ALP: Federal Election 1966 - Yesterday, today and tomorrow

ALP: Federal Election 1966 - Yesterday, today and tomorrow
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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, Yesterday Today and Tomorrow. In narration over illustrative footage, followed by Gough Whitlam speaking to camera, the advertisement divides the population into three groups – children, adults and the elderly – to detail the way in which the ALP would instigate a plan to ‘use our wealth and vision as a nation to ensure security and prosperity for every member of our society’. Summary by Adrienne Parr.

This kind of lengthy articulation of party policy during an election campaign is today the province of the staged debate or the extended media interview, rather than the television commercial. The ad focuses on services to three groups: children, for whom education and, to a lesser extent, health are identified as priorities; adults, for whom affordable housing is identified as a priority; and the ‘elderly’ (now referred to as the ‘aged’), for whom increased pensions and free health care are identified as priorities.

In education, Whitlam refers to the overcrowding of schools, with classes of 45 or more students being commonplace all over the country. It wasn’t until six years after the 1966 election, in 1972 when the ALP finally came to power, that this issue was addressed. Reforms to health and education were cornerstones of the major social and political reform program undertaken by the Whitlam government. Whitlam introduced reforms at every level of education, almost doubling the expenditure of the previous government. He established a Schools Commission and implemented a program of needs-based aid to schools. Spending on teacher training was increased, with preschool teacher and teacher training colleges funded on the same basis as universities. The number of teaching scholarships granted was trebled. A National Employment and Training Scheme was set up, circumventing possible teacher shortages, and fees for all tertiary and technical education were abolished.

In the case of health, the 1960s saw an exponential rise in national health expenditure, well above the rate of increase of GDP. While pressure was mounting for a system of compulsory health insurance contributions, the Menzies then Holt governments remained firmly committed to voluntary health insurance. A tiered system was administered, with varying rates of health care assistance provided to means-tested targeted groups. The system was bureaucratically complex, and left a very substantial percentage of the population without private health cover but with no entitlement to free care. Following the 1966 election, in June 1967 Whitlam met with a group of health economists and doctors to discuss a proposal for a universal, national health insurance scheme. These discussions were the genesis of Medibank, which was established with the Health Insurance Bill 1973 and came into operation on 1 July 1975.


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