1977 – Fraser government

Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser greets Robert Muldoon, the Prime Minister, of New Zealand on arrival in Australia, March 1977
Greeting Robert Muldoon, Prime Minister of New Zealand

1977 should have been the middle year of the second Fraser ministry, which had a comfortable majority in both Houses. Instead it ended with an election that Fraser comfortably won, followed by Gough Whitlam’s departure from the ALP leadership.

It saw the emergence of Don Chipp’s Australian Democrats, the resignation of the Attorney-General on an issue of principle, the resignation of the Treasurer over personal financial issues, the elevation of John Howard to Cabinet and the sacking of Senator Glen Sheil from the Ministry before he was sworn in.

Much of Cabinet’s attention focused on money. Inflation was falling, but unemployment and the current account deficit were rising and all were uncomfortably high. The budget deficit hovered around the $3 billion mark and, despite the determined efforts of Treasury and Finance, it was difficult to reduce it without cutting into areas that made politicians uneasy.

The Government urged the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to limit wage increases and also tried to strengthen industrial laws to combat the more militant unions, in both cases with mixed success.

Cabinet decided to address Indigenous unemployment by introducing community development schemes in remote areas and training schemes for those who wanted to enter the mainstream workforce. Arrivals from Indo-China prompted Cabinet agreed a policy on Australia’s obligations to refugees. Cabinet decided to mine and export uranium and to establish Kakadu National Park. Terrorism became an issue with the theft of Army land mines and attacks on Indian officials attributed to the Ananda Marga.

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 1977 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 and third Fraser Cabinet received 876 submissions in 1977. Of these, two were not considered until the following year. Of the total received, 33 submissions were withdrawn completely, and 3 were withdrawn and replaced by other submissions. Five 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 and third Fraser ministries are held in series A12909.  Submissions were allocated a sequential number and are filed 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 2198 decisions in 1977, of which 1315 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.

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.

In 1977 there were 194 Cabinet papers.

Collection references

Background to 1977

At the media briefing on the 1977 Cabinet records, Dr Jim Stokes surveyed events and issues in 1977. Peter Manning, Adjunct Professor of Journalism in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Technology, Sydney, provided a journalist's perspective on the year's events.

Members and committees

There were two ministries and Cabinets in 1977:

  • the Second Fraser Ministry (22 December 1975 – 20 December 1977)
  • the Third Fraser Ministry (20 December 1977 – 3 November 1980)

Members of the 1977 Cabinets are listed below. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held in 1977.

Second Fraser Cabinet

The Second Fraser Ministry, which was in place for most of 1977, was replaced by the Third Fraser Ministry which was sworn in on 20 December following the re-election of the Fraser Government at the 10 December 1975 election.

As had been the case with the First Fraser Ministry, the Cabinet comprised some but not all members of the Ministry. This practice has been continued by all subsequent ministries.

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 – 19 November 1977)
Howard, The Hon. John Winston
Treasurer (from 19 November 1977)
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister (from 24 May 1977)
Minister of State for for Special Trade Negotiations (from 17 July 1977)
Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (from 12 December 1975)
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
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
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

Third Fraser Cabinet

The Third Fraser Cabinet met once in 1977 on 20 December. Members of this Cabinet in 1977 are listed below.

MinisterPortfolio
Fraser, The Rt Hon. John MalcolmPrime Minister
Anthony, The Rt Hon. John DouglasDeputy Prime Minister
Minister for National Resources
Lynch, The Hon. Phillip ReginaldMinster for Industry and Commerce
Sinclair, The Hon. Ian McCahon
Minister 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
Street, The Hon. Anthony AustinMinister for Employment and Industrial Relations
Nixon, The Hon. Peter JamesMinister for Transport
Howard, The Hon. John WinstonTreasurer (from 19 November 1977)
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
Robinson, The Hon. Eric LaidlawMinster for Finance
Viner, The Hon. Robert IanMinister for Aboriginal Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister

Cabinet committees

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

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

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

In 1977 there were the following Cabinet committees:

Cabinet committeeAbbreviation
Ad Hoc CommitteeAD HOC
Policy and Co-ordination 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
Intelligence and Security CommitteeIS
Monetary Policy CommitteeMP
Wages Policy CommitteeWP
Social Welfare Policy CommitteeSWP

Key political figures

Some of the political figures in Australia in 1977 who are listed below are still active in the community. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held in 1977.

Ministers

MinisterElectorate and portfolio
Anthony, The Rt Hon. John Douglas, PCMHR for Richmond, NSW
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister for National Resources
Minister for Overseas Trade
Fraser, The Rt Hon. John Malcolm, PCMHR for Wannon, Vic
Prime Minister
Guilfoyle, The Hon. Margaret Georgina ConstanceSenator for Victoria
Minister for Social Security
Howard, The Hon. John WinstonMHR for Bennelong, NSW
Treasurer
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister
Minister for Trade Special Trade Negotiations
Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs
Nixon, The Hon. Peter JamesMHR for Gippsland, Vic
Minister for Transport
Peacock, The Hon. Andrew SharpMHR for Kooyong, Vic
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Sinclair, The Rt Hon. Ian McCahon, PCMHR for New England, NSW
Minister for Primary Industry
Leader of the House
Withers, The Rt Hon. Reginald Greive, PCSenator for Western Australia
Minister for Administrative Services
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Peacock, The Hon. Andrew SharpMHR for Kooyong, Vic
Minister for Foreign Affairs

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 Frederick SavillePress 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 1977. Introductory notes are provided for each topic. The documents – sometimes excerpts only – include:

  • submissions (series A12909)
  • decisions (series A13075)
  • papers (series A12933)

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 1977 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.

Further 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’ dropdown menu to search ‘Series’.

The National Archives also holds personal records deposited by other members of the 1977 Cabinet. Details of these records can be found in RecordSearch. To search for these records enter the Cabinet member's name (for example, Margaret Guilfoyle) into the field for 'Keywords (or name)', then select from the 'Search' dropdown menu to search 'Series'.

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.

Perspectives on 1977 – a historian and a journalist

SpeakerDurationSizeDownloadTranscript
Jim Stokes – 1977 Cabinet records: The historical context and issues of interest 20:32 minutes 9.63mb Download mp3 file Transcript
Peter Manning – 1977: a journalist's perspective:

 

24:56 minutes 11.7mb Download mp3 file Transcript

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