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Australia in the 1990s


Summary of the decade

The 1990s was a decade marked by the effects of the economic and social revolutions from the previous two decades. The economic measures such as removing tariff protection from local industries and the freeing up of trade benefited many, but not all. There were substantial numbers of Australians who were worse-off as factories closed and manufacturing industries reduced job opportunities, and the unemployed were often unable to transfer into the newly thriving retail, commercial and tourist sectors.

Simultaneously, the newly arrived Vietnamese, Chinese, Islamic and other communities were changing the social fabric of Australian society. Nearly one in four Australians were born overseas, representing about 100 countries. Many Australians thought that it was time for Australia to become a republic and to work for reconciliation with Indigenous Australians. These issues were strongly supported by prime minister Paul Keating.

The terms of two prime ministers dominated the 1990s. Paul Keating of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was elected as prime minster from 1991 until 1996. Subsequently, John Howard was prime minister of a Liberal government from 1996 until he lost his parliamentary seat in 2007.

Australia experienced the biggest change in technology. The 1990s saw the introduction of the internet and the mobile phone, which began to change the face of telecommunications and entertainment.

A snapshot of 1998

  • February
    • A Constitutional Convention was held in Old Government House, Canberra, and gave in principle support to Australia becoming a republic.

  • April
    • Patrick Stevedores sacked its workforce on the Australian waterfront, thus beginning the Waterfront Dispute with the Maritime Union of Australia.

  • May
    • The first Sorry Day was held on 26 May to commemorate the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families.

  • June
    • In Queensland's state election, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party won 23 per cent of the vote and 11 seats.

  • July
    • The Senate passed the Native Title Act Amendment Bill 1998 (Cth) after a debate lasting 105 hours.


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