Opposition Party Room — M61North Wing, Main Floor
From 1927 until 1988 room M61 served as the Opposition Party Room. The Opposition Party Room was used as a meeting room solely for the Senators and Members of the Opposition party. It was a scene of debate, disagreement, planning and policy where the Opposition Party or parties would attempt to resolve their differences and leadership battles in private. Events in this room helped shape Australian parliamentary and political history which was the scene for a number of dramas that would have profound consequences on Australia’s political history. The Australian Labor Party held a Caucus meeting in this room on 20 October 1954, a contributing factor in the split of the Labor party and the emergence of the Democratic Labor Party. In March of 1975, the Liberal Party chose Malcolm Fraser to replace Billy Snedden as its leader. Fraser went on to become Prime Minister of Australia from 1975 until 1983.
One of five party rooms in the building, the Opposition Party Room reflects John Smith Murdoch’s Inter War Stripped Classical style with simple lines and minimal embellishments. In designing the building Murdoch was not able to make provision for offices for backbench Members and Senators; therefore the Opposition Party Room contained desks, tables, easy chairs, settees, mailboxes and bookcases. Members could also use the room to relax and it was furnished with a range of comfortable settees and armchairs. All the furniture that occupied the room was made from Australian timbers, comprising blackwood, silky oak, Queensland maple, and cedar.
The Opposition Party Room now constitutes part of the permanent exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy, exploring the challenge of being in parliamentary opposition and the role of an effective opposition in the functioning of responsible government.
‘The Party room is the toughest forum a politician can address. The only people present are experienced politicians—no Press, party officials, or encouraging branch members. Every person in the room is a virtual opponent in the contest for higher office. There is no sign or pretence of support from a colleague as there is in the Parliament or the public arena.
Politicians are most respected for making well researched, original speeches in the Party room. They lose respect if they speak badly, or too often - or too early. If they serve their apprenticeship in silence, they are then accorded ‘master mason’ status. A measure of the regard, or lack of it, in which politicians are held is the noise level of rustling papers as they speak.’ ‘Don Chipp: The Third Man’ Don Chipp and John Larkin Rigby 1978 P36