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Barnard, Lance Herbert (1919–1997)

by Peter Edwards

This article was published online in 2022

Lance Herbert Barnard (1919–1997), teacher, politician, and diplomat, was born on 1 May 1919 at Launceston, Tasmania, youngest of three surviving children of Tasmanian-born parents Herbert Claude Barnard, fireman and trade unionist, and his wife, Martha Melva, née McKenzie. His father held the House of Representatives seat of Bass from 1934 to 1949 and was minister for repatriation (1946–49) in the Chifley government. Lance attended Launceston Junior Technical School but, as his family faced financial difficulties during the Depression, he dropped out and became a timber worker and then a joiner, while studying by night at Launceston Technical College.

Volunteering for service in World War II, Barnard enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 10 June 1940. He served with the 2/8th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, in the Middle East (1940–43), rising to bombardier (1941), and was wounded in action at El Alamein, Egypt, in July 1942. For two months from October he was an acting sergeant while in a training role. He returned to Tasmania in February 1943. At the Mulgrave Street Methodist Church, South Launceston, on 6 March 1943, Barnard married Doris Catherine Burston, with whom he had two daughters. In 1944 he was posted to No. 702 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery and on 7 February 1945 was discharged from the AIF. Lasting hearing loss caused by exposure to artillery fire gave him the appearance of diffidence.

Following his discharge, Barnard resumed study at Launceston Technical College, then taught trades at the Mount Lyell School of Mines and Industries, Queenstown, where he was also secretary of the local branch of the Australian Labor Party (ALP). In 1952, after securing state executive endorsement as the party’s candidate for Bass, he transferred to Launceston Technical College and Launceston Technical High School. Like his father before him, Barnard attracted a strong personal vote. At the election of 1954 he defeated the Liberal member, Bruce Kekwick, who had beaten Barnard senior five years earlier.

A close and complementary relationship soon developed between Barnard and his fellow ALP member Gough Whitlam, who had entered parliament in 1952. He saw in Whitlam the vision, intellect, and breadth of appeal that the ALP would need to return to government, but which the party’s old guard could not provide. In return Barnard offered assets that Whitlam sorely lacked. The short, hard-working but undemonstrative politician with an impeccable Labor heritage was liked and trusted by the parliamentary and organisational wings of the party to a degree never matched by the tall, arrogant visionary with the ‘silvertail’ background. The personal network and tactical skills that Barnard developed were crucially important in enabling Whitlam to win the deputy leadership of the parliamentary party in March 1960 and to retain that post despite frequent clashes with its leader, Arthur Calwell, and the ALP organisation. In September 1960 Doris died, and on 11 September 1962 Barnard married Jill Denise Carstairs, daughter of an ALP senator. They had a son and adopted two orphaned baby girls from Vietnam, the first of whom died shortly after arrival in Australia.

In 1966 Barnard helped to save Whitlam from expulsion after he had described the party’s federal executive as ‘twelve witless men.’ Calwell resigned the leadership in 1967 and was succeeded by Whitlam with Barnard as his deputy. This ended the tensions between an unsuccessful leader and an impatient deputy from which Labor had long suffered. Over the next two parliaments, while Whitlam was the charismatic and sometimes confrontational reformer of the party’s structures and policies, Barnard was the steady and loyal deputy, maintaining links with those whom Whitlam had offended.

Barnard twice served as ALP State president (1966–67, 1970–73). His mastery of the party’s written and unwritten rules and his astute assessment of ‘the numbers’ were again crucial to Whitlam in 1968, when he resigned the leadership to contest it against Jim Cairns. During this crisis Cairns offered to withdraw and support Barnard for the position. He declined, confident that, while he would have won, only Whitlam could lead Labor to electoral victory.

When Whitlam introduced the practice of appointing shadow ministers in 1967, he allocated defence to Barnard. For a time, he and Whitlam seemed inclined to align the party’s policy on the Vietnam War more closely with that of the government, but after the Tet offensive in early 1968 they spoke of the war as unwinnable and opposed it by parliamentary means. The growing unpopularity of the war, and of the associated conscription of young men, allowed Labor to win the 1972 election on a program of social reforms, nullifying the coalition’s previous advantage on defence and foreign policy, and finally ending its twenty-three years in office.

The high point of Barnard’s career was the government, often known as ‘the duumvirate,’ that Whitlam and he impatiently formed from 5 to 19 December 1972 rather than wait for the final election results. Barnard as deputy prime minister held fourteen ministerial portfolios while Whitlam held the other thirteen, thus establishing for Barnard a record for the greatest number concurrently held by any Australian minister. Following the election of a full ministry he retained defence and presided over the merger of five departments—defence, navy, army, air, and supply—into one, and the redirection of strategic policy to focus on Australia’s immediate region rather than expeditionary forces to distant theatres. Reversing the traditional roles of ministers and public servants, he and Whitlam quietly supported these reforms while the secretary of the defence department, Sir Arthur Tange, led the public battle and attracted the inevitable controversy. Barnard placed his personal imprimatur on the passage of the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Act 1973, having in Opposition served on the parliamentary select committee that formulated its provisions.

Tensions over the role of ministerial staff quickly developed with the formidable Tange. Less than two months into the new government, the resignation of Barnard’s defence advisor and press secretary, Clem Lloyd, fuelled a belief that the minister had succumbed to Tange’s influence. But this perception, and a later description of Barnard by a fellow minister as ‘a likeable mediocrity’ (McClelland 1988, 138), were superficial. Although, for example, Tange led negotiations with United States of America officials on control over joint Australian-United States bases, he was giving effect to government policy and acknowledged Barnard’s steady support. A more serious issue for Barnard was that after the heady days of the duumvirate, Whitlam became increasingly distant. Barnard was excluded from such key decisions as the 25 per cent tariff cut in 1973, which severely affected textile workers in Launceston.

After Sir Paul Hasluck had in 1973 turned down Whitlam’s proposed extension to his term as governor-general, and Kenneth Myer declined the post, Whitlam approached Barnard, adding that if he too declined, an offer would be made to (Sir) John Kerr. Barnard did so, saying that Kerr, as a senior lawyer, was much better suited. Following the 1974 election, Cairns successfully stood against Barnard for the deputy leadership. Whitlam gave Barnard less support than he, and many others, believed he had deserved. He considered lobbying on his own behalf ‘quite foreign to my … makeup’ (Barnard 1983, 80) and attributed his loss to an erroneous assumption by other Labor parliamentarians that Cairns would be better able to constrain Whitlam. According to the political journalist Alan Reid, this episode and the tariff cut led to a serious rift between Whitlam and Barnard.

Following a further year as minister for defence, an exhausted and dispirited Barnard asked Whitlam for a diplomatic appointment. Whitlam agreed, although most of the party considered it absurdly rash to bring on a by-election when the government was extremely unpopular. The resultant 14.3 per cent swing in Bass to the Liberals on 28 June 1975 was widely seen as convincing the new leader of the Liberal Party, Malcolm Fraser, that he should use the Opposition’s majority in the Senate to withhold supply, eventually precipitating the crisis that led to the dismissal of the Whitlam government in November 1975.

Barnard was appointed ambassador (1975–78) to Sweden, Norway, and Finland, based in Stockholm. Past strains between him and Whitlam were soon forgotten. Barnard declined the Fraser government’s offer in 1976 of a knighthood, insisting unsuccessfully that neither the offer of this imperial honour nor his refusal should become public. The year after returning home he won preselection to run again for Bass but withdrew after four months owing to his deteriorating hearing. In 1979 he was appointed AO and in 1981 the Fraser government made him director of the Office of Australian War Graves. Even after ill-health forced his retirement in 1983, Barnard continued to assist his former constituents in their applications for repatriation and other benefits.

On 6 August 1997 Barnard died in Melbourne following vascular surgery and was cremated. His wife and their two children, and the two children from his first marriage, survived him. In the eulogy at his funeral in St John’s Church, Launceston, Whitlam paid tribute to ‘my oldest and best mate’ (1997), of whom he had earlier said ‘[t]here was no man to whom I owed so much … No Labor leader ever had a better deputy or a better friend’ (2014, 83).

Research edited by Stephen Wilks

Select Bibliography

  • Barnard, Lance Herbert. Interview by Ron Hurst and Brenda McAvoy, 23 July 1983, 1 April 1987. Transcript. Parliament’s Oral History Project. National Library of Australia
  • Edwards, Peter. Arthur Tange: Last of the Mandarins. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2006
  • Freudenberg, Graham. A Certain Grandeur: Gough Whitlam in Politics. South Melbourne: Macmillan, 1977
  • Hocking, Jenny. Gough Whitlam: A Moment in History. Carlton, Vic.: Miegunyah Press, 2008
  • Hocking, Jenny. Gough Whitlam: His Time. Carlton, Vic.: Miegunyah Press, 2013
  • McClelland, James. Stirring the Possum: A Political Autobiography. Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin, 1988
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, TX3157
  • Powell, Mike. ‘The Whitlam Labor Government: Barnard and Whitlam: A Significant Historical Dyad.’ Australian Journal of Politics and History 43, no. 2 (April 1997): 183–99
  • Reid, Alan. The Whitlam Venture. Melbourne: Hill of Content, 1976
  • Whitlam, E. G. ‘Gough Whitlam’s Eulogy for Lance Barnard: “My Oldest And Best Mate.”’ WhitlamDismissal.com. Last modified 15 August 1997. Accessed 29 June 2021. https://whitlamdismissal.com/1997/08/15/whitlam-eulogy-for-lance-barnard.html. Copy held on ADB file
  • Whitlam, E.G. The Truth of the Matter. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 2014. First published 1979 by Allen Lane (Ringwood, Vic.)

Additional Resources

Citation details

Peter Edwards, 'Barnard, Lance Herbert (1919–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barnard-lance-herbert-31628/text39101, published online 2022, accessed online 5 July 2022.

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