Wednesday 15 May 2013

Multiculturalism and Mass Immigration I

Multiculturalism and Mass Immigration I

Normally when I write I write in broad terms, to express the universal nature of the topic I am writing about. But here I am going to depart, at least at first from my normal format. I am going to use Australia’s experience to make a wider point about multiculturalism and mass immigration. At first for those of my readers who are not Australian it might appear indulgent I hope it isn’t and that you get some insight into the topic from my little history lesson.

In 1901 Australia became independent from Britain although we remained a very proud member of the British Empire. In that year immigration passed from being a responsibility of the 6 different colonies that made up Australia to the new Government of the Commonwealth of Australia. One of the first acts of the new Parliament was to pass the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, which is often called the white Australia policy. It gave a dictation test of no less than 50 words in any European language as the test of whether a person could enter Australia, in reality it was given only to people the Government didn’t want in the country, the two main reasons were race or political activity.

In 1901 about 1% of the population were Australian Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders the indigenous peoples of Australia. About 1% were Chinese, Jewish, Afghan or other non British peoples (including white Europeans and Americans) and the remaining 98% were of British origin, either born in the British Isles or in Australia from British stock. Australia was one of the most homogeneous countries on Earth, with most immigration coming from the British Isles.

While immigration was very restrictive it wasn’t totally exclusive, if a person was only going to live in Australia for a certain period of time they were normally allowed in. While immigration from Japan was very restrictive, Japanese people lived in Australia in their thousands, in fact the Government allowed Japanese companies to decide on the number of people, their character and the length of their stay. Many stayed for years and some stayed in Australia permanently, the Government was happy for the odd exception what they were not happy about was large numbers of immigrants.

The people of Australia believed overwhelmingly in the white Australia policy and so did the political parties of both the Left and the Right. Within Australia the policy was mostly uncontroversial, but not internationally. But before World War II no Australian Government really cared much about what foreign Governments thought. It was World War II that was to change forever Australia's immigration policy. During the war Australia came under direct threat of invasion, something that had not happened since white settlement. The Government and people were shocked that our military ability was so weak, that was mostly the effect of decades of neglect. But the population was only 8 million in 1945 and the Government decided that Australia needed a bigger population to defend it in time of any future war or threat of invasion. The policy was announced to the Australian people as "Populate or Perish". If we did not have the population to defend the nation then it would perish. The shock of war made many agree that this was needed.


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