The Creation of the White Australia Policy

When the Australian colonies federated into a nation in 1901 the first pieces of legislation that the new nation passed were the acts that comprised the White Australia Policy:
1. Immigration Restriction Act of 1901. This act regulated what type of immigrant should be allowed to come into Australia.
Dictation Test:
Whether a migrant was allowed to be admitted was decided by the 'Dictation Test'. Under the act, any person who failed to pass a dictation test of fifty words in any European language was refused entry. Any immigrant of less than five years residence could also be given the test, and if they failed they would be deported. The act was amended in 1905 to include any prescribed language, so as not to give offence to the Japanese.

2. Pacific Island Labourers Act of 1901. All Pacific Island labourers who had arrived in Australia were to be deported by 1905.

Targets of the White Australia Policy

1. Chinese.
Opposition to Chinese migrants falls into two phases
a) Initial opposition to Chinese on the goldfields.
b) Fear of Chinese in the labour market by trade unions.
2. The Pacific Islanders.
From the 1860s, over a period of 40 years, more than 60 000 Pacific Islanders were recruited to work on Queensland's sugar plantations. The trade union movement felt threatened by 'cheap coloured labour'.
3. Japanese.
In the 1890s there was growing opposition to Japanese pearl-shellers in Northern Australian ports. The Queensland government signed the Anglo-Japanese Naval Treaty of 1894, which gave Japanese citizens unrestricted entry into Queensland. The other colonies during the Federation movement forced Queensland to exclude the Japanese.

Racial Stereotypes:
1. Chinese were stereotyped as 'ghouls' in human form.
2.The Pacific Islanders were depicted as so debased and morally degenerate that they would be unable to control their vicious sexual passions.
3.The Japanese, because of their country's rising industrial and military might (Japan defeated China in 1895, and Russia in 1905) were seen as the 'yellow peril' that would over run Australia.

Reasons for Excluding Coolie Labour

1. Economic.
Determination of the working class to prevent the immigration of cheap labour.  In 1841, the Colonial Office believed that coolie labour would bring rural work into disrepute, and it was hoping to encourage labourers from the distressed areas of the United Kingdom to emigrate.

2. Humanitarian.
Coolie labour bore similarities with slavery, which had recently been abolished.

3. Religious
Some were wary of allowing too many 'pagans' into Australia.

4. Desire for social homogeneity.
Among many colonists in there was a search for an Australian identity as 'a transplanted Briton'. They saw the colonies as a 'new Britannia', as Humphrey McQueen called it.

5. Antipathy to persons of different colour and other physical characteristics.

Decline of the Chinese Population in Australia

1881  38,500
1888 Restrictions on Chinese Immigration
1891  35,800
1901  29,600
1901 White Australia Policy
1933  14,000
1966 End of the White Australia Policy
1975  40,000

The Prelude to the End of the White Australia Policy

1947 The Chifley Labor Government decided that non-Europeans admitted for business reasons could be permitted to stay without applying for periodical extensions of permits.
1949-1950 The Menzies Liberal Government permits many of the non-European war refugees to remain in Australia. This reversed a decision by the former Labor Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell to deport them. Permanent residency status was also given to Chinese businessmen and students who feared returning to Communist China.
1952 The Liberal Government decided to admit Japanese wives of Australian servicemen.
1956 Liberal Immigration Minister Harold Holt decided to allow non-Europeans who had lived in Australia for 15 years as temporary residents the right to apply for naturalisation. However, non-Europeans still had to wait 15 years to become residents, and only then could they bring their families into Australia.
1958 Liberal Immigration Minister Alexander Downer abolished the 'Dictation Test'. He changed the 'Immigration Restriction Act' to the 'Migration Act'.
1959 Jamie Mackie, K.D. Rivett, and Tony Harold form the Immigration Reform Group to put pressure on Government to abandon the White Australia Policy.
1964 The 15 year wait for Non-Europeans to being their families into Australia was also removed. Entrants on temporary permits could now bring their relatives into Australia.
1965 The Australian Labor Party deleted reference to the phrase ‘White Australia’ from its party platform. Much of the substance of the policy still remained.

End of The White Australia Policy

1966 March White Australia Policy is officially abolished. Immigrants of non-European backgrounds were eligible to enter Australia if they were 'well-qualified'. A small number of 'qualified' non-Europeans were allowed to settle in Australia. Residency status for non-Europeans could now be acquired after five years.
1970 3 500 non-Europeans became settled in Australia.
1971 January Liberal Prime Minister John Gorton announced in Singapore a commitment to making Australia a 'multiracial' society.
1971 Under Gough Whitlam, the Labor Party embraced a non-discriminatory immigration policy.
1973 January 31, The Whitlam Labor Government's Immigration Minister Al Grassby effectively ended the White Australia Policy. He altered the entry requirements specifying that persons from non-European backgrounds be 'well-qualified' or skilled workers. Grassby announced that all migrants will be selected according to a points system.
1974 December, 49 Filipino tradesmen and their families are given residency. There was little public opposition.
1975 April The Government admits 1,159 Vietnamese refugees and 350 orphans from South Vietnam. 450 Vietnamese students studying in Australia were allowed to stay.
1978 May The Fraser Liberal Government decided to admit 9,000 Indo-Chinese refugees a year.
1981 Since 1975 the Australian Government had admitted 46,500 Vietnamese immigrants.

 The End of Empire and the End of The White Australia Policy

After World War II, the racial barriers associated with colonialism were no longer tolerated in the former colonies of the European powers.

When the former colonial countries became independent racially discriminatory immigration policies created foreign relations problems.

Public opinion in Western countries was turning away from a belief in racial ideologies.

Protest against WAP in 1940s

In late 1947 and early 1948, 14 Malay seamen and one Chinese seamen were deported back to Malaya under the White Australia Policy.

A few of these men had Australian wives and children. There was sympathy for them in Australia.

In Malaya and Singapore there was outrage.

An online discussion of the anti-colonialist protest in former colonial countries, which led to the end of the White Australia Policy because it was found to be embarrassing in the new postwar world of decolonisation and the end of empire, can be found at
Kevin Blackburn, "Disguised Anti-Colonialism: Protest Against the White Australia Policy in Malaya and Singapore, 1947-1962", Australian Journal of International Affairs, (2001) (55) 1: 101-117. See the online copy.

In 1948, Australian soldiers involved in the Allied Occupation of Japan could not bring their Japanese Wives Back to Australia under the WAP

Images of families torn apart by the WAP started to turn Australian opinion against the policy.

The Japanese Brides eventually returned to Australia and other Asians married to Australians, in 1950s

In 1966, the White Australia Policy was liberalised by the Holt Government - well-qualified Asians could be admitted to Australia.

Holt Government Cabinet documents reveal that although a small number of non-Europeans were to be admitted Australia was to remain “racially homogenous”.

In 1973, the White Australia Policy was completely abolished.

Immigration Policy of Assimilation

In 1969 the Australian Immigration Minister Billy Snedden could still voice the one nation one race idea:

“We must have a single culture…if migration implied multicultural activities within Australian society, then it was not the type Australia wanted…we should have a mono-culture with everyone living the same way, understanding each other and sharing the same aspirations.”

The Multiculturalism Idea Emerges

In 1973 the Australian Immigration Minister Al Grassby outlined the new idea of multiculturalism. A. Jakubowicz, an academic specialising on immigration:

“He did argue that every migrant culture had value, so that Australia would become or was already in the process of becoming a multicultural society around a shared core of basic democratic norms and values that were specifically Australian.”

The Multiculturalism Idea Becomes A Government Ideology

The succeeding Fraser Liberal government (1975-1983) promoted multiculturalism partly because the migrant vote had become influential, as large numbers had slowly become citizens and voters.

The following Hawke Labor government (1983-1991) enshrined the idea of multiculturalism as a government ideology.