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This badge from 1906 shows the use of the expression "White Australia" at that time

The White Australia policy comprises various historical policies that intentionally restricted "non-white" immigration to Australia from 1901 to 1973. The end of the White Australia policy came in 1975.

Competition in the goldfields, labour disputes and British nationalism created an environment of racial antagonism during the second half of the 19th century which led to the passage of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901, one of the first Acts of the new national parliament upon federation. 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 World War II.

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.


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. Over the next 20 years, 40,000 Chinese men and over 9,000 women (mostly Cantonese) migrated to the goldfields seeking prosperity.[1] Competition on the goldfields led to significant violent conflict between groups.

Competition on the goldfields led to tensions and eventually 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 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.

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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[1]

Objections to immigration restrictions for non-whites came largely from wealthy land owners in rural areas.[1] 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.[2] Despite these objections to restricting immigration, between 1875-1888 all Australian colonies enacted legislation which excluded all further Chinese immigration.[2] 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.[1]

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."[4]

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:[3]

[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."

The chief architect of the policy, Alfred Deakin, believed that the Japanese and Chinese[5] 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." [6]

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 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 the United States 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."[7]

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.[8]

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.[8] 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."[9]

—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.[10] 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."[11]

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", an ethnocentric slogan that meant "Fill with whites, lest we be filled with yellows".[12] 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. In 1948, Iranian Bahá'ís seeking to immigrate to Australia were classified as "Asiatic" by the policy and were denied entry.[13] 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.[11]

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.[10]

  • 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.[11]

End of the White Australia Policy

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:[11]

  • 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.[13] The last selective immigration policy, offering relocation assistance to British nationals, was finally removed in 1982.[14]


Contemporary demographics

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%, 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.)[15]

15% of the population now speaks a language other than English at home.[16] 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".[17] 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, 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.[18]

John Howard speaking on ABC Radio PM, 1 August, 1988

At its peak, Pauline Hanson's One Nation party received 9% of the national vote.[19] Pauline 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:

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.[20]

Pauline Hanson in her maiden speech to parliament

On 24 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[21]. 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, 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 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. 2007 also saw the Howard Government halt applications from refugees if they were from Africa.

Australian government policy from earlier years has been claimed to be the original impetus for the apartheid system in South Africa.[22]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Markey, Raymond (1996-01-01). "Race and organized labor in Australia, 1850-1901" (HTML). Highbeam Research. Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  2. ^ a b c Griffiths, Phil Im so awesome IM SO AWESOME!!!!!! (2002-07-04). "Towards White Australia: The shadow of Mill and the spectre of slavery in the 1880s debates on Chinese immigration" (RTF). 11th Biennial National Conference of the Australian Historical Association. Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  3. ^ a b Willoughby, Emma. "Our Federation Journey 1901 - 2001" (PDF). Museum Victoria. Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  4. ^ Speech to Colonial Conference of 1897, quoted in J. Holland Rose et al., eds. The Cambridge History of the British Empire: Volume VII: Part I: Australia (1933) p 411; full text
  5. ^ Culture and Customs of Australia
  6. ^ Kay Schaffer Manne's Generation: White Nation Responses to the Stolen Generation Report Australian Humanities Review
  7. ^ "100 Years: The Australia Story. Episode 2: Rise And Fall Of White Australia" (HTML). Australian Broadcasting Commission. 21 March 2001. Retrieved 2007-01-29. 
  8. ^ a b "Policy Launch Speech: Stanley Bruce, Prime Minister" (PDF). The Age. 1925-10-26. pp. 11. Archived from the original on 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  9. ^ Bowen, James; Bowen, Margarita (2002). The Great Barrier Reef: History, Science, Heritage. Cambridge University Press. pp. 301. ISBN 0521824303. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  10. ^ a b "Immigration to Australia During the 20th Century" (PDF). Australian Department of Immigration. Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Abolition of the 'White Australia' Policy" (HTML). Australian Department of Immigration. Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  12. ^ Western Australia, "Populate or perish"
  13. ^ a b Hassall, Graham; (ed.) Ata, Abe (1989), Religion and Ethnic Identity, An Australian Study, Melbourne: Victoria College & Spectrum, Chapter "Persian Bahá'ís in Australia", 
  14. ^ Jupp, Dr James. "Immigration and Citizenship" (PDF). University of Melbourne. Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  15. ^ "Population characteristics: Ancestry of Australia's population" (HTML). Australian Bureau of Statistics.!OpenDocument. Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  16. ^ Inglis, Christine (2002-12-01). "Australia's Increasing Ethnic and Religious Diversity" (HTML). Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  17. ^ "MULTICULTURAL AUSTRALIA: UNITED IN DIVERSITY (SOCIAL ENGINEERING AND THE ENFORCEMENT OF DIVERSITY)" (PDF). The Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  18. ^ Megalogenis, George (2006-02-20). "Howard hits out at 'jihad' Muslims" (HTML). The Australian. Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  19. ^ Carr, Adam. "Federal Election of 3 October 1998" (HTML). Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  20. ^ Hanson, Pauline (1996-09-01). "Maiden Speech" (HTML).,20867,18204301-601,00.html. Retrieved 2006-06-14. 
  21. ^ Hanson launches campaign song - Breaking News - National - Breaking News
  22. ^ The Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History:

Hale, Frances

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)
  • Gwenda Tavan (2005). The Long, Slow Death of White Australia. Scribe. 
  • 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. 
  • Jane Doulman and David Lee (2008). Every Assistance & Protection: a History of the Australian Passport. Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade / Federation Press. 
  • John Fitzgerald (2007). Big White Lie: Chinese Australians in White Australia. Sydney. 

External links

Simple English

Cartoon from 1886, showing all the bad things that would happen if Chinese people were allowed into Australia

The White Australia Policy was the name given to a number of a laws that stopped non-Europeans from coming to live in Australia. These laws started in 1901, and were stopped in 1975. In 1901, 98% of people living in Australia were of European background, with "white" skin, and with British laws and customs.[1] The government wanted to keep Australia this way. This had an influence on the type of people living in Australia. In 2001, many Australians claimed to have fathers from Europe. About six percent were Asian, and about two percent were Aborigines. Most of the remaining 92% were European.[needs proof]

In the 1850's there many Chinese people, mainly men, came to Australia to search for gold. This lead to anti Chinese riots on the goldfields at Lambing Flat in New South Wales, and at the Buckland River diggings in Victoria.[2] The Victorian government tried to stop more Chinese from arriving, by charging a special tax of £10 for every Chinese person who came on a ship to Victoria.[3] In 1861 New South Wales passed laws to stop Chinese people coming, and Queensland passed laws in 1877, and Western Australia in 1886.[4] Later men from the Pacific Islands, called "kanakas", were brought to Australia to work on the sugarcane farms in Queensland. This also caused problems because they worked for much lower wages than other people.[2] The new Federal government of Australia acted in 1901 to stop certain types of people coming to work, or live in Australia.


Immigration Restriction Act

The Immigration Restriction Act (1901) listed who could come to Australia and who would not be allowed into the country.[2] The following types of people were not allowed:[2]

The dictation test

This test was made to keep out anyone that the Australian government did not want to allow into Australia without being seen to be racist.[5] Anyone who wanted to come to Australia had to be literate, that is be able to read and write. This would be proved with a dictation test.[6] A person had to be able to write down something read to them in a European language by a government official. It did not have to be in a language that they understood. At first the test was to be given in English, but the government thought that American negroes and Japanese people would be able to pass the test.[7] For example, to keep out people from Malta, they were given the test in Dutch.[5] One person who spoke several languages, was given the test in Gaelic.[5] The test could also be given to people in the first year that they were living in Australia. In 1932, this was changed to the first five years, and it could be given many times. From 1902 to 1909, the test was given to 1359 people, and only 52 passed.[7] After 1909, no person passed the test.[7] Anyone who failed the test was forced to leave Australia.[7] This law was used until 1958.[7]

Other webpages


  1. "White Australia Game c.1920's" (in English). Objects Through Time. NSW Migration Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 "Abolition of the 'White Australia' Policy" (in English). Fact Sheet 8. Department of Immigration and Citizenship. 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  3. "Restrictive immigration Acts" (in English). Gold. SBS. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  4. "Lambing Flat riots" (in English). Explore the Harvest of Endurance scroll. National Museum of Australia. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "The Dictation Test" (in English). Customs History. Old Customs House Immigration Musuem. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  6. "The White Australia policy" (in English). From Mississippi to Melbourne via Natal: the invention of the literacy test as a technology of racial exclusion. Australian National University. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 "Immigrartion Restricion Act 1901" (in English). Documenting Democracy. National Archives of Australia. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 


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