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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: September 2009

11 - From Cold War to Global War on Terror, 1972–


Defence was not a high priority for the new Labor administration. Twenty-three years on the Opposition benches had bred a hunger for reformist activity when the party finally regained power, although Gough Whitlam's government was hardly as radical as the rosy glow of nostalgia would have us believe, nor as irresponsible in matters of national security as its domestic critics and an unnecessarily alarmed US administration claimed. The government's failures had more to do with the failings of particular ministers than with any grand design to wreck the Western alliance and Australia's part in it and, for all his ability and dominance over the party machine, Whitlam was unable to control his government in crucial areas. Defence and foreign policy, however, were not fields which suffered conspicuously from this phenomenon, in the latter case because the Prime Minister himself took a personal interest; in the former because defence did not raise much interest in the wider ALP. Indeed, Whitlam's own lengthy and highly detailed account of his government's record devotes just eight pages to defence issues. These were the days of ‘no perceivable threat’ for at least ten years.

As part of the general spirit of reform, the ALP announced that it would reorganise the defence group of departments in order to bring about a more integrated approach to defence management.