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The Department of Aboriginal Affairs was an Australian government department that existed between December 1972 and March 1990.

Department of Aboriginal Affairs
Department overview
Formed19 December 1972[1]
Preceding Department
Dissolved5 March 1990[1]
Superseding agency
JurisdictionCommonwealth of Australia
Ministers responsible
Department executives


The Department had its origins in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs (OAA), which was established by the Holt Government in 1967 following a constitutional amendment that granted the federal government new powers. In 1972, the OAA was transformed into a separate government department, replacing the preceding Department of the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts created by the McMahon Government.[2] It was one of several new departments established by the Whitlam Government, a wide restructuring in line with the new government's programme.[3] After the Whitlam Government was dismissed in 1975, the department had its budget cut by 43 percent in the Fraser Government's first budget, in 1976.[4]

In 1980, the Fraser Government established the Aboriginal Development Commission. Media speculated at the time that the Government was considering abolishing the department,[5] but it was not abolished until 1990, by the Hawke Government, when it was amalgamated with the Aboriginal Development Commission to create the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. A "wake" was held on 2 March 1990 by staff, to mark the department's demise.[6]


Information about the department's functions and/or government funding allocation could be found in the Administrative Arrangements Orders, the annual Portfolio Budget Statements and in the Department's annual reports.

According to the Administrative Arrangements Order issued 19 December 1972, at its creation, the Department was responsible for:[7]

  • Matters related to the Aboriginal people of Australia.
  • The development and administration of national policies for the advancement and welfare of the Aboriginal people, including the administration of welfare activities in the Territories.
  • Special laws for the Aboriginal people.


The Department was an Australian Public Service department, staffed by officials who were responsible to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.[1]


  1. ^ a b c CA 1476: Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Central Office, National Archives of Australia, retrieved 15 December 2013
  2. ^ Pandora’s Box – the Council for Aboriginal Affairs, 1967 – 1976, Crikey, 1 June 2016. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  3. ^ National Archives of Australia, Gough Whitlam: In Office, National Archives of Australia, archived from the original on 19 April 2013
  4. ^ Waterford, Jack (21 May 1976). "Aboriginal Affairs cut by 43pc". The Canberra Times. p. 9.
  5. ^ Andrews, Ross (9 November 1980). "Ominous signs for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs". The Canberra Times. p. 7.
  6. ^ Coelli, Andree (3 March 1990). "'Wake' marks end of era". The Canberra Times. p. 3.
  7. ^ Administrative Arrangements Order of 19 December 1972 (PDF), National Archives of Australia, 19 December 1972, archived from the original (PDF) on 26 April 2013

Further readingEdit