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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 2381


Photo of McMahon, William

McMahon, William

Period of Service: 10/03/1971 to 05/12/1972

More information about McMahon, William on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 10/03/1971

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 2381

MR. McMAHON: There is not much I want to say to you other than that today
the Party has had a vote, voting for the Prime Ministership, an~ d they decided
they wanted a new election for the Leader of the Liberal Party. The vote was
taken and I have been declared the Leader of the Party and I consulted with
Mr. Gorton about taking over from himr. The vote was also taken for the Deputy
Leadership and Mr. Gorton has been declared by me to be the Deputy Leader.
I don't know the numbers of votes. I think only the scrutineers would know
them, so I hope there won't be a great degree of speculation about how many
votes I won by or how narrowly I squeaked into the position of the leadership
of the Liberal Party. This afternoon, I will be going out to Government House with
Mr. Gorton in order to advise the Governor-General and to see what action he will
take about the courses of action that are open to him. At 2. 31.0 the House will
meet and Mr. Gorton will ther announce to the House the changes that have taken
place in the Liberal Party and will then ask for the adjournment so that the normal
Constitutional practices can be observed.
I don't want to say a great deal to you today othier than this. I am
a Party man. I believe in the Liberal Party and I believe the L-iberal Party is the
organ by which the national will and the national consciousness can be put into effect.
I am a very great believer in the system of Cabinet Governmsnt, in full discussion
in Cabinet with every Member having the opportunity to express his views, and only
when political mratters of the highest moment are involved, should the Prime
Minister feel that he should intervene and ensure that the fullest discussions take
place or fuller discussions take place between the Cabinet mT_-n. isters and Members
of the Parliamentary Party. I want the Party itself in the Party Room to be able
to play an increasingly important part in knowing what is going on in the Government,
knowing the facts on which Cabinet decisions are based, knowing the reasons
why we have decided to introduce new types of legislation, arid I hope by this mneans
to ensure that not only are we cohesive but when we go to the election, whenever
it might happen to be somewhere towards the end of 1972, vie will have that
degree of cohesion, we will have the public confidence that will make certain that
we come back with a bigger majority than we have at the present moment.
That is all I want to say to you. I can assure every member of
the Press, and most of you know me well by now, that whenever you feel you
want to have a press conference with me, provided you give me some notice oFF
the kind of questions and the problems that you want me to handle, believe me
I will do my best to fit in with your wishes because I want the Australian public
to be informed of what the Government is doing and, just as importantly, the
reasons why the Government is taking the kind of action we recommend. o. / 2

Q. Mr. McMahon, do you intend to prorogue Parliament? Will
Parliament be prorogued, Sir?
A. I am not sure of the procedure, but it will meet at 2. 30. The
Prime Minister will announce that a new Leader of the Liberal Party has beep.
elected, and that we are to go out for an interview with the Governor-General,
and then the House will be adjourned until the ringing of the bells...
Q4 Mr. McMahon, I understand the Governor-General may not be in
Canberra today. Do you know whether this is so?
A. Well the information that is now available to me is that he is
there at Government House.
Q. After the ev ents of today and yesterday how do you now feel about
working with Mr. Gorton as Deputy?
A. Mr. Gorton has been elected as the Deputy Leader of the Liberal
Party by the Liberal Party itself. I am sure we will both work together in the
interests of the Party and above all in the interests of the cou-aitry.
Q. What do you know about the future of Mr. Fraser?
A. Don't ask me that yet because I have only been elected the Leader
of the Liberal Party in the course of the last hour.
Q. When do you expect to name your new Ministry?
A. Probably the existing Ministry will have to be sworn in. I am
not sure of this for the time being. But I will announce the Ministry when 1.
get a commission I will announce the Ministry as soon as I can. But that of
course will take some time and I must have the fullest discussions with
Mr. Anthony, with the Country Party.
Q. After Mr Gorton virtually voted himself out o! the vote of
confidence, were you surprised that he stood as Deputy Leader?
A. No, he had the right to stand as the Deputy Leader and the Party
had within its power the right to elect him if it wanted to. it elected him and that
decision binds me in the same way as it binds every other Member.
Q. ( Inaudible)
A. I have just given an answer to that question a few moments ago.
I 7,. aventt yet had time to thinlk about it.
Q. Could you say whether you will be making a decision on the
Ministry this week? I will try, but I can't be precise.

Q. Mr. McMahon, the antipathy between you and Mr Gorton, I think
you would agree is a public fact. Do you think that despite this antipathy you can
still work together in the next 22 months to the election?
A. Yes.
Q. Sir, have you spoken to Mr. Anthony since the election?
A. I have spoken. to him to inform him that I have been elected the
Leader of the Liberal Party and I asked him if he would make the timre available
to speak to me as soon as he could.
Q. Has he indicated he will work with you, Mr. McMahon?
A. I haven't spoken to him on that matter yet.
Q. Could we ask a question of Mrs. McMahon? How she feels about
A NO.' Can you tell us who the other candidates were for both positions?
A. Mr. Snedden was a candidate for the leadership and Mr. David
Fairbairn and Mr. Malcolm Fraser were also candidates for thle Deputy
Q. ( Inaudible) concerned with Mr. Fairbairn wthdrawing his
statement that he was no longer available to serve as Minister in a Liberal
A. Mr. Fairbair-n is both a friend of mine and I admire him. But as
yet, I have not had any discussions with him about Cabinet or Ministerial portfolios.
But naturally I will have discu"-sions with him soon.
Q. Do you see a place for him in the Ministry?
A. I will think of every member of the Party and one of them will be
Mr. Fairbairn.
Q. Mr. McMahon, are you likely to be Prime Mirnister and Treasurer?
A. I haven't thought of that, but naturally it will be one of the problems
I will be giving consideration to. I don't think it is practicable for a person to
act in two portfolios for very long. Other Ministers have tried it, other Prime
Ministers have tried it, and it is a pretty diff icult if not impossible task.
Q. I was thinking of Mr. Ben Chifley.

A. That was quite right. But he was the only one in the Labor Party
who had the capacity to do it.
Q. Mr. McMahon speaking of your Ministry, have you considered
the possibility of adopting the elected Ministry system?
A. No.
Q. Are you thinking in terms of a trip to Washington and other places
very shortly?
A. No.
Q. What do you see as the main problems confronting the Government
A. Don't ask me that at this moment. As soon as I have had time
to settle into the leadership a2 the Liberal Party, then of course I will have another
conference and you can ask me all the questions you want then. I think at the
moment the real problem is how to organise the Government, the Ministerial
portfolios in the Government and that I believe is the main problem that must
face me for the time being.
Q. Do you think a new Mlinistry should have another look at how the
Government should deal with problems in the economy?
A. Yes.
Q. How long do you thinlk the House will be adjourned?
A. I can't tell you because there is a lot to do. Iwas quite surprised
when papers wiere brought to me, or to myself and Mr. Gorton, to see how much has
to be done, particularly as there is a new Government the whole of the Ministry
has to be sworn in before it can meet the House, so 1 couldn't give you any real
guidance other than I would lilke the House to meet today.
Q. You have said you will be having a look at the economy. Are there
any other recent Government decisions that you would like your Government to
A. Yes, Commonwealth/ State relationships.
Q. Inaudible, concerning what sort of a line will be taken on this.

I couldn't tell you because I have -said that I am a Party man from
the top of my head to the bottomn of my feet and I will want the fullest consultation
with the Ministry and with the Party before I make any decision or fill in any precise
details. Mr. McMahon, do you have in mind an early meeting with State
Premiers? April 5, will that still be on? That was arranged by Mr Gorton
with the Premiers. I see no reason-to change it but if I felt that it was impracticable
to hold it, I would let them know immediately. But I would have no difficulty at all,
no problem whatsoever in talking to them. I wouldn't doubt thazt in a few days I
would be talking to Mr. A skin and later on to Sir Henry. But later on, I want to talk
to them just as soon as I can.
Sir Henry is mrost anxious to talk to you.
As Deputy Leader, did Mr Gorton make any declarations of loyalty
within the party to you and your potential administration?
There was a universal declaration of loyalty. And in particular
there were declarations of loyalty by Mr Snedden and then after the election of
the Deputy Leader by Mr Gcrton.
Do you anticipate any challenges to your leadership as Mr. Gorton
has had. Inaudible comment about backbenchers.
I hope not, but I hope that I will be able to so change the Party
system to bring them well into the m echanism of governmenrt, I don't know how
I will go about it, but it will be one of the major problems Of Government I Will
face, and I hope it will bring great satisfaction to the Party.
Sir the Prime Ministership has been your goal for a long time.
Did you go in there this morning thinking that you might come out as Liberal
Leader? Were you surprised and how do you feel personally now that you have
attained it? It is a strange thing, but everyone seems to think I am a person
of tremendous ambition. I don't think I am. I'm a tremendous worker and if I'm
given a job to do I work at it and if it takes me to some other goal, and if the goal
is the kind-that most people in the world would like that most people in Australia
wi) uld like of course I'm glad I've got there. I think my wife would answer this
question better than anyone else. But I don't feel the slightest bit excited or
emotional, and you'd be as good a judge of this as she is. I have taken it in a
composed way because I have been * here for a long time. I've seen Prime Mi. nisters
come and go. I've seen the Miistry change. So I hope that what I will be able
to do with the co-operation of my colleagues in the Country Party and my own Party
I hope we can make this a very successful Government, and I'll do as much as I
can all I can to ensure its success.

Q. Mr. McMahon do you have in mind calling this the First McMahon
Ministry or the First McMahon-Anthony Ministry?
A. I hadn't thought of it. I don't believe in giving titles anyhow.
Q. Well it has to be one or the other.
A. Oh, I don't know. For a long time we called it the Liberal-Country
Party Government. And that title suits me for the moment.
Q. Sir, did you thiink back in 1969 that you'd had your last chance
at this job?
A. I didn't bother to think about it. I knew that events change so
quickly and as events change opportunities change with them, , so I didn't bother
about the past. I always look forward to the future. And now I can only express
my joy that I'm where I am.
Q. Mr. McMahon have you sent a telegram to Sir John McEwen?
A. I will.
Q. ( Inaudible)
A. I haven't thought out the contents yet.
Q. How do you regard Mr. Whitlam as an opponent to fight an election
A. I don't want to get heavily into politics at the moment, but you have
heard me express my views in the past, and I see no reason after yesterday to
think I should change my mind.
Q. Sir would your Government be a more conservative one than
Mr. Gorton's? 7
A I don't know what that means.... what'tonservative" means.
I will try with my Party and with my Ministry to make those changes that we think
are desirable. I don't think " conservative" is a good word to use. We are a
practical people, anxious I believe, demonstrably anxious, to do our best in the
interests of the country. And whether that means being conservative, or being
radical or being liberal, I don't know. We'll do our best, it doesn't matter
what title people want to give us. All I can say to you is that I'll be very anticommunist,
and I'll be very anti-socialist.
Q. Mr. McMahon will Sir Cyrus Lenox still remain as Prime
Minister's Department Head during your -reign? e / 7

* 0 7.
A. I haven't given a great deal of thought to that, but I will announce
that in due time.., or I might not even announce it, it might just happen.
Q. Prime Minister, will you consider an early increase for pensioners?
A. Look, I am not there yet. I haven't yet discussed it with
Cabinet. I want to ensure that Cabinet is fully consulted on everything before
decisions are made. I personally will not make any statement about this until
I have discussed it with the relevant Minister.
Q. Mr. McMahon how do you feel about being the first Prime
Minister from New South Wales for 22 years?
A. I thought of Billy Hughes immediately,, but I can't tell you what
my thoughts am. ounted to.
Q. Do you feel yourself bound by the decisions of Mr. Gorton's
Government in respect of tariffs, and trade practices and other economic
measures he has taken in the name of the Cabinet?
A. I am not going to discuss any policy decisions at the moment
but everything is open to review tariff policies, economic policies.
( To Max Walsh) I am sorry your guess this morning wasn't too good:
Q. Mr McMahoni you have made a point that you would be anticommunist.
Now there are a lot of families around Australia at the moment
watching you on television and wondering just what you are going to do about
A. The policy on Vietnam, the Government policy, has been more
strongly pressed by me than by any other person there. Those policies will
continue. But as I said, all policies are open to review. I stated when I was
Foreign Minister there wasn't any single area of foreign policy activity where
we weren't looking at our policies, our policy objectives and trying to find out
whether changes should be made. Exactly the san-e will apply in the case of
Vietnam as applies to the other policies. I cannot give you aniy decisions because
I have not discussed the problem with my Cabinet colleagues.
Q. There has been speculation that if you won today you would consider
an early election to go to the people before the alleged honeymoon is over. Is
there any truth in that?
A. I think it is about 100-1 odds or even worse.
Q. Do you feel any gratitude to Mr. Fraser whose resignation
seems to have sparked all this off?

" Gratitude" is a word that Is not frequently used in political
language. I respect Mr. Fraser. I think he is an able, perhaps a very able man.
I make no other comment about Mr. Fraser other than that, and I like him.
Q. Inaudible ( about the role of the mass media)
A. I think the greatest problem any government faces is one of
communication, and consequently the more intimate association you can have
with the mass media the better it will be for the Government, the better it
will be for Australia. The real problem is how do you do it. How do you
explain your policies? How do you explain your policy objectives? I do hope
I will be able to win the support of the mass media, particularly as I will be
communicating with them to let themn know what we will be doing and why we
are doing it.
Q. Sir, will it be possible to arrange a regular press conference,
say once a week?
A. I don't know about once a week, but, regularly yes.
Mr. Barnes Thank you very much on behalf of the Gallery Members. -Thank
you for your assurance that in our future relations we will be having frequent

Transcript 2381