1978 – Fraser government

Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and Commonwealth Secretary-General Shridath (‘Sonny’) Ramphal at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting in Sydney, 13–16 February 1978.
Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and Commonwealth Secretary-General Shridath (‘Sonny’) Ramphal at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting in Sydney, 13–16 February 1978. (A8746, KN27/2/78/45)

The 1978 Cabinet records

Malcolm Fraser's government faced significant challenges in 1978, despite a sweeping victory at the December 1977 election. Unemployment was close to 7 per cent and there were 20 unemployed for every vacancy. Inflation was falling, but it was still over 7 per cent.

Above all the budget deficit threatened to break out to unmanageable levels. Treasurer John Howard urged a major assault on areas such as welfare and defence, which would require the government to 'bite the bullet' on many hard options. The budget was presented on 15 August with a predicted deficit of $2.8 billion. It included a 1.5 per cent income tax surcharge, which largely negated the effects of the ‘fistful of dollars’ tax cuts promised in the 1977 election campaign.

Australia's main foreign affairs initiative in 1978 was to host the first Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting, which was held at the Hilton Hotel in Sydney. The meeting was considered a success, but it was overshadowed by the explosion of a bomb outside the hotel in the early hours of 13 February, killing three people.

By May there were over 100,000 Indo-Chinese refugees in Thailand and 1200 refugees had already reached Darwin. It was not practicable to turn boats away from Australia or to compel refugees to return home. The only options were to encourage Southeast Asian governments to stop boats in transit or to establish a minimum facility reception centre in a remote area of Australia. Cabinet deferred the remote area reception option, but increased Australia’s annual intake of Indo-Chinese refugees to 10,500.

In Indigenous affairs there was a major conflict over the Aurukun and Mornington Island communities on the Gulf of Carpentaria. They had been managed for many years by the Uniting Church, but following an agreement to mine bauxite at Aurukun in 1975 the Queensland government decided that they should be taken over by the Department of Aboriginal and Islander Advancement. The communities challenged this decision successfully in the Queensland Supreme Court, but lost a subsequent appeal to the Privy Council. During 1978 there were prolonged and at times acrimonious negotiations between the Commonwealth and Queensland which eventually produced a compromise safeguarding the various interests.

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.

Submissions

The third Fraser ministry was sworn in after the re-election of the government in December 1977, and served through the whole of 1978.

During 1978 the Fraser Cabinet received 1014 submissions. Eight submissions were under consideration by Cabinet as the year ended. In addition 33 submissions were withdrawn completely, and 16 were withdrawn and replaced by another submission (15) or a Cabinet paper (one). One submission number (2047) was not used.

Cabinet submissions considered by the third Fraser ministry are held in series A12909.

A copy of the decision is attached to the submission within series A12909. Related material may be held in the Cabinet office file. Third Fraser ministry Cabinet Office files are held in series A10756.

Decisions

Cabinet decisions made by the third Fraser ministry are held in series A13075. This series includes copies of all decisions, both those made on a submission and those made without submission.

During 1978, 2888 Cabinet decisions were made. Nearly 47 percent of decisions – some 1347 – were made without submission.

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. Some of these files are already available, while there may be some delay with those that need to be access examined.

Cabinet papers

During 1976 the Fraser government introduced Cabinet papers as an additional category of Cabinet document. 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 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 1976 the 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. They are held in series A12933. Cabinet papers were generally not written expressly for presentation to Cabinet.

The Cabinet papers category was discontinued in February 1979. The last Cabinet paper – number 846 – was registered on 23 January 1979. From February 1979 Cabinet papers were replaced by Cabinet memoranda which, unlike most Cabinet papers, were specifically written for presentation to Cabinet.

During 1978 Cabinet considered 612 Cabinet papers.

Departmental records

The detailed background papers and earlier drafts of the Cabinet papers being released can be found on the files of the department that sponsored each Cabinet submission. These papers reveal the detailed deliberations of the Public Service on the topic and often include the opinions and guidance of the responsible minister.

Records can be identified through the National Archives’ collection database, RecordSearch.

Collection references

Cabinet submissions, decisions and papers

Most 1978 Cabinet submissions, papers and decisions have been wholly released for public access. A small amount of material in the Cabinet records has been withheld from public access. The table below indicates whether a document is partially released (noted as OWE – open with exception) or wholly withheld (noted as Closed) and the reasons for exemption from public access under the Archives Act 1983.

Information exempted under section 33(1)(a) of the Archives Act 1983 is withheld to protect Australia’s security, defence or international relations.

Information exempted under section 33(1)(b) of the Archives Act 1983 is withheld to protect information communicated in confidence by, or on behalf of, a foreign government.

Information exempted under section 33(1)(c) of the Archives Act 1983 is withheld because its release would have a substantial adverse effect on the financial or property interests of the Commonwealth and would not, on balance, be in the public interest.

Information exempted under section 33(1)(j) of the Archives Act 1983 is withheld because its release would adversely impact on the business, commercial or financial affairs of a person, organisation or undertaking.

Information exempted under section 33(2) of the Archives Act 1983 is withheld on the grounds of legal professional privilege and because its disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.

 

Topic and titleDocumentReason for exemption from public access
DEFENCE
Project Jindalee – Over-the-horizon radar – implementation of Stage BSubmission 2150OWE 33(1)(a)
Forward Estimates Review Paper No. 7: Defence budget 1978/1979Cabinet Paper 502OWE 33(1)(a)(b)
Financial Guidance for Defence Planning 1979–1984Cabinet Paper 812OWE 33(1)(a)(b)
FOREIGN AFFAIRS
East Timor – Australian policySubmission 1865
Decision 4485/FAD
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
Australia/Papua New Guinea (PNG): proclamations of 200 Mile Maritime ZoneSubmission 1887
Decision 4556/FAD
OWE 33(1)(a)(c)
OWE 33(1)(a)(c)
Australian policy in the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the SeaSubmission 2030
Decision 4958
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
Torres Strait: Australian position for resumed treaty negotiations with Papua New GuineaSubmission 2078
Decision 5079/FAD
OWE 33(1)(a)(c)
OWE 33(1)(a)(c)
Australia/Soviet bilateral relationsSubmission 2216OWE 33(1)(a)
Delimitation of the Australian continental shelf and 200 Nautical Mile Fishing ZoneSubmission 2472
Decision 6156
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
[Title exempt]Submission 2773
Decision 7263/IS
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
Australia – PNG: negotiations on Torres StraitCabinet Paper 328
Decision 5230/AD HOC
Closed 33(1)(a)(c)
Closed 33(1)(a)(c)
Australia/Papua New Guinea (PNG): proclamations of 200 Mile Maritime ZonesDecision 4602/FADOWE 33(1)(a)(c)
Australian/Indonesian relationsDecision 6814/FADOWE 33(1)(a)
SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE
Status and salary of Director, Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS)Submission 1879
Decision 4563/IS
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
Directive for the Australian Secret Intelligence ServiceSubmission 1880
Decision 4564/IS
Decision 5010/IS
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
Directive for the Defence Signals DirectorateSubmission 2246
Decision 6242/IS
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
Intelligence Committee – budget estimates 1978/1979Cabinet Paper 560
Decision 6239/IS
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
TERRITORIES
Australia's Antarctic programSubmission 2135OWE 33(1)(a)
Australian Antarctic policySubmission 2138OWE 33(1)(a)
Policy for Australia’s Antarctic programSubmission 2401OWE 33(1)(a)
Australian Antarctic Territory: proclamation of 200 Nautical Mile Fishing ZoneSubmission 2592OWE 33(1)(a)
Antarctic policy: convention for the conservation of Antarctic marine living resourcesSubmission 2593
Decision 6689/AD HOC
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
Australia's Antarctic policiesSubmission 2698
Decision 7222/AD HOC
Decision 7289
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
Australia's Antarctic program: nature, range and organisationSubmission 2705OWE 33(1)(a)
Ashmore and Cartier Islands: status following self-Government of Northern TerritoryCabinet Paper 421OWE 33(1)(a)
Forward Estimates Review Paper No. 56: Antarctic DivisionCabinet Paper 543OWE 33(1)(a)
URANIUM
Uranium Marketing AuthoritySubmission 2096
Decision 5104
Cabinet Paper 699
OWE 33(1)(a)(j), 33(2)
OWE 33(1)(a)(j), 33(2)
OWE 33(1)(a)(j), 33(2)
Uranium Marketing Authority legislationSubmission 2180
Decision 5343
Decision 5479
Decision 5599
Cabinet Paper 392
Cabinet Paper 397
OWE 33(1)(a)(j), 33(2)
OWE 33(1)(a)(j), 33(2)
OWE 33(1)(a)(j), 33(2)
OWE 33(1)(a)(j), 33(2)
OWE 33(1)(a)(j), 33(2)
OWE 33(1)(a)(j), 33(2)
WHOLLY EXEMPT
Title exemptSubmission 2032
Decision 5011/IS
Closed 33(1)(a)(b)
Closed 33(1)(a)(b)
Title exemptSubmission 2825
Decision 5011/IS
Closed 33(1)(a)(b)
Closed 33(1)(a)(b)

Background to 1978

At the media briefing on the 1978 Cabinet records two speakers provided context and insight into the issues, events and personalities of 1978.

Dr Jim Stokes, the National Archives historical consultant, undertook extensive research of the 1978 Cabinet papers and provided a paper on the significant issues and events of 1978.

The Hon. Fred Chaney AO served as a Senator for Western Australia from 1974 until 1990 and was Member for Pearce (WA) in the House of Representatives from 1990 to 1993. He was appointed to the third Fraser ministry in August 1978 as Minister for Administrative Services and Minister Assisting the Minister for Education. Mr Chaney provided context and insight into the issues, events and personalities of 1978.

Members and committees

The third Fraser ministry (20 December 1977 – 3 November 1980) was the only ministry and Cabinet during 1978.

Third Fraser Cabinet

The third Fraser Cabinet was sworn in after the re-election of the government in December 1977 and served through the whole of 1978.

Members of the 1978 Cabinet are listed below. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held in 1978.

As had been the case with the earlier Fraser ministries, 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 Trade and Resources
Lynch, The Hon. Phillip ReginaldMinster for Industry and Commerce
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 for Industrial Relations
Nixon, The Hon. Peter JamesMinister for Transport
Howard, The Hon. John WinstonTreasurer
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 LaidlawMinister for Finance
Viner, The Hon. Robert IanMinister for Aboriginal Affairs
Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister
Durack, Senator the Hon. Peter Drew QCAttorney-General
Minister for Administrative Services

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; and
  • 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 1978 the Fraser Cabinet had the following Cabinet committees:

Cabinet committeeAbbreviation
Ad Hoc CommitteeAD HOC
Economic CommitteeEC
Foreign Affairs and Defence CommitteeFAD
General Administrative CommitteeGA
Intelligence and Security CommitteeIS
Legislation CommitteeLEG
Machinery of Government CommitteeMOG
Monetary Policy CommitteeMP
Policy and Co-ordination Committee (created as Policy and Planning Committee [PP] later renamed)PC
Social Welfare Policy CommitteeSWP
Wages Policy CommitteeWP

Key figures of 1978

The following table lists the key people in government in 1978 and other significant figures referred to in the selected Cabinet documents. Other figures from the period may be identified by consulting the Australian Government Directory 1978 (Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1978), the Australian Parliamentary Handbook (twentieth edition, AGPS, Canberra, 1978), or the Paliamentary Library's compilation of historical information on the Australian Parliament.

Some of the political figures in Australia in 1978 who are listed below are still active in the community. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held in 1978.

NameRole
Adermann, The Hon. Albert EvanMinister for the Northern Territory
Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Anthony, The Rt Hon. John DouglasDeputy Prime Minister
Minister for Trade and Resources
Asprey, The Hon. KennethChairman, Commonwealth Taxation Review Committee, 1972–75
Ayers, AnthonyDeputy Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Barnett, DavidPress Secretary to the Prime Minister
Bjekle-Petersen, The Hon. JohPremier of Queensland
Budd, DalePrincipal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
Carmody, Sir Alan
(died April 1978)
Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Carrick, Senator the Hon. John LeslieMinister for Education
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Carter, JimmyPresident, United States of America, 1976–80
Chaney, Senator the Hon. Frederick MichaelMinister for Administrative Services
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs
Cox, BrianFirst Assistant Secretary, Cabinet Division, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
Despoja, MarioCharge d’Affaires at 'unofficial' Croatian Embassy, Canberra
Durack, Senator the Hon. Peter Drew QCAttorney-General
Minister for Administrative Services
Ellicott, The Hon. Robert James QCMinister for the Capital Territory
Minister for Home Affairs
Everingham, The Hon. PaulChief Minister of the Northern Territory
Fife, The Hon. Wallace ClydeMinister for Business and Consumer Affairs
Fraser, The Rt Hon. John MalcolmPrime Minister
Garland, The Hon. Ransley VictorMinister for Veterans' Affairs
Minister for Special Trade Representations
Georgiou, PetroSenior Adviser to the Prime Minister
Groom, The Hon. Raymond JohnMinister for Environment, Housing and Construction
Guilfoyle, Senator The Hon. Margaret Georgina ConstanceMinister for Social Security
Harders, Sir ClarrieSecretary, Attorney-General's Department
Hinze, The Hon. RussellMinister for Local Government, Queensland
Howard, The Hon. John WinstonTreasurer
Hunt, The Hon. Ralph James DunnetMinister for Health
Killen, The Hon. Denis JamesMinister for Defence
Lynch, The Hon. Phillip ReginaldMinister for Industry and Commerce
MacKellar, The Hon. Michael John RandalMinister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs
McLeay, The Hon. John EldenMinister for Construction
Minister for Administrative Services
Mondale, WalterVice President, United States of America, 1976–80
Newman, The Hon. Kevin EugeneMinister for National Development
Nixon, The Hon. Peter JamesMinister for Transport
Nixon, RichardPresident, United States of America, 1968–74
Parkinson, NicholasSecretary, Department of Foreign Affairs
Peacock, The Hon. Andrew SharpMinister for Foreign Affairs
Porter, The Hon. CharlesMinister for Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement, Queensland
Reid, John BoydChairman, James Hardie Asbestos Ltd
Robinson, The Hon. Eric LaidlawMinister for Finance
Sinclair, The Hon. Ian McCahonMinister for Primary Industry
Leader of the House
Staley, The Hon. Anthony AllanMinister for Post and Telecommunications
Steele Craik, DuncanAuditor-General
Stone, JohnDeputy Secretary, Department of the Treasury
Street, The Hon. Anthony AustinMinister for Employment and Industrial Relations
Minister for Industrial Relations
Tange, Sir ArthurSecretary, Department of Defence
Viner, The Hon. Robert IanMinister for Aboriginal Affairs
Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs
Webster, Senator the Hon. James JosephMinister for Science
Minister for Science and the Environment
Wheeler, Sir FrederickSecretary, Department of the Treasury
Withers, Senator the Hon. Reginald GreiveMinister for Administrative Services
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Yeend, GeoffreySecretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (replaced Alan Carmody in April 1978)
Yunupingu, GalarrwuyChair, Northern Land Council

Selected documents

The selected documents illustrate the major issues the Fraser Cabinet addressed during 1978. 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 1978 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.

Key documents:

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More information

Personal records

The National Archives holds an extensive collection of Malcolm Fraser’s personal records. Details of these records 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 1978 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'.

The Malcolm Fraser Collection at the University of Melbourne includes photographs and speeches relating to Malcolm Fraser's political career.

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.

More on the 1978 Cabinet records

1978 Cabinet records release, 2 December 2008

SpeakerDurationSizeDownloadTranscript
Jim Stokes – 1978 Cabinet records: The historical context and issues of interest 19:53 minutes 9.28mb Download mp3 file Transcript
Fred Chaney – 1978 Cabinet records 25:37 minutes 12.01mb Download mp3 file Transcript
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