 1972 committees of the McMahon Cabinet included:

Cabinet committeeAbbreviation

Aboriginal Affairs

AA

Ad Hoc Committee

AD HOC

Budget, Revenue and Expenditure Committee

BRE

Ex Servicemen's Committee

EX

General Administrative Committee

GA

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.

There were no meetings of the Whitlam Ministry Cabinet committees in 1972.

Key political figures

Some of the political figures in Australia in 1972 who are still active in the community are listed below. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held in 1972.

Government ministers

Anthony, The Rt Hon. John Douglas, PC

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

Fraser, The Hon. John Malcolm

MHR for Wannon, Vic
Minister for Education and Science

Howson, The Hon. Peter

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

Hunt, The Hon. Ralph James Dunnet

MHR for Gwydir, NSW
Minister for the Interior

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 (to 2 February) and
Minister assisting the Treasurer (to 2 February) and
Minister for External Territories (from 2 February)

Sinclair, The Hon. Ian McCahon

MHR for New England, NSW
Minister for Primary Industry

Swartz, The Hon. Reginald William Colin, KBE, ED

Member for Darling Downs, Qld
Minister for National Development
Leader of the House

Wentworth, The Hon. William Charles

MHR for Mackellar, NSW
Minister for Social Services

Government members of parliament

Hughes, The Hon. Thomas Eyre, QC

MHR for Berowra, NSW

Killen, The Hon. Denis James

MHR for Moreton, Qld

MacKellar, Michael John Randal

MHR for Warringah, NSW

Withers, Reginald Greive

Senator for Western Australia

Opposition members of parliament

The following members of parliament were in Opposition until 5 December 1972. Where they acquired a portfolio with the change of government in December, this is noted below.

Beazley, The Hon. Kim Edward

MHR for Fremantle, WA
Minister for Education (from 19 December)

Cairns, The Hon. James Ford

MHR for Lalor, Vic
Minister for Overseas Trade and
Minister for Secondary Industry (from 19 December)

Cameron, The Hon. Clyde Robert

MHR for Hindmarsh, SA
Minister for Labour (from 19 December)

Cohen, Barry

MHR for Robertson, NSW

Crean, The Hon. Frank

MHR for Melbourne Ports, Vic
Treasurer (from 19 December)

Cross, Manfred Douglas

MHR for Brisbane, Qld

Enderby, The Hon. Keppel Earl, QC

MHR for the Australian Capital Territory
Minister for the Capital Territory and
Minister for the Northern Territory (from 19 December)

Grassby, The Hon. Albert Jaime

MHR for Riverina, NSW
Minister for Immigration (from 19 December)

Hayden, The Hon. William George

MHR for Oxley, Qld
Minister for Social Security (from 19 December)

Hurford, Christopher John

MHR for Adelaide, SA

Keating, Paul John

MHR for Blaxland, NSW

McClelland, Senator The Hon. Douglas

Senator for New South Wales
Minister for the Media (from 19 December)

Scholes, The Hon. Gordon Glen Denton

MHR for Corio, Vic

Uren, The Hon. Thomas

MHR for Reid, NSW
Minister for Urban and Regional Development (from 19 December)

Whitlam, The Hon. Edward Gough, QC

MHR for Werriwa, NSW
Leader of the Opposition (to 5 December)
Prime Minister (from 5 December)

Senior public servants

Bailey, Peter Hamilton

Deputy Secretary, Prime Minister and Cabinet

Hewitt, Sir Cyrus Lenox, OBE

Secretary, Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts

Jones, Kenneth Norman, CBE

First Assistant Secretary, Department of Education and Science

Lawler, Peter, OBE

Deputy Secretary and Acting Secretary, Prime Minister and Cabinet

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