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Australian Immigration  1945 - 90's

Over the past 50 years, immigration in Australia has been constantly changing. The need for more immigrants started after World War 2 in 1945, and the choice for settlers was the key factor that has created a modern English-speaking society in Australia. The population and the strength of Australia compared with the United States and European countries were as if an ant has been stepped on. After the Japanese attack and the American defence in Australia during the war, we knew we had to populate in order to survive. As a result, the reform for defence, as well as acquiring more skilled workers, was needed to ensure a safe and prosperous future.

The department of immigration under the Labor government was established in 1945, with Arthur Calwell as the first minister for immigration. His task was to increase the population through a planned immigration scheme. Trade unions and the Australian community did not object to this plan.

The initial targets were British immigrants. Since they spoke English, and have similar cultures, way of life, laws and were whites; they were easy to assimilate. In 1901, the 'White Australia Policy' was established. This discriminating policy on immigrants has every reason to reject non-British/white persons coming to Australia. In 1945, under Calwell's plan, he wanted to target a population increase of 2% each year from natural birth and immigration, and outnumbering foreign immigrants 10 to 1. Though this target was never succeeded, in 1946, the first ship of British immigrants landed in Australia. The main reasons for coming were due to the effects of the war in their torn country, cold weather, food rationing and job opportunities: for the rich and poor. In order to persuade people, the government offered assistance to pay for their trip; especially people with skills.

A few years later, Calwell saw the decrease of British immigrants, and knew his plan was unsuccessful. He decided to go to Europe to target refugees and displaced persons. Australia was a member of the U.N., and agreed to accept these people who were left homeless after the war. Although this had broken the White Australia Policy, he accepted only those who had a fair-skinned appearance. (The British look-a-like) But this decision would definitely alter the cultural composition of Australian society in the future. From the late 1947 to 1952, 170,000 of these displaced persons migrated to Australia from the Baltic States and Eastern Europe (Italy, Germany, Turks, Greece) under the government control. These people who were chosen for their skills and being white; signed a contract to work as a labourer/domestic for 2 years (the kind of jobs that Australian? did not want). But from these people's points of view, living in Australia and working for the government would have been better off than living in a war-zone. By the mid-50's, Australia has rapidly expanded and demand for skilled/unskilled workers magnified.

In 1949, after the Labor government lost power, Holt becomes the next minister of immigration and Menzies as the new Prime minister. The White Australia Policy widens with the discrimination against Jews, and attacks on Communism started against the Asians. The immigration policies were strengthened after spies from communist countries (known as the red people) arrived. The Chinese living in Australia, which were the sources to trade in Asia, had records that were filed by the government. They were investigated to find any misconduct, and as a result, those who did were sent out of the country and some resulted in violence.

The dictation test (part of the W.A.P) was used deliberately to reject the foreigners /non-white coming to Australia. This test involves a pen and paper and an immigration officer saying 50 words and the person has to dictate it correctly. For an Asian, even if they succeed, the officers will find every reason spot to get rid of them.

The deportation had gone far enough, and had found them in the centre of attention. The dictation test was quickly abolished and the government tried to repair the damage by introducing the ?olombo’ plan, which invited students from mainly China, Malaysia and Singapore to study in Australia.

The world was changing in the 1960's, with the new concept of teenagers. The younger people protested to go against the White Australia Policy, because they did not want the Asians to go back, as some were their friends.

The lead-up to today's immigration was during the Vietnam War in the 60's and 70's. Australia had the first preview of the suffering felt in Vietnam through the media and it was then the nation felt 'Sorry' for them. The Americans supported multiculturalism and accepted colour. With separate opinions about race, America did not have a good relationship with Australia. (eg, less Australian immigrants from the U.S.) To build a stronger relationship with America, Australians began accepting Vietnamese refugees after the war ended. Most Vietnamese became boat people, because they could not enter Cambodia. They experienced terrible conditions in boats; with overcrowding and overturned boats. Some made it to the shores of Australia and some had Australian officials awaiting them in other countries to be selected.

The White Australia Policy ended in 1975, with Al Grassby as the Minister of immigration. The 'Racial Discrimination Act' makes it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of race, colour, descent, natural or ethnic origins. Because of the law, immigrants to Australia could come from anywhere.

The population of Australia has increased dramatically and people with non-English backgrounds have contributed and improved the economy, industry, culture and social life by combining our knowledge and skills with theirs. Today, we eat, see, wear and play things that are derived from other countries. The positive factors for being a multicultural society will include better relations with foreign countries, promoting customs and culture to Australia, and building a stronger nation.

Immigration in Australia has changed so suddenly in such a short time. The racial discrimination act and the build-up relationship between countries effected the change from an almost white society to a free country. Today, I see Australia as a safe, stable and strong nation heading towards the future.