ALP: Federal Election 1966 - The forgotten land

ALP: Federal Election 1966 - The forgotten land
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This is a three-minute selection from a five-minute Australian Labor Party television commercial for the 1966 federal election. The commercial has a captioned title, The Forgotten Land. In narration over illustrative footage, followed by Gough Whitlam speaking to camera, ALP election policy is presented in relation to services to rural Australia and development of the interior of the continent. Summary by Adrienne Parr.

A five-minute political television commercial would be unheard of in today’s election campaigns – more commonly characterised by the eight-second grab. This three-minute excerpt demonstrates the policy detail that could be incorporated into party television advertising. The ad focuses on issues relating to rural Australia – urban drift of population, drought, and the delivery of health and education services to rural communities. It also raises concerns about neglect of the country’s mineral and oil resources, and the predominantly overseas ownership of existing resource development.

For most of the century, the proportion of the country’s population living in rural areas had been declining, and by the 1966 election it had reached roughly 14 per cent – rendering Australia among the most urbanised nations in the world. Nevertheless activities in the interior of the continent continued to play a central role in the shaping and reshaping of Australia’s economy, its landscape, environment, history and, importantly, its ethos.

In the ad, Whitlam talks about improvements to rural services. He mentions schools, medical and dental health, roads, railways, water management and sewerage. Many of these improvements would later be implemented when he came to power. A hallmark of 1974, Whitlam’s second full year as prime minister, was his program of urban decentralisation. Under the program, regional infrastructure was built and renewed, leisure and tourist facilities were established, and community health centres and regional-based hospitals were developed. Special purpose grants to the states financed construction of a national highway system and a standard gauge railway line to link Perth, Adelaide, Sydney and Alice Springs. In the same year the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation, which was intended to be the first of similar schemes creating ‘regional growth centres’, was established.


ALP Federal Election 1966 synopsis

This is from a collection of the Australian Labor Party’s television advertisements for the 1966 federal election. It consists of ten ads – five each of five minutes duration and five each of 30 seconds duration. The longer advertisements were produced by Fontana Film. Three of these have captioned titles: The Forgotten LandYesterday Today and Tomorrow and Going Up Up Up. They broach issues ranging from education and health care to resource development. The other two, both about the Vietnam issue, are very similar to each other, though one is presented by Arthur Calwell and the other by Gough Whitlam. The five shorter advertisements, all of them about conscription, were produced by The Film House. Each uses the same collection of stills, over which are voiced quotes about the Vietnam War by US President John Kennedy, US Senator Wayne Morse, Pope Paul VI, French President Charles de Gaulle and UN Secretary-General U Thant.


ALP Federal Election 1966 curator's notes

This film is one of a collection of historical campaign films held at the National Film and Sound Archive on behalf of the Australian Labor Party. In the federal election of 26 November 1966, the Labor Party lost nine seats, winning only 41 to the Liberal Party’s 61 and the Country Party’s 21 – the largest parliamentary majority in 65 years. The extent of the ALP loss is largely attributed to two things: a failure of the party to sway the electorate on the Vietnam conscription issue, and secondly, existing internal party management problems and leadership tensions.

For some time prior to the election, opposition leader Arthur Calwell had been under pressure from deputy leader Gough Whitlam to relinquish his position. On 26 January 1966, Robert Menzies announced his retirement and was succeeded as prime minister by the then treasurer and deputy leader Harold Holt. Even before this, Whitlam had publicly suggested that Menzies’s likely departure prior to the election, and his replacement by Holt, would see Calwell in trouble against a fresh young opponent 12 years his junior. Concurrently, Whitlam and his supporters were launching an attack against the internal Labor Party machine.

Whitlam viewed the party’s method of formulating policy – encapsulated by Menzies’s famous ‘36 faceless men’ quote and greatly exploited by the Liberal Party in the 1963 election – as outmoded and irrelevant, and he criticised the power imbalance between the executive and the parliamentary party. In March 1966 Calwell and his supporters moved to have Whitlam expelled from the party. Whitlam narrowly survived the attempt and, in turn, in the following month unsuccessfully tried for a leadership spill. Relations between the leader and his deputy, going into an election, could not have been in a worse state.

These events notwithstanding, an ALP united front is presented in this series of television advertisements – although Whitlam is more present and vocal than Calwell. Calwell, a life-long anti-conscription campaigner, speaks against the Holt government’s National Service ballot, while Whitlam articulates the foundations of his vision for a new Australia – a vision he was unable to pursue in government for another six years.

Notes by Adrienne Parr