White Australia policy
The term White Australia policy comprises various historical policies that effectively barred people of non-European descent from immigrating to Australia. There was never any specific policy titled such, but the term was invented later to describe a collection of policies that were designed to exclude people from Asia (particularly China) and the Pacific Islands (particularly Melanesia). These policies had their inception in the goldfields where there was antagonism to Chinese miners who worked co-operatively and were perceived to be doing better than their white counterparts. From the 1850s there were restrictions on family members joining Chinese miners already in Australia. The colonial authorities levied a special tax on Chinese immigrants that other immigrants were exempted from. Towards the end of the nineteenth century there was also a push by the labour unions to stop work done by Chinese immigrants in the furniture and market garden industries. Australian furniture had to be labelled "Made with Chinese Labour". The formal White Australia policy officially came soon after the Federation of Australia with the Immigration Restriction Act 1901. The policy was progressively dismantled between 1949 and 1973.
Competition in the goldfields between British and Chinese miners, and labour union opposition to the importation of Pacific Islanders into the sugar plantations of Queensland, reinforced the demand to eliminate or minimize low wage immigration from Asia and the Pacific Islands. Soon after Australia became a federation it passed the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. The passage of this bill is considered the commencement of the White Australia Policy as Australian government policy. Subsequent acts further strengthened the policy up to the start of the Second World War. These policies effectively allowed for British migrants to be preferred over all others through the first four decades of the 20th century. During the Second World War, Prime Minister John Curtin reinforced the policy, saying "This country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race."
The policy was dismantled in stages by successive governments after the conclusion of the Second World War, with the encouragement of first non-British, non-white immigration, allowing for a large multi-ethnic post-war program of immigration. The Menzies and Holt Governments effectively dismantled the policies between 1949 and 1966 and the Whitlam Government passed laws to ensure that race would be totally disregarded as a component for immigration to Australia in 1973. In 1975 the Whitlam Government passed the Racial Discrimination Act, which made racially based selection criteria unlawful. In the decades since, Australia has maintained largescale multi-ethnic immigration. Australia's current Migration Program allows people from any country to apply to migrate to Australia, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity, culture, religion, or language, provided that they meet the criteria set out in law.
Immigration policy prior to Federation
Gold Rush Era
The discovery of gold in Australia in 1851 led to an influx of immigrants from all around the world. The colony of New South Wales had a population of just 200,000 in 1851, but the huge influx of settlers spurred by the goldrushes transformed the Australian colonies economically, politically and demographically. Over the next 20 years, 40,000 Chinese men and over 9,000 women (mostly Cantonese) immigrated to the goldfields seeking prosperity.
Gold brought great wealth but also new social tensions. Multiethnic migrants came to New South Wales in large numbers for the first time. Competition on the goldfields, particularly resentment among white miners towards the successes of Chinese miners, led to tensions between groups and eventually a series of significant protests and riots, including the Buckland Riot in 1857 and the Lambing Flat Riots between 1860 and 1861. Governor Hotham, on 16 November 1854, appointed a Royal Commission on Victorian goldfields problems and grievances. This led to restrictions being placed on Chinese immigration and residency taxes levied from Chinese residents in Victoria from 1855 with New South Wales following suit in 1861. These restrictions remained in force until the early 1870s.Reference does not support the argument of this paragraph
Support from the Australian Labour Movement
The growth of the sugar industry in Queensland in the 1870s led to searching for labourers prepared to work in a tropical environment. During this time, thousands of "Kanakas" (Pacific Islanders) were brought into Australia as indentured workers. This and related practices of bringing in non-white labour to be cheaply employed was commonly termed "blackbirding" and refers to the recruitment of people through trickery and kidnappings to work on plantations, particularly the sugar cane plantations of Queensland (Australia) and Fiji. In the 1870s and 1880s, the trade union movement began a series of protests against foreign labour. Their arguments were that Asians and Chinese took jobs away from white men, worked for "substandard" wages, lowered working conditions and refused unionisation.
Objections to these arguments came largely from wealthy land owners in rural areas. It was argued that without Asiatics to work in the tropical areas of the Northern Territory and Queensland, the area would have to be abandoned. Despite these objections to restricting immigration, between 1875 and 1888 all Australian colonies enacted legislation which excluded all further Chinese immigration. Asian immigrants already residing in the Australian colonies were not expelled and retained the same rights as their Anglo and Southern compatriots.
Agreements were made to further increase these restrictions in 1895 following an Inter-colonial Premier's Conference where all colonies agreed to extend entry restrictions to all non-white races. However, in attempting to enact this legislation, the Governors of New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania reserved the bills, due to a treaty with Japan, and they did not become law. Instead, the Natal Act of 1897 was introduced, restricting "undesirable persons" rather than any specific race.
The British government in London was not pleased with legislation that discriminated against certain subjects of its Empire, but decided not to disallow the laws that were passed. Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain explained in 1897:
- "We quite sympathise with the determination...of these colonies...that there should not be an influx of people alien in civilisation, alien in religion, alien in customs, whose influx, moreover, would seriously interfere with the legitimate rights of the existing labouring population."
From Federation to the Second World War
In writing about the preoccupations of the Australian population in early Federation Australia before the First World War, the official historian of the war, Charles Bean, considered the White Australia Policy and defined it as follows:
"White Australia Policy"- a vehement effort to maintain a high Western standard of economy, society and culture (necessitating at that stage, however it might be camouflaged, the rigid exclusion of Oriental peoples).— Extract from ANZAC to Amiens by C. E. W. Bean.
Federation Convention and Australia's first government
Immigration was a prominent topic in the lead up to Australian Federation. At the third Session of the Australasian Federation Convention of 1898, Western Australian premier and future federal cabinet member John Forrest summarised the prevailing feeling:
It is of no use to shut our eyes to the fact that there is a great feeling all over Australia against the introduction of coloured persons. It goes without saying that we do not like to talk about it, but it is so.
The Barton Government which came to power following the first elections to the Commonwealth parliament in 1901 was formed by the Protectionist Party with the support of the Australian Labor Party. The support of the Labor Party was contingent upon restricting non-white immigration, reflecting the attitudes of the Australian Workers Union and other labour organisations at the time, upon whose support the Labor Party was founded.
The first Parliament of Australia quickly moved to restrict immigration to maintain Australia's British character, and the Pacific Island Labourers Bill and the Immigration Restriction Bill were passed shortly before parliament rose for its first Christmas recess. The Colonial Secretary in Britain had however made it clear that a race-based immigration policy would run "contrary to the general conceptions of equality which have ever been the guiding principle of British rule throughout the Empire". The Barton Government therefore conceived of the "language dictation test", which would allow the government, at the discretion of the minister, to block unwanted migrants by forcing them to sit a test in "any European language". Race had already been established as a premise for exclusion among the colonial parliaments, so the main question for debate was who exactly the new Commonwealth ought to exclude, with the Labor Party rejecting Britain's calls to placate the populations of its non-white colonies and allow "aboriginal natives of Asia, Africa, or the islands thereof". There was opposition from Queensland and its sugar industry to the proposals of the Pacific Islanders Bill to exclude "Kanaka" laborers, however Barton argued that the practice was "veiled slavery" that could lead to a "negro problem" similar to that in the United States, and the Bill was passed.
Immigration Restriction Act 1901
The new Federal Parliament, as one of its first pieces of legislation, passed the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 to "place certain restrictions on immigration and... for the removal... of prohibited immigrants". The Act drew on similar legislation in South Africa. Edmund Barton, the prime minister, argued in support of the Bill with the following statement: "The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman."
The Attorney General tasked with drafting the legislation was Alfred Deakin. Deakin supported Barton's position over that of the Labor Party in drafting the Bill (the ALP wanted more direct methods of exclusion than the dictation test) and redacted the more vicious racism proposed for the text in his Second Reading of the Bill. In seeking to justify the policy, Deakin said he believed that the Japanese and Chinese might be a threat to the newly formed federation and it was this belief that led to legislation to ensure they would be kept out:
- "It is not the bad qualities, but the good qualities of these alien races that make them so dangerous to us. It is their inexhaustible energy, their power of applying themselves to new tasks, their endurance and low standard of living that make them such competitors."
Early drafts of the Act explicitly banned non-Europeans from migrating to Australia but objections from the British government, which feared that such a measure would offend British subjects in India and Britain's allies in Japan, caused the Barton government to remove this wording. Instead, a "dictation test" was introduced as a device for excluding unwanted immigrants. Immigration officials were given the power to exclude any person who failed to pass a 50-word dictation test. At first this was to be in any European language, but was later changed to include any language. The tests were written in such a way to make them nearly impossible to pass. The first of these tests was written by Federal MP Stewart Parnaby as an example for officers to follow when setting future tests. The "Stewart" test was unofficially standardised as the English version of the test, due to its extremely high rates of failure resulting from a very sophisticated use of language. While specifically asked by Barton to carry out this task, Parnaby allegedly shared similar views to Donald Cameron despite never publicly admitting so citation required.
The legislation found strong support in the new Australian Parliament, with arguments ranging from economic protection to outright racism. The Labor Party wanted to protect "white" jobs and pushed for more explicit restrictions. A few politicians spoke of the need to avoid hysterical treatment of the question. Member of Parliament Bruce Smith said he had "no desire to see low-class Indians, Chinamen or Japanese...swarming into this country... But there is obligation...not (to) unnecessarily offend the educated classes of those nations" Donald Cameron, a member from Tasmania, expressed a rare note of dissention:
[N]o race on... this earth has been treated in a more shameful manner than have the Chinese.... They were forced at the point of a bayonet to admit Englishmen... into China. Now if we compel them to admit our people... why in the name of justice should we refuse to admit them here?
Outside parliament, Australia's first Catholic cardinal, Patrick Francis Moran was politically active and denounced anti-Chinese legislation as "unchristian". The popular press mocked the cardinal's position and the small European population of Australia generally supported the legislation and remained fearful of being overwhelmed by an influx of non-British migrants from the vastly different cultures of the highly populated empires to Australia's north.
Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901
In 1901 the Australian parliament passed the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901. The result of this legislation was that 7,500 Pacific Islanders (called "Kanakas") working mostly on plantations in Queensland were deported and entry into Australia by Pacific Islanders after 1904 was prohibited.
Paris Peace Conference
At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference following the First World War, Japan sought to include a racial equality clause in the Covenant of the League of Nations. Japanese policy reflected their desire to remove or to ease the immigration restrictions against Japanese (especially in the United States and Canada), which Japan regarded as a humiliation and affront to its prestige.
Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes was already concerned by the prospect of Japanese expansion in the Pacific. Australia, Japan and New Zealand had seized the German colonial empire's territories in the Pacific in the early stages of the war and Hughes was concerned to retain German New Guinea as vital to the defence of Australia. The Treaty ultimately granted Australia a League of Nations Mandate over German New Guinea and Japan to the South Pacific Mandate immediately to its north – thus bringing Australian and Japanese territory to a shared border – a situation altered only by Japan's Second World War invasion of New Guinea.
Hughes vehemently opposed Japan's racial equality proposition. Hughes recognised that such a clause would be a threat to White Australia and made it clear to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George that he would leave the conference if the clause was adopted. When the proposal failed, Hughes reported in the Australian parliament:
"The White Australia is yours. You may do with it what you please, but at any rate, the soldiers have achieved the victory and my colleagues and I have brought that great principle back to you from the conference, as safe as it was on the day when it was first adopted."
Australian Prime Minister Stanley Bruce was a supporter of the White Australia Policy, and made it an issue in his campaign for the 1925 Australian Federal election.
|“||It is necessary that we should determine what are the ideals towards which every Australian would desire to strive. I think those ideals might well be stated as being to secure our national safety, and to ensure the maintenance of our White Australia Policy to continue as an integral portion of the British Empire. We intend to keep this country white and not allow its people to be faced with the problems that at present are practically insoluble in many parts of the world."||”|
|— Prime Minister Stanley Bruce during his 1925 election campaign speech|
Abolition of the policy
Second World War
Australian anxiety at the prospect of Japanese expansionism and war in the Pacific continued through the 1930s. Billy Hughes, by then a minister in the United Australia Party's Lyons Government, made a notable contribution to Australia's attitude towards immigration in a 1935 speech in which he argued that "Australia must... populate or perish". However Hughes was forced to resign in 1935 after his book Australia and the War Today exposed a lack of preparation in Australia for what Hughes correctly supposed to be a coming war.
Between the Great Depression starting in 1929 and the end of the Second World War in 1945, global conditions kept immigration to very low levels. At the start of the war, Prime Minister John Curtin (ALP) reinforced the message of the White Australia Policy by saying: "This country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race."
Following the 1942 Fall of Singapore, Australians feared invasion by Imperial Japan. Australian cities were bombed by the Japanese Airforce and Navy and Axis Naval Forces menaced Australian shipping, while the Royal Navy remained pre-occupied with the battles of the Atlantic and Mediterranean in the face of Nazi aggression in Europe. A Japanese invasion fleet headed for the Australian Territory of New Guinea was only halted by the intervention of the United States Navy in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Australia received thousands of refugees from territories falling to advancing Japanese forces – notably thousands of Dutch who fled the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). Australian Aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders, Papua New Guineans and Timorese served in the frontline of the defence of Australia, bringing Australia's racially discriminatory immigration and political rights policies into focus and wartime service gave many Indigenous Australians confidence in demanding their rights upon return to civilian life.
During the war, talk arose about the possibility of abolishing the policy. Spokesman for the Labor Party demanded that it be continued:
- The policy of White Australia is now, perhaps, the most outstanding political characteristic of this country, and it has been accepted not only by those closely associated with it, but also by those who watched and studied "this interesting experiment" from afar. Only those who favor the exploitation of a servile coloured race for greed of gain, and a few professional economists and benighted theologians, are now heard in serious criticism of a White Australia; but...they are encouraged by the ill-timed and inappropriate pronouncements of what are, after all, irresponsible officials.
Following the trauma of Second World War, Australia's vulnerability during the Pacific War and its small population led to policies summarised by the slogan, "populate or perish". According to author Lachlan Strahan, this was an ethnocentric slogan that in effect was an admonition to fill Australia with Europeans or else risk having it overrun by Asians. Calwell stated in 1947 to critics of the government's mass immigration programme: "We have 25 years at most to populate this country before the yellow races are down on us."
During the war, many non-white refugees, including Malays, Indonesians and Filipinos, arrived in Australia, but Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell controversially sought to have them all deported. In 1948, Iranian Bahá'ís seeking to immigrate to Australia were classified as "Asiatic" by the policy and were denied entry. In 1949, Calwell's successor Harold Holt allowed the remaining 800 non-white refugees to apply for residency, and also allowed Japanese "war brides" to settle in Australia. In the meantime, encouraging immigration from Europe, Australia admitted large numbers of immigrants from mostly Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia, as well as its traditional source of the British Isles. Ambitious post-war development projects like the Snowy Mountains Scheme (1949–1972) required a large labour force that could only be sourced by diversifying Australia's migrant intake.
Relaxation of restrictions
Labor Party Chifley Government:
- 1947 The Chifley Labor Government relaxed the Immigration Restriction Act allowing non-Europeans the right to settle permanently in Australia for business reasons.
Liberal-Country Party Menzies Government (1949–1966):
- 1949 Immigration Minister Harold Holt permitted 800 non-European refugees to stay, and Japanese war brides to be admitted.
- 1950 External Affairs Minister Percy Spender instigated the Colombo Plan, under which students from Asian countries were admitted to study at Australian universities.
- 1957 Non-Europeans with 15 years' residence in Australia were allowed to become citizens.
- 1958 Revised Migration Act, 1958 abolished the dictation test and introduced a simpler system for entry. Immigration Minister, Sir Alexander Downer, announced that 'distinguished and highly qualified Asians' might immigrate.
- 1959 Australians were permitted to sponsor Asian spouses for citizenship.
- 1964 Conditions of entry for people of non-European stock were relaxed.
In 1963, a paper "Immigration: Control or Colour Bar?" was published by a group of students and academics at Melbourne University. It proposed eliminating the White Australia policy, and was influential towards this end.
End of the White Australia policy
In 1966, the Holt Liberal Government introduced the Migration Act 1966, a watershed moment in immigration reform, it effectively dismantled the White Australia policy and increased access to non-European migrants, including refugees fleeing the Vietnam War. After a review of the European policy in March 1966, Immigration Minister Hubert Opperman announced applications for migration would be accepted from well-qualified people on the basis of their suitability as settlers, their ability to integrate readily and their possession of qualifications positively useful to Australia. At the same time, Harold Holt's government decided a number of "temporary resident" non-Europeans, who were not required to leave Australia, could become permanent residents and citizens after five years (the same as for Europeans).
The legal end of the White Australia policy is usually placed in the year 1973, when the Whitlam Labor government implemented a series of amendments preventing the enforcement of racial aspects of the immigration law. These amendments:
- Legislated that all migrants, regardless of origin, be eligible to obtain citizenship after five years of permanent residence.
- Ratified all international agreements relating to immigration and race.
- Issued policy to totally disregard race as a factor in selecting migrants.
The 1975 Racial Discrimination Act made the use of racial criteria for any official purpose illegal.
It was not until the Fraser Liberal government's review of immigration law in 1978 that all selection of prospective migrants based on country of origin was entirely removed from official policy.
In 1981 the Minister for Immigration announced a Special Humanitarian Assistance Programme (SHP) for Iranians to seek refuge in Australia and by 1988 some 2500 Bahá'ís and many more others had arrived in Australia through either SHP or Refugee Programmes. The last selective immigration policy, offering relocation assistance to British nationals, was finally removed in 1982.
Australia's contemporary immigration programme has two components: a programme for skilled and family migrants and a humanitarian programme for refugees and asylum seekers. By 2010, the post-war immigration programme had received more than 6.5 million migrants from every continent. The population tripled in the six decades to around 21 million in 2010, comprising people originating from 200 countries.
In addition to the obvious demographic effect of creating a population of European, and largely Anglo-Celtic, descent, by effectively limiting the immigration of practitioners of non-Christian faiths, the White Australia policy ensured that Christianity remained the religion of the overwhelming majority of Australians. While non-European and non-Christian immigration has increased substantially since the dismantling of the White Australia policy, Australian society inevitably remains rooted in the demographic legacy of the 72 years of White Australia, during which time the country underwent its most substantial population growth.
The 2001 Australian census results indicate that many Australians claim some European heritage: English 37%, Irish 11%, Italian 5%, German 4.3%, Scottish 3%, Greek 2%, Former Yugoslav 1.8%, Dutch 1.5%, Polish 0.9%. Australians of some non-European origin form a significant but still relatively small part of the population: Chinese 3.2%, Indian 0.9%, Lebanese 0.9%, Vietnamese 0.9%. About 2.2% identified themselves as Indigenous Australians. 39% of the population gave their ancestry as "Australian". The Australian census does not classify people according to race, only ethnic ancestry. (Note that subjects were permitted to select more than one answer for this census question.)
Political and social legacy
The story of Australia since the Second World War – and particularly since the final relegation of the white Australia Policy – has been one of ever-increasing ethnic and cultural diversity. Successive governments have sustained a large programmes of multiethnic immigration from all continents.
Discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity was legally sanctioned until 1975. Australia's new official policy on racial diversity is: "to build on our success as a culturally diverse, accepting and open society, united through a shared future". The White Australia Policy continues to be mentioned in modern contexts, although it is generally only mentioned by politicians when denouncing their opposition. As Leader of the Opposition, John Howard argued for restricting Asian immigration in 1988 as part of his One Australia policy; he later said that his comments cost him his job at the time:
|“||I'm not in favour of going back to a White Australia policy. I do believe that if it is – in the eyes of some in the community – that it's too great, it would be in our immediate-term interest and supporting of social cohesion if it (Asian immigration) were slowed down a little, so the capacity of the community to absorb it was greater.||”|
|— John Howard speaking on ABC Radio PM, 1 August 1988|
Howard later retracted and apologised for the remarks, and was returned to the leadership of the Liberal Party in 1995. The Howard Government (1996–2007) in turn ran a large programme of non-discriminatory immigration and, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Asian countries became an increasingly important source of immigration over the decade from 1996 to 2006, with the proportion of migrants from Southern and Central Asian countries doubling from 7% to 14%. The proportion of immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa also increased. By 2005–06, China and India were the third and fourth largest sources of all migration (after New Zealand and the United Kingdom). In 2005–06, there were 180,000 permanent additions of migrants to Australia (72% more than the number in 1996–97). This figure included around 17,000 through the humanitarian programme, of whom Iraqis and Sudanese accounted for the largest portions. China became Australia's biggest source of migrants, for the first time in 2009, surpassing New Zealand and Britain.
Despite the overall success and generally bipartisan support for Australia's multi-ethnic immigration programme, there remain voices of opposition to immigration within the Australian electorate. At its peak, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party received 9% of the national vote at the 1998 Federal Election.
Hanson was widely accused of trying to take Australia back to the days of the White Australia Policy, particularly through reference to Arthur Calwell, one of the policy's strongest supporters. In her maiden address to the Australian Parliament following the 1996 Election, Hanson said:
|“||I and most Australians want our immigration policy radically reviewed and that of multiculturalism abolished. I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995, 40 per cent of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.||”|
|— Pauline Hanson in her maiden speech to parliament|
Hanson's remarks generated wide interest in the media both nationally and internationally, but she herself did not retain her seat in Parliament at the 1998 Election or subsequent 2001 and 2004 Federal Elections. Hanson also failed to win election in the 2003 and 2011 New South Wales State Elections. In May 2007, Pauline Hanson, with her new Pauline's United Australia Party, continued her call for a freeze on immigration, arguing that African migrants carried disease into Australia. Hanson returned to politics in 2014 and ran in the Queensland election.
Topics related to racism and immigration in Australia are still regularly connected by the media to the White Australia Policy. Some examples of issues and events where this connection has been made include: reconciliation with Indigenous Australians; mandatory detention and the "Pacific Solution"; the 2005 Cronulla riots, and the 2009 attacks on Indians in Australia. Former opposition Labor party leader Mark Latham, in his book The Latham Diaries, described the ANZUS alliance as a legacy of the White Australia policy.
In 2007, the Howard Government proposed an Australian Citizenship Test intended "to get that balance between diversity and integration correct in future, particularly as we now draw people from so many different countries and so many different cultures". The draft proposal contained a pamphlet introducing Australian history, Culture and Democracy. Migrants were to be required to correctly answer at least 12 out of 20 questions on such topics in a citizenship quiz. Migrants would also be required to demonstrate an adequate level of understanding of the English language. The Rudd Government reviewed and then implemented the proposal in 2009.
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- Myra Willard (1923). History of the White Australia Policy to 1920. Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0-522-83830-8. (old but still very useful)
- Keith Windschuttle (2004). The White Australia Policy. Macleay Press.
- "Immigration Restriction Act 1901". National Archives of Australia: Documenting a Democracy. Retrieved 14 February 2006. (scan of the Act and information)
- The Mabel Freer Case
- Educational Resources about the White Australia Policy
- Newton Barton Diary, 1894–1895– A shipboard diary kept by able seaman Newton Barton on one of his voyages to recruit South Sea Islanders for the Queensland cane fields. Digitised and held by the State Library of Queensland.
- Fact Sheet 8 – Abolition of the 'White Australia' Policy