1966 - 1972

The success of the Menzies government’s policies laid the foundations for the massive expansion in resource development and investment that occurred under the Liberal/National Party Coalition governments led by Harold Holt (1966-67), John Gorton (1967-71) and William McMahon (1971-72).

The Australian economy and standards of living grew rapidly, and Liberals took the lead in recognising the rights of women and minority groups, including homosexuals and Aboriginal Australians.The strength of the economy enabled an increasing public and political concern with ‘quality of life’ issues.

The Holt/Gorton/McMahon Governments delivered improved funding and services in traditional areas like health, education and welfare, while at the same time expanding Australia’s foreign policy and defence initiatives.

The White Australia policy was abolished under the Holt government, and Australia’s immigration placed on a non-dsicriminatory basis.The Holt government also initiated the abolition of the constitutional discrimination against Aboriginal people – with the 1967 referendum on Aboriginal rights recording a resounding victory.

The government increasingly focused on the need to position Australia to take advantage of the rapidly changing world of technology, and established policies to promote energy conservation and environmental protection.With the growing threat of communist insurgencies in a number of Southeast Asian countries, the Coalition strongly supported the United States in resisting the attack by North Vietnam on South Vietnam, as it had done in relation to the US-led United Nations action in Korea in the 1950s.

While the US strategy was not successful in Vietnam, the resistance to the communist takeover was important in buying time for other countries to stablise and to defeat their domestic insurgencies, and a more peaceful region emerged. The communists began persecution of their political enemies in Vietnam, and in Cambodia engaged in an horiffic genocide.

The Holt/Gorton/McMahon Governments provided the opportunity to consolidate the policy gains of the Menzies era.

Some of the features which highlighted this period of government included:

  • A boom in the construction of new homes and the commencement of urban and regional development programs

  • The introduction of the Department of Education and Science to take advantage of new technology

  • An increased emphasis on the development of Northern Australia with new railways, roads and ports

  • A rapid expansion and increased support for Australia’s growing tourism industry

  • A continuation of full employment, high growth rates, a doubling of exports and an explosion in the work force

  • Changes to education such as the funding of a new teacher training college and the expansion of assistance to secondary schools for science labs

  • The establishment of the Aboriginal Affairs Office and the Council for Aboriginal Affairs<

  • Additional social services – assistance scheme for pensioner health, increased funding to Meals of Wheels programs, the funding of housing support for young widows and expanded benefits for the disabled

  • The establishment of the Australian Council for the Arts and funding for the Australian Film and Television Corporation

  • Greater conservation measures – a twelve mile fishing zone, the introduction of an Institute of Marine Science and conservation of the Gordon River

Harold Holt

Harold Holt

Prime Minister from 26 January 1966 - 19 December 1967

Harold Holt became Australia's 17th prime minister when Robert Menzies retired from Parliament in January 1966.

Harold Holt had ambitions, but they were more for the country than for himself. He considered that Australia needed to become more independent in policy and practice, including in relation to Britain. He took pride in 'not stepping over anyone's dead body' to ascend to the position of prime minister.

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John Gorton

Sir John Gorton

Prime Minister from 10 January 1968 - 10 March 1971

John Gorton became Australia's 19th prime minister when the Liberal Party elected him leader after the disappearance of Harold Holt while swimming at Cheviot Beach in Portsea, Victoria.

Perhaps more than any other prime minister, John Gorton was himself in office. He came to the job with the support of the backbenchers, more than the ministry, and continued to live up to his reputation as a 'mischief maker.' His personal popularity with voters was not enough to offset discontent with his leadership style in the parliament.

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William McMahon

Sir William McMahon

Prime Minister from 10 March 1971 - 5 December 1972

William McMahon became leader of the Liberal Party and Australia's 20th prime minister after the resignation of John Gorton.

William McMahon took on the forces of protectionism, including within his own Coalition government, to try to accelerate the reorientation of the Australian economy. For this reason, as well as traditional rivalries, he needed to overcome significant resistance to become the first non-Victorian Liberal prime minister. Considered a 'safe pair of hands', McMahon's political tactics did not endear him to his colleagues or to the public.

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