White Australia Movement

White Australia policy

The White Australia policy is a term used to describe a collection of historical policies that intentionally restricted non-white immigration to Australia from 1901 to 1973.

The inauguration of White Australia as government policy is generally taken to be the passage of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901, one of the first Acts of the new national parliament upon federation, with virtually no parliamentary opposition. The policy was dismantled in stages by successive governments after the conclusion of World War II, with the encouragement of first non-British and later non-white immigration. From 1973 on, the White Australia policy was for all practical purposes defunct, and in 1975 the Australian government passed the Racial Discrimination Act, which made racially-based selection criteria illegal.

Restrictions on immigration had preceded federation, which began with anti-Chinese legislation enacted by individual Australian colonies during the Australian goldrushes of the 1850s.

Immigration policy prior to Federation

Pre Gold Rush immigration

Prior to 1830, the Australian colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land had no specific policies on immigration; they were predominantly concerned with the transportation of British convicts and the support of these new settlements. Of the nearly 165,000 convicts transported to Australia, only 4,000 were not from the British dominions and of these only 900 were non-white. These figures do not reflect a deliberate bias in immigration policy, rather they likely reflect the ethnic distribution of persons processed by the British legal system at the time. From 1830, the two Australian colonies made deliberate efforts to increase the number of Britons in Australia, as part of a program to increase their population. Incentives, including relocation expenses, were offered to British citizens to emigrate to Australia. This was driven by a "new Britannia" policy which aimed to see Australia recreated in Britain's image. Between 1830 and 1940, 1,068,312 Britons accepted this subsidised relocation to Australia.

Gold Rush era

The discovery of gold in Australia in 1851 led to an influx of immigrants from around the world. Over the next 20 years, 40,000 Chinese men and 11 women (mostly Cantonese) migrated to the gold-fields. Competition on the gold-fields led to significant conflict between groups. The Chinese were frequently denounced by white prospectors and blamed for bad luck and "unfair" competition.

This tension eventually led to a series of protests and riots, including the Lambing Flat Riots between 1860 and 1861. Governor Hotham, on 16 November 1854, appointed a Royal Commission on Victorian gold-fields 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.

Support from the 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 immigration restrictions for non-whites 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 1875-1888 all Australian colonies enacted legislation which excluded all further Chinese immigration. Asian immigrants already residing in the Australian colonies were not expelled and retained precisely the same rights as their Anglo and Celtic compatriots insofar as citizenship.

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 bre 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 World War II

Federation Convention and Australia's first government

Immigration was a prominent topic in the lead up to Australian Federation. At the Federation Convention, 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 government following Federation 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 Worker's Union and other labour organisations at the time, upon whose support the Labor Party was founded.

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."

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.

In the British Empire South Africa, Canada, and New Zealand also had racially restrictive immigration policies in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Most Chinese immigration to the U.S. became illegal in 1882.

In 1902 the Australian parliament passed the Pacific Island Labourers Act. 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.

The Paris Peace Conference

At the 1919 Paris Peace Conference following World War I, 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 America and Canada), which Japan regarded as a humiliation and affront to its prestige.

Australia was one of few countries which had race as a dominant political ideology at the time. As such, Australian Prime Minister Billy 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."

Stanley Bruce

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 peoples 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

World War II

Between the Great Depression starting in 1929 and the end of World War II 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."

However, by the end of World War II, Australia's vulnerability during the war in the Pacific and small population led to policies summarised by the slogan, "Populate or Perish." During the war, many non-white refugees, including Malays, Indonesians, and Filipinos, had settled in Australia, but Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell controversially sought to have them all deported. However in 1948, Iranian Bahá'ís seeking to emigrate to Australia were classified as "Asiatic" by the policy, and were denied entry and the policy largely remained in place until the 1960s and was lifted in 1973. 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.

Relaxation of restrictions

Australian policy began to shift towards significantly increasing immigration. Legislative changes over the next few decades continuously opened up immigration in Australia.

  • 1947 The Australian Government relaxed the Immigration Restriction Act allowing Non-Europeans the right to settle permanently in Australia for business reasons.
  • 1950 Colombo Plan, 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 The Revised Migration Act of 1958 abolished the dictation test and introduced a simpler system for entry.
  • 1959 Australians were permitted to sponsor Asian spouses for citizenship.
  • 1964 Conditions of entry for people of Non-European stock were relaxed.

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, the Holt Liberal 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).

As a result, annual non-European settler arrivals rose from 746 in 1966 to 2,696 in 1971, while annual part-European settler arrivals rose from 1,498 to 6,054.

End of the White Australia Policy

The legal end of the White Australia policy is usually dated to 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 three 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. Currently, a large number of Australia's immigrants are from countries such as China and India, though the United Kingdom and New Zealand respectively remain the two largest single sources of immigrants.

In 1981 the Minister for Immigration announced a Special Humanitarian Assistance (SHP) Program 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 Programs. See Iranian Australian and Bahá'í Faith in Australia. The last selective immigration policy, offering relocation assistance to British nationals, was finally removed in 1982.


Contemporary demographics

The 2001 Australian census results indicate that the vast majority of Australians claim some European heritage: English 37%, Irish 11%, Italian 5%, German 4.3%, Scottish 3%, Greek 2%, Dutch 1.5%, Polish 0.9%. Non-European origin forms a significant but still relatively small part of the population: Chinese 3.2%, Indian 0.9%, Lebanese 0.9%, Vietnamese 0.9%. 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.)

15% of the population now speaks a language other than English at home. The most commonly spoken languages are Italian, Greek, Cantonese and Arabic.

Political and social legacy

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 few politicians ever mention the policy, except 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, later admitting 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

At their peak, Pauline Hanson's One Nation party received 9% of the national election vote. Pauline Hanson was widely accused of taking Australia back to the days of the White Australia Policy, particularly through reference to Arthur Calwell, one of the policy's strongest supporters:

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

On 24 May, 2007, Pauline Hanson, with her new Pauline's United Australia Party, continues her call for a freeze on immigration and provided comments about African migrants carrying disease into Australia. 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 Aborigines; mandatory detention and the "Pacific Solution"; the 2005 Cronulla riots. 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 introduced a citizenship test to include a tougher English language test, and a test on "Australian" values. The actual questions of such citizenship test have not been publicly released, and its future is in question given the ALP victory in the 2007 election.

Though the White Australia policy, which had segregated Aborigines, no longer exists, their poor socio-economic conditions typically leave them segregated from the rest of Australian society. Many non-Aboriginal people also suffer from poor socio-economic conditions, despite the provision of state schooling and health care. The situation in 1997 led one activist to suggest that the country could be led "back to apartheid". In fact, Australian government policy from earlier years is viewed by some as the original impetus for the Apartheid system in South Africa.

See also


Further reading

  • John Bailey (2001). The White Divers of Broome. Sydney, MacMillan. ISBN 0-7329-1078-1.
  • Wulf D. Hund (2006): White Australia oder der Krieg der Historiker. In: Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, 3.
  • Laksiri Jayasuriya, David Walker, Jan Gothard (Eds.) (2003): Legacies of White Australia. Crawley, University of Western Australia Press.
  • James Jupp and Maria Kabala (1993). The Politics of Australian Immigration. Australian Government Publishing Service.
  • Myra Willard (1923). History of the White Australia Policy to 1920. Melbourne University Press. (old but still very useful)
  • Ian Duffield (1993). Skilled Workers or Marginalised Poor? The African Population of the United Kingdom, 1812-1852. Immigrants And Minorities Vol. 12, No. 3; Frank Cass.
  • Keith Windschuttle (2004). The White Australia Policy. Macleay Press.

External links

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