Equal Rights

The right to equality before the law is now widely accepted as a fundamental principle of a healthy democracy. This concept is enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights signed in 1948, and has been reinforced in subsequent conventions to protect the rights of minority or oppressed groups.

Many of these international treaties have been ratified by Australia, and specific rights are now guaranteed by law. The Australian Constitution offers limited protection of civil or equal rights, and political campaigns and movements for equal rights have played a key role in defining the nature of Australian democracy.

Cover of Not Slaves, Not Citizens: Condition of the Australian Aborigines in the Northern Territory by Yvonne Nicholls, 1952.
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The right to equality before the law is now widely accepted as a fundamental principle of a healthy democracy. This concept is enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights signed in 1948, and has been reinforced in subsequent conventions to protect the rights of minority or oppressed groups.

Many of these international treaties have been ratified by Australia, and specific rights are now guaranteed by law. The Australian Constitution offers limited protection of civil or equal rights, and political campaigns and movements for equal rights have played a key role in defining the nature of Australian democracy.

Cover of Not Slaves, Not Citizens: Condition of the Australian Aborigines in the Northern Territory by Yvonne Nicholls, 1952.
1788

Indigenous resistance to colonisation

Indigenous resistance to colonisation

The arrival of the First Fleet in January 1788 signals the beginning of British colonisation in Australia. Convicts and soliders establish a settlement on the southern shores of Sydney Harbour, the traditional territory of the Indigenous Eora people, and the British Government issues instructions to the colonial Governor to treat the Indigenous inhabitants kindly. However, it does not recognise Indigenous ownership of the land, nor are the Indigenous inhabitants protected by law as they are not considered to be British subjects. Conflict erupts on the colonisal ‘frontier’, as white settlement escalates and Indigenous inhabitants resist colonisation and defend their territory and resources. Thousands of Indigenous people are killed in the process, leading to calls by the 1830s and 1840s for greater protection of Indigenous people and the establishment of Indigneous reserves and protection boards.


1828

Penalties for masters’ and servants’ actions

Penalties for masters’ and servants’ actions

Under the Servants and Labourers Act of NSW servants can be docked wages or imprisoned for refusing to work or for property destruction. Masters found abusing their servants are liable to pay damages. There is considerable debate in the colonies about these laws.


Execution for sodomy

Execution for sodomy

The first executions for the crime of sodomy take place in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. According to Governor Arthur Phillip, murder and sodomy are the only crimes to warrant execution at the time of colonisation. The death penalty for sodomy is finally removed in 1883 but homosexual sex between males remains illegal in every state and territory in Australia until 1972.


1830

Shipwrights Union formed

Shipwrights Union formed

Several trade unions are formed in the 1830s to seek improvements to wages and conditions. The Shipwrights Union is one of the first in 1830, followed by the Boatbuilders Union formed in 1831 and the Cabinetmakers Union in 1833. Union activity builds during the second half of the 19th century and craft unions such as the Stonemasons Union are formed. The Stonemasons Union in Melbourne and Sydney plays a key role in the Eight Hour Day Movement.


1831

Assisted migration begins

Assisted migration begins

Assisted migration begins and free working people in Britain are encouraged to apply.


1834

Tolpuddle Martyrs arrive

Tolpuddle Martyrs arrive

Six convicts from Tolpuddle in Dorset, England, arrive in Australia. Their crime was to unlawfully administer oaths of loyalty to the Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers, established to fight continuing wage reductions. Their ideas are influential in the Australian colonies.


1835

Proclamation of Governor Bourke

Proclamation of Governor Bourke

The Governor of New South Wales, Richard Bourke, issues a proclamation invalidating treaties between squatters and Indigenous people under which the squatters sought to assume ownership of Crown land by purchase from the Aborigines. The proclamation affirms the British claim to have taken possession of the land. It reinforces the assumption, now known as terra nullius, that the land had previously belonged to nobody and could only be acquired through distribution by the Crown. The Mabo High Court decision in 1992 recognises the prior title of Indigenous people to the land.


1838

Myall Creek massacre

Myall Creek massacre

Twenty-eight Indigenous people are killed by convicts, ex-convicts and one native-born settler at Myall Creek. Eleven Europeans are charged with murder but are acquitted. A new trial finds seven guilty and they are hanged. A Border Police force is formed amid escalating violence between settlers and Indigenous people.


Immigrants flee religious persecution

Immigrants flee religious persecution

German Lutherans opposed to church taxes begin arriving in Australia in search of religious freedom and new economic opportunities.


1846

Jeanneret petition

Jeanneret petition

Walter George Arthur, together with his wife Mary Anne and several other Indigenous people in Van Diemen’s Land, send a petition to Queen Victoria seeking the dismissal of Dr Henry Jeanneret, the Superintendent of Aboriginals on Flinders Island. Walter, the son of a senior man of the Ben Lomond tribe, was educated at the Boys' Orphan School near Hobart. Jeanneret had already been replaced as Superintendent in February 1844, but he was subsequently reinstated to the position. On hearing news of his imminent return the group agitates for his dismissal with a petition to the Queen and letters to the Chief Secretary. They complain about Jeanneret’s behaviour and his arbitrary use of power, and demand restitution of their land and rights, referring to an agreement ‘not lost to our minds’. In spite of their protest, Jeanneret is reinstated to the post but is again removed from the position in 1847.


1848

National Board of Education

National Board of Education

The first National Board of Education is established to regulate schools set up and managed under Lord Stanley’s system of education. Its aim is to create an efficient system of elementary education for a scattered population of different religious denominations (excluding Indigenous children). The Board reports that it is ‘impracticable to attempt to provide any form of education for the children of the blacks’ and from 1883, Indigenous children could be barred from public schools if white parents object to their presence. This regulation remains in the Teacher’s Handbook until 1972.


1856

Responsible government

Responsible government

The Australian colonies become self-governing — all adult (21 years and over) male British subjects are entitled to vote in South Australia from 1856, in Victoria from 1857, New South Wales from 1858, and Tasmania from 1896. This includes Indigenous men, although they are not encouraged to enrol. Queensland and Western Australia introduce responsible government in 1890 but deny Indigenous people the vote.


Eight Hour Day

Eight Hour Day

In a world first, Melbourne building tradesmen and contractors successfully negotiate an eight-hour working day. The movement is led by stonemasons who lead a protest march from The University of Melbourne to Parliament House. They argue that eight hours a day is appropriate in the Australian heat, and will give workers time to improve their ‘social and moral condition’.


1858

Women allowed to divorce

Women allowed to divorce

South Australia is the first colony to pass a law giving women the power to petition for divorce based on the English Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act 1857. Other states follow suit. These laws continue to favour men however, and wives and children remain unprotected from retribution.


1860

Anti-Chinese riots at Lambing Flat

Anti-Chinese riots at Lambing Flat

The worst of a series of riots erupts on the Burrangong goldfields between Chinese and European miners over gold sites and resources. On 30 June at Lambing Flat, a mob of 3000 Europeans drives the Chinese off the goldfield. Two weeks later, miners attack a police camp in retaliation for the police’s handling of the riot, leaving one person dead and many injured.


1861

Women’s right to vote for local government

Women’s right to vote for local government

For the first time in Australia, South Australian women are granted the right to vote in local government elections under the Municipal Corporations Act 1861 (SA), although this is restricted to those owning property and does not permit them to stand for election. It takes eight attempts and another 30 years before the parliamentary franchise is extended to all adult females in South Australia. This right is extended to women in Western Australia in 1876 (municipal elections) and 1888 (road district councils); New South Wales in 1906 (shire and municipal elections) and 1900 (Sydney City Council); Queensland in 1879 (local authority elections) and 1924 (Brisbane City Council); Tasmania in 1884 (rural municipality elections), 1893 (Hobart City Council) and 1894 (Launceston City Council); and Victoria in 1903 (municipal elections, although women with the requisite property qualifications were permitted to vote before 1903).


1869

Women’s equal justice campaign begins

Women’s equal justice campaign begins

The first public demand for equal justice for women is reported to be made by feminist Henrietta Augusta Dugdale in a letter to the Melbourne Argus. Her letter was written in response to debate on a Married Women’s Property Bill. Signing the letter ‘ADA’, Dugdale made a plea for the complete revision of marriage law, which was unjust to women.


First Indigenous ‘Protection Acts’

First Indigenous ‘Protection Acts’

In Victoria the first of the Indigenous ‘Protection Acts’ allows the Aboriginal Protection Board to control Indigenous people’s residence, employment, marriage and social life. A similar Board for the Protection of Aborigines is established in New South Wales in 1883, and a NSW Aborigines Protection Act is passed in 1909.


1873

Factory reforms

Factory reforms

The Victorian Supervision of Workrooms and Factories Act 1873 sets out minimum working hours and conditions for women and juveniles. However, there are no provisions for policing these conditions.


1876

First legal trade unions

First legal trade unions

South Australia is the first place in the British Empire to allow the legal formation and registration of trade unions. It is followed by New South Wales (1881), Victoria (1884), Queensland (1886) and Tasmania (1889).


Myth of racial extinction

Myth of racial extinction

The Tasmanian Government claims the last Indigenous Tasmanian has died. The concept of ‘full blood’ is used by many settler Australians to ignore all those of Indigenous descent in Tasmania, and feeds into a mythology of racial extinction.


1879

The Chinese Question in Australia

The Chinese Question in Australia

Lowe Kong Meng, Cheok Hong Cheong and Louis Ah Mouy publish the booklet The Chinese Question in Australia in response to the Seamen’s Strike against the employment of Chinese labour on ships. It begins with ‘In the present grave emergency, we appeal, as natives of China and as citizens of Victoria, to the reason, the justice, the right feeling, and the calm good sense of the British population of Australia, not to sanction an outrage upon the law of nations and not to violate the treaty engagements entered into between the Government of Great Britain and Emporer of China.’


1880

Women admitted to university

Women admitted to university

For the first time, women are admitted to lectures and examinations at an Australian university — The University of Melbourne. Julia Bella Guerin is the first woman to graduate from an Australian university in 1883.


1882

Woman’s Christian Temperance Union

Woman’s Christian Temperance Union

A branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union is established in Sydney, and becomes the first mass organisation of women in Australia. It was founded in the American West in 1874. The organisation fights for a range of social reforms, advocating temperance and actively supporting Australian Federation. It claims 7400 members by 1894, and is a key supporter of women’s suffrage in Australia.


First female trade union

First female trade union

The Tailoresses Association of Melbourne strikes against;sweating whereby women are forced to take piecework at sub-standard or sweated rates. The Association wins its claims and the Victorian Government passes regulations to improve womens working conditions.


1884

Women legally own property

Women legally own property

The Married Women’s Property Act 1883 passed in South Australia gives married women the same legal position regarding property as unmarried women. Married women can, for the first time, acquire and dispose of property. The other colonies follow suit.


First women’s suffrage society

First women’s suffrage society

Henrietta Dugdale, Annie Lowe and several other women establish the Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society to campaign for the female vote. Their model is followed by other colonies.


Taxation and votes for women

Taxation and votes for women

Taxation becomes a platform for women’s suffrage supporters in South Australia. In 1891 a petition is presented in parliament arguing that, as women pay taxes, they should be entitled to parliamentary representation through voting. The Taxation Act is passed in 1884. Throughout the 1880s numerous women’s suffrage Bills are introduced unsuccessfully to the South Australian Parliament. The Constitution Amendment Bill is finally passed in 1895.


1885

Age of consent

Age of consent

The Social Purity Society successfully lobbies for legal reforms aimed at the protection of children from sexual exploitation. Beginning in South Australia, the reforms are based on the British Criminal Law Consolidation Amendment Act 1885 passed after public revelations about juvenile prostitution and the trade in young girls to work in brothels. Congregational minister, Joseph Kirby, and suffragist, Mary Lee, are influential in achieving the reforms, including raising the age of sexual consent for girls from 13 to 16 years and regulating the legal age of young people working in brothels.


1886

‘Half-castes’ excluded from Aboriginal reserves

‘Half-castes’ excluded from Aboriginal reserves

The Victorian Aborigines Protection Act 1886 seeks to assimilate ‘half-castes’ between the ages of 14 and 34, and those not married to ‘full bloods’, by excluding them from Aboriginal stations and reserves. Section 7 of the Act gives the Aborigines Protection Board regulatory powers in respect of ‘licensing half-castes to reside, supplying them with provisions, apprenticeships and committing to an orphanage or institution half-caste infants, and for the care and oversight in the management and condition of half castes for 7 years from the commencement of the Act’.


1888

First Australian women’s newspaper

First Australian women’s newspaper

Louisa Lawson, poet, novelist and mother of Henry Lawson, establishes Dawn magazine to promote women’s independence and rights. In the previous year Louisa had bought the ailing Republican journal which she co-edited with her husband Henry under the pseudonym ‘Archie Lawson’. However, Dawn remains a commercial success for 17 years, and is the only Australian newspaper to be printed and published by women.


Chinese immigration restricted

Chinese immigration restricted

All colonial premiers (except Tasmania’s) agree to a common policy further restricting Chinese immigrants. The delegates from Tasmania consider the draft Bill to be unnecessary and illiberal in some of its provisions.


Women’s Suffrage League

Women’s Suffrage League

The Women’s Suffrage League is established in South Australia, spearheading the campaign for women’s right to vote. The League grows out of the work of the Social Purity Society.


1890

Lobbying by the Working Women’s Trade Union

Lobbying by the Working Women’s Trade Union

In South Australia the Working Women’s Trade Union lobbies for better conditions for women in the clothing industry. It also supports women’s suffrage.


National maritime strike

National maritime strike

A national maritime strike, the first major strike to cross colonial borders, erupts over the refusal of ship-owners to allow the maritime officers to affiliate with the Melbourne Trades Hall Council. It draws support from seamen, waterside workers, shearers, miners, carters, drivers and other trades. It is followed by a shearers’ strike in Queensland the following year.


1891

Barcaldine shearers’ strike

Barcaldine shearers’ strike

Shearers at Barcaldine in Queensland go on strike to protest against a demand that they sign a free labour contract intended to reduce trade union influence. Strike leaders are arrested, leading to the formation of Labour Electoral Leagues — the genesis of the Australian Labor Party in Queensland.


Monster Petition

Monster Petition

A group of Victorian women takes to the streets to collect signatures for a Women’s Suffrage Petition that attracts some 30,000 signatures. It demands that ‘Women should Vote on Equal terms with Men', and it is tabled in Parliament in September 1891 with the support of then Premier James Munro. The petition, also known as the Monster Petition because of its enormous length (260 metres long and 200mm wide), is regarded as one of Victoria’s archival treasures.


1892

University Women’s College

University Women’s College

Australia’s first university residential college for women opens at Sydney University, allowing greater freedom for women to leave home and attend university. Women’s College still operates today.


1894

South Australia’s arbitration model

South Australia’s arbitration model

The great strikes of the 1890s lead to debate about how the proposed federal parliament might prevent and settle interstate industrial disputes. Charles Kingston, the South Australian Attorney-General, raises the issue in 1891. His industrial arbitration and conciliation legislation of 1894 is the first attempt in Australia to impose arbitration by law as a means of preventing and settling industrial disputes, although the trade unions choose to remain outside its jurisdiction.


1895

Women’s right to vote

Women’s right to vote

South Australia becomes the first colony in Australia, and one of the first places in the world, to grant women the right to vote. South Australian women also win the right to stand for election to parliament, a world first. The Constitution (Female Suffrage) Act 1895 (SA) is passed by the South Australian parliament in 1894 but the Attorney-General advises Governor Kintore on 21 December 1894 that Royal Assent is required to enact the Bill. Queen Victoria subsequently signs her Assent on 2 February 1895. Other Australian colonies follow suit - Western Australia in 1899, New South Wales in 1902, Tasmania in 1903, Queensland in 1905, and Victoria in 1908. In 1902, after Federation of the colonies, women over the age of 21 years win the right to vote in Australia’s national elections, some 16 years before British women. However, the Commonwealth Franchise Act effectively excludes Indigenous Australian women (and men) until 1962, when the Menzies Liberal-Country Party coalition government grants the right to vote in national elections to all Aboriginal people.


Women vote for the first time

Women vote for the first time

South Australian women go to the polls in 1895, becoming the first women in Australia and amongst the first in the world to cast their vote in parliamentary elections. The Constitution (Female Suffrage) Act 1895 (SA) also grants women the right to stand for parliament, making them the first in the world with this right. South Australian women with property can also vote in the upper house elections, but they cannot stand for election until 1959. Amongst the women who vote in the South Australian elections on 21 March 1895 are 81 of the 102 Indigenous women of the Point McLeay Mission who have registered to vote.


1897

First female political candidate

First female political candidate

The first female candidate in Australia is Catherine Helen Spence. She stands for election to the Federal Convention but is unsuccessful, being placed 22nd out of 33 candidates. She is told in advance that, even if she wins, she cannot sit in the House. Her platform includes political reform, including what she calls ‘pure democracy’ achieved through one person one vote. She is the first and strongest advocate for proportional representation.


Federal conciliation and arbitration power

Federal conciliation and arbitration power

Justice HB Higgins proposes a power to make laws with respect to ‘conciliation and arbitration for the prevention and settlement of industrial disputes extending beyond the limits of any one State’. The proposal is finally accepted at the 1898 Convention, providing the basis for the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904.


Jandamarra — resistance fighter

Jandamarra — resistance fighter

Jandamarra, a resistance fighter in the Kimberley region of north-western Australia, is shot together with 19 Indigenous former prisoners whom he had freed and who had fought with him.


Queensland law to control Indigenous people

Queensland law to control Indigenous people

The Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Qld) establishes reserves and provides for the appointment of protectors. It permits Europeans to employ Indigenous people but not Chinese. This Act is the model for similarly ‘protective’ and restrictive legislation in Western Australia in 1906, and Northern Territory and South Australia in 1911 — the states and territory with the highest numbers of Indigenous people after Federation.


1901

White Australia Policy begins

White Australia Policy begins

Amongst the first laws to be passed by the new federal parliament are the Pacific Islands Labourers Act 1901 to provide for deportation of Pacific Islanders by 1906, and the Immigration Restriction Act 1901. The Immigration Restriction Act introduces a dictation test (similar to tests used in North America and South Africa) to prevent all ‘non-whites’ from entering Australia as immigrants, and effectively formalises colonial immigration policies prior to Federation. These new laws create the legal foundations for the White Australia Policy.


1902

First female law graduate

First female law graduate

Ada Emily Evans is the first woman to receive a law degree in Australia (from Sydney University), but she is unable to practise until 1921 after successfully lobbying for the enactment of the Women’s Legal Status Act 1918 (NSW). In 1905 Grata Flos Matilda Greig becomes the first woman admitted to practise law in Australia.


1904

Australian Women’s National League

Australian Women’s National League

The Australian Women’s National League — a women’s conservative political organisation — is established in Victoria to support the monarchy and empire, combat socialism, educate women in politics, and safeguard the interests of the home, women and children. It aims to garner the votes of newly enfranchised women for non-Labor political groups espousing free trade and anti-socialist sentiments, with considerable organisational success. At its peak, it is the largest and arguably the most influential women’s organisation in the country. Closely associated with the United Australia Party, the League’s financial and organisational support is a key factor in the formation of the Liberal Party in 1944. The League merges with the Victorian division of the Liberal Party in 1945 and secures equal representation for women within the Party’s organisational structure — a first in Australian political parties.


Conciliation and Arbitration Court

Conciliation and Arbitration Court

After a controversial passage through federal parliament, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904 is passed and the Conciliation and Arbitration Court is established. This new system is a uniquely Australian approach to the regulation of industrial relations and social justice.


1907

Living wage — the Harvester Judgement

Living wage — the Harvester Judgement

The Commonwealth Arbitration Court establishes the principle of a living wage - a fair and reasonable wage - to enable a man to support his wife and children in decent comfort. Justice HB Higgins hands down his decision after hearing HV Mackay’s Sunshine Harvester Company request for an exemption from paying excise duty. The ruling entitles unskilled male labourers to receive seven shillings per eight-hour working day. In related determinations, women are awarded around 54 per cent of the male rate. However, this is the first time an industrial tribunal establishes a wage for workers, rather than allow employees and employers to negotiate between themselves. This approach to wages is now known as wage fixing.


1908

Suffragists oppose military service

Suffragists oppose military service

Rose Scott, a leading suffragist, writes to Prime Minister Alfred Deakin opposing compulsory military training and service. In 1914, Vida Goldstein forms the Women’s Political Alliance to oppose military conscription, then joins Cecilia Annie John forming the Women’s Peace Army.


Muriel Matters' protests in London

Muriel Matters' protests in London

Muriel Matters, a South-Australian born suffragist, famously chained herself to the Grille of the Ladies' Gallery in the House of Commons at Westminster. She was removed, still attached to the grille, and sent to Holloway Prison for a month wheree she became an advocate for prison reform. Matters spent a year in Wales advocating votes for women and held meetings in Dublin. In 1909 she flew over London in an airship inscribed ‘Votes for Women’, scattering handbills over parliament, but she objected when more violent militants took over the movement. Matters was born in Adelaide in 1877 and was initially an actress before becoming interested in socialist ideals. She left Australia for London in 1905, and was encouraged by Peter (Prince Kropotkin), a Russian revolutionary anarchist and the journalist W. T. Stead to further her radical activity. She became a prominent member of the Women’s Freedom League during the height of the militant struggle to enfranchise women in Britain. In 1922 she lectured in Australia and in 1924 stood, unsuccessfully, as Muriel Matters-Porter, as a Labour candidate for the House of Commons for Hastings. Her brother Leonard (1881-1951), a journalist, was Labour member of parliament for Lambeth, Kennington, in 1929-31.


1912

Maternity allowance

Maternity allowance

As a result of effective lobbying by women, the Maternity Allowance Act 1912 (Cth) is introduced by Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher. It provides for payment of £5 to all white mothers, including unmarried mothers, on the birth of a child. The provision for unmarried mothers causes outrage amongst church groups. The Act excludes mothers of ‘Asiatic’, Indigenous, Papuan or Pacific Islander origin in line with the White Australia Policy. Indigenous women become eligible for the allowance in 1942, except those living a ‘nomadic or primitive’ life.


1915

Australian Women’s Peace Army

Australian Women’s Peace Army

Vida Goldstein and Cecilia Annie John form the Australian Women’s Peace Army in Melbourne to protest against the First World War.


1916

Compulsory registration of ‘aliens’

Compulsory registration of ‘aliens’

The government introduces compulsory registration of ‘aliens’ during in World War I with the War Precautions (Alien Registration) Regulations 1916, forcing ‘aliens’ to register with customs officials or the local police. The government subsequently introduces an internment policy, requiring those born in countries at war with Australia and classed as ‘enemy aliens’ to be relocated to camps. This is expanded to include people from enemy nations who are naturalised British subjects, Australian-born descendants of migrants from enemy nations and others who are thought to pose a threat to Australia’s security. Australia interns almost 7000 people during World War I, of whom about 4500 are enemy aliens and British nationals of German ancestry already resident in Australia.


1917

The Great Strike

The Great Strike

The largest industrial dispute ever experienced in Australia begins at the Eveleigh Railway Workshops in Sydney when managers introduce a new system of recording how long it takes workers to do different jobs. It involves timing tasks with a stop watch, and the workers strike fearing that the new system will turn them into slaves of the clock. Initially 5,780 worker strike, but the industrial action spreads to other unions and industrial centres in NSW, and is supported by workers in Victoria and Queensland. Despite large protest marches demanding government intervention in the crisis, the Eveleigh railway workers end their strike and return to work under the new card system. This is later abolished in 1932 by Premier Jack Lang. Amongst the strikers are J B Chifley, a train driver who becomes Prime Minister in 1945, Eddie Ward, elected to federal parliament in the early 1930s, and J J Cahill who becomes a Minister in the NSW Labor Government in the 1940s and Premier in the 1950s.


1918

Law to control Indigenous people

Law to control Indigenous people

The Aboriginal Ordinance No 9 of 1918 (Cth) is the first Commonwealth law for the governance of Indigenous people. It applies to Indigenous people in the Northern Territory, which was separated from South Australia in 1911 and transferred to Commonwealth control. Prior to this, South Australia had made no legislative provisions for Indigenous people in the Northern Territory until 1910, in preparation for separation. The new Ordinance imposes restrictions on drinking alcohol, possessing guns, having relationships with non-Indigenous people or mining Aboriginal reserve land, and remains in force until 1957.


Industrial unrest during World War I

Industrial unrest during World War I

As World War I draws to an end, seamen striking for better wages and conditions interrupt Australia’s fuel and coal supplies and, in December, several hundred Australian Workers Union members protest in Darwin’s Liberty Square to demand the Northern Territory Administrator be removed for maladministration. This incident is known as the Darwin Rebellion.


1920

Engineers’ Case

Engineers’ Case

In a landmark case, the High Court’s ruling on the Engineers’ Case gives the federal government the power to determine the pay and conditions of people employed in the engineering industry across Australia, and determined that the Commonwealth’s Conciliation and Arbitration Court decisions are binding on state governments.


1921

First woman in an Australian parliament

First woman in an Australian parliament

Edith Cowan is elected to the Western Australian state parliament, becoming Australia’s first female parliamentarian.


1922

Assisted British immigration

Assisted British immigration

The federal government takes control of all immigration and, under the Empire Settlement Scheme, Australia accepts large numbers of British immigrants seeking new opportunities. Up to the 1929 Great Depression, more than 200,000 assisted British settlers come to Australia.


1924

Australian Aborigines Progressive Association

Australian Aborigines Progressive Association

The Australian Aborigines Progressive Association, led by Fred Maynard, operates in Sydney from 1924 to 1927 when it is disbanded due to police harassment.


1927

Australian Council of Trade Unions

Australian Council of Trade Unions

The Australian Council of Trade Unions is formed at a meeting of trade union delegates in the Victorian Trades Hall. The aim is to lift the living standards and working conditions for working people. It plays a central coordinating role in many of Australia’s industrial campaigns, representing unions in wage cases before the Commonwealth’s Conciliation and Arbitration Court, advocating equality for women, arguing for safer working environments and better employment conditions, and seeking to ensure fairness and justice for workers in government policy.


1928

Battle at Coniston

Battle at Coniston

In one of the last frontier battles between Indigenous and settler Australians, a group of Aboriginal people are killed by pastoralists at Coniston in central Australia. The ambush is allegedly conducted in response to the spearing death of a white dingo hunter, Frederick Brooks, by Walmulla men after Brooks slept with their wives. A court of inquiry rules that the shootings are justified. In the 1980s, survivors of the massacre testify that at least 100 Aborigines died in the conflict, including many women and children.


1929

United Associations of Women

United Associations of Women

The United Associations of Women is one of the most radical feminist groups of the mid twentieth century. It is formed in Sydney by women advocating a more stronger political voice for women. Jessie Street, increasingly frustrated with the conservatism of groups like the National Council of Women and the Feminist Club, initiates a series of meetings that result in the establishment of the United Associations. The UA is active throughout the 1930s and 40s, and plays a major role in organising the Australian Women’s Charter Conference in 1943 attended by over 90 women’s organisations in Australia.


1933

Birth control

Birth control

The first birth control clinic in Australia is set up in Sydney by the Racial Hygiene Association. In 1960 the Racial Hygiene Association becomes the Family Planning Association.


1934

First Indigenous High Court case

First Indigenous High Court case

Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda, a Yolngu elder and Arnhem Land leader, is charged with the murder of policeman Albert McColl. Dhakiyarr is sentenced to death, but his case draws national and international attention. He appeals to the High Court, which overturns the sentence, affirming the right of Indigenous people to a fair trial in Australian courts.


1935

Australian Council for Civil Liberties

Australian Council for Civil Liberties

A group of prominent citizens, lawyers and writers, including Brian Fitzpatrick, Herbert Burton, Max Meldrum, Sir John Barry and Sir Eugene Gorman, form the Australian Council for Civil Liberties. The Council is formed initially to lobby against censorship restrictions. It publishes booklets to promote its cause, including Yvonne Nicholls’ Not Slaves, Not Citizens in 1952. Branches of the Council are established in every state.


1937

Indigenous assimilation policy

Indigenous assimilation policy

A conference of state and federal officials decides that ‘part Aborigines’ are to be assimilated into white society, while those not living a tribal life are to be educated. All others are to stay on reserves.


Sex discrimination in Australian law

Sex discrimination in Australian law

The Australian Federation of Women Voters compiles a memorandum on the status of women, showing sex discrimination is endemic in Australian law. The memorandum is an annex to the report prepared by the government on the same subject and is forwarded to the Secretariat of the League of Nations.


Petition for Indigenous representation rejected

Petition for Indigenous representation rejected

In 1935, as secretary of the Australian Aborigines’ Advancement League in Victoria, William Cooper circulates a petition seeking direct representation in parliament, enfranchisement and land rights. His petition is unsuccessful but, by 1937, he has collected 1814 signatures from Indigenous people from all over Australia. The federal government declines to forward his petition to King George VI, or to seek the constitutional amendment necessary to legislate for Indigenous people or form an Aboriginal constituency.


Aborigines Progressive Association

Aborigines Progressive Association

Inspired by William Cooper’s Australian Aborigines' Advancement League formed in Victoria in 1932, William Ferguson organises the inaugural meeting of the NSW branch of the Aborigines Progressive Association in Sydney in 1937. The Association operates until 1944. The three aims of the Association are full citizenship rights for Indigenous people, Aboriginal representation in parliament, and the abolition of the NSW Aborigines Protection Board. From March 1938, the The Australian Abo Call: The Voice of the Aborigines is published as the official journal of the Aborigines Progressive Association.


1938

Australia’s 150th anniversary and Indigenous Day of Mourning and Protest

Australia’s 150th anniversary and Indigenous Day of Mourning and Protest

On 26 January, as Australia celebrates the 150th anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove, Indigenous Australians attend a Day of Mourning and Protest in Sydney. The mourners wait for the sesquicentenary procession to pass, then march in silent protest from the Sydney Town Hall to an Australian Aborigines Conference at the Australian Hall. The Australian Aborigines’ League and Aborigines Progressive Association of New South Wales use the meeting to speak out about the denial of civil rights for Indigenous Australians. The protest is the culmination of years of campaigning by Aboriginal leaders including William Ferguson, William Cooper and John Patten. Patten and Ferguson circulate a pamphlet, Aborigines Claim Citizen Rights.


Indigenous parliamentary representation refused

Indigenous parliamentary representation refused

The Commonwealth government refuses to send to the King a petition signed by Aboriginal people from all over Australia requesting an Aboriginal Member in the House of Representatives.


Lilian Fowler — a pioneer

Lilian Fowler — a pioneer

Lilian Fowler is the first female alderman and mayor, and one of the first female NSW Members of Parliament and Justices of the Peace. She works for women and the underprivileged, including lobbying for widows’ pensions and child endowment. A year earlier, in 1937, Ivy Weber became the first woman to be elected in a Victorian general election, and the second woman to join the Victorian Parliament as the Independent Member for Nunawading.


1939

Refugees flee German occupation

Refugees flee German occupation

The Australian Government announces that it will accept 15,000 Jewish refugees over a three-year period. Each immigrant is required to have ‘landing money’ and be nominated by someone in Australia. Approximately one-third of the number actually land in Australia because of the outbreak of World War II.


1941

Equal pay principle

Equal pay principle

The Australian Council of Trade Unions adopts the principle of equal pay for equal work, following the formation of the Council of Action on Equal Pay by Muriel Heagney and other trade unionists in 1938. Thirty years later, the Arbitration Commission adopts the principle, broadening it to equal pay for work of equal value but, despite these reforms, women continue to be disadvantaged in average earnings.


Child endowment

Child endowment

The Child Endowment Act 1941 provides for an allowance to mothers for each child under 16 years.


1942

Women’s Employment Board

Women’s Employment Board

The Women’s Employment Act 1942 (Cth) gives the Women’s Employment Board, created earlier that year, legal authority to make decisions regarding the employment of women.


1943

First women in federal parliament

First women in federal parliament

Dorothy Tangney (Australian Labor Party, later Dame Dorothy) and Dame Enid Lyons (United Australia Party and later Liberal Party) become the first women to be elected to federal parliament, in the Senate and House of Representatives, respectively. In 1949 Enid Lyons becomes the first woman to hold a rank in the federal Cabinet.


1944

Unemployment benefits

Unemployment benefits

The Commonwealth Parliament passes the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Act 1944. However, Indigenous Australians, however, are disqualified from benefits unless the Department is satisfied that by reason of their ‘character, standard of intelligence and development’ they receive the benefit. The provision disqualifying ‘aboriginal natives of Australia’ is repealed in 1960 but those deemed ‘nomadic or primitive’ remain ineligible until 1966.


1945

Post-war employment and housing

Post-war employment and housing

The Chifley government tables the White Paper on Full Employment in Australia in federal parliament, reflecting the growing influence of Keynesian theory and defining economic policy in Australia for the next 30 years. For the first time, the Australian Government accepts an obligation to guarantee full employment and to intervene as necessary to implement that guarantee. The Chifley government also introduces the first Commonwealth–State Housing Agreement after the Commonwealth Housing Commission estimates a housing shortage of 300,000 dwellings and advises the Commonwealth to take an active role in providing funds for the construction of public housing. Subsequent governments see the value of controlling the demand for housing as a means of controlling employment.


Populate or perish

Populate or perish

In 1945, as Australia embarks on an ambitious post-war reconstruction program, the federal government establishes the Department of Immigration and introduces a migration scheme aimed at increasing Australia’s population by 1 per cent per annum. In 1947, permanent residency is granted to non-European immigrants seeking entry for business reasons and to those who have lived in Australia continuously for 15 years.


1946

Pilbara Strike

Pilbara Strike

From the 1890s it was common for Aboriginal workers to be paid in rations of food and clothing. During the 1920s some workers began to receive minimal wages and, by 1936, pastoralists were required by law to provide shelter and meet the medical needs of their workers. However, this law was never enforced and Aboriginal stockmen continued to live in sub-standard conditions and receive wages well below those paid to white stockmen. In 1942, a secret Aboriginal law meeting was held to discuss a strike proposal involving 200 law men from 23 Aboriginal groups. After six weeks a consensus was reached to begin a strike on 1 May, the international day of workers' struggles. It was also the beginning of the shearing season, and the strike would put maximum pressure on the pastoralists. However, the strike was postponed until after the end of World War II when its effectiveness would be enhanced by strong demand for commodities and a shortage of labour. This meant that pastoralists’ wealth was now predicated more than ever on the exploitation of Aboriginal labourers.

The strike was organised and effective. Strike camps were established at Twelve Mile near Port Hedland and Moolyella. Initially, cottage industries were established processing kangaroo skin, goat skin, pearl shell and alluvial tin and later developed into commercial activities including pastoralism and tin mining. This economic activity, which the authorities attempted to disrupt, enabled the strikers not only to financially support their extended campaign, but to foster a sense of economic independence. The camps were substantial in size: the Moolyella site employed 400 Indigenous workers in the cooperative, and the Twelve Mile camp housing so many protestors that it was necessary to open a school there. The striking workers received substantive support from trade unions and political activists. Don McLeod, a member of the Communist Party of Australia, assisted with the campaign, whilst the Seamen’s Union, Fremantle Docks, Rivers and Harbours Union and the Waterfront Workers Federation imposed a ‘black ban’ on wool from the Pilbara region. By August 1949 agreements for improved conditions and pay were negotiated with the Mount Edgar and Limestone stations and the strike was effectively ended. Even then, however, many Aboriginal workers refused to work again for white station owners.


1947

Limited admittance of non-Europeans

Limited admittance of non-Europeans

Permanent residency is granted to non-European immigrants for business reasons and to those who have lived in Australia continuously for 15 years, representing the first challenge to the White Australia Policy.


UN Commission on the Status of Women

UN Commission on the Status of Women

Jessie Street is appointed as Vice-Chair of the newly established United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, which is charged with reporting on issues relating to the political, economic, civil, social and educational rights of women.


Senate Opposition Whip

Senate Opposition Whip

Dame Florence Cardell-Oliver is the first female Cabinet Minister in an Australian parliament (Western Australia), while Senator Annabelle Rankin (Liberal Party) becomes the Opposition Whip in the Senate. Two years later, Dame Enid Lyons becomes the first woman to hold a rank in the federal Cabinet.


Registering ‘aliens’

Registering ‘aliens’

The Commonwealth Parliament passes the Aliens Act 1947, making it compulsory for all ‘aliens’, or non-British residents 16 years or older, to register with local authorities and to notify them of any change of name, address or occupation.


Displaced persons resettled

Displaced persons resettled

Australia signs an agreement with the International Refugees Organization to settle 12,000 displaced persons per year. The scheme is dismantled in 1952.


1948

40-hour week

40-hour week

A Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration ruling establishes the 40-hour working week, to take effect from 1 January 1948.


Australian citizenship introduced

Australian citizenship introduced

The Australian Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948, proclaimed on 26 January 1949, recognises that Australians are now citizens of their own country as well as British subjects. Unlike previous laws, the new Act implicitly includes Aboriginal people by including the category ‘natural-born’. It still refers to non-British subjects as ‘aliens’ (except Irish citizens and ‘protected persons’). The concept of ‘British subject’ is removed in 1973.


1949

Seeking equal pay

Seeking equal pay

The Basic Wage Inquiry hears equal pay submissions from women’s organisations, but the female basic wage is set at 75 per cent of the male wage. The basic wage is replaced by the total wage in 1967.


Indigenous ex-servicemen granted voting rights

Indigenous ex-servicemen granted voting rights

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1949 extends the franchise to Indigenous ex-servicemen.


General coal strike

General coal strike

A general coal strike erupts when combined mining unions walk off the job in their campaign for a 35-hour working week and improved conditions. The strike involves 23,000 coal miners and lasts for seven weeks. In the face of severe coal shortages, the Chifley Labor government orders troops to take over the mining operations. While Chifley seeks to demonstrate his government’s anti-communist resolve, his tactic contributes to the defeat of his government at the federal election held in December 1949. This is the first time that Australian military forces have been used during peacetime to break a trade union strike, and the strategy sets a precedent for federal government intervention in future strikes.


1950

Non-European immigration begins

Non-European immigration begins

Immigration Minister Harold Holt makes a historic decision to allow 800 non-European war refugees to remain in Australia. Australia progressively enters into assisted migration schemes with various countries, including the Netherlands and Italy (1951), West Germany, Austria, Belgium, Greece and Spain (1952), and the United States, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland (1954).


Union of Australian Women

Union of Australian Women

The Union of Australian Women is established at a conference in Sydney and becomes a national body in 1956. Its goals include improving the status of women and children, disarmament and a halt to nuclear testing and mining, equal distribution of wealth, increased welfare services, equal pay for women, equality for Indigenous Australians, abortion law reform, and opposition to the White Australia Policy. Foundation members include supporters of the Communist Party and Australian Labor Party, Christian activists, and members of the New Housewives’ Association.


Colombo Plan

Colombo Plan

The first students arrive in Australia under the Colombo Plan, a scheme established by Commonwealth nations to provide aid to improve economic and social conditions in developing countries in South and South-East Asia. The Plan is considered an important means of improving stability in the region, and thereby enhancing Australia’s national security.


1952

Refugees and Japanese war brides accepted

Refugees and Japanese war brides accepted

The first Japanese war bride, Mrs Cherry Parker, arrives in Australia in June. By the time the Australian presence in Japan ends in November 1956, about 650 women have migrated to Australia as wives and fiancées of Australian soldiers, having previously been refused entry.


1954

United Nations Convention on refugees

United Nations Convention on refugees

Australia is one of the first countries to sign the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees adopted by the United Nations in 1951. The Convention aims to establish international protocols for nations receiving refugees, following the massive dislocation of people in Europe during World War II. Between 1945 and 1975, over 350,000 refugees and displaced people are accepted by Australia.


1956

Boilermakers’ Case

Boilermakers’ Case

The High Court decides that it is unconstitutional for the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration to be vested with both arbitral and judicial powers because of the acceptance in the Constitution of the separation of legislative and judicial powers. It upholds the principle of responsible government and interprets the Constitution in the light of that principle.


Non-European immigration relaxed

Non-European immigration relaxed

Australia modifies conditions for easier entry and stay for migrants of non-European descent. In the same year, 14,000 refugees arrive from Hungary after an uprising. Conditions of entry for people of mixed descent are further relaxed in 1964.


1957

‘Bring out a Briton’

‘Bring out a Briton’

This campaign is launched to encourage more British migration, and the community is encouraged to take responsibility for sponsoring particular British families and to assist them to settle.


Equal pay petition

Equal pay petition

A petition calling for equal pay with 62,000 signatures is presented to the federal government by a deputation of Australian Council of Trade Unions. New South Wales introduces equal pay for teachers in 1958. However, the equal pay for equal work principle is not accepted by the Arbitration Commission until 1969, and broadened in 1972 to equal pay for work of equal value.


1958

Acts Interpretation Act 1958

Acts Interpretation Act 1958

The Acts Interpretation Act 1958 states that words referring to the masculine gender are deemed to include females unless otherwise stated.


Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines

Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines

A federal conference of Aboriginal organisations held in Adelaide establishes the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines (later the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders). It campaigns vigorously for the recognition and rights of Indigenous people in Australia. It rejects the assimilation policies of the federal government, and seeks the integration of Indigenous people while allowing them to maintain their own culture and priorities in the fight for recognition.


Dictation Test abolished

Dictation Test abolished

The Revised Migration Act 1958 introduces a simpler system of entry permits and abolishes the controversial Dictation Test introduced at Federation in 1901.


Abortion illegal in Victoria

Abortion illegal in Victoria

The Victorian Crimes Act 1958 reasserts that abortion is a criminal offence for both the woman and her doctor, and all those assisting in the procedure. It reflects the law at Federation in 1901, when abortion was governed by the British Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Abortion continues to be an offence for the remainder of the 20th century, despite a 1969 ruling by Justice Menhennitt that medical practitioners may lawfully perform abortions in some circumstances. In 2008 the Victorian Government requests the Law Reform Commission to report on models for decriminalising abortion in Victoria.


1959

Divorce laws

Divorce laws

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1959, introduced by Attorney-General Garfield Barwick, outlines 14 grounds for divorce including adultery, desertion, cruelty, habitual drunkenness, imprisonment and insanity. A spouse must prove marital fault and private detectives are often employed to gather evidence to prove fault. This means divorce is more accessible to wealthy couples, but only then after three years of marriage without leave of the court. The laws are designed to protect the institution of marriage while providing a way out for spouses suffering ‘harsh and oppressive’ circumstances (in the court’s view). Marriage is a Commonwealth power under Section 51(xxi) of the Australian Constitution, but states and territories administer marriage law (excluding divorce) until the introduction of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth). In 1975, Senator Lionel Murphy introduces his Family Law Bill into the Senate as a replacement for the Matrimonial Causes Act 1959, paving the way for no-fault divorce.


1960

Restrictions lifted on social welfare

Restrictions lifted on social welfare

The Social Services Act is amended to remove restrictions on social welfare benefits for Indigenous Australians, and makes old-age pensions and maternity benefits available to most people except those deemed ‘nomadic’ or ‘primitive’. While broadening eligibility, however, the amended laws provide for allowances to be managed by third parties on behalf of Indigenous people. In some cases, allowances are redirected into trust accounts administered by state Aboriginal welfare authorities.


1962

Voting rights for Indigenous Australians

Voting rights for Indigenous Australians

The Commonwealth Electoral Act is amended to entitle all Indigenous Australians to enrol to vote at federal elections and referendums, although enrolment and voting is not compulsory. In Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, the voting registration of Indigenous people is not enforced.


1963

Women in bars

Women in bars

Women demonstrate against segregated bars in pubs during the 1960s.


Yirrkala Bark Petitions

Yirrkala Bark Petitions

The Yirrkala Bark Petitions, although unsuccessful in achieving land rights for the Yolngu people in east Arnhem Land, are the first documents to bridge Commonwealth law and the Indigenous laws of the land.


1965

Freedom ride

Freedom ride

A group of about 30 Sydney University students (including two Aboriginal people) travel 2,300 kilometres over two weeks by bus through northern NSW towns. The freedom ride, as it becomes known, aims to expose discriminatory behaviour against children at swimming pools and against adults in hotels and cafes. It is led by Charles Perkins and Jim Spigelman with help from Ted Noffs and Bill Ford, and the resulting film footage adds to mounting pressure on the federal government to hold a referendum on Indigenous rights.


Save Our Sons

Save Our Sons

The Save Our Sons group forms in protest against the sending of national servicemen to the Vietnam War. Initially established in Sydney, the movement gains supporters across Australia and comprises mostly non-working women whose sons are old enough to be called up for National Service. The protesters, while generally limited to vigils and circulating petitions and pamphlets, are called communists and criticised as neglectful mothers and wives. Over 10 years, however, they emerge as effective critics of conscription, and many women find their own political voice for the first time.


1966

White Australia Policy — beginning of the end

White Australia Policy — beginning of the end

Hubert Opperman, Minister for Immigration in the Holt government, effectively spells out the end of the White Australia Policy by announcing that applications from prospective settlers will be considered on their suitability as settlers, their ability to integrate readily and whether they have qualifications useful to Australia. Opperman downplays the effects of the changes, reassuring Australians that the government’s ‘primary aim in immigration is a generally integrated and predominantly homogeneous population’. However, the changes effectively end the White Australia Policy. By 1975, when the Racial Discrimination Act is adopted, the practice of discriminating against non-European migrants is completely abolished.


Wave Hill strike

Wave Hill strike

Gurindji stockmen go on strike at Wave Hill Station, Northern Territory. They protest against poor wages and conditions, and demand land rights. The Whitlam government negotiates with pastoral leaseholders to give the Gurindji back a portion of their land. On 16 August 1975, Prime Minister Whitlam visits Wattie Creek in the Northern Territory to hand back freehold title to the Gurindji lands to elder Vincent Lingiari.


‘Marriage bar’ removed from the Public Service

‘Marriage bar’ removed from the Public Service

Removal of the ‘marriage bar’ from the Commonwealth Public Service Act allows women to keep their jobs once they marry. The ‘marriage bar’ was never applied to men.


1967

Total wage introduced

Total wage introduced

The concept of a total wage formally combines the basic wage and margins. Wage decisions are based on inflation, productivity and capacity.


’67 Referendum

’67 Referendum

The ‘67 Referendum poses two questions: the first seeks to alter the balance of numbers in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The second question asks whether two references in the Australian Constitution which discriminate against Aboriginal people should be removed. This question receives an unprecedented 90 per cent ‘yes’ vote, giving the parliament the power to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the federal Census and to make special laws for Aboriginal Australians. It is a landmark referendum in the history of Indigenous affairs, and marks the success of a ten year campaign launched in 1957 at the Sydney Town Hall. The Huge Town Hall meeting was organised by Aboriginal activists including Jessie Street, Faith Bandler, Gordon Bryant and Pearl Gibbs.


1968

United Council of Aboriginal Women

United Council of Aboriginal Women

A group of 120 women arrive in Canberra for the first United Council of Aboriginal Women meeting, and play a vital role in marshalling support for the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns opposite (Old) Parliament House.


1969

Equal pay campaign

Equal pay campaign

On 21 October Zelda D’Aprano chains herself to the Commonwealth Building in Melbourne after attending the Equal Pay Case in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. She was frustrated by the way women were excluded from the arguments while their pay case was being debated, like ‘cows at the sale yards, while all the men out the front presented arguments as to how much we were worth’. Her actions raise public awareness of the Equal Pay Case, and the Commission finally recognises equal pay for work of equal value in 1972, to be fully implemented by 1975.


Equal pay for women

Equal pay for women

In November, the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission introduces the concept of ‘equal pay for equal work’ to be implemented by January 1972. The decision means that, where women do equal work alongside men, they should receive equal pay. However, the ninth principle in the decision indicates that equal pay is not applicable where the work in question is essentially or usually performed by females but is work in which male employees may also be employed. The limitations of the decision are illustrated by its application to female classifications in the Meat Industry Interim Award. By 1972, it is estimated that only 18 per cent of female employees have benefited from the decision because women and men mostly work under different awards.


1970

Childcare forum

Childcare forum

The first trade union-sponsored community consultation on childcare seeks government-sponsored childcare outside kindergartens. The federal Childcare Act in passed in 1972.


Campaign against Moral Persecution

Campaign against Moral Persecution

The Campaign against Moral Persecution (CAMP) forms to oppose discrimination against homosexual people, and organises the first demonstrations in Sydney in 1971.


1971

Bank loans for women

Bank loans for women

The Bank of New South Wales is the first bank in Australia to grant loans to women without a male guarantor.


First Indigenous person in federal Parliament

First Indigenous person in federal Parliament

Neville Bonner becomes the first Indigenous person in federal parliament when he is chosen to fill a vacancy in the Senate caused by the resignation of a Liberal Senator for Queensland. He is subsequently returned at 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1980 elections.


1972

Gay Liberation

Gay Liberation

The Gay Liberation political activist group is launched in Sydney.


The Female Eunuch

The Female Eunuch

Australian feminist, Germaine Greer, tours Australia to promote her book on women’s liberation, The Female Eunuch, published in 1970. The book is heralded as a landmark text in the international feminist movement and Greer becomes a household name, her ideas attracting both adulation and criticism. Her other books include Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility (1984), The Change: Women, Ageing and the Menopause (1991) and Shakespeare’s Wife (2007).


Aboriginal Tent Embassy opens

Aboriginal Tent Embassy opens

On Australia Day, 26 January, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy is established on the lawns in front of (Old) Parliament House. Protesters draw attention to the issue of Indigenous land rights and, over the following decades, the Embassy grows to be a symbolic centre of all protest for Indigenous groups. It is the best-known site in Australia associated with ongoing political struggle for Indigenous people.


Women’s Electoral Lobby forms

Women’s Electoral Lobby forms

Formed as a national women’s political lobby group, the Women’s Electoral Lobby aims to achieve legislative changes to ensure equality for women and to educate public opinion on a wide range of issues affecting women. Through regular conferences and lobbying, the Women’s Electoral Lobby succeeds in raising public awareness of women’s issues in Australia.


International Women’s Day demonstration

International Women’s Day demonstration

The first of a new wave of feminist protests begins with the International Women’s Day demonstration and march on 11 March, organised by the International Women’s Day Committee, Women’s Action Committee, Union of Australian Women and other organisations. The federal government begins funding the celebrations in 1975.


Equal pay for equal work

Equal pay for equal work

A test case in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission broadens the 1969 decision to introduce ‘equal pay for equal work’ to the concept of ‘equal pay for work of equal value’. This means that different jobs of the same worth warrant the same minimum wage. However, the decision retains the concept of the family wage, and wage setting continues to be underpinned by the notion of the male breadwinner and dependant female. The struggle for equal pay across all industries continues in the face of unequal employment opportunities and discriminatory practices, and the Council of Action for Equal Pay is reactivated in 1985 to draw attention to the ineffectiveness of the reforms.


1973

Women’s adviser to the Prime Minister

Women’s adviser to the Prime Minister

Elizabeth Reid is the first Women’s Adviser to the Prime Minister — the first such position in the world.


Paid maternity leave

Paid maternity leave

The Maternity Leave (Australian Government Employees) Act 1973 (Cth) establishes paid maternity leave for all women employed in the Commonwealth Public Service. In 1978 the ACTU argues for maternity leave to be available in the private sector. A successful maternity leave test case in 1989 finally makes maternity leave a standard award provision, although the argument for paid maternity leave in the private sector continues to the present day.


1974

Equal minimum wage

Equal minimum wage

In the 1974 National Wage Case before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, the Australian Council of Trade Unions succeeds in extending the male minimum wage to women. The Case establishes the principle that men and women performing the same duties should receive the same minimum wage. It redefines the principle of equal pay for equal work, established in 1969, that had specifically excluded female work. However, women in predominantly female occupations continue to be disadvantaged, in many cases receiving 50 to 75 per cent of the male minimum wage.


1975

Racial Discrimination Act passed

Racial Discrimination Act passed

The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 makes racial discrimination illegal. It aims to ensure everyone is treated equally, regardless of race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin. By the end of the 20th century more than 10,500 complaints are received, including 3500 from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and 4000 from people from non-English speaking backgrounds.


No fault divorce

No fault divorce

The Family Law Act 1975 introduces a no-fault system for divorce and women’s traditional work in the home is recognised in the division of assets provisions.


Working Women’s Centre

Working Women’s Centre

The first Working Women’s Centre is opened in Melbourne in September, and is instrumental in formulating the Working Women’s Charter.


Homosexuality decriminalised

Homosexuality decriminalised

South Australia is the first jurisdiction in Australia to decriminalise some homosexual acts between consenting adults in private. Similar reforms are introduced in the ACT (1976), Victoria (1980), Northern Territory (1983), New South Wales (1984) and Western Australia (1989). The Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists eliminates homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1974 and the Australian Medical Association does the same in 1984.


First female Cabinet Minister

First female Cabinet Minister

Senator Margaret Guilfoyle is the first woman to be appointed to a Cabinet portfolio following her appointment as Minister for Education in the first Fraser government in 1975 and subsequently as Minister for Social Security. In 1979 she is appointed to the Order of the British Empire (Dame Commander) for her services to public and parliamentary life, and in 1980 she is appointed Finance Minister — the first female Member of Parliament in Australia to hold a major economic portfolio.


Sex discrimination laws

Sex discrimination laws

The first sex discrimination law in Australia is passed in South Australia. The federal law is passed in 1984, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, pregnancy or potential pregnancy, and a range of areas of public life.


1976

Female firsts in the judiciary

Female firsts in the judiciary

Pat O’Shane is admitted to the Bar, becoming Australia’s first female Aboriginal barrister. Later that year, Justice Elizabeth Evatt is the first woman to be appointed as Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia.


Indigenous land claims allowed

Indigenous land claims allowed

The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) is the first Australian law that allows Indigenous title of land if claimants can provide evidence of their traditional and historical association with an area. It is the culmination of many years of struggle for formal recognition of land rights in the Northern Territory, which includes a symbolic bark petition sent by the Yolngu in 1963, a strike by Gurindji stockmen for decent wages and control over their land in 1966, and the Woodward Aboriginal Land Rights Commission in 1973–74. This recognition applies only to the Northern Territory and ACT, but contributes to a wider understanding of traditional relationships to land.


1977

Office of the Status of Women

Office of the Status of Women

The Women’s Affairs Branch in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet becomes the Office of Women’s Affairs and is moved to the newly created Department of Home Affairs. In 1983 it is renamed the Office of the Status of Women.


1978

Gay rights protest

Gay rights protest

The largest gay rights march in Australia is held in Sydney to commemorate the US Stonewall riots in 1969. The march becomes an annual event and is eventually known as the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.


1981

First female president of a political party

First female president of a political party

Shirley McKerrow of the National Party of Australia is the first female president of an Australian political party.


Land rights for the Pitjantjatjara people

Land rights for the Pitjantjatjara people

A 1979 Parliamentary Committee supports the Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act 1981. It gives rights to the Pitjantjatjara people over their traditional land, which crosses three states. South Australia passes a Bill granting these land rights.


1982

Anti-discrimination law against homosexuals

Anti-discrimination law against homosexuals

New South Wales is the first state to pass laws prohibiting discrimination against homosexual people.


1983

Wages Accord

Wages Accord

The federal Labor government and the Australian Council of Trade Unions agree on a system of centralised wage fixing using the Industrial Relations Commission to determine wage increases. Originating in the Economic Summit, the return to centralised wage fixing based on indexation is initially agreed to by employer groups, but they decline to be a party to the Accord. The Accord is dismantled by the incoming Liberal government in 1996 when wages are determined by enterprise bargaining rather than arbitration.


1984

Gay Rights Lobby

Gay Rights Lobby

The NSW Parliament legislates to decriminalise homosexuality between consenting adults. The Gay Rights Lobby, formed in 1981, officially disbands after the historic Act. In the same year, three openly gay men are elected to the Sydney City Council.


1985

Uluru and Kata Juta

Uluru and Kata Juta

Uluru and Kata Juta are returned to the care of the traditional Indigenous owners and custodians.


1986

First female Speaker

First female Speaker

On 11 February, Joan Child becomes the first woman to be elected as Speaker of the House of Representatives in the federal parliament. She is unanimously nominated by the Australian Labor Party, and her appointment is not opposed by the Liberal opposition. Child is liked and respected by Members from both sides of the Chamber. She resigns as Speaker in 1989.


First female political party leader

First female political party leader

Janine Haines from South Australia becomes the first female federal parliamentary leader of an Australian political party after being chosen by Australian Democrats members as Senate leader on the retirement of inaugural leader Don Chipp. She was previously the first member of the Australian Democrats to enter the federal parliament after the party’s formation in 1977, and she plays a key role in transforming the Australian Democrats into a party that eventually holds the balance of power in the Senate.


Affirmative action in employment

Affirmative action in employment

The Commonwealth Affirmative Action (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) Act 1986seeks to eliminate discrimination against women in employment and encourage consultation with employers to promote equal opportunity.


Human rights and equal opportunity law

Human rights and equal opportunity law

The Commonwealth Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986 deals with breaches of human rights as defined in Australia’s international treaties, as well as complaints about equal opportunity on the grounds of race, colour, religion, sex, political opinion, national extradition, social origin, age, medical record, criminal record, sexual preference, trade union activity, marital status, nationality, disability and impairment.


1987

Protection against domestic violence

Protection against domestic violence

The Crimes (Family Violence) Act 1987 provides for restraining orders to be taken out against offenders in cases of domestic violence and child abuse. This follows the Crimes (Amendment) Act 1985 that gives legal protection to women from rape in marriage.


1988

Survival Day

Survival Day

As Australia celebrates its bicentennial, 40,000 Aboriginal people (including some from the Northern Territory) and their supporters march from Redfern Park to a public rally at Hyde Park, then on to Sydney Harbour to mark the 200-year anniversary of invasion. From this march grows the concept of Invasion Day and Survival Day, marked by events such as the Survival Day concert first held in Sydney in 1992. This annual event celebrates the survival and continuing presence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their cultures, despite successive government policies to destroy or assimilate them since colonisation.


1989

First woman state or territory leader

First woman state or territory leader

Rosemary Follett becomes the first woman to lead an Australian state or territory government and the Australian Capital Territory’s first chief minister. The election is notable for having a ballot paper almost one-metre wide that lists 117 candidates for the 17 seats. Rosemary Follett subsequently serves as the ACT Discrimination Commissioner from 1996 until 2004. Other states and territories to elect women leaders include Carmen Lawrence (WA), Joan Kirner (Victoria), Kate Carnell (ACT), Clare Martin (NT), Anna Bligh (Queensland) and Kristina Keaneally (New South Wales).


1990

First female premier

First female premier

Carmen Lawrence becomes Australia’s first woman State Premier on 12 February 1990 after being chosen by the state Labor Party in Western Australia as its new leader following Premier Peter Dowding’s resignation. She subsequently enters Federal politics on 12 March 1994, as the Member for Fremantle, and is appointed Minister for Human Services and Health and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women on 25 March 1994 until 11 March 1996. On 23 November 2001, Lawrence is appointed Shadow Minister for Reconciliation, Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, the Arts, and the Status of Women.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission is established by legislation to give Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders the right to elect representatives who will have power to make decisions and policies about matters affecting their lives.


First woman Premier for Victoria

First woman Premier for Victoria

Joan Kirner is elected the first woman Premier for the State of Victoria. She holds the position for two years. Kirner had entered the Victorian Parliament in 1982 as an MLC (ALP) for the Province of Melbourne West. Between 1985 and 1988 she was Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands. In 1988 she moved to the Lower House as the member for Williamstown and was appointed Minister for Education (1988-1990) and Minister for Ethnic Affairs (1990-1991). She served as Deputy Premier from 1989-1990. In October 1992 Kirner faces an election which the opinion polls indicate she has no chance of winning. She remains personally more popular than the Opposition Leader, Jeff Kennett, but the electorate accepts Kennett’s campaign theme that Labor is responsible for Victoria’s financial woes, and the Liberals win a huge majority. Kirner stays on as Opposition Leader for a short period, then resigns and retires from Parliament in 1994.


1992

Mabo Case recognises Native Title

Mabo Case recognises Native Title

In a landmark decision, the High Court determines that native land title was not extinguished by British occupation, overturning the assumption of terra nullius — that the land had previously belonged to nobody and could only be acquired through distribution by the Crown. The High Court ruling recognises the Meriam people’s common law rights to native title, based largely on the Mer Islanders’ ability to demonstrate continuous cultural ties with their land. The judges extend the principles to mainland Indigenous people, and pave the way for the Native Title Act 1993 and the Wik Decision in 1996 that indicates native title can co-exist with other land rights. The Case is commonly referred to as the Mabo Case after Eddie Mabo, who led the legal action on behalf of the Meriam people all the way to the High Court.


Social Justice Commissioner

Social Justice Commissioner

The Office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner is created in December to monitor the human rights of Indigenous Australians.


1993

Native Title Act 1993

Native Title Act 1993

Following recognition of the legal concept of native title by the High Court in the Mabo Case in 1992, the Keating government enacts the Native Title Act 1993. The Act attempts to clarify the legal position of landholders and the processes that must be followed for native title to be claimed, protected and recognised through the courts.


1994

Same-sex relationships recognised

Same-sex relationships recognised

The ACT, through its Domestic Relationships Act 1994, is the first jurisdiction to give same-sex relationships the same legal standing as heterosexual de facto relationships.


Sexual conduct laws

Sexual conduct laws

The federal government passes the Human Rights (Sexual Conduct) Act 1994, legalising sexual activity between consenting adults in private throughout Australia. The UN Human Rights Commission rules that Tasmanian laws prohibiting homosexual sex is in breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


1995

Second woman leader in Australian Capital Territory

Second woman leader in Australian Capital Territory

After winning the largest number (a plurality) of seats in the 1995 ACT election, the Liberal Party forms a minority government with Kate Carnell as Chief Minister. The government is re-elected in the 1998 election. Carnell was previously Leader of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Liberal Party from 1993 to 2000. She subsequently receives the Liberal Party’s Distinguished Service Award in 2002.


Racial Hatred Act 1995

Racial Hatred Act 1995

A law against offensive behaviour based on racial hatred is added to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. This law is called the Racial Hatred Act 1995.


1996

Wik Case

Wik Case

In Wik Peoples v. State of Queensland, the High Court rules that native title is not necessarily extinguished by pastoral leases.


1997

Australian Reconciliation Conference

Australian Reconciliation Conference

Almost 1800 people attend the Australian Reconciliation Conference to discuss Indigenous issues. Although the conference is overshadowed by a controversial address by Prime Minister John Howard, it focuses on the aims of the official movement towards national reconciliation started in 1991 with the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. The Council’s key goals include educating Australians about Indigenous issues, improving economic and living standards for Indigenous people, and acknowledging the unfair and often inhumane treatment of Indigenous Australians throughout history.


1998

First national Sorry Day

First national Sorry Day

Following the release in 1997 of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s landmark report on the forcible separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, the first national Sorry Day march is held on 26 May. Conducted annually, Sorry Day offers the Australian community a chance to assemble and acknowledge the pain and impact, and culminates in the national Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples by the federal parliament on 13 February 2008.


Bringing Them Home report

Bringing Them Home report

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission releases its landmark report, Bringing Them Home: National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. The inquiry, established by the federal Attorney-General in 1995, documents the stories of many people and communities devastated by government policies and laws that allowed Indigenous children to be taken from their families.

The report estimates that between one in three and one in 10 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families between 1910 and 1970. It makes wide-ranging recommendations, including the need to provide counselling and health services, family tracing and reunion services, and other means to support Indigenous families and children. The report also calls for the establishment of a Sorry Day and a national apology to those affected by separation. In 2008 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tables a historic apology to Australia’s Indigenous people in the federal parliament.


2001

First woman leader in Northern Territory

First woman leader in Northern Territory

Clare Martin is popularly elected as the first female Chief Minister of the Northern Territory in 2001. She is elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory (ALP) at a by-election for the seat of Fannie Bay in 1995. This seat was formerly held by the Chief Minister Marshall Perron, member of the Country Liberal Party. She is re-elected in 1997, assuming the leadership of the Northern Territory Australian Labor Party in 1999 and winning the 2001 election. In addition to her role as Chief Minister, she holds the ministerial portfolios of Treasurer, Arts and Museums, Young Territorians, Women’s Policy, Senior Territorians, Communications, Science and Advanced Technology. She wins the 2005 election with an increased majority, but resigns from Parliament in November 2007.


2007

NT National Emergency Response

NT National Emergency Response

The Northern Territory National Emergency Response, known as ‘the intervention’, is a controversial package of changes to welfare provision, law enforcement, land tenure and other measures, introduced by the federal government to address claims of child sexual abuse and neglect in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities.


Citizenship test introduced

Citizenship test introduced

The federal government introduces a test for people applying for Australian citizenship by naturalisation. The aim is to test an applicant’s knowledge of the English language and comprehension of Australian moral principles, history, and national and Indigenous symbols. The exam is available in English only, and applicants need to score 60 per cent or more to pass, including three compulsory questions about rights and responsibilities. In 2008 the government announces a review of the test, as almost a quarter of all applicants have failed it.


First female Deputy Prime Minister

First female Deputy Prime Minister

Following the federal election on 24 November, Julia Gillard is sworn in as Australia’s first female Deputy Prime Minister. She also holds the portfolios of Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, and Minister for Social Inclusion.


2008

Formal apology to Indigenous peoples

Formal apology to Indigenous peoples

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tables a historic motion in parliament apologising to Australia’s Indigenous people, particularly the Stolen Generations, for laws and policies that ‘inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss’.


2009

First elected female premier

First elected female premier

Anna Maria Bligh wins the Queensland state general election, becoming the first popularly elected female Premier of an Australia state. She is sworn in on 13 September 2007 following the resignation of Peter Beattie. Bligh had been appointed Deputy Premier of Queensland in July 2005 - the same month she celebrated 10 years as Member for South Brisbane. As Deputy Premier she was also Treasurer and Minister for Infrastructure. She was formerly Minister for Finance, State Development, Trade and Innovation. Prior to that she was Queensland’s first female Education Minister spending almost 5 years overseeing the most significant reforms to the State’s education system.


UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The Australian Government formally endorses the UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted by the UN General Assembly during its 62nd session at the UN Headquarters in New York City on 13 September 2007. The United States describes it as setting lsquo;an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planetrsquo;s 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalisationrsquo;.


First woman Premier for New South Wales

First woman Premier for New South Wales

On 3 December 2009 the Australian Labor Party caucus elects Kristina Keneally to replace Nathan Rees as leader of the parliamentary party. On 4 December, Keneally is sworn in as the first female premier of New South Wales by the Governor of New South Wales, Marie Bashir. She leads the first two-woman executive (Premier and Deputy Premier) in Australian history. Active in student, religious and union affairs since 1990, Kristina Keneally is the first American born member of the N.S.W. Parliament. In 2003 she was an ALP candidate elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly seat of Heffron. After being re-elected in 2007, she became the Minister for Ageing and Disability Services and was subsequently appointed Minister for Planning by incoming Premier Nathan Rees in September 2008. She also held the position of the NSW Government’s Spokesperson for World Youth Day 2008.