White Australia Policy Essay, Research Paper
Abolition of The immigration Act or white Australia policy
The origins of the ‘White Australia’ policy can be traced back to the 1850s, when white miners’ resentment towards the Chinese diggers growing into violence on the Buckland River in Victoria, and at Lambing Flat in New South Wales. The Governments of these two colonies introduced restrictions on Chinese immigration.
Later, it was the turn of hard-working Kanakas in Northern Queensland. Factory workers in the south became opposed to all forms of immigration, which might threaten their jobs – particularly non-white people who they thought would accept a lower standard of living and work for lower wages.
Some influential Queenslanders felt that the colony would be excluded from the forthcoming Federation if the Kanaka trade did not cease. Leading NSW and Victorian politicians warned there would be no place for “asians” or “coloureds” in the Australia of the future.
In 1901 the new Federal Government passed an Act ending the employment of Pacific Islanders. The new Immigration Restriction Act 1901 received Royal Assent on 23 December 1901. It was described as an Act “to place certain restrictions on immigration and to provide for the removal from the Commonwealth of prohibited immigrants”.
Among those it prohibited from immigration were the insane, anyone likely to become a charge upon the public or upon any public or charitable institution, any person suffering from an infectious or contagious disease “of a loathsome or dangerous character”. It also prohibited prostitutes, criminals, and anyone under a contract or agreement to perform manual labour within the Commonwealth (with some limited exceptions).
One of the ways restrictions were imposed was by introducing a dictation test, used to exclude certain applicants by requiring them to pass a written test in a specific language with which they were not necessarily familiar. The Act stated the migrant had to “write out dictation and sign in the presence of an officer, a passage of 50 words in a European language directed by the officer”.
Regardless of these severe measures, the implementation of the White Australia policy was warmly applauded in most sections of the community. In 1919 the Prime Minister, William Morris Hughes, hailed it as “the greatest thing we have achieved”.
After the outbreak of hostilities with Japan, Prime Minister John Curtin reinforced the philosophy of the ‘White Australia’ policy, saying “this country shall remain for ever 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”.
During the Second World War, many non-white refugees entered Australia. Most of these left voluntarily at the end of the war, but many had married Australians and wanted to stay. Arthur Calwell, the first Immigration Minister, sought to deport them, arousing much protest.
Minister Holt’s decision in 1949 to allow 800 non-European refugees to stay, and Japanese war brides to be admitted, was the first step towards a non-discriminatory immigration policy.
The next major step was in 1957 when non-Europeans with 15 years residence in Australia were allowed to become Australian citizens. The revised Migration Act of 1958 introduced a simpler system of entry permits and abolished the controversial dictation test. The revised Act avoided references to questions of race. Indeed, it was in this context that the Immigration Minister, Sir Alexander Downer, stated that “distinguished and highly qualified Asians” might immigrate.
After a review of the non-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 Government decided a number of non-Europeans, who had been initially admitted as ‘temporary residents’, but who were not to be required to leave Australia, could become residents and citizens after five years (ie the same as for Europeans), instead of 15 years as had earlier been required.
There was also an easing of restrictions on non-European migrants. The criteria of ‘distinguished and highly qualified’ was replaced by the criteria of ‘well qualified’ non-Europeans and the number of non-Europeans allowed to immigrate would be ’somewhat greater than previously’.
The March 1966 announcement began a period of steady expansion of non-European migration and was the crucial moment in abolishing the ‘White Australia’ policy. Yearly non-European settler arrivals rose from 746 in 1966, to 2 696 in 1971, while yearly part-European settler arrivals rose from 1 498 to 6 054.
In 1973 the Whitlam (Labor) Government took three further steps in the gradual process to remove race as a factor in Australia’s immigration policies. These were to:
h legislate to make all migrants, of whatever origin, eligible to obtain citizenship after three years of permanent residence;
h issue policy instructions to overseas posts to totally disregard race as a factor in the selection of migrants; and
h ratify all international agreements relating to immigration and race.
Because the Whitlam Government reduced the overall immigration intake, the reform steps that it took had very little impact on the number of migrants from non-European countries. An increase in the number and percentage of migrants from non-European countries did not take place until after the Fraser Government came into office in 1975.
In 1978 there was a comprehensive review of immigration in Australia. Far-reaching new policies and programs were adopted as a framework for Australia’s population development. The main points adopted were three-year rolling programs to replace the annual immigration targets of the past, a renewed commitment to apply immigration policy without discrimination, a more consistent and structured approach to migrant selection and an emphasis on attracting people who would represent a positive gain to Australia.
An average net population gain of 70 000 was forecast for the first triennium 1978-81 and this was estimated to assist in raising Australia’s population to about 19.1 million in 2001.
Today, almost one in four of Australia’s 18.3 million people was born overseas. In 1998-99, the number of settlers by country of birth totalled 84 143, and they came from more than 150 countries. Most came from New Zealand (22 per cent), the United Kingdom (10 per cent), China (7 per cent), South Africa (6 per cent), Philippines (4 per cent), and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (3 per cent).
The abolition of the ‘White Australia’ policy was a gradual process that took place over a period of 25 years. The first step towards a less discriminatory migration policy was taken by Immigration Minister Harold Holt, with bipartisan support from the Australian Labor Party.
Following the election of Liberal Country Party (LCP) in 1949, Mr Holt allowed 800 non-European refugees to remain in Australia and allowed Japanese war brides to enter Australia. Over the next 24 years, the LCP Government gradually removed most of the remaining discrimination, with the final vestiges being removed in 1973 by the new Labor Government.
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