The Demise of the White Australia Policy

The Thin Edge of the Wedge

The push for immigration reform had not come out of a vacuum. Within Australia, there existed for a long time a minority of people who were opposed to restrictive immigration policies based upon racial considerations, and were thus opposed to the White Australia Policy; and who therefore advocated liberalistic immigration policies.

These liberal-internationalists remained a minority, but they increasingly strengthened their position by constantly pushing their ideology, particularly through academia and the churches (as well as in many other social sectors). In the early part of the twentieth century, many Australians began to forget the dangers of the massive influx of Asians that had occurred in the nineteenth century, and were content to let in some Asians (reflected in opinion polls of the time)(68), yet who would not have approved of a large influx of non-Europeans (and who would've been horrified at the prospect of an Asianised Australia). The immigration reformers took advantage of this situation by demanding small, but apparently reasonable, reforms (but which, to the astute observer, were obviously just a prelude to the eventual dismantling of the entire White Australia Policy). It was this "bit by bit" style of political encroachment that worked; demanding one "small change" after another, using the Fabian-style tactic of "the thin edge of the wedge".

In this context, it is of interest to note the following quotes:

The Immigration Reform Group:
    "In immigration matters, an element of gradualism is not only inevitable but desirable"(69).
Jamie Mackie (the original architect of the Immigration Reform Group), regarding the formation of that organisation:
    "I suppose I had in mind something like the (early) Fabian Society in Britain as an opinion-forming think-tank, rather than as a pressure group as such"(70).
Nancy Viviani, regarding the tactics of the Immigration Reform Group:
    "The abolitionists proposed a minimalist start to Asian migration and a gradualist program. They knew that a century of entrenched anti-Asian sentiment (revived in the 1950s by the Chinese communist threat) would not change quickly, that a small beginning would be acceptable and that experience should be a guide to future liberalisation. By this stance, they cut the ground from beneath the image of "floods of Asians" so effectively used by their opponents ... By pushing the ideas of limited numbers and "occupational balance" they undermined their opponents' two most important positions - numbers and fears of racial conflict"(71).
The growth in Asian, and other coloured immigration, began slowly, due to the fact that those who were dismantling Australia's traditional immigration policies realised that a sudden increase in Asian immigration would spark an enormous public backlash, leading to the political demise of its promoters, an end to the coloured immigration programme, and perhaps even to a newly invigorated White Australia Policy. The influx started off first of all by the use of "discretion" by Immigration Department administrators (which was carried out in a secretive manner by, as A.C. Palfreeman noted in The Administration of the White Australia Policy, "taking care to exercise the discretion away from public scrutiny")(72), then by changing government policy to accept only those non-Europeans who were professional and/or highly qualified, and then later changing this to also accept those who were semi-professional and/or less qualified, and finally becoming "open slather" - firstly in low numbers and proportion, then finally being increased to the current high numbers and proportion.

That this "slowly, slowly" tactic, using the "thin edge of the wedge" strategy, was deliberate is beyond doubt. The immigration reformers were not stupid - they knew that they had to make changes slowly, carefully, and skilfully; they had the political skill to manipulate public opinion. Consider the following quotations:

In 1962, the Immigration Reform Group had claimed that
    "All we ask for at this stage is a small annual intake (1,500)"(73).
In 1965 Donald Dunstan, then the ALP's South Australian Attorney-General, and who was instrumental in the removal of the clause for a White Australia Policy from the ALP electoral platform, was insistent that the Australian Labor Party did "not propose to open the floodgates to Asian immigration"(74).

In 1970 Mr. J.E. Lake, President of the Australian Eurasian Association, said that
    "No one wants to see the yellow hordes pouring into the country, but surely more qualified people should be admitted"(75).
Also in 1970 Dr. Kenneth Rivett, then the Chairman of the N.S.W Association for Immigration Reform, stated that
    "My association would like to see the qualification restrictions relaxed still further. We feel there is place for the less qualified -- clerks, tradesmen, shopkeepers -- providing a balance is struck with the professional people entering. We are anxious to prepare the ground for a time when a settlement in Vietnam might create an acute refugee problem. This would be a situation where a change in policy would be justified, so that the less qualified could be admitted"(76).
In 1971 Gough Whitlam "made a speech to the Perth Press Club in which he said it was nonsense to suggest that Labor's policy would open the floodgate to coloured migrants or be the thin edge of the wedge"(77).

Also in 1971, the then Liberal Prime Minister, John Gorton, said:
    "I think if we build up gradually inside Australia a proportion of people without white skins, then there will be a complete lack of consciousness that it is being built up ... and that we will arrive at a state where we will have a multi-racial country without racial tensions - and perhaps the first in the world"(78).
In 1972 Don Chipp, then a Liberal Minister (later to be the leader of the Australian Democrats), told television viewers that
    "I would like to see a stage in the 1980s where Australia is becoming the only true multi-racial country in the world, and that is the Liberal Party's aim"(79).
By 1975, the Immigration Reform Group had raised the numbers of non-European immigrants that it was calling for:
    "Australia's intake of non-Europeans and part-Europeans should rise - if certain conditions are met - to, say, 20 000 a year"(80).
It was obvious at the start to many patriots that any "small" demands that the immigration reformers were making were, in fact, the "thin edge of the wedge", and that as the wedge prised open the crack in the White Australia Policy wider and wider, that a flood of coloured immigrants would start arriving in Australia in larger numbers over the next several years, with even larger numbers to come in subsequent decades. The intent of the liberal-internationalists was clear: they wanted to eventually destroy White Australia.

As yet another example of the deceptive tactics used by such liberal-internationalists, the Department of Immigration even changed its definition of Asia, in order to disguise the large numbers of Asian migrants coming in. As Stephen Castles explained, "in the late 1960s it was desired to widen migrant recruitment without creating fears of an 'Asian influx'. Middle East migrants were therefore turned into 'honorary whites' by a stroke of the pen". By this devious means, the whole of West Asia disappeared from the Immigration Department's definition of Asia (the Australian Bureau of Statistics continued for some years to maintain immigration records unaffected by such "fiddling of statistics", although they did later adopt the same criteria for their immigration figures)(81).

The Demise of the White Australia Policy