1979 – Fraser government

The third Fraser Ministry was sworn in after the re-election of the Government in December 1977, and was in office until the general election held on 18 October 1980. The third Fraser Ministry served through the whole of 1979.

The 1979 Cabinet records

Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser at the Dispatch Boxes during Question Time, Parliament House, Canberra
Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser at the Dispatch Boxes during Question Time, Parliament House, Canberra (NAA: A8746, KN5/6/79/12)

The year 1979 was the middle year of the second term of the Fraser Government. The Government had a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives and control of the Senate, but the opinion polls were less encouraging. A Morgan Gallup poll held in November 1979 showed the Government parties trailing the Australian Labor Party (ALP) by 48 per cent to 43, and Malcolm Fraser’s approval rating at only 35 per cent (behind Opposition Leader Bill Hayden at 43 per cent).

The Australian economy in 1979 was in reasonable shape and the Budget deficit under better control because of the strong imperative for restraint argued by Treasurer John Howard and Finance Minister Eric Robinson. However, inflation was once again on the rise and unemployment was still uncomfortably high.

Internationally, events in Indo-China, Zimbabwe and Iran provided concerns for Australia. In December 1978 Vietnam invaded Kampuchea and the Pol Pot regime collapsed rapidly. China showed its displeasure by attacking northern Vietnam in February 1979. Malcolm Fraser played a major role at the CHOGM meeting at Lusaka in negotiating a formula for the future of Zimbabwe that was acceptable both to Britain and the African leaders. Upheavals in the Middle East, particularly when militants seized the US Embassy in Tehran and took 53 American hostages, posed a major dilemma for Australia. On the one hand, Australia had to be seen as giving strong political support to the United States; on the other hand, Iran was emerging as a major market for Australian wheat, meat and steel.

Re-settlement of refugees from Indo-China, especially from Vietnam, was a constant concern throughout 1979. By July departures were running at 50,000 a month. Australia agreed to increase its intake to 14,400 in 1979–80, and to offer funding to the UN High Commission on Refugees to support the construction of a holding centre in Indonesia.

The wage indexation system came under increasing pressure with the Government arguing for wage increases of less than the CPI increase. Several serious disputes occurred throughout the year, including action by oil refinery workers at Kurnell (NSW), Australia Post and Telecom employees, who were seeking a wage increase of 20 per cent, and the truck-owners blockade of the Hume Highways at Picton Razorback.

Several important decisions on the environment were taken by Cabinet in 1979. They include the proclamation of the first stage of Kakadu National Park and the decision to ban whaling within Australia’s 200-mile fishing zone. An interim ban was also placed on oil exploration on the Great Barrier Reef.

Submissions

During 1979 the Fraser Cabinet received 888 submissions. Fifty submissions were withdrawn completely, and 23 were withdrawn and replaced by another submission.

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.

Memoranda and papers

It had been 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 1976 Cabinet Office decided that as these documents influenced decisions they should be identified, controlled and copies retained. The registered papers were called Cabinet papers and are held by the National Archives in series A12933. These were generally not written expressly for presentation to Cabinet.

In February 1979 Cabinet papers were replaced by Cabinet memoranda which, unlike most Cabinet papers, were specifically written for presentation to Cabinet. Cabinet memoranda are held by the National Archives in series A12930

In 1979 Cabinet considered the final 16 Cabinet papers (numbers 831 to 846) and 556 Cabinet memoranda.

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 1979, 3032 Cabinet decisions were made. Just over 40 per cent of decisions – some 1223 – were made without submission. The table below lists only decisions made without submission. Decisions made on a submission are listed against the related 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.

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

Public access to Cabinet submissions, memoranda/papers and decisions

Most 1979 Cabinet submissions, memoranda/papers and decisions have been wholly released for public access. A small amount of material 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)(d) of the Archives Act 1983 is withheld because its release would constitute a breach of confidence.

Information exempted under section 33(1)(e)(ii) of the Archives Act 1983 is withheld because its release would disclose the existence or identity of a confidential source of information.

Information exempted under section 33(1)(g) of the Archives Act 1983 is withheld because its release would involve an unreasonable disclosure of information relating to the personal affairs of a person.

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 its disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.

Topic and titleDocumentReason for exemption from public access under the Archives Act
DEFENCE
The Financial Basis for the Defence Five Year Program 1979–80Submission 2948OWE 33(1)(a)(b)
The Financial Basis for the Five Year Defence Program 1979–84Submission 3021OWE 33(1)(a)(b)
Nuclear Safeguards Policy – Control Arrangements on Uranium Concentrates (Yellowcake)Submission 3222OWE 33(1)(a)
Pakistan Nuclear Development – Action by AustraliaSubmission 3289OWE 33(1)(a)
FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Review of Indo-Chinese Refugee SituationSubmission 2906OWE 33(1)(a)
Proclamation of the Australian Fishing Zone in Areas between Australia and Neighbouring CountriesSubmission 3325OWE 33(1)(a)
Vietnam’s Invasion of Kampuchea – Chinese and Soviet Policies and their ImplicationsMemorandum 5OWE 33(1)(a)(b)
SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE
Establishment of a Counter Terrorist Reaction ForceSubmission 3098OWE 33(1)(a)(b)
Interim Report of Australian Royal Commission into DrugsSubmission 3579OWE 33(1)(d)(e)(ii)(g)
Security of Esso/BHP Installation in GippslandSubmission 3612OWE 33(1)(a)
Move of ASIS Headquarters to CanberraSubmission 3640OWE 33(1)(a)
Report to Ministers by the Permanent Heads Committee on Intelligence and SecurityMemorandum 413
Decision 9490/IS
OWE 33(1)(a)(b)
OWE s33(1)(a)(b)
Security Provisions in the New Parliament HouseMemorandum 467OWE 33(1)(a)(d)(g)
Pro-Palestinian Terrorist Interest in AustraliaMemorandum 475
Decision 10107/IS
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
Security of ESSO/BHP Installations in GippslandMemorandum 517OWE 33(1)(a)
The Internal Security of Australia, a Threat Assessment – Minister Responsible: Mr Durack (Attorney-General) – circulated 22 January 1979Cabinet Paper 840OWE 33(1)(a)(b)
[Title partially exempt] OperationsDecision without Submission 7667/ISOWE 33(1)(a)
[Title partially exempt] OperationsDecision without Submission 8943/ISOWE 33(1)(a)
TERRITORIES
Antarctica – Implementation of 200 Nautical Mile Fishing Zone off the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT)Submission 3436OWE 33(1)(a)
Nature Conservation and Protection in Antarctica – Proposal to Develop Legislation to Implement Certain Recommendations of Antarctic Treaty Consultative MeetingsSubmission 3448OWE 33(1)(a)
Regime for Antarctic Mineral ResourcesSubmission 3451
Decision 9897
OWE 33(1)(a)
OWE 33(1)(a)
Report of the Antarctic Research Policy Advisory Committee (ARPAC)Submission 3726OWE 33(1)(a)
URANIUM
Proposal by REDCO for Joint Marketing on Ranger UraniumMemorandum 33
Decision 7684
OWE 33(1)(j)33(2)
OWE 33(1)(j)33(2)
WHOLLY EXEMPT
Title exemptDecision without Submission 7666/ISCLOSED 33(1)(a)

Background to 1979

At the media briefing on the 1979 Cabinet records two speakers provided context and insight into the issues, events and personalities of 1979.

Dr Jim Stokes, the National Archives’ historical consultant, undertook extensive research of the 1979 Cabinet papers and provided a paper on the significant issues and events of 1979.

Professor Patrick Weller AO has been Professor of Politics and Public Policy at Griffith University, Queensland, since 1984. He currently holds the Premier of Queensland Chair of Governance and Public Management and is Director of the Centre for Governance and Public Policy at Griffith University. Since the 1970s Professor Weller has been a prolific researcher, writer and commentator on Australian Government and politics, and is the author, co-author or editor of some 37 books including Malcolm Fraser PM: A Study in Prime Ministerial Power (1989), and Cabinet Government in Australia, 1901–2006: Practice, Principles, Performance (2007). Professor Weller provided context and insight into the issues, events and personalities of 1979 .

Members and committees

The third Fraser Ministry (20 December 1977 – 3 November 1980) was the only ministry and Cabinet during 1979.

Third Fraser Cabinet

The third Fraser Cabinet was sworn in after the re-election of the Government in December 1977 and was in office until the general election held on 18 October 1980.

Members of the 1979 Cabinet are listed below. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held in 1979, with the major changes taking place following a ministerial reshuffle announced on 8 December 1979.

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 McCahon (in Cabinet to 27.9.1979)Minister for Primary Industry (to 27.9.1979)
Leader of the House (to 27.9.1979)
Carrick, Senator the Hon. John LeslieMinister for Education (to 8.12.1979)
Minister for National Development and Energy (from 8.12.1979)
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Street, The Hon. Anthony AustinMinister for Industrial Relations
Nixon, The Hon. Peter JamesMinister for Transport (to 8.12.1979)
Minister for Primary Industry (from 8.12.1979)
Howard, The Hon. John WinstonTreasurer
Minister for Finance (23–27.2.1979)
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 (to 23.2.1979 and from 27.2.1979)
Viner, The Hon. Robert IanMinister for Employment and Youth Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister (to 8.12.1979)
Leader of the House (from 27.9.1979)
Durack, Senator the Hon. Peter Drew QCAttorney-General
Hunt, The Hon. Ralph James Dunnet (in Cabinet from 8.12.1979)Minister for Transport (from 8.12.1979)

Cabinet committees

Cabinet committees were first formally established by Liberal 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 1979 the Fraser Cabinet had the following Cabinet committees:

Cabinet committeeAbbreviation
Ad Hoc CommitteeAD HOC
Co-ordination CommitteeCC
Economic CommitteeEC
Foreign Affairs and Defence CommitteeFAD
General Administrative CommitteeGA
General Policy CommitteeGP
Industry Policy CommitteeIP
Intelligence and Security CommitteeIS
Legislation CommitteeLEG
Machinery of Government CommitteeMOG
Monetary Policy CommitteeMP
Planning and Co-ordination CommitteePC
Social Welfare Policy CommitteeSWP
Wages Policy CommitteeWP

Key figures of 1979

The following table lists the key people in Government in 1979 and other significant figures referred to in the Cabinet documents. Other figures from the period may be identified by consulting the Commonwealth Government Directory 1979 (Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1979) and the Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia (21st edition, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1982) or the Parliamentary Library’s compilation of historical information on the Australian parliament.

Some of the political figures in Australia in 1979 who are listed below are still active in the community. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held in 1979.

NameRole
Adermann, The Hon. Albert EvanMinister for Veterans’ Affairs
Anthony, The Rt Hon. John DouglasDeputy Prime Minister
Minister for Trade and Resources
Ayers, AnthonyUnder Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (to July 1979)
Barnett, DavidPress Secretary to the Prime Minister
Bonner, Senator NevilleSenator for Queensland and the first Indigenous person to serve in the federal parliament
Australian of the Year, 1979
Budd, DalePrincipal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
Callaghan, Sir BedeChair, Inquiry into the Structure of Industry and Employment in Tasmania
Carrick, Senator the Hon. John LeslieMinister for Education (to 8.12.1979)
Minister for National Development and Energy (from 8.12.1979)
Vice-President of the Executive Council
Chaney, Senator the Hon. Frederick MichaelMinister for Aboriginal Affairs
Codd, MichaelUnder Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (from July 1979)
Crawford, Sir JohnChair, Study Group on Structural Adjustment
Durack, Senator the Hon. Peter Drew QCAttorney-General
Ellicott, The Hon. Robert James QCMinister for the Capital Territory
Minister for Home Affairs
Fife, The Hon. Wallace ClydeMinister for Business and Consumer Affairs (to 8.12.1879)
Minister for Education (from 8.12.1979)
Fraser, The Rt Hon. John MalcolmPrime Minister
Galbally, Francis QCChair, Review into Post-arrival Programs and Services for Migrants
Garland, The Hon. Ransley VictorMinister for Special Trade Representations (to 8.12.1979)
Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs (from 8.12.1979)
Georgiou, PetroSenior Adviser to the Prime Minister
Groom, The Hon. Raymond JohnMinister for Housing and Construction
Guilfoyle, Senator The Hon. Margaret Georgina ConstanceMinister for Social Security
Harders, Sir ClarrieSecretary, Attorney-General’s Department (to July 1979)
Henderson, PeterSecretary, Department of Foreign Affairs (from September 1979)
Howard, The Hon. John WinstonTreasurer
Minister for Finance (23–27.2.1979)
Hunt, The Hon. Ralph James DunnetMinister for Health (to 8.12.1979)
Minister for Transport (from 8.12. 1979)
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 (to 8.12.1979)
Minister for Health (from 8.12.1979)
Macphee, The Hon. Ian MalcolmMinister for Productivity (to 8.12.1979)
Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (from 8.12.1979)
McLeay, The Hon. John EldenMinister for Administrative Services
Neaves, AlanSecretary, Attorney-General’s Department (from July 1979)
Newman, The Hon. Kevin EugeneMinister for National Development (to 8.12.1979)
Minister for Productivity (from 8.12.1979)
Nixon, The Hon. Peter JamesMinister for Transport (to 8.12.1979)
Minister for Primary Industry (from 8.12.1979)
Parkinson, NicholasSecretary, Department of Foreign Affairs (to September 1979)
Peacock, The Hon. Andrew SharpMinister for Foreign Affairs
Pritchett, WilliamSecretary, Department of Defence (from August 1979)
Robinson, The Hon. Eric LaidlawMinister for Finance (to 23.2.1979 and from 27.2.1979)
Scott, Senator The Hon. Donald BarrMinister for Special Trade Representations (from 8.12.1979)
Sinclair, The Hon. Ian McCahonMinister for Primary Industry (to 27.9.1979)
Leader of the House (to 27.9.1979)
Staley, The Hon. Anthony AllanMinister for Post and Telecommunications
Steele Craik, DuncanAuditor-General
Stone, JohnSecretary, Department of the Treasury
Street, The Hon. Anthony AustinMinister for Industrial Relations
Tange, Sir ArthurSecretary, Department of Defence (to August 1979)
Thatcher, The Hon. Margaret HildaPrime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 1979–90
Thomson, The Hon. David ScottMinister for Science and the Environment (from 8.12.1979)
Viner, The Hon. Robert IanMinister for Employment and Youth Affairs
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister (to 8.12.1979)
Leader of the House (from 27.9.1979)
Webster, Senator the Hon. James JosephMinister for Science and the Environment (to 8.12.1979)
Williams, Bruce RoddaChair, Committee of Inquiry into Education and Training
Williams, The Hon. Justice Edward StrattonCommissioner, Royal Commission into Drugs Judge, Queensland Supreme Court
Woods, Sir ColinCommissioner, Australian Federal Police (appointed September 1979)
Yeend, GeoffreySecretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Yunupingu, GalarrwuyChair, Northern Land Council

Selected documents

The selected documents illustrate the major issues the Fraser Cabinet addressed during 1979. Introductory notes are provided for each topic. The documents – sometimes excerpts only – include:

  • submissions (series A12909)
  • memoranda (series A12930)
  • decisions (series A13075).

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 1979 Cabinet submissions and decisions is held in the Cabinet room within the National Archives’ Canberra reading room. Related Cabinet Office files (series A10756) may also be requested for viewing in the Canberra reading room.

Key documents:

Further 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 1979 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 website provides a wealth of information on Malcolm Fraser’s life and career, with links to relevant records held by institutions around the world.

More on the 1979 Cabinet records

1979 Cabinet records release, 8 December 2009

SpeakerDurationSizeDownloadTranscript
Jim Stokes – 1979 Cabinet records: The historical context and issues of interest 20:05 minutes 25.89mb Download mp3 file Transcript
Patrick Weller – Background to the 1979 Cabinet records 30:31 minutes 24.06mb Download mp3 file Transcript
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