History of Migration Legislation
Migration legislation concerning Australia's migration choices has changed drastically throughout the centuries. These changes have seen millions of people migrating to Australia from all different cultural backgrounds. This section will provide a history and overview concerning the development of the legislation.

The origins of the White Australia Policy (WAP) can be traced back to the 1850's Gold Rush where violence broke out between the Chinese and Australian diggers. The resentment that the Australians felt towards the Chinese and the subsequent violence at Lambing Flat, led to the creation of the Chinese Immigration Act 1861 which restricted the number of Chinese entering the colony. Even though this Act was repealed, there is no doubt that this mentality carried through and helped create the WAP. The WAP was established in 1901 under the name of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cwth) and its aims were to place restrictions on immigration and remove unwanted immigrants from the nation. It prohibited the immigration of:

  • People who were considered to be insane
  • Anyone who was likely to become a charge upon the public or upon any public or charitable institution
  • Anyone suffering from a contagious or infectious disease
  • Criminals
  • Prostitutes
  • Anyone under a contract to perform manual labour in Australia (with some exceptions)
Most importantly, applicants also had to perform a dictation test in a European language to be permitted to migrate to Australia. The test would often be delivered in a language that the applicant was unfamiliar with if they were not a desirable migrant. This policy was widely welcomed by the Australian public. Of course this had serious effects on the migrants who wished to enter Australia for different reasons. It strictly controlled the movement of migrants and was uncompassionate towards those who were 'non-white' and were escaping war, persecution or death in their country of origin. The policy was also extremely racist towards Chinese people and Edmund Barton even stated, "The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman." In 1919, Prime Minister Hughes decalared the WAP to be 'the greatest thing we have achieved.'
[SOURCE: http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/08abolition.htm

After the breakout of hostilities with Japan, Prime Minister Curtin strengthened the philosophy of the WAP claiming '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'. However, during WWII, many non-white refugees entered Australia. Most left voluntarily at the end of the war whilst some married Australians and refused to leave. The first immigration minister, Arthur Calwell, wanted these people to be deported but this raised much protest.
It was after the Second World War where major changes to the Immigration Policy took place. Australia sought to boost the population for economic growth, new skills and defence. A number of agreements regarding migrants were set up with other countries. These included:

  • A system of assisted or free passages to Australia of United Kingdom residents
  • A system of assisted passages to Australia of British ex-servicemen. This later expanded to accept ex-servicemen and resistance fighters from The Netherlands, France, Norway, Belgium and Denmark
  • A system to accept 'displaced persons' or refugees from the war in Europe in 1947. People from Poland, Yugoslavia and the Baltic States were accepted
  • Formal agreements which permitted assisted migration for people from the United Kingdom, Malta, the Netherlands, Italy, West Germany, Turkey and Yugoslavia. These migrants were given temporary accomodation in exchange for working on Government projects, the most famous being the Snowy Mountains Scheme
  • In 1949, Minister Holt allowed 800 non-European refugees and Japanese war brides to stay in Australia in a first attempt towards the first non-discriminatory immigration policy
The next step in the Immigration Policy was in 1957 where non-Europeans living in Australia for 15 years were allowed to become citizens. After the revision of the Migration Act of 1958, a simpler system of entry permits were introduced and the difficult dictation test was abolished. The Act also avoided issues of race for migration and instead focused on allowing those who were highly qualified, skilled and well suitable to enter Australia. Another revision of the Act also eased the restictions on non-European settlers, allowing those who were 'well-qualified', not 'distinguised and highly-qualified'. The effects of these new changes were profound, it boosted Australia's population and economy but more importantly, building the foundations of the first multi-cultural society. Of course, there was still hostility towards 'non-white' people, especially the Chinese, but Australia opened up its shores to a wider variety of people from different European countries and even accepted those from Turkey and the Baltic states.
[SOURCE: **http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/08abolition.htm**

In 1966, the Australian Government officially adopted the policy of Assimilation: where migrants would be encouraged to give up their native culture and language and adopt completely to the Australian way of life. A 'sink or swim' approach was used as migrants were simply thrown into the Australian community with very little help from Government agencies. This led to many migrants becoming increasingly poorer and turning to their own communities for comfort and support. This inevitably turned Australia into a culturally divided nation which was unwelcoming of migrants and because of this, most migrants were treated as second-class citizens. Furthermore, Australia had to consider its 'overseas image' as accepting migrants was intergral in building economic and political relationships with other countries. In addition to this, International law recognised the individual's right to practise their own language and culture- rights that were not in conjunction with Assimiliation. The Government saw that the policy of Assimilation was failing miserably. In 1972, the Minister for Immigration, Al Grassby, and his department conducted a report on migrants called the Galbally Report. They had found that migrants were socially, politcally and economically disadvantaged. These problems could only be solved if the Government adopted the policy of Mulitculturalism. The abolition of the WAP went hand-in-hand with the introduction of the policy of Multiculturalism and subsequently saw a dramatic increase in the number of non-European settlers. These settlers rose from 746 in 1966 to 2,696 in 1971. The Whitlam Labor Government in 1973 introduced three new steps to dismiss the race factor in Australia's immigration policies. These were:
  1. "To legislate that all migrants, of whatever origin, be eligible to obtain citizenship after three years of permanent residence
  2. To issue policy instructions to overseas posts to totally disregard race as a factor in the selection of migrants
  3. To ratify all international agreements relating to immigration and race."
[SOURCE: **http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/08abolition.htm**]
The Fraser Government elected in 1975 continued to open up new migration decisions. They renewed their commitment to apply immigration decisions without racial prejudice, they built a more consistent and structured approach on the selection of migrants and placed emphasis on attracting people to Australia who would represent a positive gain for the nation.

For a summary on Australia's current Immigration Policy, **click here.**