All the key issues of the time

Defence and security

Seacat missile, 1979
Seacat missile, 1979 (NAA: A6135, K25/5/79/23)

The defence of Australia and its security have been matters of key concern to the Cabinet since 1901. As well as the commitment of forces to service in World Wars I and II and the conflicts in Korea, Malaya and Vietnam, the many issues discussed and decided by the Cabinet include:

  • compulsory military service
  • atomic testing and the development of long range missiles
  • measures for the protection of Australia from invasion
  • strategic assessments of Australia's vulnerability to attack
  • the purchase of aircraft and destroyers for the defence force
  • the development of naval and military installations
  • the medical welfare of veterans
  • the internment of enemy prisoners.

Internal security has also been of ongoing concern. The many issues related to internal security discussed by the Cabinet include:

  • the raiding of Communist Party premises
  • the establishment of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation
  • the establishment of royal commissions on security matters (such as the Royal Commission on Espionage and the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security)
  • legislation regulating telephone tapping
  • amendments to the Crimes Act to provide for the prosecution of persons for such offences as espionage and sabotage.


Individuals have attracted the attention of the Cabinet for reasons such as:

  • appointment to government positions
  • compensation
  • honours and awards
  • naturalisation
  • internment of enemy aliens
  • capital punishment.

International relations

The records of the Cabinet reflect the keen interest of successive governments in establishing and developing Australia's international relations. The Cabinet records include discussions relating to:

  • the Australian delegation to the Versailles peace conference
  • the establishment of the United Nations
  • military and non-military aid to developing countries
  • trade agreements
  • territorial claims
  • defence pacts such as SEATO and ANZUS
  • establishment of diplomatic relations
  • the imposition of diplomatic and trade sanctions against certain countries.

Local communities

A patient in the outback is taken to a waiting Flying Doctor plane
Having received emergency treatment, a patient in the outback is taken to a waiting Flying Doctor plane. (NAA: A1200, L14282)

Local communities have been affected by many decisions made by Cabinet such as:

  • funding of the Flying Doctor Service and Surf Life Saving Associations
  • the building of armament depots, bombing ranges and quarantine stations
  • relief for drought and other natural disasters
  • erection of memorials.

Australian states and territories

Most decisions of the Cabinet have had an impact on the states and territories, for example:

  • the funding of railway construction
  • the provision of air mail services
  • the development of northern Australia
  • assistance to the pearling and buffalo industries
  • funding for the Victorian centenary celebrations
  • the determination of Aboriginal land rights
  • the provision of shipping services between Tasmania and the mainland
  • the administration of Christmas Island, Norfolk Island and the other territories.

The nation

Crowd at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, Melbourne, 1956
Crowd at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, Melbourne, 1956 (NAA: A1500, K3670)

At the national level, decisions of the Cabinet have:

  • laid the foundations of Australia's multiculturalism
  • introduced decimal currency
  • initiated major infrastructure projects such as the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme and the Ord River Scheme
  • imposed censorship of press, radio, TV and film
  • supported funding for the performing arts and regulated the 'moving picture industry'
  • considered Australia's Olympic Games bids in 1912 and 1956
  • completed the Trans-Australian railway.

Related information

Cabinet records 1965 to 1997

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019