William McMahon
William McMahon Liberal/Country coalition

Delivered at Australian television and radio stations, November 14th, 1972

The election was held on 2 December, 1972, for the House of Representatives only. Prime Minister William McMahon had become leader in March, 1971, succeeding Gorton. McMahon suffered from a series of scandals and gaffes, such as denouncing Whitlam’s visit to China only days before US President Nixon announced he would also visit. The Labor opposition dominated the government in Parliament, and the telegenic and urbane Whitlam easily bested McMahon on television.

Labor’s campaign slogan, It’s Time, captured the public imagination and they led in opinion polls throughout the campaign. Whitlam pledged universal healthcare and increased education spending,

while McMahon campaigned on the government’s record and attempted to convince voters that Labor did not have the experience to govern Australia.

The result was an historic victory for Labor, putting an end to 23 years of conservative rule. Labor won 67 seats to the Coalition’s 56; a majority of nine. This was not a landslide, and Whitlam had to contend with an opposition-dominated Senate.

William McMahon, National Library of Australia
William McMahon, National Library of Australia

William McMahon was born 23 February, 1908 and died 31 March, 1988. McMahon was Prime Minister of Australia 10 March, 1971 to 5 December, 1972. He was the Leader of the Liberal Party. McMahon represented the electorate of Lowe, NSW 1949 to 1980.

Elections contested


As Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Party, I want to talk to you about the issues on which we will fight this election.

Basically, it is an election about policies…

Policies that will directly affect you and your families and for many, many years to come.

They will be years of changing values and expanding opportunities, especially for the young.

It is also an election about two fundamentally different ways of governing. The Liberal way which seeks to encourage the freedom, the talents, and the dignity of the individual, in a society in which the Government is the servant not the master. The other is the Labor philosophy of socialism and the all-powerful State,in a society where the Government is the master-.not the servant…. A Government which is dominated by the left wing and the powerful militant trade unions.

Never forget this: This election is also a contest between two teams. Judging them man for man and collectively, my team is younger, better qualified and more experienced than the Labor alternative. Half my cabinet is 45 or under. The Opposition's shadow cabinet has only one man of that age.

On these three tests–policies, philosophy and the team–the Liberal and Country Parties are worthy of your confidence and support. We have the ability to manage your nation responsibly and well, both in calm and in crisis.

Let me now speak about the Australia of today. It is a country of the young. Every second Australian is under 29. This means that most of the problems of our country are those of growth… The growing up of so many young Australians, better educated, more independently-minded, national in outlook, and determined to play a more independent role in world affairs.

The record

Soon after I took office as Prime Minister in March, 1971, we reviewed and transformed our policies to match the aspirations of Australians in the 1970s. They were well-considered and well-planned changes, and are part of our determination to build the future on the solid foundation of the past.

In defence and foreign policies, we have responded to the great changes in the world, especially in Asia and the Pacific.

Three months ago, we brought in a Budget with big reductions in personal income tax and very significant social welfare measures.

Relations between the Commonwealth and the States have seldom been better.

Education programmes have been considerably improved. New laws have been passed against foreign takeovers.

The arbitration system has been overhauled.

We have announced programmes for

  • Urban and regional development,
  • The protection of the environment,
  • The promotion of the arts, and
  • The welfare and advancement of our Aboriginal fellow citizens.

This has been done in the last 20 months–and it is only the beginning.

We promise you that the return of tltis Government will guarantee further constructive and, above all, responsible changes–not for the few, but for the benefit of all.

The economy

Basic to success is the state of the economy.

As a direct result of Government measures over the past year, the economy is obviously strengthening. Demand is growing strongly, and in the crucial area of consumer spending, trade is buoyant. In fact, retail sales have grown from 8 per cent last year to 12 per cent now.

The effects of this strengthening of demand have already had their impact in other areas. Production is increasing, unemployment is down, and business confidence is high.

Meanwhile, we are achieving success in the battle against inflation. The rise in consumer prices is down from an annual rate of around 7 per cent to 5 per cent.

In all these we are achieving our economic objectives.

Responsibility in managing the economy is basic. My Government is pledged to continue the responsible, sound policies of economic management which we have so successfully followed in the past.

Now I come to some policy decisions of special importance to you all.

First, there is one matter directly related to what I have just said.


Rising money incomes bring with them steeply rising income taxation.

As our record demonstrates, we have no intention of letting personal income taxation become a brake on incentive. Since the last election, the Government has cut personal income tax heavily: By an average of nearly 10 per cent in the 1970/71 Budget and by an average of 10 per cent in the last Budget. We completely restructured the tax scale and, within the limits of economic responsibility, we will aim to restructure the income tax scale periodically to ensure that it will not become a burden on income earners.

I turn now to other major decisions.


Australians are a home-loving people. But there are many young married people who find it difficult to finance a home of their own.

We intend to help them. This is what we will do: We will guarantee, for the first time, loans to buy a block of land on which the owner intends to build his home. This will be done through the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation. We will also arrange for the Corporation to be able to insure second mortgages under certain conditions.

Furthermore, we propose to help young married persons acquiring their first home to meet the re-payments of their housing loans. We will do this by paying them half the annual interest up to a limit of $250 in the first year of the loan. Thereafter we will continue to help at a rate reducing by $25 a year. The conditions are that they must be 35 years or under, paying off their first home and living in it.

In addition, those who began doing this on or after January 1, 1970, will be eligible. In effect, we are back-dating the opportunity some three years, but without back-dating payments.

Widowed and divorced persons with children will be eligible on the same basis.

We will also raise to $10,000, the maximum credit fancier housing loan that can be made available by the Commonwealth Savings Bank at its most favourable interest rate.

The same increased limit will apply to war service home loans, as soon as Parliament passes the necessary legislation.

We will encourage the savings banks to make more high-ratio insured housing loans up to 90 per cent or more of the value of homes costing up to $16,000.

The problems relating to sewerage in housing and development generally will be discussed with the States at the first Loan Council meeting next year.


Turning to education–which touches the lives of all of us in a dozen different ways.

We need better schools, more teachers and more facilities. In the current financial year the Commonwealth is proViding, directly and indirectly, more than half of the $1,900 million being spent on education in Australia. The initiatives we have taken during the past 12 months have broadened and developed the Commonwealth's involvement in the education of your children.

There are several new measures we now plan to introduce in particular areas of education.

  • We will provide $25 million a year over the next three financial years for capital and recurrent expenditure to assist the States in their efforts to expand pre-school education.
  • We will expand our present commitment to technical education and continue it into the future, allocating not less than $20 million a year.
  • We will also double the number of technical scholarships to 5,000 a year from the beginning of 1974, with emphasis on scholarships for those students from low-income families.
  • We will give an education allowance of $400 a year free of means test for children in isolated areas who must live away from home in order to attend school or who have to be taught at home.
  • We will assist the physically and mentally handicapped and underprivileged school-age children at a cost in the first year of $10 million.
  • Further, we will finance libraries for primary schools at a rate of $10 million a year, on the same basis of co-operation with the States as with libraries for secondary schools.
  • For the business community, we will establish a national school for post-graduate management education at the University of New South Wales.

We reject outright Labor's plan to centralise control of every Australian school in a bureaucratic school commission away in Canberra. Under Labor's scheme, the dual system of education would be weakened to the point of destruction. Parents would lose the right of choice, and education authorities would be forced to discriminate between schools, no matter what the consequences.

Australians will recognise this as a socialist desire to control individual schools by giving or withholding finance.

We reject Labor's so-called “needs test” on independent schools. It clearly shows the intention of powerful sections of the Labor Party to abolish State aid altogether. Surely, those bad old days are dead, and gone forever.


In health, we consider that everyone in a modern society is entitled to have the best health care that can be provided. They must be free to choose their own doctor, their own insurance fund and their own hospital. The fear that you will not be able to pay your medical bills must be removed.

We have now decided on several new health initiatives:

  • A free nation-wide dental service for school children, beginning with those under six years ofage, will be established in co-operation with the States. We hope to start this scheme next year. When it is fully developed over a period of years, it will provide for all school children up to the age of 15. The Commonwealth will pay for in-school and mobile clinics plus three- quarters of running costs.
  • Next, we will help the States doliar for dollar for community health services for drug dependence, alcoholism and mental illness.
  • The Government will also renew capital assistance of $1 for every $2 spent by the States on mental health institutions when the present programmes end in June, 1973.
  • We will provide greater assistance to low-income families to pay for their health insurance. For those with an income under $57.50 a week, the Government will pay the premiums in full. We will also lift the eligibility limit by $4 a week for each member of the family in excess of two.
  • We will pay a 2-for-1 subsidy to the States for voluntary and charitable organisations providing physiotherapy services. A subsidy for home nursing physiotherapy services will be paid dollar for dollar with the States.
  • We will also double the $2 for $1 grants to the States for para-medical services, and extend them to a greater number of groups.
  • And we will double to $3 a day the handicapped children's benefit.

In the social welfare field, as you know, we have decided to abolish the means test for people over 65 within three years. This will help our elderly citizens.

We have also decided that age, invalid and widows' pensions and war and war widows' pensions will, in future, be increased in line with increases in the consumer/price index. The adjustment will be automatic every half year, and will be in addition to Budget reviews of the base pension rates.

National growth and progress

Until now, I have talked to you mainly about policies relating to your social welfare. I now turn to a different subject, on which the future development and quality of life in Australia depends.

Within recent weeks, the Commonwealth has passed legislation under which we will join with the States in a co-operative effort to enrich life in urban and regional areas.

The Commonwealth will promote - The development of sub-metropolitan centres around major cities; and - Regional growth centres to relieve the pressures on existing cities.

This is an historic event in Commonwealth-State relations. It represents perhaps the most important single development in Australia's social and economic life within the past two decades. We have already established the National Urban and Regional Development Authority. A number of eminent Australians highly qualified in this field have accepted the Government's invitation to form a special advisory committee to assist the Authority in its work. Commonwealth spending in the first five years is expected to rise to the rate of about $80 million a year and will cover land acquisition, all essential services and building construction.

As a matter of urgency, $5 million has been made available to the Authority this financial year so that it can rapidly develop plans in co-operation with the States.


There is a related subject. The improvement of our urban transport systems and railways is basic to urban and regional development and to easing traffic congestion in our major cities.

The Commonwealth is already spending, through the States, $1,250 million over five years on roads throughout Australia. Our assistance to the States for these programmes will be continued when the present agreement ends in 1974, and will include national highways linking all capital cities.

We have decided that:

We will make grants up to $330 million to the States over a six-year period to assist them in correcting the deficiencies and for making improvements in existing public transport services. Assistance will be concentrated on modernising existing bus, tram and rail services and on new routes, including undergrounds.

We will also provide a further sum in loans and grants of $95 million over three years, to improve interstate and intrastate railways on which our primary producers and manufacturers depend so heavily.

And we will complete the linking throughout Australia of all State capitals and Alice Springs with the standard gauge railway system.

These programmes will, of course, be carried out in consultation with the States.

The Commonwealth Government accepts in principle the recommendations by the expert group on road safety that the Commonwealth should involve itself more directly in road safety and in other ways promote a more vigorous and co-ordinated approach at the national level. It has been decided to create a National Office of Road Safety to support and co-ordinate State and Territory efforts against the road toll. A survey of national needs for improvements at locations with poor accident records will be undertaken in consultation with the States. The results of this survey will be available when the Government is giving con- sideration to comprehensive new arrangements for assistance to the States for roads when the current Commonwealth Aid Roads legislation expires in June, 1974.

In the meantime, $5 million will be made available in 1972/73 and the following year to the States, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, for expenditure on low-cost traffic management and other improvement projects which could make immediate and significant contributions to road safety.

Trade and industry

Trade and industry in Australia are in good shape today. The stage is set for more progress, providing the pattern for growth developed by the Liberal-Country Party Government is not interrupted.

As a new incentive to industry, we now propose to allow a taxation deduction for depreciation of new income-producing buildings. The deduction will apply to expenditure incurred after today on new buildings, and on alterations and additions to existing buildings. We will allow an annual statutory allowance of 2 per cent, based on a prescribed term of years fon depreciating the original cost of the building. The statutory allowance will remain attached to the building during the prescribed period and will be available while the building is used in producing assessable income.

The Government also proposes to legislate to extend the functions of the Commonwealth Development Bank, to provide finance in appropriate cases for the tourist industry. We will continue to give government support to our industries.

Co-operation, not control, is our maxim.

Nationalisation and socialisation are Labor's preferment and intention.

The Commonwealth gave special assistance to the wool industry during the period of difficulty from which it is now recovering.

In consultation with the States we are continuing our support fm the Rural Reconstruction Scheme and stabilisation schemes for primary producers.

We will also extend our beef roads programme by $50 million over five years when the present programme ends in 1974.

Our export trade is booming and we are co-operating with industry in the development of new markets.

You will remember the fuss about the cessation of our wheat sales to China. The Labor Party said this was because we would not recognise China on her terms–as it was prepared to do. But Labor was wrong, quite wrong. China has resumed buying our wheat as a normal commercial transaction.

We have made special arrangements to develop in an orderly way our fast-growing trade with Japan; and are ready for the changes which will follow Britain's entry into the Common Market.

Our secondary industries and their growth are of fundamental importance to us–for home needs, for exports and for full employment.

Our tariff review of manufacturing industries is being made to help industry in the most effective allocation of resources in a growth economy. We are pledged absolutely to a policy oftariff protection for economic and efficient industries. The Government accepts full responsibility for all tariff decisions, and the security of jobs for Australians will be one of its first considerations.

So, too, will special non-economic factors such as defence. The Deputy Prune Minister and Leader of the Country Party will tell you more about the progress and new initiatives in trade, rural and secondary industries in his policy speech next Monday.

Energy resources

When the Government recently appointed an Advisory Committee on Science and Technology, it recognised the need to have the best advice in assessing Australia's requirements, resources and potential in this field.

In addition, we will now establish a National Energy Advisory Council. Its task will be to advise the Government on the development and management of our energy resources, including the marketing of energy minerals both within Australia and overseas.

At present we are financing a substantial water resources programme with the States. It will be extended for a further five years from now, with a total contribution of funds up to $100 million.


I now want to speak to you about employment.

Full employment is a cardinal principle of Liberal policy. Those Jeremiahs who have been playing politics with unemploy- ment in recent months have been confounded by the facts. They have been wrong-badly wrong-in their guesses. The latest figures show that 82,400 persons, or 1.46 per cent of the work force of over 5 million, are registered for employment. That is vastly different from the forecasts by Mr Whitlam and Mr Hawke. And the figures would have been better but for industrial disputes and strikes.

The seasonally-adjusted rate has also turned down decisively.

We have demonstrated beyond doubt that our policy of full employment can be made successful. And we can assure you that because of the strong growth of the economy, all Australians- including young people completing their education this year–can look forward with confidence to expanding employment prospects in the year ahead.


The development of a nation depends very much on its people and their skills.

Migrants to Australia have made a really worthwhile contribution to our national development, with their tech- nical skills, their vitality and their culture.

Immigration continues to be of national importance.

I reaffirm, without change, my Government's immigration policy. It is to ensure that we have in Australian society a homogeneous and integrated community, not a community with enclaves of people who cannot be integrated.

We are committed to the policy of attracting new settlers from traditional sources and to control of the migrant intake by the Government. It will remain a selective policy, based on the skills of the migrants and their ability to integrate. It is flexible and at all times will be adjusted to ensure full employment.

Now Labor wants to abandon the most important elements of this policy. It would base its policy solely on the sponsorship of relatives by migrants already settled here. There would, therefore, be no regard for skills and no real Government control. This must not happen.

Women and the young

We have also decided to make two other policy changes which I am sure will be of interest.

In the changing 70s there is a special need to identify in positive terms the role of women in our society. So we have decided to hold a royal commission into improving the status of women in Australia.

We supported the case for equal pay for work of equal value before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1969, when the principle was adopted. In the case now before the Commission, we have not opposed claims for a broadening of that principle to cover women engaged on work exclusively or usually performed by women. We have indicated to the Commission the way in which this should be done. The decision will be announced by the Commission.

At the beginning of this speech, I referred to the predominantly youthful community we have in Australia today. There have been, as you know, moves for reduction in the voting age to include 18-year-olds. Some States have already decided to allow this. Others are awaiting an indication of the Government's intention.

In our view, the age at which the franchise shall be exercised should be the same throughout Australia. Therefore, we intend to consult with the States after the elections concerning the introduction of the franchise for 18-year-olds.

The differences–defence and foreign affairs

Let me now explain some of the very real differences between the policies of the Government and those of the Labor Party.

First, defence and foreign affairs, which are primary responsibilities of Government.

We live in a region of turbulence and change. This makes it imperative that we should have effective and mobile defence forces to defend ourselves, and that we should have reliable allies.

For these reasons we must strengthen our close links with the United States, Britain and New Zealand.

Labor's attitude to foreign policy and defence is different. Labor would draw the teeth of the ANZUS Treaty as a defence pact, abandon SEATO, withdraw from Malaysia and Singapore and would reduce the army dangerously below strength by the abolition of national service. We will honour all those treaties and arrangements. Under the Liberal and Country Party policy, Australian defence capability is designed to protect our interests wherever they might be. Our strength is not limited to continental defence.

Labor would turn Australia into a friendless and isolated country and leave the seas and the islands around us defenceless.

Labor would take risks that are unnecessary and entirely unacceptable to us.

During the past year, I have been to the United States and Britain, to Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia and have had frank and friendly talks with the leaders of those countries. They value our goodwill and friendship. They trust us.

My Minister for Foreign Affairs has recently visited India and Japan. Our relations with these countries, too, are on a sound basis. We will not put any of these relationships at risk. In dealing with Soviet Russia and the People's Republic of China, ideological differences have not been and will not be allowed to deter us from seeking to develop in every sensible and practical way those areas where common interest exists. But we will proceed at all times with care and prudence, bearing in mind that Australia's long-term interests are paramount.

We believe our policies and attitudes are understood and respected by both these countries.

The differences–domestic

Finally, I want to speak to you about respect for the law and the public interest. You must think very seriously about this.

We have all suffered because of industrial upheavals for purely political motives, without one. word of protest from the Labor Party. Labor has supported the draft-dodgers and has incited young soldiers to disobey orders. They have nominated one draft dodger as a candidate at these elections. These incitements to break the law are essentially incitements to the logical next step-physical violence, the violence on the building construction sites, intimidation at union meetings… The very violence, left-wing and communist-inspired, against which the Government has fought for so long.

The Liberal Party stands absolutely for civil liberties, for individual freedom and for the right to dissent-providing it is within the law.

Unhappily, contempt for the law has emerged in industrial relationships, too. Millions of man-hours and millions of dollars have been lost by decent unionists in Australia, without reason.

Strong government is needed to control these strikes and defiance of the law. My Government has acted decisively to reduce the incidence of strikes and lawlessness and is steadily being successful.

Labor, controlled by the left-wing unions, would be totally incapable of doing so. It is pledged to abolish sanctions in industrial agreements.

We believe that sanctions are essential to the success of the conciliation and arbitration system and we have strengthened this power in the recent changes we made to the Act.


I have said this election is a conflict between policies, philosophies and teams. I emphasise that the Liberal Party stands for respect for constitutional government and decentrahsation of power. A balance between Federal, State and local governments.

Labor seeks absolute power with no checks or balances. It wants to abolish the Senate and dismantle the whole of the existing State structure, including local government.

In Parliament, the Liberal Party has full freedom in policy and decision-making. The Labor Party is directed by its outside non-elected machine, dominated by the left-wing unions. The Liberal Party's national goals are clear and uncomplicated. We seek one Australian society–free, secure and progressive–within a federation of the States.

As we see it, the prospects for this country are unlimited. But the pace and direction of growth and progress are in our own hands. We have the power to build Australia into an even greater nation and a greater power for good… A vigorous, and purposeful nation with an authentic Australian character.

It is for you to choose which kind of Government you want.

On the facts I have presented to you, and in the interests of the nation, I am confident you will vote for the Liberal and Country coalition on December 2.