1969 Liberal Party of Australia leadership spill

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Liberal Party of Australia
leadership spill, 1969

← 1968 7 November 1969 1971 →
  JohnGorton1968.jpg William McMahon 1966.jpg David Fairbairn 1969.jpg
Candidate John Gorton William McMahon David Fairbairn
First Ballot 34–40 (est.) 20–25 (est.) 5–6 (est.)

Leader before election

John Gorton

Elected Leader

John Gorton

The Liberal Party of Australia held a leadership spill on 7 November 1969, following the party's poor performance at the federal election on 25 October. Prime Minister John Gorton was re-elected as the party's leader, defeating challengers William McMahon and David Fairbairn.


The Liberal–Country coalition lost a combined 16 seats at the 1969 federal election, and the Labor Party (under Gough Whitlam) won the two-party-preferred vote. On 2 November, National Development Minister David Fairbairn announced his intention to challenge Gorton for the leadership of the Liberal Party.[1] He was joined the following day by Treasurer William McMahon, who had been deputy leader since 1966.[2] Deputy Prime Minister John McEwen, the leader of the Country Party, announced that his party was willing to work with any of the three candidates; this lifted the veto he had applied to McMahon at the previous leadership ballot in January 1968.[3]


The election on 7 November was set for 10 a.m., but delayed by an hour as five MPs travelling from Melbourne were delayed by a faulty aircraft. With Speaker William Aston presiding, the 65 members of the Liberal partyroom took 49 minutes to elect a leader. Gorton won an absolute majority on the first ballot, but the final results were kept secret, with the ballot papers burnt immediately after being tallied.[4] Alan Reid of The Daily Telegraph estimated Gorton had won 34 votes,[3] while The Canberra Times estimated 38 votes;[4] Gorton's supporters claimed up to 40 votes.[3] The deputy leadership was also declared vacant, and McMahon was re-elected over Immigration Minister Billy Snedden and Postmaster-General Alan Hulme with about 35 votes.[4]


After the challenge, Fairbairn resigned from cabinet and McMahon was demoted to Minister for External Affairs. McMahon challenged Gorton again in March 1971, and was successful.[3]


  1. ^ Struggle for PM's post sharpens, The Canberra Times, 3 November 1969.
  2. ^ McMahon in race for P.M., The Canberra Times, 4 November 1969.
  3. ^ a b c d Summer of ’69: lessons from a Liberal spill, Crikey, 2 February 2015. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Result a secret, The Canberra Times, 8 November 1969.

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