ALP: Federal Election 1966 - Vietnam

ALP: Federal Election 1966 - Vietnam
Access fees

This is a three-minute excerpt from a five-minute Australian Labor Party television commercial for the 1966 federal election. The commercial has a captioned title, Vietnam. In narration over illustrative footage, followed by Arthur Calwell speaking to camera, the advertisement presents the ALP’s policy on Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War. Summary by Adrienne Parr.

The Menzies government had introduced the National Service scheme in November 1964. Men of 20 years of age were selected by ballot, based on their birthday, to perform national military service. Those chosen were called up for two years’ continuous full-time service, followed by three years of part-time service. At the scheme’s introduction, the government aimed to form an army of 37,500 soldiers to support the US intervention in Vietnam. In August 1965 Menzies announced that the 1966 intake would be increased in order to form an army of 40,000. When Menzies retired in January that year, his successor Harold Holt, in his very first prime ministerial statement, announced a further expansion of Australia’s troop commitment, declaring that national service conscripts would be liable for combat duties in Vietnam. Holt’s personal friendship with US President Lyndon B Johnson added another dimension to Australia’s support for US military operations. On a visit to Washington in July 1966 and again when Johnson visited Australia in October the same year, Holt used the US Democratic Party’s campaign slogan ‘All the way with LBJ’ to publicly demonstrate his government’s willingness to back its ally.

The advertisement talks about the ALP’s very different approach to the Vietnam War – complicated as it was by the difficulty of denouncing the actions of an ally without jeopardising the alliance itself. It talks about redressing the balance between Australian expenditure on arming for war and expenditure on civil aid and peace activities in Vietnam. It also argues for professional soldiers and volunteers (Vietnam was Australia’s first conflict for which volunteers had not been called), rather than conscripts, to be deployed in arenas involving conflict.

Although there were variations in opinion on the war within the Labor Party, Arthur Calwell was very much against it. He was vehemently opposed to conscription and had been so his entire life. He saw it as immoral, unjust and a violation of human rights. In the advertisement he speaks passionately and prophetically about the Vietnam War and the conscription issue. Throughout the war he made various statements, both in and out of parliament, many of which proved to be prescient. His strong anti-war stand was significant to the growth of the anti-Vietnam War movement in Australia. However at the time of the 1966 election, the country was not ready for such a stand and the majority voted against the ALP. Calwell subsequently retired as party leader on 8 February 1967 and was replaced by Gough Whitlam.


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