Gwenda Tavan: Gods, guides and gatekeepers, November 2014

Transcript

Shaun Rohrlach: Good afternoon ladies and gentleman. Welcome to the National Archives. My name's Shaun Rohrlach. I'm director for access programs here at the National Archives. It's a pleasure to have you here this afternoon with us.

I'd like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians on the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present and any here with us today. Before I begin, if I could just ask you to check your mobile phones. Happy to leave them on if you want to take photos but if you could just turn them down to silent that would be wonderful.

I'm going to read just a few words that were actually from our media statement about the exhibition that opened on Thursday night from our curator Sara King – Dr Sara King. A Greek girl, sent across the world to marry a man she's never met, an African journalist fleeing for his life and a stateless baby born in India to Iranian parents are just some of the human stories that feature in A Ticket to Paradise? at the National Archives. The new exhibition which opened yesterday examines the rich diversity of Australian immigrants and the government's ambitious plans after World War II to encourage mass migration.

The program transformed the nation socially, economically and culturally. It has resulted in a community where today one quarter of our population was born overseas and nearly half of us have at least one parent born elsewhere. Whilst most people are aware of this aspect of our cultural heritage, many may not realise the wealth of immigration history that we hold here at the National Archives, from personal and family stories through to government campaigns and policies. It's that fabric that's the basis of the exhibition that opened yesterday, which provides a focus on our migration records and particularly the post-World War II period right through to more recent times.

Our curators have worked tirelessly over what seems almost a lifetime to compile personal stories, reaching out through social media, through communities and more traditional measures, to combine them with the original records from our collection that are associated with the administration of the federal government's management of migration to Australia. After the speech I encourage you to have a wander through and play with the touchscreens. But my advice is to be gentle and quick when you move the little buttons. It's not as sensitive as your iPad or your touch phone, so you'll be pushing it and it won't move. So just a gentle stroke.

You can adjust the timelines to interact with the flows on the map of where people have migrated from across a period of time, select on the continent and it'll bring up stories that have been added so far from those regions. Within the exhibition, there are iPads that if you have your own personal story, you're welcome to sit there and answer questions about the decision to migrate, the journey or coming here – establishing your life here. Through the gift of modern technology they're being added directly into those interactive screens in a real-time format so that as the exhibition evolves and more and more people visit, it will link to it via the website. The stories are dynamic and that'll enrich the experience as the next person comes to the exhibition and as it tours the country.

We're very pleased to have with us today Dr Gwenda Tavan to deliver her presentation 'Gods, guides and gatekeepers' which complements our exhibition beautifully. Dr Tavan is incredibly familiar with the National Archives of Australia's collection of migration records and is very well qualified to speak on the subject. As a senior lecturer at La Trobe University in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr Tavan lectures in a variety of subject matters around politics, including Australian politics, political communication and the culture of politics.

Her research interests include Australian political institutions and culture, the politics and history of immigration to Australia and its international context, political communication and leadership studies. Her best-known work is the award-winning The Long Slow Death of White Australia, published in 2005. She regularly engages in public debates and discussions on immigration and national – issues of national identity. Dr Tavan is currently completing a biography about Australia's first immigration minister Arthur Calwell. Dr Tavan is a Harold White Fellow at the National Library of Australia and a Frederick Watson Fellow here with us at the National Archives of Australia.

We couldn't think of a better special guest to have deliver – to deliver the Speakers Corner today straight after the opening of our exhibition. She's a self-proclaimed addict of our collection and we're very extremely pleased to welcome her here today to deliver this Speakers Corner. At the conclusion – by all means during, if you want put your hand up if you've got a question, but at the end there's an opportunity to have some questions and a bit of discussion about the presentation. The cafe will be open until 3.30. By all means then please wander through and mingle in the exhibition. Now I'll sit down and introduce Dr Tavan. Thank you. [Applause]

Gwenda Tavan: Thank you everyone. Thank you. I'd like to thank the National Archives of Australia for inviting me here to participate in this Speakers Corner. It's a great honour to be invited and to be associated with the launch of this most excellent exhibition, A Ticket to Paradise? I'd like to extend my congratulations to the Archives and to the curators who have organised such a wonderful exhibition. Visually and experientially, it's both striking – very innovative. It beautifully showcases, I think, the wealth of immigration documents held here at the National Archives and is a reminder, of course, of the important role that the National Archives plays in our nation's cultural and political life.

It's real value – I mean the exhibition – lies in its capacity I think to capture the richness – the complexity of Australia's post-war immigration story, the grandiosity of the vision and courage of Australia's post-war planners in deciding to implement a mass immigration program. The elaborate, highly sophisticated policy and administrative structure enacted to support and develop that program and, of course, the human dimensions of our immigration story. The combination of courage, hope, chance and despair that led literally millions of people to travel, in most cases, very far from their places of origin in order to start life anew in a country most of them knew very little about.

Also the variety of physical, psychological, emotional and material experiences, good and bad, that they had here as part of the process of making their home – a new home. These experiences are poignantly captured in the variety of official documents and cultural artefacts on display here. Think, for example, of the convergence of factors and forces, hopes and aspirations embodied in something as unremarkable as a Commonwealth government receipt for a £10 fare to Australia from England – there is one on display here at the moment.

The spirit of adventure or sense of family responsibility or perhaps sense of desperation or even simply yearning for something more, which drove the payee to fill in an application form and hand over their £10. Likewise the sense of civic duty and national pride perhaps of the receiving Commonwealth officer, the consciousness that they had of participating in a very – in a profoundly important nation building enterprise.

This leads me, by long way around, to my topic of discussion today, which is to reflect more deeply on the processes and planning that underpinned the mass immigration program, what I like to term the how of immigration, as opposed to the why. The title I have given this paper, ‘Gods, guides and gatekeepers’, is a somewhat ironic reference to the important role that bureaucrats and government officials played in our immigration story. It invokes, I hope, the responsibility and power they had in making and administering Australia's post-war immigration plans, and the profound impact that they had on the lives of millions of new settlers who came to this country after 1945, and the impact that they had on Australian society as a whole.

This paper is part of a bigger project that I've been working on with the active support of the National Archives on the establishment of the Commonwealth Immigration Department. It's sort of a – it's a project that sits side by side with my biography of Arthur Calwell. It is, I hope, the first phase of what will eventually be a major political history of the immigration department. I believe such a project is well overdue. While various scholars have been interested in the evolution of post-war immigration or the experiences of migrants themselves, the department responsible for formulating and administering that program has received much less attention.

Now, this neglect is surprising I think, given the department's significance. Not only was its establishment the first of its type in this country, it was, as far as I've been able to ascertain, the first of its type in the world. If anyone here knows any different please do let me know. Until that time, immigration had been the responsibility of various Commonwealth departments, the Department of Interior in particular. In most immigrant settling countries, immigration was just one of various responsibilities administered by state ministers and departments.

In the US for example, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalisation was located within the Department of Justice after 1940, having resided in the Department of Labor since 1913. In Canada, I believe it was the Department of Labour that had oversight of immigration for a very long time. So it's a sign of just how seriously the newly-elected Chifley government believed its immigration program would be, that it decided to establish a whole new immigration, or a whole new administrative, structure to deal with it. What eventually emerged from this decision was this very large, very sophistical (sic) apparatus, the scope of which responsibilities was, and in many respects, remains unprecedented in Australia and internationally, covering, as it does, a wide range of activities including immigration, emigration, passports, citizenship and settlement.

With the help of the archives here, I've been able to trace the planning and precedence of Arthur Calwell's momentous announcement in August 1945 that Australia would pursue a mass immigration program. Now, my sense is that, while some of these – the papers that I've been relying on have been accessed before – there's been no comprehensive attempt to trace the evolution of the decision to establish the program and the department. So I feel – I'm hopeful at least that what I have to say today is going to extend our knowledge and understanding of how that momentous program was conceived and realised.

A fundamental argument of my paper is that while defence, population and labour needs were the primary motivators for the establishment of the post-war immigration program, the capacity to turn those immigration objectives into a tangible reality lay in the existence of a complex bureaucratic and governmental structure and the broad ethos of activist administration that characterised the age. Fired by [Keynesian] nation building and liberal nationalist ideals, both within the Australian public service and beyond it, a new generation of social planners expressed their strong faith in the capacity of specialist expertise, cooperative administration, and popular and civic engagement to resolve the big challenges of the age.

The lofty ideals of the social planners could never be fully realised and often came into conflict with political and practical realities, including the strong and racially inspired control principle at the heart of immigration policy, embodied most controversially of course in the Immigration Restriction Act, euphemistically known as the White Australia Policy. These planners nevertheless were central to the implementation and long-term viability of the mass immigration program that came into being in 1945. The place of the planners in the immigration story deserves to be remembered and to be celebrated. The looming 70th anniversary of the establishment of the department provides us with the perfect opportunity to do so.

So I want to turn now and talk in a bit more detail about the public service, post-war reconstruction and the nation building ethos. Population decrease, national defence, international concerns and the perpetuation of the British Empire, these were the main drivers of Australian immigration debates in the very early 1940s. Yet it is arguable that a very different program would have emerged if it was not for the fact that memories of the Great Depression and wartime conditions in Australia had reinvigorated a social liberal commitment to state intervention, and created a massive political and administrative structure dedicated to the war effort.

Greater centralisation of power and the taxation powers entrusted to the Curtin Labor government for the war effort in 1942, followed by the resounding electoral victory that the government enjoyed in 1943, in particular provided it with the experience, confidence and financial means to fulfil its broad social liberal nation building agenda. Hasluck tells us that the size of public service expenditure by the Commonwealth grew from less than £100 million in 1938–1939 to over £700 million in 1943–1944. In the early part of 1938, the Commonwealth public service consisted of 10 departments. During the war, 17 new departments were created and several existing departments underwent expansion and adjustment.

It was in this broad context of social liberal planning that the Department of Post War Reconstruction was created in 1942 under the stewardship of Treasurer Ben Chifley with the former Director of Rationing, Keynesian economist HC Coombs, appointed as Director-General. The new department worked assiduously under Chifley and Coombs to fulfil a number of key objectives, amongst them full employment, housing, secondary industries and rural reconstruction. Coombs' role in post-war reconstruction was crucial, bringing his own grandiose vision of economic and social reform to his portfolio, expected to be realised through specialist knowledge, governmental cooperation, policy activism and strong civic engagement, in order to strengthen the bonds between the government and the governed.

Coombs himself articulated these ideals in a public address on post-war reconstruction in 1944. To quote, ‘the war has created, at least in certain moments of its progress, a consciousness of social unity. It is there, latent, and I believe, ready to respond to calls upon it to achieve purposes sufficiently close to our national ideals’. Though not within its immediate sphere of responsibility, immigration clearly related to post-was reconstruction on a number of fronts. Many of the programs envisioned could not be built without population. At the same time, population building could not be entertained without the promise of demobilisation of all service people after the war and sufficient employment and housing for all.

Coombs and Department Secretary Finlay Crisp took a strong interest in the issue, actively encouraging its officers to engage expert opinion on matters like population and immigration. For example, Post War Reconstruction decided to secure the services of up and coming young demographer WD Borrie based in the Economics Department at the University of Sydney to complete a major report on the demographic potential of a mass immigration program. Borrie had captured the interests of post-war reconstruction planners because of his work on population and post-war development in Australia. That was the beginning of a very long relationship that he enjoyed with the immigration department and issues well into the 1970s.

Coombs' contribution was matched by other senior bureaucrats. Amongst these was WD Forsyth, former diplomat and head of external affairs since 1942. That year, Forsyth published a book, The Myth of Open Spaces: Australian, British and World Trends of Population and Migration, in which he openly advocated Australia's need for population increase through migration, but warned that since preferred British migration could not be sustained in the numbers Australia needed, governments would have to reconsider their traditional suspicion of southern European migration. The book proved remarkably influential in elite circles and Forsyth of course came to have a direct role in immigration planning after 1942, as we'll see.

Another major contributor was the esteemed economist LF Giblin, the Head of Treasury's Financial and Economic Committee. Now, that committee had been formed in late 1938 to deal with the issue of stoppage of seaborne trade in case of war with Japan. It was reconstituted on the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 in order to consider the economic consequences of the war effort and find ways to combat potential economic problems. Its responsibilities rapidly grew to include scrutiny of all aspects of Australian economic and financial activity including immigration.

In 1941, Treasury asked the Financial and Economic Committee to report on the potential of post-war immigration for population increase. Giblin eventually responded with a report submitted to the committee on January 1943. In it he rejected reported claims in the press that government policy aimed to increase Australian population to 20 million in 15 to 20 years' time. Based on the current one per cent natural population increase he argued this would require a migration rate of approximately six per cent for the next 15 years. Such an increase was impossible he suggested. He believed the maximum would prove to be about one per cent of population, something perhaps between 50,000 and 100,000 a year.

He concluded that if we can restore natural increase to one per cent and maintain it there, and absorb migrants at the rate of one per cent of population, then in 15 years' time the population will be about 10 million. This would be a very considerable achievement and the most that could be hoped for without a very great expansion of world trade. Now, this recommendation looks like it was the basis for the Chifley government's declared aim in 1945 for an annual two per cent increase in population, one per cent of which would be through immigration.

I've been talking about the sort of discussions and debates going on within bureaucracy but immigration discussions extended beyond that. Post-war planners strongly encouraged academics, experts and other opinion makers to debate the issue publicly. Indeed, one is struck by just how much public discussion of the issue took place in the years between 1942 and 1945. There were a number of books and publications that circulated for public consideration during this period. Academics like Borrie discussed the issue on ABC radio programs. Post War Reconstruction itself published and circulated discussion pamphlets on population issues in 1945 with the clear intention of provoking discussion and thought amongst key community groups. This included asking provocative questions like should Australians consider non-European immigration.

Now, I think this point is very important. There is a popular view that immigration was sprung on the Australian people in August 1945 by Arthur Calwell as the first immigration minister without warning. There's also a common view I think amongst immigration historians that Australian's traditional loyalty to the White Australia Policy and their suspicion of migration generally meant immigration plans were conducted in a veil of secrecy, or alternatively that migration publicity was a very tightly managed propaganda affair.

The archival record tells a much more complex story, I think. Buoyed by memories of the backlash against earlier migration schemes, the technological and communication advances of the war years and the commitment to a new social compact between government and the people, the post-war planners insisted repeatedly that an open and meaningful dialogue with the Australia people on the immigration issue would be fundamental to any program's success. Now, this objective was difficult to achieve in practice of course, and I don't mean to imply that there weren't examples of subterfuge, manipulation or obfuscation at times. But it did at least create a very strong basis for engaging the Australian people in the issue long before immigration began in earnest in 1945.

The fact is, that despite their misgivings and the criticism of key groups, many Australians did appear to go along with Labor's and the planners' programs. The first public announcement on post-war immigration was made by Prime Minster John Curtain in 1943. The announcement did not spur a political backlash. Press reaction was generally positive, both in Australia and in Britain. Most surprising of all perhaps, or at least for me, was the many positive letters of recommendation government officials received after that time from members of the general public and community organisations, including churches, employer groups, patriotic groups and even the Girl Scouts Association.

I was really struck by this fact. It jars with the generally negative picture presented of Australian racial and immigration attitudes. Reflecting further on this, I've come to interpret it as evidence of the very strong health of Australian civil society in the mid-1940s with its plethora of voluntary community associations and organised interest groups. Governments knew this at the time of course and worked hard to reach out to them. So I was struck in my research by the number of pamphlets that were produced by the Department of [Immigration] which would then be sent out to any voluntary organisation that wanted them.

I referred earlier to the human dimensions of the migration story so poignantly encapsulated in this current exhibition. This human story includes the – just over 7 million Australian-born people who were asked by their government to make room for the newcomers in 1945, to not just allow their entry but to see them as new Australians and embrace them as their own. This was not always the case of course, as the more negative stories of racism and prejudice of many migrants attest to.

The fact is however that most people did make the adjustment over time. There was no sharp political backlash to the program. The reasons for this are complex – I think multifaceted – but lie largely in the concerted efforts of governments to keep the Australian people on side. Might I say that I think that there's some very good valuable lessons for current immigration officials and governments to pay attention to.

Okay. I've suggested to you that immigration discussion and debates can be traced back as early – to the early 1940s. Words and actions are two different things of course and in 1943 the migration debate was sort of simmering slowly away but hadn't yet reached boiling point – hadn't reached the point of actual planning or action. A catalyst was needed and it came in the form of a dispatch from the Dominion Office in London, pressing Empire members to openly declare their post-war immigration plans.

This missive from – dated 2 April 1943 – reminded dominion governments that the question of migration was the subject of a comprehensive study from the point of view of the United Kingdom before the outbreak of war. Circumstances were such, however, that the assumed surplus of population expected now in the United Kingdom had not eventuated. This, in conjunction with the experiences of war, meant that it could no longer be assumed that large-scale migration from the United Kingdom could still take place and that if an increase in the population of [British] stock of any particular dominion was desired, it was for the dominion concerned to encourage migration from the United Kingdom.

Now, the dispatch is a clear reminder of how high the immigration stakes were at that time, involving questions of national and imperial interest and the need to balance political caution with timely opportunism. Spurred by concern that if they didn't act quickly enough preferred British migrants would not materialise, Australian officials decided to act. In the immediate wake of the dispatch, the Secretary of the Australian Prime Minister's Department sought feedback from various government departments and this led to an interdepartmental meeting in June 1943 involving representatives of the Departments of the Interior, External Affairs, Reconstruction and Treasury.

I think here we see an example of the interdepartmental consultation that was the modus operandi of the public service during those years. The gathering concluded that the Department of the Interior should draft a reply to the Dominions Office agreeing to UK proposals on the migration of industrial workers, nomination, after care and migration of ex-service people. Planning activity hastened in the wake of the interdepartmental meeting.

One of the most enthusiastic participants was the octogenarian Queensland Labor Senator and Minister for the Department of the Interior JS Collings. Collings was an early and firm advocate for increased migration after the war and he was particularly keen to stake his department's continuing claims over immigration. He made a submission to Cabinet in September 1943 on the immigration issue.

The most vital matter to be decided now is whether it is the policy of the Commonwealth government to increase the population of Australia by the immigration of suitable immigrants. The greatest asset to Australia from a population point of view is of course the Australian born child. But in view of the declining birth-rate this source of increase will be negligible. If we are to increase our population we will of necessity be forced to have recourse to the encouragement of British subjects and approved white aliens.

Collings' proposal led to the creation of an interdepartmental committee on migration. It held its first meeting in the Department of the Interior on 24 November 1943. Again, its members represented those departments deemed to have the most direct stake in the immigration issue, including representatives from the Interior, Treasury, External Affairs, Social Services, Post War Reconstruction and Repatriation and observers from the Department of Information and Labour and National Service.

I found the minutes of these meetings provided a fascinating insight into the processes and dynamics of post-war planning and this ethos of administrative activism which dominated at the time. They show the bureaucrats clearly at the forefront of the planning process, entrusted to flesh out the parameters of the population problem and possible solutions from an interdepartmental perspective, leaving politicians to work out the political considerations. One is particularly struck by the strong spirit of cooperation that marked the meetings and the cautious, nuanced, self-consciously apolitical deliberations that took place.

Just to quote a little from the first meeting, it began with a reminder from the chairman, JA Carrodus – I think I've pronounced that correctly – that migration was a matter of national importance and the task of the committee was a difficult one. Asked by another participant whether the committee was expected to formulate a policy for adoption by the government, Carrodus answered in the affirmative. It must be assumed from the decision of Cabinet to set up the committee that the government is in favour of migration. Then they went on to discuss a whole range of topics, including the importance of publicity, the importance of developing secondary issues to absorb migrant labour, housing, and preferred migrants.

The committee and the various subcommittees that were formed in the wake of that first meeting continued to discuss and recommend strategies over the next year. Particularly influential as far as government planning was concerned, was the sub-committee report on white alien migration which was submitted on behalf of the full committee to Cabinet on 20 October 1944. Now, this report contained a number of proposals that would strongly influence immigration policy in the next couple of years. General agreement over the need for migration, the understanding that there wouldn't be enough British migrants to fulfil Australia's population needs, consideration of the world's emerging refugees and displaced persons, and the place of child migration in the planned scheme.

It also recommended that in view of the necessity of greatly enlarging Australia's population and the fact that natural increase in British migration are not likely to provide sufficient increase, a vigorous policy of white alien immigration should be adopted and the alien migrant made to feel that he is regarded as an asset and not admitted on sufferance. Collings presented the findings of the submission to Cabinet giving full support to its recommendations. This led to the creation of a Cabinet subcommittee comprising the Minister for External Affairs, the Minister for the Interior, the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Information to consider the recommendations. So immigration planning was now, here at the end of 1944, clearly entering a new phase, one in which politicians and political interest would feature more prominently.

The other major decision to emerge at this point was related to the administrative machinery required in order to make the immigration program a reality. In his autobiography, Arthur Calwell, who was Australia's first immigration minister, suggests that Prime Minister Curtin had told Cabinet as early as 1943 that there must be an immigration department. Interestingly however, the archival record gives no indication that this was the case. References to a department do not appear in any Cabinet papers. Despite general agreement at the first meeting of the interdepartmental committee that immigration machinery would have to be developed, the issue was barely touched on at successive meetings. Indeed, by the end of 1944, committee members were still clearly assuming that immigration would continue to be a responsibility of the Department of the Interior, rather than a newly-created autonomous department.

When the discussion did finally emerge, it was at the behest of the bureaucrats themselves. More specifically, the record shows that it was External Affairs Secretary WD Forsyth who raised the issue during the fourth meeting of the interdepartmental committee on 28 November 1944. What followed was this very, very – I guess quite bland – very neutral discussion in which Mr Forsyth considered that the committee should give special attention to the question of the machinery required for all migration purposes so far as the Commonwealth is concerned. He felt that the time was approaching, if it had not already arrived, when a special examination of the required machinery should be made.

The discussion continued with Carrodus outlining the set-up of migration activities in the Department of the Interior and what he believed would be future responsibilities. This prompted Crisp from Post War Reconstruction to ask whether it was intended that the subcommittee should prepare a [chart] of the organisation required and get approval for the proposed positions, even if it was not intended to fill them immediately. The discussion concluded with a motion for yet another subcommittee to be formed to explore the issue in greater detail.

Now, at first glance as I say this discussion appears relatively innocuous. It is certainly very cautious, very carefully worded – perhaps too carefully worded. I don't have proof but the deadpan delivery suggests to me that this was part of a very carefully controlled strategy to test the waters – to open up a dialogue on the possibility of wresting immigration away from the Department of the Interior. Who the initiator of the plan was is not clear to me yet. It may have been Calwell and Information or just the planners generally. What is conclusive nevertheless was the penchant of post-war planners for committees and subcommittees. That is undoubted.

Okay. Just a few more words on the process and then I'll talk a little bit about after 1945. Despite these positive advances, progress on the immigration front stalled in early 1945. This was partly due to Curtin's illness. His frequent absences slowed both the planning and policy-making processes. Indeed, by early 1945 criticism was emanating from the opposition that Labor was not moving fast enough on the immigration front and would miss the opportunities currently available.

There was also of course political considerations, including the need to keep the Australian public, the labour movement and state governments onside for the enormous social and political changes being contemplated. Curtin made this clear in various correspondence, that the issue of demobilisation and rehabilitation of service people must come first and that there were questions of employment and housing to be met as well.

Now, it was at this point that Arthur Calwell's involvement in immigration planning became crucial. Calwell had been invited to sit on the Cabinet immigration committee at the end of 1944, presumably on the basis of his role as Minister for Information. He also had a very good record on immigration issues, having served on the wartime aliens advisory committee and taken particular interest in the issue of wartime internees. He had publicly expressed his support for population growth on a number of occasions and as Cabinet minister and information minister he was privy to the deliberations and recommendations of the interdepartmental committee. I think his involvement here was clearly a catalyst for action, though as the evidence shows, not without some political blood being spilled.

At some point in late 1944 or early 1945 Calwell clearly decided that the immigration issue was too important to let just drift along. He also determined that he was the best man for the job. He wrote to cabinet subcommittee members Eddie Ward, [R Beazley] and Collings in reference to the report on white alien migration. The report is interesting in two respects. First of all, the very authoritative manner in which Calwell took charge of that immigration issue. Second, the insights it offers us into his personal thinking on immigration as a whole.

He summed up his views thus. Australia needs additional population for reasons of defence, economic development and population growth. Migrants of British stock are unlikely to be available in sufficient numbers. Migrants must therefore be obtained largely from non-British countries. It seems probable that in the long run the main sources of European migration will be the southern (and European) countries of Europe.

Now, just over a year later Calwell would assure the Australian people that his government sincerely hoped that there would be 10 British migrants for every non-British migrant. So the above statement confirms that the pledge that he made to the Australian people was aspirational perhaps, certainly politically motivated, rather than an expression of the real views of the government of the time.

The archival record doesn't reveal what occurred at the next committee meeting. It is likely nevertheless that prevarication would have continued if not for Curtin's unexpected – well, I shouldn't say unexpected, death in July 1945. He was a very sick man. Chifley's assumption of the prime ministership, shocked and devastated though the Labor Cabinet was by these events, it undoubtedly gave their post-war planning a greater degree of urgency. It also created new opportunities for ambitious and visionary men like Calwell and the activist bureaucrats. On 17 July, only a few days after Curtin's passing, the announcement was made that an immigration department had been formed and that Calwell had been appointed immigration minister.

Significantly, the decision to create the department was not taken to Cabinet for discussion but the creation of the Department of Works on the very same day as immigration was. Now, that omission is puzzling. As has already been outlined, there was general agreement within Cabinet about the need for immigration after the war. The divisions that existed were over issues of timing and scope of the program, not of the project itself. Despite concerns about the political sensitivities of the immigration issue, publicity as I said had already been freely circulated, and government ministers and bureaucrats had repeatedly stressed a policy of public honesty.

On this basis it's not unreasonable to assume that circumventing Cabinet discussion over the creation of the department did not constitute a cover-up so much but an opportunistic means of ending prevarication and debate. Another very likely reason was the desire to avoid a showdown over the removal of immigration from the Department of the Interior and Collings – Senator Collings’ effective removal from the ministry and Calwell's appointment as minister. In any case, after almost two years of discussion, a definitive move had been made. Australia now had a broad political commitment to immigration and a minister and department to implement and administer the program. Calwell would of course prove to be a visionary and energetic minister passionate about nation building. For good reason he is remembered as one of the most influential Australians of the 20th century.

In my closing statement I just want to say something about what happened in the department in the next few years. Its beginnings were relatively humble. Starting for the new department consisted of just 24 people with six officers based in Melbourne, six in Canberra and 12 in London, departmental functions and responsibilities were contained in two divisions – encouraged and restricted migration. I think this small commitment reinforces how uncertain planning remained at this time in the face of enormous changes and pressures including shipping shortages, housing shortages, international agreements and the priority that had to be given to repatriation.

These humble beginnings make the rapid expansion of the program and the department over the next few years all the more remarkable. Within a year, Australia had concluded the UK–Australia immigration scheme that encouraged well over one million migrants to migrate to Australia for a mere £10 just on that scheme.

Drastic labour shortages in Australia and the inability to get the desired numbers of British migrants wanted, led to the creation of the Displaced Persons Scheme in 1947, which brought over 170,000 people from central and eastern Europe to Australia over the next three years. It also opened the way for the mass southern European immigration of the 1950s and 1960s. I think from memory nearly three million people migrated to Australia between 1945 and the early 1970s.

The growth in migration numbers compelled a similar strong growth in the department. By 1946, immigration branch offices had been established in all states except Tasmania. The migration branch at Australia House significantly expanded to deal with thousands of applications. By 1947 immigration offices of the department were established in Berlin, Paris, New York, San Francisco and New Delhi.

By the end of 1949 when the Chifley Labor government lost power, the department had grown to literally thousands of staff members and its scope of responsibilities now included several branches and divisions. General administration, accounts, encouraged migration, restricted migration, aliens registration, migrant accommodation et cetera, et cetera.
One of the department's most important functions was publicity. I urge you when you have a look at the exhibition to pay particular attention to the publicity functions of the department. They were wide-ranging and sophisticated, encompassing mass production of pamphlets, information booklets, exhibitions and even films. Their aim was multi-layered – attract would-be settlers, to instruct and inform migrants as to various aspects of Australian life and to condition the Australian people to accept migrants as vital contributors to national development.

This very sophisticated and wide-ranging strategy I think reflected the skills, the expertise and knowledge accumulated by the Department of Information during the war years. It was certainly helpful that Calwell was also Minister for Information, and for all that he had a very problematic relationship with the media, he was a very – he had a very astute understanding of the role that publicity would play in the program's success. It wasn't all smooth sailing.

Almost from the outset the limits of Australia's immigration planning became obvious. Announcing the post-war immigration program in 1945, Calwell promised the Australian people that scientific planning would ensure that migration numbers would be carefully controlled and wouldn't impact negatively. But that commitment quickly collapsed, I think in the chase for industrial labour, as post-war modernisation and drastic labour shortages emerged.

The tensions between the liberal nationalist ideals of social planners and the problematic political and ethical complications of the White Australia Policy were evident from the outset and they mired the department in a succession of controversies from 1947 onwards. Calwell of course, even as he was being strongly lauded for his pioneering role in immigration, was also the butt of very strong criticism both in Australia and overseas for his defence of the White Australia Policy.

There were other problems. The well-meaning but naive and ethnocentric aspirations and assumptions at the heart of the government's assimilation policies emerged fairly quickly. Benign neglect of the social and economic problems of migrants and migrants' unwillingness to relinquish old cultural ties and loyalties spurred increasing concern amongst policy-makers and community leaders and led eventually to an increased emphasis on migrant services, and ultimately by the 1970s the evolution of multiculturalism.

The revelations in recent years of the systematic abuse and exploitation of Australia's child migrants reinforces that even though policies around child migration were very well-meaning, they were also naive in respects and neglectful.
But these faults and weaknesses don't undermine the audacity, the vision and the courage of the post-war social planners and their attempts to implement one of the most ambitious, pioneering and sophisticated social experiments of the 20th century. It is testimony to the work of the post-war planners, those gods, guides and gatekeepers that I've referred to, that such a momentous program was enacted without dramatic social or political upheaval, and that millions of new settlers were able to actually enter Australia, establish themselves and do well.

Immigration policy has changed a lot of course in 70 years, as has the government's way that they manage the politics of immigration. But some of the fundamentals of Australia's post-war immigration program enacted in 1945 remain in place today. This includes the commitment to mass immigration as an engine for economic growth and population building, the multi-ethnic, multicultural nature of migrant intakes and the generally integrative thrust of settlement policies. Such stability and consistency in Australia's immigration program is no doubt due to the excellent planning of the World War II era.

Thank you.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017