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Memento : Issue 28
4 MEMENTO News from the National Archives Australia and beyond Working Australians earned more and spent more in 1974 but probably thought they lived in 'tough times'. Rising prices and increasing unemployment at home, and escalating oil prices and retracting Western economies abroad, all created a feeling of insecurity which had supplanted the general optimism of the long post-war boom. An unsettled political environment and increasing challenges to traditional practices and values, contributed to the uncertainty. Parts of the world beyond Australia looked to be even more unstable. The United States continued to be burnt by Watergate and Vietnam although President's Nixon's departure from office proffered some relief. Edward Heath, the British Prime Minister, lost an election he did not need to hold and fought it on terms he could have avoided. And Northern Ireland once more hovered on the edge. Domestic politics and foreign relations Convinced by the beginning of 1974 that the 'It's Time' theme had run its course, and that the Whitlam government was bent on turning Australia into a socialist republic -- or, at best, on undermining its social framework and economic stability -- the Opposition parties were keen to force and win an early election. In that, they failed. Perhaps if Billy Snedden, the Liberal Party leader, had held off for two or three months, he might have become Prime Minister in a rapidly deteriorating economic situation. Instead, summoning his gift for self-parody, he announced: 'We were not defeated. But we did not win enough seats to form a government'. The Whitlam government went through 1974 determined so far as possible to implement its reform program; hence some of the big winners in the 1974--75 budget were Aboriginal affairs, education and urban and regional development. Under Whitlam, the rhetoric and substance of Australian foreign policy became increasingly detached from the solid pro-American, pro-Western stance of the previous Coalition governments. This independent stand was not, however, matched by any corresponding improvement in Australia's defence capacity. Nor did it necessarily make the country more influential. Despite protests, the French launched another nuclear program in the Pacific, and Australia's new best friend -- China -- conducted a test the following day. Each January the National Archives releases Cabinet documents that have reached 30 years of age. In an embargoed release last December, our consultant historian Ian Hancock briefed the media on the 1974 Cabinet records. Here are excerpts of his talk on the political, social and economic activities and debates of the time. 1974 The year that was