Introduction to the records of Cabinet discussions

What are Cabinet notebooks?

Cabinet notebooks are the handwritten notes of the proceedings of Cabinet meetings recorded by the three Cabinet Office staff members in attendance at full Cabinet meetings (or two staff members at Cabinet committee meetings). The current system of maintaining Cabinet notebooks was introduced in 1950.

Access to the notebooks

Prior to 1994, Cabinet notebooks were expressly excluded from the Archives Act 1983 definition of a Commonwealth record. As such, Cabinet notebooks were outside the scope of the Act and were not available for public access.

Amendments to the Archives Act in 1994 made Cabinet notebooks eligible for public release 50 years after their creation. The 1950 Cabinet notebooks, released in 2001, were the first notebooks to be released for public access.

The changes to the public access provisions of the Archives Act approved by Parliament in May 2010 saw the period reduced to 30 years. The change is being phased in over 10 years, with the closed period reducing by two years on 1 January each year until 2020.

In 2013 Cabinet notebooks up to an including 1968 are in the open access period.

The longer closed period for Cabinet notebooks is to protect the operations of Cabinet and in particular the principle of 'collective responsibility'. The notebooks have particular sensitivity in that they record the views expressed by ministers individually, not just the collective decisions of Cabinet.

Reading the notebooks

Cabinet notebooks are not a verbatim account of Cabinet discussions. Rather, the notes are intended as an aid for drafting formal Cabinet decisions and should not be regarded as a complete or authoritative record of discussions.

However limited and circumscribed in intent, the notes do identify speakers and sentiments expressed, and the notebooks therefore have been accorded a high degree of sensitivity.

For a more complete picture of the deliberations of the respective Cabinet, you will need to read the Cabinet notebooks in conjunction with the submissions and decisions of Cabinet and its committees. The original notebooks are held in series A11099. Information about the relevant Cabinet submissions and decisions are included under submissions, decisions and other records for notebooks from 1950 to 1954.

Transcripts

The transcripts are intended to provide an easy-to-read and searchable version of the original notebooks. The notebooks have been transcribed as accurately as possible to give readers the feeling of the original. This means that the errors in spelling and punctuation that occur when writing rapidly to keep up with the flow of speech have not been corrected. Similarly, we have left the wide range of abbreviations and other shorthand notations as they appear in the original.

Tables of abbreviations and persons mentioned are provided at the end of the transcript of each notebook. These tables are not comprehensive. In some cases we were unable to decipher the handwriting, or identify the person or organisation referred to. Where possible we have provided a 'best guess', indicated by [?] or [K...?]. Readers may check the original notebooks to form their own interpretation.

In cases where text was crossed out and is illegible, we have substituted ' [...]'. Other crossed out text is rendered as ' crossed out text'. In cases where additional text was inserted above or between the line, the line is transcribed with the inserted text included and/or footnoted to alert the reader to its special status.

Additional text that we have added to help readers interpret the transcripts is enclosed in square brackets. Page numbers in the original notebook appear in italics, for example  [Page 33]. When citing extracts from the transcripts, you should use the page number in the original notebook. The date of the meeting is also given in italics, for example [27 March 1952].


In some cases the notebooks include notes of meetings from more than one year. A note at the start or the end of the transcript indicates where the notebook includes notes from meetings held in different years.


Transcripts of notebooks are available for the years 1950 to 1953 only.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2014