Australia’s immigration policy has changed significantly over time, beginning with racist foundations and moving to one of the most accepting countries in the world; but since 1996 changes have also occurred, leading to a move away from multiculturalism. This presentation will examine the history of immigration to Australia and immigration policies, beforefocusing on the changes brought in since 1996, and the increasing politicization of immigration.
PART 1: Changing types of immigration to Austalia and the reorientations of the immigration policies until 1996:
To go into the matter in more depth let us first focus on the changing types of immigration to Australia until 1996 (change in government) without forgetting to highlight thereorientations of the immigration policies which played undoubtedly a key role in the migratory trends. What is worth noticing is that this ‘flashback’ is obviously a necessary stage to fully understand the actual immigration policy and debate in Australia.
Since Australia became part of the British Empire in 1788, immigration has been a cornerstone in its economic development and nation building. Asthe Australian colonies were considered as lands rich in raw materials (wool, wheat, gold, etc) the British Crown sent there forced-workers through convict transportation and encouraged free settlement. Moreover, in order to avoid the construction of a ‘male society’, Britain elaborated migration schemes based on the sending of female convicts and single women (British or Irish escaping the potatofamine): they were destined for menial domestic services and for becoming settlers’ wives[i]. During the 1850s, more than 600 000 migrants[ii] settled in Australia to provide for cheap labour needs and because of the gold rushes: this new wave of immigrants included many non-British or non-European workers, particularly from China, India and the South Pacific Islandsi. In the 1890s, theAustralian Labour Party called for higher wages (wages ‘fit for white men’) in a context of increasing racism and resentment especially towards Asian workers (for instance the newspapers talked about the ‘yellow peril’ concerning the Japanese, but also depicted the Chinese as ghoulsii…).
One of the first Acts to be passed by the new Federal Parliament in 1901 was the Immigration Restriction Act whichprohibited immigrants considered as insane, poor, diseased, immoral, criminal, etc[iii]. There was also a dictation test, used to exclude certain applicants by requiring them to pass a written test in a language which they could be unfamiliar with. What was called the ‘White Australia Policy’ included other severe measures discriminating on the basis of racial hierarchy and colour such as the Postand Telegraph Act (1901)ii forbidding the recruiting of non-white labour or such as the Pacific Islanders Labourer’s Act (1901)[iv] ending the employment of these people. Only ‘white’ and particularly British immigrants were sought. However this policy was gradually abolished until being formally abandoned in 1973 by the new Labor Government. Furthermore, what cannot be underestimated is theimpact of the Second World War. In fact, in addition to the reception of many refugees, there has been , in 1947, a mass immigration programme in order to increase the population of 7.5 million for both economic and strategic purposes. This ‘populate or perish’ policy[v] targeted at British migrants and considered as legitimate chain migration and family reunion. This model of settlement was based onfull citizenship rights and assimilation (aim of cultural homogenization). As the British were not enough to come, policy-makers gradually extended the field of what they called ‘the acceptable European races’. Thus, in the late 1940s, many immigrants were from Eastern and Central Europe, while in the 1950s and 1960s most of them came from Southern Europe (Italy, Greece, Malta) and then from...
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