Australia in the 1970s

The ALP in government

On 2 December 1972, Gough Whitlam (1916–) led the Australian Labor Party (ALP) to election victory for the first time in 23 years. In the first days of government, Whitlam abolished conscription, ended all military involvement in Indochina, and requested the Arbitration Court reopen its inquiry into equal pay for women.

In December 1972, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission approved the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. In the same month, Justice Elizabeth Evatt became the first woman to be appointed as deputy president of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

In March 1973, all tuition fees at Australian universities were abolished. From June 1973, maternity leave was granted to women employees in the federal public service and the eligible age for voting in a federal election was lowered to 18.

The Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) became effective. In July 1975, a new scheme of medical and hospital benefits called Medibank came into operation. Australians were now entitled to free health care.

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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