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Cabinet Room table

A table fit for a Cabinet.

From 1972 to 1988, this hefty table was used by the Federal Cabinet. 

The original Cabinet table was designed for the building by John Smith Murdoch in 1926. By 1972, it could no longer seat the growing number of Cabinet ministers. The Cabinet Room was also renovated that year, and the old table clashed with the room's new style.  

The new table was soon party to its own historical moments. In 1972, both the smallest and largest federal Cabinets in Australian history sat around the imposing six-metre-square table – the incoming Whitlam government's two-member Cabinet and then the 27-member strong Whitlam ministry two weeks later. 

This black and white photograph is taken from one corner of the timber panelled Cabinet Room making the square table appear as a diamond. The all-male Cabinet are looking at the camera and are all in standard business attire.  On the far right three men stand in the doorway to the room. The table is relatively neat with papers in stacks and smoking accessories in neat groupings as the meeting has not yet begun.  An oak table with black leather top surrounded by chairs in the Cabinet Room of Old Parliament House.

The third Whitlam Ministry in the Cabinet Room, 1974.
Photograph National Archives of Australia: A6180, 11/6/74/44

Many important and far-reaching discussions occurred around this table over the next 16 years such as the policy underpinning the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 and the withdrawal of troops from the Vietnam War.  

Like much of the furniture created as part of the 1972 renovation, the Cabinet table was not moved to Australian Parliament House.  

You can visit the Prime Minister's Suite and see the table in the Cabinet Room. You'll notice that the table, which has 16 segments that fit snuggly together and can seat up to 28, has small white buttons on the edge of the table, these were used to summon the Cabinet Room Attendant. As for where everyone sat, the prime minister sat in the centre of the side of the table furthest from the door with the deputy prime minister sitting on his right. Their chairs were no different from any of the others surrounding the table despite their important roles. 

This colour photograph is taken from behind Deputy Prime Minister Lionel Bowen who is seated beside Prime Minister Bob Hawke. Both are dressed in standard business attire.  Other members of Cabinet can be seen sitting around the table although only half of the seats are filled. In the background are a photographer and two cameramen photographing and filming the cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke with media in the Cabinet Room during one of the final meetings in Parliament House in 1988. The media were generally not permitted in the Cabinet Room but on this occasion were granted brief access. Photograph by Robert McFarlane, Department of the House of Representatives

Prime Minister Bob Hawke stands and cuts a square cake, surrounded by a group of men all smiling.

Prime minister Bob Hawke and his Cabinet celebrate their last meeting at the Cabinet Table in 1988. Included was an elaborate cake fashioned in the shape of the table complete with the names of Ministers inscribed in icing at their positions. Photograph National Archives of Australia

What is a Cabinet?

The Cabinet is a group of senior government ministers that meet to discuss the government's policies and their implementation. Led by the prime minister, cabinet meetings are top secret to make sure that members of Cabinet can express their views freely. To maintain this level of secrecy the only people in the Cabinet Room during meetings are the cabinet ministers, public service notetakers and a trusted attendant. Records of Cabinet meetings remain confidential for 20 years, and the Cabinet notebooks for 30 years.