Australia 1970s to 1990s
By 1970 Australia had begun to withdraw its military commitments in Vietnam. Australia's participation in
the war was formally declared at an end when the Governor-General issued a proclamation in January of
1973. From the time of the arrival of the first Australia personnel in 1962 to the official end of the war in
1973, some 50 000 Australians served in Vietnam. A total of 520 were killed and almost 2400 were
At home, the Vietnam War was the cause of a large amount of social and political dissent, comparable to
the conscription disputes of the WWI period. The government punished those who had avoided the draft
and soldiers sometimes met a hostile public upon returning to Australia. These tensions might be seen to
have led to the 1972 election of the first Labor government in 23 years under Gough Whitlam.
The Whitlam government abolished conscription and withdrew troops from Vietnam. It made a conscious
decision that Australia was not going to automatically follow the foreign policy of the United States. Under
Whitlam, Australia took a more independent position, which involved attempting to reach out and connect
with our regional neighbours in Asia. As part of this program, Whitlam eliminated the last elements of the
White Australia Policy. The official end of this policy came in 1973, when the Whitlam government put in
place a series of amendments preventing the enforcement of racist aspects of existing immigration laws.
These amendments made it possible for all immigrants to obtain citizenship after three years of
permanent residence regardless of their country of origin.
The Whitlam government also ratified all international agreements relating to immigration and race and
made it so that race was disregarded as a factor in selecting immigrants. The Racial Discrimination Act
1975 (Cth) made it illegal to use racial criteria for any official purpose, such as hiring or dismissal of
employees. These changes led to a rise in immigration from Asia, especially from war-torn Vietnam, and
Australia moved toward becoming the multicultural nation we know today.
The focus on multiculturalism and on Asia was not lost with the dismissal of the Whitlam government in
1975, but continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s, particularly under the leadership of Paul Keating.
The Whitlam government also moved to increase trade relations with Asia, and officially recognised the
People's Republic of China in order to have a more open political and trading relationship with China. After
Whitlam, relations with China developed and, aside from the problems surrounding the Tiananmen Square
events of 1989, continue to evolve.
Diplomatic relations with our near neighbour Indonesia have also been a developing and sometimes
controversial area from the 1970s through to the present day. In 1999, following a UN-sponsored
agreement between Indonesia, Portugal and the US, a referendum was held in East Timor on the question
of full independence from Indonesia. Violence and militia activities broke out around this referendum and
Australia sent a peacekeeping force (known as INTERFET) to restore order. The 1980s in Australia were
dominated by anxieties surrounding the Cold War and the threat of nuclear war.
One key test for Australia's foreign relations came in its divergence from New Zealand on the nuclear
issue. In 1985 New Zealand signed the Treaty of Rarotonga (named for the island on which it was signed)
which is the common name for the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty. This treaty put in place a
nuclear-weapon-free zone in the South Pacific, banning the use, testing, and possession of nuclear weapons
within the zone. Signatories to the treaty include Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and
the Solomon Islands.
Under the Labour Party government of David Lange, this led to the enacting of anti-nuclear legislation
which prevented ships carrying nuclear weapons or powered by nuclear reactors visiting New Zealand. This,
in turn, led to the suspension of ANZUS relations between the US and New Zealand. Australia, however,
did not put in place any similar zone of restriction around its own territories, and as Australia continues to
have nuclear reactors, and is home to around 25 percent of the world's uranium deposits, the nations of
the South Pacific remained divided on the nuclear issue throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
In internal events, the mid-to-late 1980s saw an unprecedented boom in the Australian economy. The value
of stocks in some of the largest companies on the share market increased by three or four times, in some
cases in as little as a year's time. With the deregulation of banks in Australia, there was a steep rise in
lending which further fuelled the share market boom. The activities of entrepreneurs and the 'corporate
raiders' dominated the economy, as they raised huge sums of money, engaged in takeover bids and made
massive profits. Alan Bond is the businessman most often associated with the corporate excesses of the
1980s. Bond is famous both for high-profile business ventures and for being charged with criminal
offences associated with the collapse of his various companies.
Like many of the high-flyers of the 1980s, Bond came unstuck in the wake of the 1987 stock market crash.
'Black Monday' is the name given to Monday October 19, 1987, the day the Dow Jones Index in New York
fell 22.6 percent, the largest one-day decline in recorded stock market history. The precipitous fall was
not only felt in the United States, but reverberated all over the world. By the end of October 1987, the
Australian share markets had fallen 41.8 percent. No single cause is attributed to the crash, but it has
been put forward that a mixture of speculation, overvaluation, over-extended debts and market psychology
was to blame. The 1987 crash demonstrated the globalised nature of international finance markets and
showed just how connected to the rest of the world Australia was in the era of computerised
International attention also fell on Australia around the issue of Indigenous rights. In the wake of the
1988 Bicentennial, more and more calls came for Native Title rights to be recognised by the Australian
courts, and eventually the doctrine of Terra Nullius (the 'legal fiction' that Australia was uninhabited upon
settlement in 1788) was overturned and Native Title was established at law.
The High Court, not the government or parliament, was the major cause of official recognition of Native
Title. The two crucial High Court decisions were made in the Mabo and Wik cases of the 1990s.
The development of Australia's foreign relations has spanned from the nation's time as a dominion and
later a realm of the British Empire, to its position in the 1970s and 1980s as a steadfast Cold War ally of
the US, to its engagement with Asia as an independent regional power in its own right. Australia's relations
with the world are based on its position as a leading trading nation and as a significant donor of
Contemporary Australian foreign policy is based on a commitment to multilateralism and regionalism, and as
one of the drafters of the United Nations Charter, Australia has given firm support to the United Nations
and its specialised agencies. Australia was a member of the UN Security Council from 1986 to 1987 and sat
on the UN Human Rights Commission from 1994 to 1996. At an international level, Australia has historically
taken a leading role in many UN activities, including peacekeeping missions, disarmament negotiations and
Australia also is active in meetings of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) and in the Asia-
Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. APEC promotes trade and economic policies along the Pacific
Rim. As a consequence of our regional position, Australia also plays a central part in relations between
developed and developing nations within the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN). Under John Howard (Prime Minister from 1996 to 2007), Australia continued to engage with our
neighbours and with the global community in general, with special concern given to recent concerns such as
terrorism, free trade, integration with Asia and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.
Despite all the above, the Australia Acts (1982 and 1986) completely divorced Australia, and its States,
from any British control, be it executive, legislative or judicial. Queen Elizabeth II is the sovereign of
both Britain and Australia, as opposed to one kingdom.