Late in 1967, not long before his disappearance in the Portsea surf, Prime Minister Harold Holt set up the Council for Aboriginal Affairs, the federal government's response to the successful 1967 Referendum.
HC Coombs, formerly Governor of the Reserve Bank, was appointed to head this body. The other two members were Professor Stanner, a respected anthropologist with experience in public administration, and Barrie Dexter, a senior public servant and formerly the Australian Ambassador to Thailand.
The standing of these men suggests that Holt intended the body, which would advise the government on Aboriginal matters, to have some clout. Following Holt's death, however, Prime Minister John Gorton appointed William Wentworth as Minister-in-charge of Aboriginal Affairs.
This meant that council proposals had to be presented to Cabinet via Wentworth. Moreover, the Council for Aboriginal Affairs, though it did have its own Office of Aboriginal Affairs, never became a statutory body.
Despite these considerable frustrations the Council for Aboriginal Affairs encouraged Aboriginal leadership and supported the protection of Indigenous cultures in various ways. The council, especially during 1972 and the Aboriginal Embassy demonstrations, was often at odds with Peter Howson, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the McMahon ministry.