Obituary: Lance Barnard

Lance Barnard shook Australia during one of the most exciting periods in Australian politics, the fortnight in 1972 known as the "two- man government". His partner in this episode was Gough Whitlam, who led the Australian Labor Party to power in November that year after 23 years in the electoral wilderness. Barnard was Whitlam's deputy leader, and the two men set about reforming public life at a pace that has never been equalled before or since.

Without waiting for the customary two weeks that it would normally take the newly- elected Labor MPs to gather and elect a front bench, as the rules then decreed, Whitlam and Barnard divided between themselves the entire spread of ministerial portfolios and fired off a volley of executive decisions that left Australians gobsmacked.

The outgoing conservative Liberal-National coalition had been in power since 1949. It was tired, plagued by dull leadership and out of touch with a new generation of baby-boomer voters. For Labor supporters, the atmosphere was not unlike that of Britain in 1997, when the torpor of a sclerotic administration was swept away and the excitement of a new political era unfolded.

The Whitlam-Barnard duumvirate became an earthquake under Australia's stolidly conservative political landscape. Whitlam held 13 ministries, Barnard 14, including defence, the portfolio that he retained when normality was restored after the full ministry was sworn in.

The duo's first act was to abolish conscription to the armed forces, which the conservatives had introduced eight years earlier to bolster Australia's controversial commitment of troops to the Vietnam war. Then they released draft dodgers from prison and announced that Australia's remaining soldiers in Vietnam would be brought home. The youth of Australia applauded.

Next, the two-man government abolished British imperial honours down under and replaced them with an Australian honours system. They announced that Australia would recognise the People's Republic of China, thawing a Cold War diplomatic freeze, banned the granting of mining leases on Aboriginal reserves, refused entry of racially selected sporting teams to Australia and started moves to grant independence to Papua New Guinea, Australia's northern neighbour.

Gordon Bilney, then an Australian representative at the United Nations, and later a Labor minister, captured the excitement of those times when he said: "By the time the duumvirate had been operating for a week, all I wanted was to get back to Australia as soon as I could. There were thousands like me, accustomed to cringing culturally when, as an Australian abroad, one was either thought of as an Austrian or as a variety of South African, but who quickly found reason to take pride in what the new government was doing."

With a typical flourish, Whitlam described his interregnum with Barnard as "the smallest ministry with jurisdiction over Australia since a temporary British administration under the Duke of Wellington in 1844". Barnard himself was more down-to-earth. "It was the most interesting period of my life," he said. "This had never occurred before in the history of Australia. The public were, I think, pleased something was being done. We were sworn in on the Monday, on the Tuesday conscription had ended and I had arranged for national service personnel to leave the camps as they wanted to."

The remarks say much about the differences between these two unlikely partners. Whitlam was a "new Labor" man, a lawyer who prided himself on his erudition and who found few close friends among his team. Barnard was a traditional Labor man, a teacher from Tasmania with no pretensions to match his leader's intellectual reach but whose practicality and unflagging loyalty Whitlam treasured. Whitlam, now 81, praised Barnard fulsomely on his death.

According to Ross McMullin, author of The Light on the Hill, a history of the Australian Labor Party, Barnard was one of the few friends that Whitlam made among federal Labor MPs: "Barnard's most important attribute was being a foil to Whitlam, something that helped to keep Gough on the rails."

Barnard was born into a political family in Launceston, Tasmania, and educated at Launceston Technical School. His father held the local federal seat of Bass for 15 years, during which he was a minister in the post- war Labor government headed by Ben Chifley. Lance Barnard served with the Australian army in the Middle East during the Second World War. The battle of El Alamein, where he was an artillery officer, left him with permanent hearing damage.

Barnard himself won his father's old seat at the 1954 general election and held it for 21 years. In 1974, he was unseated as deputy prime minister by Jim Cairns, a scion of the Left. The following year, Barnard told Whitlam he wanted to retire from politics. Whitlam appointed him Australia's ambassador to Sweden, Finland and Norway.

By then, Whitlam's government was under siege from a series of political and economic scandals. Barnard's departure brought a by-election for Bass in 1975, which was a landslide against Labor. It presaged the decimation of Labor at the general election later that year after its controversial dismissal by Sir John Kerr, the Governor-General.

Whitlam's government lasted only three years, but it was a watershed in changing Australia's image, particularly in social and foreign policy. Barnard played an important part in bringing those changes to fruition. In his own unostentatious way, he later claimed that looking after his constituents down home in Tasmania was his most lasting achievement. "I never forgot their interests at all times," he said.

Robert Milliken

Lance Herbert Barnard, politician; born Launceston, Tasmania 1 May 1919; Deputy Prime Minister of Australia 1972-74, Minister for Defence 1972- 75; died Melbourne 6 August 1997.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past