Immigration restriction act- 1901
The Immigration Restriction Act (1901) can be argued was a policy enacted to reflect the prejudices in Australian society at the time. The Immigration Restriction Act consisted of the Australian Parliament limiting immigration to Australia, which came to be known as The White Australia Policy. The White Australia Policy consists of various historical laws that favour immigration to Australia from Britain but strongly discourage non-whites or people who are not of British descent. At the turn of the Century Australia was still a relatively new country. It’s population was 4 million, somewhat small, compared to other world populations. At the time the general public consensus was that Australia should be a white country and allowing indiscriminate immigration could threaten its identity. The White Australia Policy had overwhelming support from Australia’s white population, so it could be argued that its introduction was merely a reflection of the public’s ideals at the time.
This is reflected by historian Myra Willard: “…no motive power, operated more universally on this continent, or in the beautiful island of Tasmania… than the desire that we should be one people, and remain one people, without the admixture of other races.” Myra Willard, ‘History of the White Australia Policy to 1920’. Melbourne University Press, 1923. p 119 It is clear that white Australians were passionate about preserving a white Australia. Undoubtedly the Federal Government was under a great deal of public pressure to conform. By analysing the reasoning behind the Policy it was more than just an attempt to preserve white culture. As the Parliamentary debates at the time convey, there was an argument that the white race was superior and non-whites were deemed inferior. The Prime Minister at the time Edmund Barton delivers this message to Parliament. “We are guarding the last part of the world in which the higher races can live and increase freely for the higher civilisation. I place before the house a measure of definite and high policy.” Although the White Australia Policy did have overwhelming support within Parliament and the public there were some who opposed the new policy.
Some objections were made on moral grounds citing that the Laws were brutal and offensive. “I have already admitted that it is our duty to restrict the immigration of Asiatics… I cannot bring myself in the face of appeals like that, and in the face of the knowledge I have of India and Asia generally, to do anything in the insulting and brutal way proposed by the Bill….” Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates’, November 13, 1901. p 7158 Opposition was also met with from Britain, which many Australian parliamentarians were concerned about. The British Government had warned against an outright ban based on race and colour. The Immigration Restriction Act would be contrary to the British principle of equality and would deeply offend their Indian subjects and their Japanese allies. Despite Britain’s clear objections many were still prepared to support the Bill even if it meant breaking ties with Britain. This is clearly expressed by William Morris Hughes: “We want a White Australia and are we to be denied it because we shall offend the Japanese or embarrass His Majesty’s ministers? I think not… If we are to go on making things smooth for His Majesty’s Government- if our first and only desire is to shape a policy to suit our own ends, then we know where we are. We have come, it appears to me, to the parting of ways.” William Morris Hughes, ‘Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates’ September 12, 1901. p 4825 Prior to 1901, immigration was controlled by the colonies.
During the gold rush in the 1850’s many migrants came to Australia from around the world and wanted to settle there. While the majority were from Britain, 60,000 came from Continental Europe, 42,000 from China, 10,000 from the United States and just over 5,000 from New Zealand and the South Pacific. By the time of Federation the total population was close to four million of whom one in four were born overseas. The Australian colony was soon shifting to a population of different migrants. This left Australians introduce policies that would control migration. The Australian colonies were particularly concerned with the amount of Chinese migrants and the conflicts that had arisen between the Chinese and white Australians settler. Prior to 1901 the Colonial States gathered to discuss ways of prohibiting Chinese migration and other migrants.
Thus when Australian Federation was formed, the Immigration Restriction Act was introduced as solution to the problem the colonial states had been facing. As a result the number of Chinese migrants decreased instantly. At face value the Immigration Restriction Act was arguably racist and exclusionary. However in early 19th Century Australia it was widely viewed as a necessity. Australia was still a new country with a relatively small population. It was viewed worldwide as a land of prosperity and became popular for many to migrate there and seek their fortune. Had not the Federal Government implemented laws to regulate immigration Australia could have potentially lost its identity as a predominately White Nation. The Immigration Restriction Act appealed to people’s fears and the need for self preservation, and at the time this argument was fairly plausible.
In each and every avenue of life we find the competition of the coloured races insidiously creeping in, and if we are to maintain the standard of living we think necessary, in order that our people may be brought up with a degree of comfort, and with scholastic advantages which will conduce to the improvement and general advancement of the nation, some pause must be made in regard to the extension of the competition of the coloured aliens generally. (Member of parliament 1901). This quote clearly states that the majority of Parliament felt strongly about protecting Australia’s white identity. This was done in the face of opposition from Britain and the likelihood of upsetting other countries like Japan. It was a bold step but the majority of Australians were determined. . The White Australia Policy was an important chapter in Australian history. It had its benefits and limitations. It affected not just Australia but many people around the world. It was something that many countries were against and is very different to what Australia’s immigration policy is today.
Immigration Restriction Act 1901 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_Restriction_Act_1901 USED ON: April 14th
The Establishment Of The Immigration Restriction Act – ABC
http://www.abc.net.au/federation/fedstory/ep2/ep2_events.htm USED ON: April 26th
White Australia: Immigration Restriction Act 1901, Australia to 1914 http://www.skwirk.com.au/p-c_s-14_u-127_t-350_c-1213/history-of-racist-attitudes-and-fear/nsw/history/australia-to-1914/white-australia-immigration-restriction-act-1901 Copyright © 2013 Red Apple Education Ltd. All rights reserved. USED ON: April 14th
White Australia policy – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia