3.26.2012

Arthur Calwell's White Australia Policy - A Critical Exploration of its Underlying Rationale

Post-globalisation, 21st century Australia is sociologically and culturally quite different from post-World War II Australia. Whereas it had previously adhered to a discriminatory pro-immigration policy which sought the maintenance of an Anglo-Saxon/Caucasian majority which would safeguard Australia's Western cultural identity, since the mid-1980s, it has abided by a non-discriminatory immigration policy.The consequences have been the emergence of a sociologically diverse and multicultural nation which embraces its Asian regional belongingness, rather than shy away from it. Despite the said change, primarily instigated by a somewhat dramatic shift in national immigration policies, the current ethnic composition of Australian society has largely been influenced by the views and politics of Arthur Calwell. Even while conceding to the fact that Calwell's policies have been overturned and Australian societal composition has undergone a parallel change, this research will argue that Calwell's background, ideas and temperament gave rise to post-World War II immigration policies which have had an inordinate effect upon Australian societal composition.Establishing the veracity of the aforementioned is contingent upon a review of Calwell's background, an articulation of his ideas and temperament and, importantly, a critical analysis of his immigration policies and their societal effects.

An overview of Calwell's background contributes to a more solid understanding of his political temperament and the rationale behind his immigration policies. A staunch Roman Catholic of Irish descent, Calwell was a member of the Australian Labour Party from his early youth. Within the party, his evident energetic commitment to public service and his active loyalty to Labour Party principles and political precepts, contributed to both his growing popularity within Labour Party circles and ever-increasing public visibility. It was thus that in 1931 he became the President of the Victorian Labour Party and, in 1940, the MP for Melbourne in the Australian House of Representatives. During the war years he served as Minister of Information in Curtin's government and, from 1945 to 1949, the Minister of Immigration in Chifley's government.As may be deduced from the foregoing biographical information, Calwell was a consummate politician, as evidenced in his elected to Victorian Lab our Party presidency, his election to the House of Representatives and, importantly, in his appointment to ministerial positions in two consecutive governments. More importantly, he was a consummate politician of strong beliefs, largely evidenced in his staunch commitment to Roman Catholicism.

The importance of the above cited biographical information lies in its exposition of Calwell's political temperament and the clues it provides to his visions of and for Australian society. As some scholars have pointed out, amongst whom one may mention Albinski,Ozdowskiand Jupp,Caldwell's background immediately informed his political temperament and, thus, his immigration policies. As the descendant of immigrants to Australia, he was staunchly pro-immigration. As an Anglo-Saxon Catholic, however, whose loyalties were to Western Christian heritage and culture, he was unequivocally pro-White European immigration to Australia, and not immigration per se.In essence, he advocated European immigration to Australia, as opposed to Asian, for example, because he saw in European immigration the fortification and solidification of Australia's Western and Christian cultural heritage and Anglo-Saxon Caucasian ethnic majority. In other words, Calwell advocated a selective immigration po licy which would constructively contribute to the populating of Australia, without undermining the nation's hegemonic culture or introducing challenges to its Anglo-Saxon Christian ethnic majority.

Informed and influenced by Calwell's background and political temperament, Australia's post-World War II immigration policies was a highly selective one. As stated in the preceding, Calwell was pro-immigration. This is evidenced in both his popularization of the "populate or perish" slogan and the agreement he signed with the United Nations Refugee Organisation in 1947.In accordance with this agreement, Australia accepted refugees from the then war-torn Europe. Indeed, arguing the national imperatives of populating the country and citing the political, sociological and, of course, economic advantages of accepting both migrants and refugees, Calwell abided by the July 1947 agreement and was, according to scholars, committed to population growth through the embrace of refugees and immigrants.

There is no doubt, at least according to the research literature on the topic, that Calwell's immigration policies were far-sighted and economically advantageous. Australia occupies an expansive geographic territory with vast agricultural and pastoral potential, on the one hand, and substantial natural wealth on the other. At that point in history, however, it did not have the human resource, as in the manpower and population, required to tap into that wealth and realise the potential of its territories.Added to that, Australia's determination to become an international economic player and compete with other national economies on the global level meant that the government had to pursue an economic development and growth program. The pursuit of such a program, however, was contingent upon the availability of sufficient manpower and labour. In other words, both national economic development and the realization of the country's untapped wealth potentials were inextricably dep endant upon the presence of s sizeable population.As may be inferred from the foregoing and as confirmed by the literature on the topic, Australia lacked that population and, hence, Calwell's slogan, "populate or perish."

As may have been deduced from the preceding, Calwell's pro-immigration policy was, as claimed by several scholars, predicated on a valid assumption pertaining to a direct link between population, manpower and economic growth. Within the context of the stated, Calwell's immigration policy and his advocacy of immigration, were influenced by economic reasons and had an inherent economic rationale. Accordingly, it would hardly be an exaggeration if one were to posit that Australia's economic development and growth during the time-period in question are largely traceable to Calwell's pro-immigration policies.

Despite the fact that Calwell's immigration policies were founded upon economic rationale and were, in the final analysis and as measured through an objective assessment of outcomes, economically advantageous, they were undeniably racist. The immigration policies he advocated and implemented were ethnically and racially selective policies. This means that rather than support immigration to Australia from any/all countries, Calwell's policies dictated support solely for European immigration. Similarly, rather than grant asylum to any/all refugees, Australia's refugee policy was limited to Europeans. Needless to say, there is no, if any, economic rationale to the support of an immigration and refugee/asylum policy which is limited to a single race and ethnicity.There is, however, a political rationale to the stated.

Calwell's selective immigration policy was rationalized by his advocacy of the White Australian Policy and his determination to safeguard Australia's white majority and its Anglo-Saxon, Christian culture. In I Stand by A White Australia, Calwell asserted Australia's Western cultural heritage, its belongingness with Europe, as opposed to its immediate Asian neighbourhood and, above all, Australia's whiteness. From his perspective, Australia was a Caucasian, Anglo-Saxon country and both its culture and national identity stemmed from the stated.Within the context of the stated, Calwell's discriminatory, or selective immigration and refugee policies may best be understood as attempts to protect Australian cultural and national identities. It is precisely because of this that while the country welcomed European refugees and encouraged European migration to Australia, it engaged in the active denial of asylum and immigration to non-Europeans, particularly Asians. Indeed, during that particular period in the nation's history, the government, in accordance with the immigration policies designed and implemented by Calwell, deported Asian refugees to Australia. It must be noted that those deported were displaced by the war which had raged through Asia and in many cases, were married to Australian citizens and had already started families in the country.This in itself, especially when compared to the government's embrace of European refugees and immigrants, evidences the extent to which the immigration and refugee policies of the time were founded upon the principles which informed the White Australia Policy.

Calwell's immigration and refugee policies were informed by the same goals and principles of the White Australian Policy and, within the context of the stated, were highly selectively and unequivocally racist. While conceding to the aforementioned, Calwell's biographer, Colm Kiernan, argues that Calwell himself was not a racist. Irrespective of his much quoted, "two Wongs do not make a white" remark, Kiernan insists that at that particular point in the nation's history, Calwell represented the majority and mainstream point of view. The implication here is that the selective immigration and refugee policies designed and implemented by Calwell were expressive of the tendencies of the majority of the population and were a crystallisation of the majority's desire for the protection of Australia's whiteness and her Western-Christian heritage.Within the context of the stated, Kiernan appears to imply that the said immigration policies would have been implemented with or without Calwell, because they reflected the majority viewpoint and vision of Australia as a white country. The inference here would be that Calwell's background and political temperament were not the primary determinants of the said immigration and refugee policies and, accordingly, Calwell's beliefs did not exert any undue influence over Australia's racial and ethnic composition. Instead, at least from Kiernan's point of view, the mentioned immigration and refugee policies and the ethnic and racial societal structure which they gave rise to were an outcome of the times and, as such, would have gone forth with or without Arthur Calwell.

Even while conceding to the fact that there is an undeniable truth to Kiernan's contention, the fact remains that Calwell is largely responsible for the immigration policies in question and, accordingly, the resultant societal composition. The undeniable historical fact is that Calwell was not simply the architect of the mentioned policies but, as Minister of Immigration, was responsible for their implementation, and was the most vocal public advocate of the White Australian Policy. As Calwell himself wrote in defence of his exclusionary immigration and refugee policies:

I am proud of my white skin, just as a Chinese is proud of his yellow skin, a Japanese of his brown skin, and the Indians of their various hues from black to coffee-coloured. Anybody who is not proud of his race is not a man at all. And any man who tries to stigmatize the Australian community as racist because they want to preserve this country for the white race is doing our nation great harm... I reject, in conscience, the idea that Australia should or ever can become a multi-racial society and survive.

As evidenced in the preceding quote, and as some scholars have insisted, Calwell's outspoken advocacy of the White Australian Policy and his continued insertion of its principles into his public statements and speeches, contributed to the legitimization of racism and, indeed, generated mainstream public support for the White Australia Policy.The implication here is that even though it may quite validly be argued that mainstream public support for the White Australia Policy enabled the implementation of the immigration and refugees policies in question, it may also be posited that Calwell was a key player in the popularization and legitimization of the White Australia Policy. Rather than project the views which informed the White Australia Policy in racist terms, Calwell, as evidenced in the preceding quote, determinedly sought the neutralization of its racist implications and presented it in terms of a policy informed by national sentiment and pride in identity.As such, it may very well be argued that Calwell influenced the majority position towards selective immigration and refugee policies.

In the final analysis and as based upon the information presented in the preceding essay, one can very well conclude that Calwell's background, political temperament and personal inclinations functioned as an important determinant of Australia's post-World War II immigration and refugee policies and, as such, of its societal composition. Active encouragement of European immigration and the embrace of European refugees versus the active discouragement of non-European immigrants and the rejection of non-European refugees ensured the maintenance of a white majority and the safeguarding of Australia's Western Christian culture and identity. That being said, however, in closing it must be noted that since the 1980s, Australia has altered its said policies; it embraces its regional identity and refugees and immigrants from across the world. Therefore, with the passage of time, Calwell's influence on Australian societal composition will steadily decrease.

Bibliography

Albinski, H.S. (1959) "Australia Reviews Her Asian Exclusion Policy," Far Eastern Survey, 28(11): 161-167.

Calwell, A. (1949) I Stand By A White Australia. Sydney: Blackwell.

Calwell, A. (1972) Be Just and Fear Not. Victoria: Lloyd O'Neil.

Colm K. (1978) Calwell: A Personal and Political Biography. Sydney: Nelson.

Grant, B. (1983) The Australian Dilemma: A New Kind of Western Society. NSW: MacDonald Futura.

Jupp, J. (1991) Immigration. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

Jupp, J. (1995) "From White Australia to Part of Asia: Recent Shifts in Australian Immigration Policy Towards the Region," International Migration Review, 29(1), 207-228.

London, H.I. (1970) Non-White Immigration and the White Australia Policy. New York: New York University Press.

O'Brien, P. (1985) The Liberals: Factions, Feuds and Fancies. Victoria: Penguin.

Ozdowski, S.A. (1985) "The Law, Immigration and Human Rights: Changing the Australian Immigration Control System," International Migration Review, 19(3), 535-554.

Sloan, J. and Kennedy, S. (1992) Temporary Movements of People to and From Australia. Canberra: AGPS.

Wooden, M. et al (1994) Australian Immigration: a Survey of the Issues. Canberra: AGPS.


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