1960 TO 1980



The dismantling of the White Australia policy in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the repeal of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1966, led to a diversification of Australia’s migration streams, including the establishment of the humanitarian stream.

The early 1970s saw the resettlement of refugees from countries whose nationals would previously have been denied permanent residency, such as Uganda, Chile and the then Portuguese Timor.

In 1973, Australia formally expanded its protection obligations by endorsing the 1967 Optional Protocol, which widened the 1951 Convention definition of refugee to include people from countries outside of Europe and so broadened the scope to respond to new refugee circumstances.

The fall of Saigon during the Vietnam War triggered significant irregular migration in the Asia–Pacific region. Working initially with UNHCR, Australia resettled 51,780 Indochinese refugees between April 1975 and June 1981. Of these, 2059 arrived by boat.

The humanitarian crisis in Vietnam and the surrounding region prompted a rethink of Australia’s policy approach to refugees and asylum seekers. The 1976 Senate Committee report on Australia and the Refugee Problem criticised aspects of the government’s handling of the Vietnamese crisis, and the ad hoc nature of Australia’s refugee resettlement programs.

In response, the government introduced Australia’s first national refugee policy, the core components of which remain in place today. The reforms introduced individual refugee status determination procedures for asylum seekers arriving onshore. Those who were determined by these processes not to be owed protection would be deported.

A formalised offshore refugee resettlement program (Offshore Program) was introduced in 1977 and expanded in 1981 to include ‘special humanitarian’ entrants, with efforts made to discourage onshore arrivals.

As a part of the effort to limit onshore asylum applications, the annual intake of the Offshore Program was expanded to up to 22,000 people in the early 1980s.