The Demise of the White Australia Policy

The Post-War Immigration Programme

The post-World War Two large-scale immigration programmes were set in motion by the Labor government of Prime Minister Ben Chifley, who had appointed Arthur Calwell as Minister for Immigration to formulate and develop the new migration policies.

As Calwell later stated, "The Pacific War of 1940-45 forced Australia to face ultimate reality for the first time in her brief history ... the 1940's really brought home to her how easily she could be annihilated. The Japanese had bombed Darwin, their midget submarines had entered Sydney Harbour, their soldiers had almost won New Guinea as a springboard for a land assault on the mainland. The shock was decisive, the resolution had been made. The 7.5 million population had to be boosted - urgently."(35)

It has been explained by Rhonda Smith that "Near invasion by Japan during the Second World War proved Australia's vulnerability and reinforced the traditional fear of the "yellow peril" ... Arthur Calwell wrote in 1945 "We face the gloomy future of being a small nation surrounded by many millions of other people looking enviously at our large continent" ... It was argued that in the interests of national security it was essential to increase Australia's population rapidly ... In order to ensure enough people to provide troops and to support an economy capable of providing advanced armaments, it was estimated that a population of 25 million was required while the current population was only 7.3 million ... Defence was not the only reason for initiating the immigration programme at the end of the war ... Calwell argued "We need it [population growth] for reasons of defence and for the fullest expansion of our economy" (emphasis added). Later he wrote "We need increased population to develop fully our great country and to assist the expansion of its economy." Indeed, war, by demonstrating the problems of a narrow economic base, had shown that economic development and national security were not separate issues."(36)

Greg Patmore states that "The near invasion of Australia by Japan during the Second World War and Australia's inability to defend itself altered Labor's attitude towards large scale assisted immigration. Calwell and his colleagues hoped that immigration would allow the full development of national resources necessary for Australian defence ... The federal government's commitment to full employment and the maintenance of the White Australia Policy also alleviated union fears that the immigration program would allow cheap labor to be dumped in Australia. Calwell promised to obtain the majority of migrants from the U.K., but the proposed ratio of ten British migrants for every one non-British migrant was never achieved."(37)

Patmore says, of the post-war immigration programme, that "Australian governments had to go beyond the UK to meet immigration targets and provide sufficient labour for the expansion of industry during the postwar boom. A shortage of shipping after the war limited the availability of British migrants. After failing to attract sufficient immigrants from France and Scandinavia, Calwell obtained war refugees from camps in Western Europe." Due to the lack of available shipping to carry migrants, Australia spent several million pounds on renovating damaged ships. Also, the International Refugee Organisation chartered many foreign-owned ships to move displaced persons to new countries. "These refugees included survivors of the Holocaust and people fleeing from the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe ... In the 1950s Northern Europe (especially Germany and the Netherlands) and Southern Europe (especially Italy, Greece and Malta) became important sources of European immigration as the refugee intake from Eastern Europe had virtually stopped by 1951. The federal government gave assistance to the preferred migrants from the UK and Northern Europe ... Despite assistance, the economic prosperity of the UK during the 1950s reduced the British intake to a third of the total. Although British immigration revived in the 1960s, the establishment of the European Economic Community and the economic recovery of Europe reduced immigration from both Northern and Southern Europe. Greater assistance with passage costs was extended to Greeks, Italians, Spaniards and Portuguese and the White Australia Policy began to crumble. Immigration officials allowed "Asians", which included migrants from Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, India and Japan, to enter Australia; and Australia concluded an agreement with Turkey in 1967 to provide assisted passages for selected Turkish citizens."(38)

The Demise of the White Australia Policy