The White Australia Policy


  1. Introduction
  2. The History of the White Australia Policy
  3. The Abolition of the White Australia Policy
  4. The Current Immigration Policy
  5. Conclusion
  6. References


The White Australia Policy unofficially began in the 1850's in an attempt to create a uni-racial Australia. The policy discriminated against any person who was non-European and those of colored races by refusing to allow them to enter the country. The policy succeeded in doing this until the end of World War II, when the bans on immigration began to be loosened.

The History of the White Australia Policy

The beginnings of the White Australia Policy can be found in the 1850's in Australia. As the number of British prisoners declined in Australia, Australia was forced to import the labor needed to work in its mines because the declining number of prisoners. Only, instead of importing people from Europe, Australia brought in people from China and the Pacific Islands.

Australians turned to the Chinese as an available and easily acquirable labor force. The Chinese were first imported into the country prior to the 1850's as indentured labor and used on sheep farms. In indentured servitude the workers would usually sign a contract stating they would work for a certain period of time in exchange for their passage to Australia. This caused unrest among the citizens of Australia because the Chinese were willing to work for lower wages, work longer hours, and were more dedicated to their work than Australian. Gold miners began to worry about their job security and the government in the Victorian province was alarmed at the rapidly increasing number of Chinese immigrants: during the years 1853 to 1857 the population rose from two thousand to forty thousand Chinese (London, 8). Victoria passed a law in 1855 to restrict the number of Chinese immigrants who could come through it's ports, but that only forced the Chinese to seek other ways of entering the country. New South Wales and South Australia passed similar laws in the late 1850's and early 1860's. The flow of immigrants was then directed to Queensland, where by the 1870's the Austrailans only outnumbered the Chinese on a one to ten ratio (London, 8). The incoming flow of Chinese was finally slowed in 1881 when a restrictive tax was placed on incoming Chinese throughout the country.

At the same time that the Chinese were being kept form entering Australia, Pacific Islanders were being recruited from Melanesia, the Soloman Islands in particular, to work in the sugar plantations on the coast of Queensland. The Islanders, often called kanaka, were forced to live in a state of indentured servitude under extremely harsh conditions. In an attempt to control the growing death rate of the kanakas, the Queensland Government passed the Polynesian Labourers Act in 1868 and another Act in 1883 to control the number of kanakas being imported and the environment in which they were living.

In 1896 the anti-immigration laws were extended in five of the colonies to all people of colored races. Australia passed laws requiring all immigrants to take a test in a dictation test. The test required immigrants who did not appear to be of European origin to write a passage in a European language, which the immigrants usually did not know. If the was unable to pass the test they were not allowed to enter the country. In 1901, the Immigration Restriction Bill was passed and it extended the dictation test to include all people of non-European origin, and became known as the official "White Australia Policy." The policy also prohibited the insane, people likely to become a charge upon the public (i.e. the mentally handicapped), and any person suffering from disease from entering the Commonwealth. Also prohibited were prostitutes, criminals (kind of ironic), and those who had a contract to perform manual labor within the Commonwealth.

The Abolition of the White Australia Policy

The White Australia Policy began to disintegrate during the second World War. Australia requested that only white soldiers be sent for their protection, but the United States refused the request and sent only mixed racial troops. Australia was forced to allow the soldiers into the country in order to have protection from Japan. In 1949, Australia passed laws allowing the refugees who had married Australians and Japanese war-brides to remain in the country. In 1957, those people of non-European ethnicity who had lived in Australia for fifteen years were allowed citizenship, and in 1958 a migration act was passed which made it easier to gain citizenship and got rid of the dictation test. In 1966, the fifteen year requirement for citizenship for non-Europeans was lifted and they were allowed the same five year requirement as Europeans.

After 1966 the number of immigrants increased dramatically from 746 non-Europeans in 1966 to 2696 in 1971. In 1973 the immigration policy was made even more lax. It allowed all immigrants to obtain citizenship after three years of residence and overseas military forces were instructed to disregard race in the selection of recruitments. In 1978 further laws were passed that required a reevaluation of the immigration policy every three years and a committment to immigration without discrimination.

The Current Immigration Policy

Today if you want to become an Australian citizen you have to have been a resident (in good standing) for at least two of the last five years, and have spent 12 months of the past two years in Australia. It is even possible to download an application for immigration from Australia's immigration web-site. The current policy gives preference to immigrants who have highly desireable skills, potential for adapting to Australia, and have family ties in Australia. According to The World Socialist Web Site there is a supposed "blacklist" of countries located in the Asian-Pacific, South America, Middle East, and Europe where the residents are not allowed Australian citizenship because they are considered high risk factors. However, statistics from the 1999-2000 population survey refute this information. One of the countries on the "blacklist" is Yu-goslavia, however they accounted for 2.4% of the 92.272 immgrants in that year. China was also on the "list" and they accounted for 7.4% of the immigrants (Australian Department of Immigration website; Aboltion of the White Australia Policy). Currently 22 percent (Rowntree, 608) of Australia's 19.4 million people (World Population Data Sheet) are immigrants and approximately one-sixth of the total present population of Australia are originally from other parts of the globe (Clawson, 263).

Currently Australia is on a campaign for creating a multicultural country. They have created anti-discrimination policies similar to those we have here in the United States and promote cultural diversity among the public. They have even created a Council for a Multicultural Australia (CMA) which was established to help Australians understand the benefits of being a multicultural nation and create a greater harmony among the people. With the introduction of new cultures into Australia the culture has been affected. The predominant religion in Australia is still Christian, but Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism are the fastest growing religions, and though English is still the most widely spoken language more than 2.5 million of the people speak another language (Rowntree, 608).


Through the elimination of the White Australia Policy Australia has evolved from a racist country into one that is multiculturally diverse. Their evolvement has allowed them to keep up in world economics and become a successful country.


Australia Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs; Abolition of the White Australia Policy and Key Facts in Immigration <> 11/01/01

"World Population Data Sheet." 2001 Edition.

Head, Mike. "The New 'White Australia' Policy" - World Socialist Website <> 9/25/01

Clawson. World Regional Geography: A Developmental Approach. Prentice Hall, 2001.

London, H.I. Non-white Immigration and the "White Australia" Policy. New York University Press, 1970.

Rowntree, Lewis, Price, Wyckoff. Diversity Amid Globalization. Prentice Hall, 2000.

Willard, Myra. History of the White Australia Policy to 1920. Melbourne University Press, 1967.

Sara Waugh, November 2, 2001