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Australian federal election, 1972: Wikis

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Federal election major party leaders
< 1969 1972 1974 >
Nla.pic-an23458756-v.jpg

Liberal
William McMahon
Prime Minister
Parliament: 23 years
Leader since: 1971
Division: Lowe

Whitlam1955.jpg

Labor
Gough Whitlam
Opposition leader
Parliament: 20 years
Leader since: 1967
Division: Werriwa

WIN

Federal elections were held in Australia on 2 December 1972. All 125 seats in the House of Representatives were up for election. The Liberal Party of Australia had been in power since 1949, under Prime Minister of Australia William McMahon since March 1971 with coalition partner the Country Party led by Doug Anthony, but were defeated by the Australian Labor Party led by Gough Whitlam.

House of Reps (IRV) — 1972-74 — Turnout 95.38% (CV) — Informal 2.17%
  Party Votes % Swing Seats Change
  Australian Labor Party 3,273,549 49.59 +2.64 67 +8
  Liberal Party of Australia 2,115,085 32.04 -2.73 38 -8
  Country Party 622,826 9.44 +0.88 20 0
  Democratic Labor Party 346,415 5.25 -0.77 0 0
  Australia Party 159,916 2.42 +1.55 0 0
  Other 83,259 1.26 0 0
  Total 6,601,050     125
  Australian Labor Party WIN 52.70 +2.50 67 +8
  Liberal/Country coalition   47.30 -2.50 58 -8

See Australian Senate election, 1970 for Senate composition.


Contents

Issues

The 1972 Election campaigns was concerned with a combination of Vietnam and domestic policy issues, and the role of the federal government in resolving these issues. The Coalition of the Liberal and Country parties had been in Government for 23 years. Successive Coalition governments had focused their energies on national economic development and defence. However, Australia's economic development in the 1950s and 1960s had led to the emergence of a range of "quality of life" issues related to urban development, education, and healthcare. By 1972 these "quality of life" issues had come to represent a major political problem for the coalition parties. Traditionally all of these areas had been handled by the state governments, and the Coalition had always asserted the importance of states' rights, a view backed by Liberal state premiers like Robert Askin and Henry Bolte. Throughout 1966 to 1972, Gough Whitlam, as Labor leader, developed policies designed to deal with the problems of urban and regional development using the financial powers granted to the federal government under the Australian Constitution. The Labor focus on "cities, schools and hospitals", as Whitlam put it, made it electorally appealing especially to the growing proportion of the Australian electorate living in the outer suburbs of the major cities.

Many commentators came to believe that the inability of the coalition parties to counteract these policies made its focus on national development and defence seem dated by contrast. Especially as the Vietnam War began to enter its final stages. Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War had been initially popular, but as the prospect of a US victory diminished protests grew, especially focusing on the need to conscript soldiers to fight. Liberal policies towards Vietnam had always focused on the need to "contain" communist China, but the gradual US and Australian withdrawal was hard to reconcile with this commitment. In addition, the government was embarrassed after criticising the opposition leader, Gough Whitlam, for visiting China only shortly before American President Nixon visited in 1972.

Finally the incumbent Prime Minister William McMahon was no match for Whitlam, a witty and powerful orator. McMahon's position was precarious to begin with as he had only emerged as Liberal Leader after a prolonged period of turmoil following the Coalition's unexpectedly poor showing at half Senate elections held in 1970, and various state elections. He was further weakened by concerns about inflation and negative press coverage. For example, Rupert Murdoch and his Australian newspaper supported the ALP. The ALP ran a strong campaign under the famous slogan, ‘It's time’ - a slogan which, coupled with its progressive policy programme, gave it great momentum within the electorate after 23 years of Conservative rule.

No Senate seats were up for election, although Queensland did hold a by-election for a single Senate seat[1] because it had fallen vacant when Liberal Senator Annabelle Rankin resigned in 1971. The Queensland Parliament's temporary appointee, Neville Bonner (Australia's first Aboriginal Senator), faced and won a by-election held in conjunction with the next House of Representatives following, as required by Section 15 of the Constitution before it was amended by referendum in 1977.

Significance

The 1972 election ended 23 years of unbroken conservative Government. The new Labor Government of Gough Whitlam was eager to make long-planned reforms, although it struggled against a lack of experience in its cabinet. The 1972 election is also unusual as Whitlam only scraped into office with a thin majority of 9 seats. Typically, elections where Governments change in Australia are decisive (see the 1996 election, 2007 election, for example). In the previous election of 1969, Whitlam achieved a 7 percent primary and two-party figure of over 50 percent, gaining 18 seats, from a low of 41 of 124 seats and a 43 percent two-party figure at the 1966 election. In addition, the Senate was hostile to Whitlam, with the Coalition and Democratic Labor Parties holding more seats than the ALP, as the term of the senate at the time was 1970 to 1974. This would make governing difficult and lead to the early double dissolution election of 1974.

See also

Notes

References

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