Immigration: The end of the White Australia Policyby Anthony CappelloNews Weekly
, January 27, 2001
A new book discussing the origins of multiculturalism provides an opportunity to reflect on Australia's massive post-war immigration program and the groups truly responsible for overturning the White Australia Policy. Anthony Cappello explains.
There can be no adequate critique of multiculturalism without sufficiently evaluating what came before. Before multiculturalism there existed assimilationism and the White Australia Policy, both concepts deriving from the perception that Australia was British. This belief is still prevalent today. When One Nation Senator Hill had to surrender her British passport in order to enter Parliament there was an outcry by her supporters claiming that Australia had forcibly become a republic.
In Mark Lopez's critique on multiculturalism, The Origins of Multiculturalism in Australian Politics 1945-1975, the opening chapter deals with assimilationism. This is to Lopez's credit because many critics of multiculturalism seem to be assimilation deniers. Lopez makes several correct assertions, such as: "The original goal of the immigration policy was the assimilation of migrants into Australia's predominantly Anglo-Celtic population as permanent settlers", and, "[t]he most preferred were Britons ... Southern Europeans, considered to be far less assimilable, were less desired."
It's a pity that these points are not developed and reflected upon because their effect on people of a non-English speaking background continues.
Lopez does fail to mention important incidents during the First and Second World War, such as the internment of Italian and German citizens living in Australia. Here, regardless of being naturalised or unnaturalised British subjects, Germans and Italians were labelled "enemy aliens". The reason argued by some commentaries is that Italians and German were not "British" even if naturalised.
Lopez fails to mention that until 1949 Australians travelled on British passports. The Argus marked Australia Day 1949 with the announcement: "A new nationality will greet the world today, as millions of British subjects become Australian citizens."
Lopez argues that the "preservation of the 'homogeneity of the Australian nation' was considered fundamentally important. This included: Australia's relative mono-culturalism ...". Until 1949 this was British.
Critics of multiculturalism pass over the ugly side of assimilationism: the White Australian Policy. Asians were disqualified and excluded because of their ethnicity.
After the Second World War British migration, which had the highest rate of return migration, was slowing, the second option Slavic and Germanic was encouraged. Australia needed more migrants and so came the Southern Europeans. Asians were simply not an option. White Australia Policy
In Australia after the Second World War the Churches - particularly the Catholic Church - and the far left articulated the injustice of the White Australia policy.
In 1945, according to Lopez, the Melbourne Archbishop Daniel Mannix, along with the Australian Communist Party and the Presbyterian General Assembly called for a quota system of Asian immigration.
In 1959, Archbishop Mannix issued a letter to coincide with the 1959 National Convention of the National Catholic Rural Movement (NCRM) by stating:
"... that the total exclusion of Asians from Australia should be abandoned and that we should admit a sufficient number of the different races to dispel forever the myth of racial superiority inherent in the so-called White Australia Policy."
Speaking at that same convention B.A. Santamaria, National Secretary of the NCRM stated:
"... we must eliminate from its spectrum every sign of a claim to racial superiority."
Earlier in 1953, Santamaria was already questioning the "Christian" nature of the White Australia Policy.
In May 1960, at the National Convention of the National Catholic Rural Movement it was stated that the White Australia policy is "unchristian". On its policy platform it stated "admit Asians to Australia".
In 1961 - as it is retold in the diary of Peter Heydon, Secretary of Department of Immigration - Arthur Calwell submitted an unbroken litany on why there was to be no change to the White Australia Policy. Mannix, argued Calwell, had been induced by Santamaria and his friends to write an article attacking the White Australia policy.
Ironically, B.A. Santamaria has sometimes been accused of being an assimilationist. Yet this is inconsistent with many of his speeches, particularly the following:
"We simply will not succeed unless we adopt the concept of cultural pluralism" [Price of Freedom, 1966].
Unfortunately, this Australian Catholic, NCRM and Santamaria opposition to the White Australia Policy is absent in Lopez's book and in many other works on this topic. However, it was these people that made the decisive difference. Calwell certainly believed this.
Although Lopez's book is valuable, Ghassan Hage argues a fundamentally different approach in White Nation. He believes that white multiculturalists today still see their nation structured around a white culture, which they control using Aboriginal people and migrants as their exotic objects. This is where the boat has over-steered and as Hage contends, there is little difference between Pauline Hanson and the so-called politically correct white-multiculturalists.
Where does the non-English speaking Australian sit in this debate. Although I cannot speak on all of their behalf, a pretty safe bet would be that the vast majority sit on neither side. Perhaps most migrants are content with the middle road integrationists. As Dr Jerzy Zubrzycki argues:
"Migrants should be encouraged as individuals and if they wish, as groups, to preserve and develop their culture, their languages, traditions and arts, so that these can become living elements in the diverse nature of Australian society."