Australia in 1970’s and 1980’s

By | December 26, 2021

The early political elections of December 1975 confirmed the serious Labor crisis (whose seats in the House of Representatives dropped drastically, from 65 to 36), while they marked the success of M. Fraser’s liberals (from 41 to 68 seats) and the resumption of the national agrarians led by D. Anthony (from 21 to 23).

Head of the new liberal-agrarian coalition government, Fraser initiated a substantially neo-liberal and conservative policy, with concessions to the private sector, reduced taxation, decentralization in favor of the states, devaluation of the dollar by 17.5% in support of exports (December 1976), cuts in public spending, strengthening of military spending. In the international arena, the Fraser government pursued a policy of alignment with the United States, while developing better relations with the countries of the Pacific area. Despite the strong contrasts with the trade unions, following the abandonment of Labor social policy, and the frequent ministerial reshuffles,

Consolidated the guidelines of its previous policy, the new Fraser government achieved its first economic successes (reduction of the inflation rate which went from 13% in 1975 to 8% in 1978 and reduction of the budget deficit). But the prices of the deflationary policy – especially the rise in unemployment: from 3% in 1975 to 6.3% in 1978 – led to an exacerbation of social conflict and a strengthening of the Labor opposition. The early elections of October 1980, while confirming the numerical supremacy of the government coalition, therefore recorded a notable success for the Labor Party of W. Hayden (who succeeded EG Whitlam in 1977) which won 13 seats in the House of Representatives, while the Liberals and the national-agrarians lost a total of 12 seats. For Australia 2007, please check

In the following two years, the Fraser government accentuated the measures to control public spending and developed new trade relations with the ASEAN countries (Association of South-East Asian Nations) and with New Zealand. However, the slight economic recovery – mainly due to the increase in foreign and private investments, especially in the mining sector – soon suffered a severe setback due to the international recession, so much so that in 1982 the rate of inflation rose to 12% while unemployment affected 10% of the active population.

Faced with these difficulties, the early political elections (March 1983) therefore saw the victory of the Labor Party, led by R. Hawke: they presented themselves to the voters with an agreement stipulated with the trade unions of the Australian Council of Trade Union (February 1983) on a highly social program (reestablishment of the escalator, control over self-employed income, fiscal drainage annually adjusted to the rate of inflation, etc.), in fact they obtained an absolute majority of seats in the House of Representatives (75, against the 50 of the former government coalition).

To remedy the severe budget deficit (AU $ 9,600), Hawke announced a 10% devaluation of the currency as a first measure of his new government as part of a policy to revive the country’s commercial competitiveness. Subsequently, on the basis of the pre-electoral pact with the trade unions, he held the first summit in Canberra (April 1983)national economy (Arbitration Commission) in which representatives of workers and entrepreneurs participated alongside the government. The result of the meeting was an agreement that provided for, on the trade union side, a commitment not to make new requests for wage increases and, on the business side, the acceptance of price control measures and the reintroduction of the escalator. On the international level, Hawke continued the policy of alliance with the United States (visit to Washington in June 1983), while he initiated new agreements with Asian countries, and in particular with China with which cooperation in the metallurgical field was established.

Despite the presence of the Anti-Nuclear Party (born in 1984 from a split of the Labor Party), in the political consultations of December 1984 the Labor Party achieved moderate success (rising from 75 to 82 seats in the Chamber), confirming itself at the head of the government.

In March 1986, on the occasion of the visit of Queen Elizabeth, with the signing of the Australian Act, the Australia gained full independence.

The economic difficulties and the serious budget deficit – after the brief recovery of the previous two years – led to a new convocation of the Arbitration Commission to discuss the development of an austerity policy (July 1985). But the protests of 30,000 farmers against the new taxes, in the summer of 1985, and the withdrawal from the agreement, in March 1986, of employers and trade unions, as well as the general strike of May 1986, and the defeat in Parliament of the government project of a he national registry as a measure against tax evasion, led to the early political elections of July 1987. The holding of the Labor Party and the renewal of Hawke’s government mandate did not, however, mitigate the serious crisis in popularity of the latter.

On the occasion of the celebrations for the bicentenary of the first landing of settlers and prisoners in Australia (January 1988), the question of the aboriginal community, by now reduced to 160,000 individuals, with an unemployment rate 7 times higher than that of the white community, a per capita income 50% lower than the national one and a life expectancy at birth of less than 20 years. With a march on Sidney, the aborigines demanded the definitive recognition of their rights on the land of origin, judging the government’s response to the requests made by them insufficient: starting from the early seventies, in fact, they had only obtained a law in 1984 federal government that protected the sacred places from intrusions by mining companies and, in 1987, a symbolic act which officially recognized the status of first owners of the Australian territory. Hawke’s commitment to start negotiations to sign an agreement by the 1990 elections was, however, contested by both national liberals and more extremist groups of the Aboriginal community itself.

Despite the defeat suffered by the government in the referendum of September 1988 on the four proposed constitutional amendments and the widespread discontent with the country’s economic difficulties, the internal crisis experienced by the liberal-national opposition has allowed Labor to conquer for the fourth time. consecutive, in the elections of March 1990, the majority of the votes (78 seats in the House against the 69 of the national liberals), while the Democratic Party and the environmental groups recorded a good success.

Australia in 1970's and 1980's