Some argue that since the First Settlement the Aboriginal population of the continent was increasingly dispossessed. About 300 Aboriginal nations had come to exist on the continent during the previous 40,000 years. The first Act of the new Australian government was the White Australia Policy. Some posit that the policy was enacted with the aim to simply purify the new nation by denying citizenship rights to non-Caucasians already resident while allowing only British subjects to immigrate.
Yet, this argument is counterpoised. Up until Federation, settler farmers of the colony located about what later became known as the state of Queensland used Pacific island natives, called 'Kanaks', to work their cane fields The labour was cheap. The White Australia Policy was implemented, it has been argued, to protect the standard of living of the population resident in the new-found Commonwealth from the import of cheap labour. The labour union movement in Australia at the time, too, had a great amount of influence.
The currency of the pro-British aspect of the White Australia Policy as with the prejudice clinging to some British heritage was noticeably depreciated through the course of time. Originally excluded, and as Australia's population became sensitive to the notion of racism against the indigenous population, a referendum was held to rectify the omission of Australia's Aboriginal people on 27 May 1967 from the Commonwealth in connection with Section 51 of the Constitution They were included in the census and given the right to vote in national elections. Note that Maori immigrants from New Zealand had always been able to vote in Commonwealth elections since the first Commonwealth electoral law; the difference in treatment of Maori and Aboriginal people reflects differences in how these two groups were viewed by White settlers, and not a difference in how New Zealand and Australian White settlers viewed indigenous populations.
By the 1930s the White Australia Policy had succeeded in reducing the non-European component of Australia's population such that the nation was about 98% European. Following World War II, interest in migrating to Australia from traditional British sources declined (due to reconstruction efforts in Europe and the relative desirability and proximity of Canada and the USA). The post-war nation-building imperative of 'populate or perish' thereby required a slight broadening of the White Australia Policy to include Southern Europeans, particularly Greeks and Italians, large numbers of whom have since made Australia home. Further relaxations followed soon after, allowing an increasingly diverse migrant intake from all parts of the world.
Australia officially became a multicultural country in 1973 when the Australian government adopted policies of multiculturalism. However, like most contemporary settler societies, such policies have never had universal acceptance, and in 1988 John Howard promoted his One Australia policy calling for an end to multiculturalism and a reduction in Asian immigration. Within the Australian community there have been some high-profile issues of race-based violence (for example the Redfern and Cronulla riots) as well as upsurges of popular race-based discourse since the 1996 election of the Liberal-National Coalition Government led by then Prime Minister John Howard, who was criticised in some quarters for allowing the views of Pauline Hanson to circulate without censure. In her maiden parliamentary speech, Hanson said that "a multicultural country can never be a strong country" and supported this assertion with a number of widely publicised remarks about Asians not assimilating and living in ghettos, and more recently, Africans bringing disease into Australia. While Pauline Hanson tapped a nerve in the community opposed to rapid and sizeable immigration from disparate sources, any racist diatribe was cause for angst.
Following her rise to prominence on the national political scene, Hanson formed the One Nation Party, which attracted significant support for a few years. Many of Hanson's policy proposals about restricting the entry of asylum seekers and refugees became official Howard Government policy while her own One Nation Party's political stocks dramatically declined, though her views continued to exert influence on the Howard Government's approach to immigration. Her public criticism of African refugees in Australia in October 2007 were soon followed by the Minister for Immigration, Kevin Andrews, revisions to justifications for reducing the humanitarian intake from Africa from a policy based on changed political circumstances in source countries to problems with integration within Australia.
2007 marked Howard's attempt to win a fifth term. Mid-year, the Howard Government commenced a radical intervention (known as the Northern Territory National Emergency Response) in a number of Aboriginal communities with the stated aim of ending child abuse. Some argue that the intervention was a productive start to addressing what were noticeable, dysfunctional aspects strongly associated with Aboriginal communities. Child abuse was one part of a culture that also involved alcohol abuse and the use of drugs. Such a deleterious culture had come to dominate remote Aboriginal communities. That such a culture in Aboriginal communties existed had increasingly become an immense national shame. But, others argue, the Howard Government was not pro-active enough. The Howard Government did not enact a single policy recommendation of the report into child-abuse in Aboriginal communities by which the initiative was given cause. Instead the intervention involved major appropriations of Aboriginal land and the use of military forces. Howard's minister for Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, who acquired a very high profile with the intervention, lost his seat at the subsequent Federal election.
A second event occurred in the last few days of the election campaign of 2007. The husband of a high-profile member of Howard's Cabinet, Jackie Kelly, was caught distributing leaflets purporting to be from a non-existent Muslim organisation who claimed the support of the Labor Party. Like with the outspoken Pauline Hanson, the contrivance was aimed at a nerve in the broader community. In Sydney, people were sensitive to problems caused over time by components of what was broadly known as "the Muslim community", as above. These problems were associated with the multicultural policies adopted many years before. When questioned about this on radio, however, Kelly claimed she found the leaflets to be 'funny' and that everyone who read them found them to be so, comparing them to a skit by the high-profile Australian satirical team "The Chaser". Kelly tried to diminish the racist tone of the contrivance. In the post-election analysis by the Liberal Party, this event has been blamed for increasing the swing against Kelly, who lost her seat.
In March 2008 the Royal Life Saving Society Australia claimed that a group of indigenous Australian trainee lifesavers, consisting mainly of women and children had been evicted from the Haven Back Packer Resort because of the colour of their skin.
The Northern Territory's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner claimed that this was not an isolated incident:
"We've had quite a few of these complaints … There's a few people in the (hospitality) industry that just don't get it," Mr Fitzgerald said. "They seem to have a view that because people are Aboriginal they are going to behave inappropriately (so) they can treat them unlawfully."
Management of the resort at first stated that the resort catered for international backpackers and the trainee lifesavers did not fall into that category and later apologised for any distress caused to the trainees but claimed that they had not been asked to leave but had left voluntarily after international guests had complained.
Subsequently a former employee of the resort claimed that exclusion of indigenous Australians was a well understood though unwritten policy of the resort management.
The overall level of immigration has grown substantially during the last decade. Net overseas migration increased from 30,000 in 1993 to 118,000 in 2003-04. During 2004-05, a total of 123,424 people immigrated to Australia. Of them, 17,736 were from Africa, 54,804 from Asia, 21,131 from Oceania, 18,220 from the United Kingdom, 1,506 from South America, and 2,369 from Eastern Europe. 131,000 people migrated to Australia in 2005-06 and migration target for 2006-07 was 144,000.. Australia, today, is a thriving community of diverse cultural influence. However, it is argued, beneath the surface and between communities, like between those of Serb and Croat ethnicity, there is simmering tension. Some would label that tension as racism, although the notion of differences in complexion is diminished in importance by other ethnic or cultural traits.
Efforts were made by Christian missionaries and later educators and civil servants to replace the Maori language, culture and ways of life with those of England. As a result the language and Maori arts went into major decline before being revived somewhat in the twentieth century. Overt discrimination against Maori was publicly frowned upon but was legal until the 1970s and widely condoned in private.
Although New Zealand did not have an official policy along the lines of the White Australia Policy, it did impose a poll tax on Chinese immigrants during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The poll tax was effectively lifted in the 1930s following the invasion of China by Japan, and was finally repealed in 1944. An official apology to the Chinese community of New Zealand was made by Prime Minister Helen Clark in 2004.
After World War II, immigration policy remained largely pro-British Isles until the mid-1980s, although war refugees, non-Anglo-Celtic migrants, and foreign students studying under the Colombo Plan were allowed into the country in varying numbers. In the 1960s and 70s, large numbers of British immigrants and their proliferation in the trade union movement gave rise to popular Anglophobia in the media and on the streets. This was typified by talkback radio host Tim Bickerstaff's promotion of his "punch a Pom a day" campaign.
In the 1975 election campaign, opposition leader Robert Muldoon ran a scare campaign directed against Pacific Islands migrant workers, which was followed by a series of dawn raids on suspected overstayers. In response, a Pacific Islands group known as the Polynesian Panthers came to prominence. Indigenous land issues came to a head in the late 1970s with Maori protesters occupying the Raglan Golf Course and Bastion Point, with land claims on both being settled by the following decade.
In 1986, country-of-origin rules were abolished, leading to major inflows of immigration for the first time in years, in particular large groups of skilled and business migrants. However, anti-immigration rhetoric directed mainly towards Asians from the populist Maori politician Winston Peters has since forced immigration rules to be tightened. A 2003 study by the Human Rights Commission showed 70% of New Zealanders think that Asians face significant discrimination. Many non-Polynesian ethnic minorities perceive official policy to be indifferent towards them in the context of the Maori-Pakeha bi-culturalism issue.