Said in Parliament in 1947 by the Labor Immigration Minister,
Arthur “Cocky” Calwell, “Two Wongs don’t make a White” sums up the truth of Australia’s racist past, present and future. The one persisting story of Australia.
In that story is the story of our Government’s current disgusting treatment of refugees who are fleeing for their lives.
IN THE BEGINNING
From the first European settlement there had been an understanding that the indigenous people were not really people and were soon classified as “Fauna”. This inbuilt racism continued until 1967 when it was “Officially” corrected. Of course, the average person did not change their mindset.
Unions fears of the effect of the slave labour supplied to the Sugar Farms of Queensland in the 1870’s led to the first organised racist movement in Australia.
The “Heathen Chinee” had been vilified by all Australians for decades but leading up to Federation the political movements, led by the Unions and the nascent Labour Party began to organise the hatred of the outsider. The Tory side of politics knew they needed to take the votes of the workers away from the Party of the Unions if they were to win power in the coming Government.
At the 3rd Session of the 1898 Australasian Federation Convention, Western Australian premier and future federal cabinet member, John Forrest, summarised the prevailing feeling: “It is of no use to shut our eyes to the fact that there is a great feeling all over Australia against the introduction of coloured persons. It goes without saying that we do not like to talk about it, but it is so.”
The Barton Government won the first elections following Federation in 1901 was formed by the Protectionist Party in a coalition with the Australian Labour Party. The Labour Party
support was based on restricting non-white immigration, reflecting the attitudes of the Australian Workers Union and other labour organisations at the time, upon whose support the Labour Party was founded. The first Parliament moved fast to restrict immigration and keep Australia’s “British character”. The Pacific Island Labourers Bill and the Immigration Restriction Bill which was based on similar South African legislation, were passed shortly before parliament rose for its first Christmas recess.
There was opposition from Queensland and its sugar industry to the proposals of the Pacific Islanders Bill to exclude “Kanaka” laborers, however Barton argued that the practice was “veiled slavery” that could lead to a “negro problem” similar to that in the United States and the Bill was passed.
Sir Edmund Barton had said “Creating a Nation requires the will of the people.” and so racism was the basis of our first Government and the major interest in its first term.
Alfred Deakin supported Barton’s position over that of the Labour Party in drafting the Bill (the ALP wanted more direct methods of exclusion than the dictation test) and redacted the more vicious racism proposed for the text in his Second Reading of the Bill. In seeking to justify the policy, Deakin said he believed that the Japanese and Chinese might be a threat to the newly formed federation and it was this belief that led to legislation to ensure they would be kept out: “It is not the bad qualities, but the good qualities of these alien races that make them so dangerous to us. It is their inexhaustible energy, their power of applying themselves to new tasks, their endurance and low standard of living that make them such competitors.”
So the White Australia Policy was created.
Through the urging of the Labour Party. At the Birth of our Nation!
In 1912, the Australian Labour Party changed its name to avoid press confusion with the British Labour Party. They dropped the “U” which has led to long term speculation about their committment to individuals. Further mentions of the Party will reflect this change.
At the Peace Conference following World War 1, Japan tried for a racial equality clause in the Covenant of the League of Nations. They tried to remove or to ease the immigration restrictions against Japanese
(especially in the United States and Canada), which Japan regarded as a humiliation. Australian Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes was worried at the possible expansion of Japan in the Pacific. Australia, Japan and New Zealand had seized the German colonial empire’s territories in the Pacific in the early stages of the War. The Treaty ultimately granted Australia a League of Nations Mandate over German New Guinea and to Japan the South Pacific Mandate over Micronesia immediately to its north bringing Australian and Japanese territory to a shared border – a situation altered only by Japan’s World War II invasion of New Guinea.
Hughes actively opposed Japan’s racial equality plans. Hughes recognised that such a clause would be a threat to White Australia and made it clear to British PM Lloyd George that he would leave the conference if the clause was adopted. Hughes won and reported to the Australian Parliament: “The White Australia is yours. You may do with it what you please, but at any rate, the soldiers have achieved the victory and my colleagues and I have brought that great principle back to you from the conference, as safe as it was on the day when it was first adopted.”
Hughes’ Nationalist Party protegé, Stanley Bruce made the White Australia Policy an issue in his campaign for the 1925 Australian Federal election. “It is necessary that we should determine what are the ideals towards which every Australian would desire to strive. I think those ideals might well be stated as being to secure our national safety, and to ensure the maintenance of our White Australia Policy to continue as an integral portion of the British Empire. We intend to keep this country white and not allow its people to be faced with the problems that at present are practically insoluble in many parts of the world.”
At the start of the Second World War, Prime Minister John Curtin (Another respected Labor Prime Minister) reinforced the message of the White Australia Policy by saying: “This country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race.”
Indigenous people may not think that those “people who came in peace” were all that peaceful.
After the Second World War Cocky Calwell made his famous statement but then Menzies came to office. After a decade of a slow relaxation of the Immigration Criteria, in 1958 a Revised Migration Act, 1958 abolished the dictation test and introduced a simpler system for entry. Immigration Minister, Sir Alexander Downer, announced that ‘distinguished and highly qualified Asians’ might immigrate.
The accepted legal end of the White Australia Policy occurred while Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister although it was not until Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal government’s review of immigration law in 1978 that all selection of prospective migrants based on country of origin was entirely removed from official policy.
SO MUCH FOR THE GOVERNMENT
Now for the People.
In the land of the common Australian, these changes to the White Australia Policy were of little interest until the sudden arrival of thousands of Vietnamese refugees after the War of Re-unification in that South East Asian country. Then there was an instant groundswell of disapproval. Lifetimes of accepted White Exclusivity were being challenged. The Italian and Yugoslav arrivals, between the wars and post WW2 were difficult and had brought an Anglo-Celtic bias to the fore but “at least they were white and once their children lost their accents they were indistinguishable from REAL Australians. Especially once they began playing Rugby and Football.
What has become interesting is the growing “Australianist” bias being displayed by these and other immigrants from decades ago. I am even seeing such a bias amongst the relatively newly arrived Vietnamese second generation.
The subconscious concern engendered by a century of “White Australia” created by the Labor Party and its supporters, burst back into political Australia’s agendas. Pauline Hanson struck the spark and grabbed an enviable proportion of the electorate’s attention. Her “One Nation” cry resonated with a lot of apparently non-racist Australians. So much so that barely Prime Minister John Howard saw an opportunity.
He, with the assistance of Tony Abbott’s infamous “Slush fund” destroyed “One Nation” and introduced policies which attracted those voters who had moved from the habitual somnolence of permanent Labor support to a revived race-based ‘What about our jobs” position. Many ALP members suddenly remembered that their precious White Australia Policy had been destroyed by an ALP Government. The move, firstly to One Nation and then to the Howard-led L-NP of around 10% of the electorate created a permanent change to the shape of Australian politics.
To pull some of those lost voters back to Labor, there was a massive move to the Right by the Party of the Workers. The vacuum on the Left has been partially filled by the Greens but Australia, for the next generation at least is a Right-Wing country.
A Country Where Racism is Rampant!
Australia is now a country where, historically, the Labor Party invented the White Australia Policy from fear and now is led by a Liberal Party which has brought back the principles of the White Australia Policy from expediency!
Our new Border Protection Force is the result of a battle for supremacy between two racist groups within Australia. One trying to hang onto an unexpected and decisive windfall group of voters and the other trying to win that group back.
Out on the Left are the Greens. Slowly gaining in their vote. In a generational shift of the Australian conscience they are gaining slow percentage point by slow percentage point. Still learning the political game. Still holding an inclusive view of the world.
BOTH MAJOR PARTIES ARE RACIST
In the meantime we need to recognise that fact. It is time to stop trying to change the major parties as they are both controlled by small pressure groups and both are being told by their focus groups that a hard line on refugees, the current racist battleground, is a guaranteed vote winner.
If you want to help those refugees who are being imprisoned in Australia’s concentration camps, do not take the easy way out. Do not assume that a vote for Labor is a vote for humanity.
Without a principled base, both major parties are either doomed or they will lead Australia into a doomed position where the rest of the world will treat us as we treated Apartheid South Africa.
All that can save Australia’s self-respect is that the growing line of Green Support will cross the dwindling lines of the other parties and their ingrained bi-partisan racism!
I love Australia so I vote Greens