The year was 1901 when Australia finally got what it had been hoping for ever since the recession and the industrial strikes caused by a severe draught in the 1890s. After the draught, some people began to see the benefits of uniting the six colonies that were run as six rival countries up until that point. Following a series of referendums in 1900, the majority agreed to become a Federation and the Commonwealth of Australia was finally proclaimed on 1st January, 1901.
Here’s a more detailed overview of this period: http://www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au/exhibition/objectsthroughtime-history/ott1901/index.html
As part of the British Empire, Australia was still firmly controlled, especially when it came to foreign and defense policies. Sure, it was now able to make its own laws and elect its own Parliament, but the mother country kept a firm grip on the Federation by not allowing it to have its own navy or to form treaties with some other nations. Yet, this doesn’t mean that Australia had no power to change certain things and influence the way the country was being run, as well as the way it was being populated.
Why am I mentioning the population now, though? Well, the answer to this question is perfectly simple, since one of the first laws and acts that were brought about by the Commonwealth of Australia had to do with the population of the country. It was quickly clear to everyone that some of the Australians weren’t quite happy with the fact that thousands of Chinese immigrants decided to come to these colonies even before they were united.
Now that the colonies became united into a Federation, it seemed that they had the perfect opportunity to deal with this issue and come up with a common immigration policy that would restrict the economic competition of those migrants. Thus, the first piece of legislation was passed by the Parliament and, as you can see on this page, it might have perhaps been the move that led to some even more culturally restrictive policies and rules that Australia brought about in the following decades.
Let us, at least for now, stick to the Immigration Restriction Act that I referred to above and check out what it was and whether it might still have some consequences for the country even in the 21st century. In order to understand the present and the future, you certainly need to get familiar with the history of the Federation and that’s exactly what we are doing here today. So, let us take a more detailed look into the Immigration Restriction Act, that is today infamously known as the White Australia Policy.
What Was The White Australia Policy?
As I have already explained, this policy was formally known as the Immigration Restriction Act, and it’s primary goal was to stop all non-European migration to Australia. Why was it important, though? Well, if you think about it really closely, it will become clear to you, even without any explanation whatsoever, that this led to the ban of non-white people entering and inhabiting Australia.
Consequently, the country was on a path towards becoming a completely white society. It appears that the 20th century was the period during which countries were determined to become racially insulated and I’m sure that, from this point of view, this looks a lot like the plan that Germany had prior to and during the World War II. Yet, it didn’t all seem so controversial from the point of view of those who had been living in the Federation in the early beginning of the 20th century.
This policy, however, remained into place up until the middle of the previous century and it had also largely affected the Indigenous Australians that were already living there, since their options were to either die out or work towards assimilating into the all-white society by practically giving up their cultural heritage. As you might imagine, there were certainly people who were unhappy with the decisions that actually led to this type of behavior and this type of sentiment towards the Indigenous individuals. After all, there was never a point in time where people were happy to be oppressed.
The Immigration Policy Act, in short, stated that the people who wanted to migrate to Australia had to be given a kind of a dictation test that could actually be in any of the European languages. So, say you were from Japan or China and you wanted to live in this Federation. Your task would be to take and pass a test in Italian, French or English languages, which pretty much set you up for failure right in advance. You can probably see right away why the Act is now known as the White Australia Policy, since the tests were designed to prevent any other race from entering the country.
Sure, this was later changed and the test was allowed to be taken in any other language, but that didn’t quite make things better. Most Asians still failed it and the truth is that they were allowed to enter the country only if they had some great sponsors or if they were ready to follow some highly strict and severe exclusion rules. As you can conclude all on your own, these policies were extremely discriminatory, which must have left certain consequences even today.
Are There Any Consequences?
While the Government worked hard in the second half of the 20th century to abolish the measures that led to the discrimination of non-white people in Australia, some would argue that the consequences of these policies can still be seen even today. If nothing else, some people might be worried that, even though the actual White Australia Policy was, in fact, abolished, the actual ideology of an all-white society might still be lingering on, which is definitely not a world that we would want to live in today. Fortunately, however, multiculturalism is certainly here to stay, meaning that times like those are hardly ever going to return.