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Memento : Issue 19
Archives opens January 2002 Number 19 continued on p. 2 A government in trouble On 10 March 1971, the Liberals voted 33--33 on a confidence motion in Prime Minister John Gorton's leadership. Gorton gave a casting vote against himself, and the party elected William McMahon to replace him. Surprisingly Gorton nominated for, and won, the deputy leadership. His uneasy relationship with McMahon then came to a head in August when Gorton began publishing articles under the title 'I did it my way'. Gorton had referred to the problems of Cabinet ministers leaking information. McMahon decided that Gorton had to go but despite banishing Gorton to the backbench the infighting in the Liberal party room continued. On the other side of the House, Labor had been in opposition for 22 years. With Gough Whitlam as Labor leader and an adoring media, the party was confident of winning the next election to be held the following year. In 1971 the economy appeared to be heading into serious difficulty. The collapse of the Minsec conglomerate signalled the end of the mining boom, inflation rose to nearly 7 per cent, and unemployment was rising towards what was then considered to be the politically intolerable level of 2 per cent. By the end of the year, BHP and General Motors Holden were cutting production, business confidence had hit a new low, and the government seemed unable to decide whether to apply or release the brakes. Thirty years ago, Australia was on the brink of major political and social change. It was the year the Prime Minister voted himself out of power, Aboriginal land rights came to the fore, and Communist China was on the verge of gaining diplomatic recognition from the West. These are just some of the issues discussed in Cabinet in 1971 and revealed in the records released on 1 January 2002. Consultant historian Ian Hancock recently briefed the media on what these Cabinet papers contain and Australia's political, social and economic landscape at that time. The following is a summary. The McMahon Ministry was sworn in on 24 March 1971. Shown here are the Governor-General Sir Paul Hasluck (front left), Prime Minister William McMahon (front right) and some of his Cabinet. NAA: A1200, L94874 Archives opens Cabinet doors!