This controversial Royal Commission from the 1970s found that many Australian families were failing to protect their most valuable members, and helped change the shape of public discussion around families, gender and sexuality.
This is the first time a digitised version of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships' five-volume final report has been made publically available.
The Royal Commission was initiated in 1974, following a failed attempt by the Whitlam government to reform abortion law. The terms of reference were:
- To inquire into and report upon the family, social, educational, legal and sexual aspects of male and female relationships, so far as those matters are relevant to the powers and functions of the Australian Parliament and Government, including powers and functions in relation to the Territories:
- To give particular emphasis to the concept of responsible parenthood, to have regard to experience in other countries and to include in your inquiry the following aspects of the said matters:
(a) the extent of relevant existing education programs, including sex education programs, and their effectiveness in promoting responsible sexual behaviour and providing a sound basis in the fundamentals of male and female relationships in the Australian social environment;
(b) the extent of relevant existing programs in medical schools and their adequacy to provide comprehensive medical training in contraceptive techniques, in the physical, psychological and sexual problems experienced by women in adapting to marriage and before, during and after menstruation and in matters relating to pregnancy, fertility control, spontaneous and induced abortions and childbirth and to encourage acceptance by the medical profession of its responsibilities in the field of contraceptive counselling;
(c) the provision, adequacy and effectiveness of existing family planning facilities, educational and activational information on family planning and methods of evaluation of all family planning techniques;
(d) the social, economic, psychological and medical pressures on women in determining whether to proceed with unplanned or unwanted pregnancies, having regard to:
(i) the adequacy of housing, child-minding centres, pre-school centres, domestic assistance for families and working mothers, assistance to single parent families, other forms of assistance for mothers employed in industry, and adoption procedures;
(ii) the disabilities of families with handicapped children; and
(iii) the social status of women in the community; the social, psychological and medical results of termination of, or and failure to terminate such pregnancies;
(e) the adequacy and effectiveness of existing medico-legal determinations in relation to termination of pregnancy, the incidence of such terminations, the factors influencing their occurrence, the adequacy of medical training in an evaluation of methods of termination, consultative rights of the family or other persons concerned and the adequacy and effectiveness of pregnancy support services; and
(f) any other matters in relation to the family, social, educational, legal and sexual aspects of male and female relationships to which the attention of the Commission is directed by the Prime Minister in the course of the inquiry.
- To make recommendations as to measures that are desirable with respect to the foregoing matters under existing or future laws of the Australian Parliament or of the Territories (including laws providing for grants to the States) and to indicate whether these measures should be implemented through existing bodies or through government instrumentalities to be created.
The final report, presented to Governor-General John Kerr in 1977, contained over 500 recommendations relating to "contraception (access and use), unwanted pregnancies, childbirth, attitudes to sexuality, sexual knowledge, sex education, domestic violence, rape and the police and courts’ treatment of rape victims, the changing roles of women, child care, child abuse, and homosexuality – especially discrimination faced by gays and lesbians."
The report was highly controversial when released and many of its recommendations were not acted on. However, the Royal Commission had a lasting influence. It was said to have brought taboo topics like abortion, rape and child abuse into public discussion, and to have opened up conversations about private life to this day.