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ALP: Federal Election 1966 (1966)


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 Land, Yesterday 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.

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.