1976 – Fraser government

Visit of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and Mrs Tamie Fraser to Sanzen-in Temple, Japan, June 1976.
Visit of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and Mrs Tamie Fraser to Sanzen-in Temple, Japan, June 1976. (NAA: A13302, 1)

The 1976 Cabinet records

Most people remember 1976 as the year after the political upheavals of 1975. But to those who were in government it was a year of almost constant Cabinet meetings and massive workloads as Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser drove forward his vision for Australia.

Much of Cabinet’s time was spent on the economy. Inflation was in double figures, unemployment was rising, investment was stagnant and the budget deficit was huge. The government’s attempts to check inflation by opposing full cost of living wage rises also brought it into conflict with the trade union movement. Pressure on the Australian dollar became a problem and the government decided to devalue it by 17.5%.

Budgetary problems were compounded by calls for help from many areas of Australian industry. Manufacturers wanted tariff protection from rapidly increasing Asian imports. Farmers wanted support to get them through low commodity prices and an El Nino drought.

Overseas, the government sought to strengthen our relations with Japan, China and ASEAN following the end of the Vietnam War and the Indonesian annexation of East Timor. At home they passed land rights legislation for the Northern Territory and grappled with the uranium controversy. They even had time to give us a choice of four national anthems.

For a full description of the Cabinet records including indexes, registers and records of meetings, refer to Cabinet records of the Fraser government, 1975–83.

Most of the 1976 Cabinet records have been wholly released and are available to the public. A small amount of material has been withheld from public access to protect Australia’s defence, security or international relations.

Submissions

The second Fraser Cabinet received 944 submissions in 1976. Of these, three were not considered until the following year. Of the total received, 45 submissions were withdrawn completely, and 22 were withdrawn and replaced by other submissions. Twenty-eight of the submission numbers were not used.

Most Cabinet business was conducted on the basis of formal submissions (also known as memoranda, minutes or agenda). As far as possible, submissions were circulated to all ministers before meetings. Cabinet submissions once lodged could be withdrawn by their originating department or minister. In such cases all copies, other than a master copy retained by the Cabinet Office, were required to be returned to the originating department. Withdrawn submissions are not always found in the folders of submissions but can usually be found in the relevant Cabinet Office file.

Submissions considered by the second Fraser ministry are held in series A12909.  Submissions were allocated a sequential number and are filed in folders in submission number order with their relevant Cabinet decision. Related material may be held in the Cabinet files held in series A10756.

Decisions

The second Fraser ministry made a total of 2098 decisions in 1976, of which 834 were made without submission.

Cabinet decisions were allocated a unique number in sequence. However, the decision number is not the same as the submission number to which it relates. This is because decisions are not made in order of receipt of submissions and many decisions were made without a submission.

Although much Cabinet business was conducted on the basis of submissions, the prime minister could decide to raise, or allow a colleague to raise, a matter without submission. In such cases, the Cabinet decision is the only formal record of such deliberations, except where background papers were retained and registered as Cabinet papers. Even after the introduction of Cabinet papers many decisions continued to be made with no supporting documentation.

Cabinet decisions are held in series A13075 and A12931 (decisions made at whole of ministry meetings).

Cabinet Office 'LC' files

Cabinet Office ‘LC’ files, in series A10756, contain the originals of the submissions, briefing papers and related decisions. They also contain departmental advice and exchanges between officials and ministers not included in the formal Cabinet papers. There is a file in this series for most submissions.

Cabinet papers

During 1976 the Fraser government introduced a new category of Cabinet document – Cabinet papers – which approximated submissions. It had been an established practice for many years that ministers might, with the prior consent of the prime minister, introduce at a meeting a matter in relation to which no formal submission had been made. These were termed ‘under the line’ matters and resulted in a decision without submission. Ministers frequently produced a variety of documents at the meeting to support an ‘under the line’ proposal or to provide general background information.

In September 1976 Cabinet Office decided that as these documents influenced decisions, they should be identified, controlled and copies retained. From 23 September 1976 the practice was introduced of registering and identifying such papers. The registered papers were called Cabinet papers and were generally not written expressly for presentation to Cabinet. The papers are held in series A12933.

Cabinet papers and related decisions considered by the Foreign Affairs and Defence committee (FAD) between February and December 1976 are held in series A12934.

Collection references

Members and committees

The second Fraser ministry, which commenced on 22 December 1975, remained in place until the general election on 10 December 1977.

With the swearing in of the Fraser ministry, the practice was reintroduced whereby the Cabinet comprised some but not all members of the ministry. This practice has been continued by all subsequent ministries.

Members of the 1976 Cabinet are listed below. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held in 1976.

MinisterPortfolio
Fraser, The Rt Hon. John MalcolmPrime Minister
Anthony, The Rt Hon. John DouglasDeputy Prime Minister
Minister for National Resources
Minister for Overseas Trade
Lynch, The Hon. Phillip ReginaldTreasurer (to 19 November 1977)
Minister for Finance (7 December 1976 to 19 November 1977)
Sinclair, The Hon. Ian McCahonMinister for Primary Industry
Leader of the House
Withers, Senator the Hon. Reginald GreiveMinister for Administrative Services
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Greenwood, Senator the Hon. Ivor John QCMinister for Environment, Housing and Community Development (to 8 July 1976)
Cotton, Senator the Hon. Robert CarringtonMinister for Industry and Commerce
Street, The Hon. Anthony AustinMinister for Employment and Industrial Relations
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Public Service Matters
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Women’s Affairs (16 August 1976 to 8 November 1976)
Nixon, The Hon. Peter JamesMinister for Transport
Carrick, Senator the Hon. John LeslieMinister for Education
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs
Peacock, The Hon. Andrew SharpMinister for Foreign Affairs
Killen, The Hon. Denis JamesMinister for Defence
Guilfoyle, Senator the Hon. Margaret Georgina ConstanceMinister for Social Security
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Child Care Matters (to 23 June 1976)

Cabinet committees

The 1976 committees of the second Fraser Cabinet and their abbreviations were as follows:

Cabinet committeeAbbreviation
Ad Hoc committeeAD HOC
Policy and Coordination committee (created as Policy and Planning committee [PP], later renamed)PC
General Administrative committeeGA
Legislation committeeLEG
Economic committeeEC
Foreign Affairs and Defence committeeFAD
Machinery of Government committeeMOG

Key political figures

Some of the political figures in Australia in 1976 who are listed below are still active in the community. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held in 1976.

Ministers

MinisterElectorate and portfolio
Anthony, The Rt Hon. John Douglas, PCMHR for Richmond, NSW
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for Overseas Trade
Cotton, Senator the Hon. Robert CarringtonSenator for New South Wales
Minister for Manufacturing Industry
Minister for Science and Consumer Affairs
Fraser, The Hon. John MalcolmMHR for Wannon, Vic
Prime Minister
Guilfoyle, The Hon. Margaret Georgina ConstanceSenator for Victoria
Minister for Education
Howard, The Hon. John WinstonMHR for Bennelong, NSW
Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs
Acting Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations
Killen, The Hon. Denis JamesMHR for Moreton, Qld
Minister for Defence

Nixon, The Hon. Peter James

MHR for Gippsland, Vic
Minister for Transport
Postmaster-General
Peacock, The Hon. Andrew SharpMHR for Kooyong, Vic
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Minister for Environment
Sinclair, The Hon. Ian McCahonMHR for New England, NSW
Minister for Agriculture
Minister for Northern Australia
Withers, Reginald GreiveSenator for Western Australia
Special Minister of State
Minister for the Capital Territory
Minister for Media
Minister for Tourism and Recreation
Vice-President of Executive Council

Members of parliament

MemberElectorate
Cadman, Alan GlyndwrMHR for Mitchell, NSW
Ruddock, Philip MaxwellMHR for Parramatta, NSW

Senior public servants and advisers to the prime minister

Bailey, Peter HamiltonDeputy Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Barnett, David FSPress Secretary to the Prime Minister
Brouwer, George EugeneHead, Cabinet Branch, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Budd, AHDPrincipal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
Fox, Russell WCommissioner, Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry (1975–77)
Georgiou, PetroAdviser to the Prime Minister
Hay, David OSecretary, Aboriginal Affairs
Kemp, Dr David ASenior Adviser to the Prime Minister
Lawler, Peter, OBESecretary, Department of Administrative Services
Menadue, John LSecretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (until October 1976)
Australian Ambassador to Japan (1976–80)
Stone, John ODeputy Secretary (Economic), Department of the Treasury

Selected documents

The selected documents illustrate the major issues the Fraser Cabinet addressed during 1976. Introductory notes are provided for each topic. The documents – sometimes excerpts only – include:

  • submissions (series A12909)
  • decisions (series A13075) and
  • Foreign Affairs and Defence committee papers (series A12934).

Every attempt has been made to reproduce high-quality images of the original archival documents. Sometimes, the result may not be fully legible due to the poor quality of the original document.

A full set of reference copies of the 1976 Cabinet submissions and decisions is held in the Cabinet room within the Canberra reading room. Related Cabinet Office files (series A10756) may also be requested for viewing in the Canberra reading room.

Use the links in the right-hand column to download the key documents. To view PDFs, you will need Acrobat Reader.

SubjectPDF
Key people52kb
The economy, budget and industrial relations
– Fighting inflation and the budget deficit
– National Wage Cases and industrial disputes
9mb
Industry assistance and restructuring6.1mb
Mining and the environment
– Uranium
– Sand mining on Fraser Island
4.2mb
Aboriginal land rights and housing4.1mb
Health, welfare and migration
– Reforming Medibank
– Banning tobacco advertising
– Tightening eligibility for unemployment benefits
– The Immigration Programme
5.6mb
Legal and security issues
– The Australian Constitutional Convention
– The Freedom of Information Bill
– Demonstrators and terrorists
– The Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security
4.2mb
Foreign affairs and defence
– China and Japan
– South-East Asia
– Papua New Guinea
– Resumption of visits by nuclear-powered warships
– Overseas aid
– The future of Norfolk Island
10.7mb
Broadcasting1.5mb
Songs and honours612kb

More information

Personal records

The University of Melbourne Archives holds an extensive collection of Malcolm Fraser’s personal records. Details can be found in RecordSearch. Enter Mr Fraser’s Commonwealth Person number (CP 51) into the field for ‘Reference numbers’, then select from the ‘Search’ drop-down menu to search ‘Series’.

The National Archives also holds personal records deposited by other members of the 1976 Cabinet.

Other records

The National Archives holds many records documenting Malcolm Fraser's parliamentary career and prime ministership.

The Australia's Prime Ministers portal provides a wealth of information on Malcolm Fraser’s life and career, with links to relevant records held by institutions around the country.

1976 Cabinet records release, 5 December 2006

SpeakerDurationSizeDownloadTranscript
Jim Stokes – 1976 Cabinet release: Events and issues in 1976 – complete lecture:

 

20:00 minutes 9.48mb Download mp3 file Transcript
Jim Stokes - 1976 Cabinet release: Events and issues in 1976 – part 1:

 

14:00 minutes 5.37mb Download mp3 file  
Jim Stokes - 1976 Cabinet release: Events and issues in 1976 – part 2 12:00 minutes 4.12mb Download mp3 file  
David Kemp – 1976 Cabinet release: Advisers and decisions – complete lecture:

 

26:00 minutes 6.03mb Download mp3 file Transcript
David Kemp - 1976 Cabinet release: Advisers and decisions – part 1 14:00 minutes 3.27mb Download mp3 file  
David Kemp - 1976 Cabinet release: Advisers and decisions – part 2:

 

12:00 minutes 2.76mb Download mp3 file  
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