Australia in the 1970s


Summary of the decade

The 1970s was a decade of great economic, political, social and technological change.

Politically, the 1972 election ended the 23-year government of the Liberal-Country Party coalition. The Australian Labor Party took power, led by Gough Whitlam, with the slogan 'It's Time'. The new government initiated a large range of socially progressive changes, but was scandal ridden and criticised for being excessively extravagant with public funds. The Whitlam government was dismissed by the governor-general John Kerr in 1975.

Socially, the White Australia Policy was finally dismantled during this period. It had functioned since Federation in 1901 as a tool for excluding non-white immigrants. The Whitlam government removed any ethnically specific criteria for evaluating prospective migrants, thus allowing the first influx of Vietnamese refugees in 1978. Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser agreed to accept the 'boat people' as refugees, significantly adding to the idea of a multicultural Australia.

Economically, in 1973, the formation of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) and the international oil embargo precipitated the end of the long economic boom that had underpinned Australia's prosperity in the post-war period.

A snapshot of 1978

  • January
    • The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Amendment Act 1978 (Cth) was proclaimed in federal parliament.
    • The Special Broadcasting Service, also known as SBS, was established.

  • April
    • The Migrant Services and Programs Report, also known as 'The Galbally Report', was presented to the prime minister.

  • August
    • The Malcolm Fraser conservative government announced the end of maternity allowances.

  • November
    • The West Gate Bridge over the Yarra River and Port Melbourne was opened. It is the second-largest single span bridge in Australia.
    • The Ranger Uranium Agreement was signed by the Northern Land Council and ratified by the traditional owners, allowing uranium mining in Arnhem Land.


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