Before Federation in 1901, each of the six Australian colonies was responsible for its own policy on migration. After Federation, the first parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia moved to pass a package of legislation that would establish its racial boundaries as a new nation.
The Immigration Restriction Act 1901 was a landmark law which provided the cornerstone of the unofficial 'White Australia' policy and aimed to maintain Australia as a nation populated mainly by white Europeans. It included a dictation test of 50 words in a European language, which became the chief way unwanted migrants could be excluded. The policy remained in place for many decades.
Legislation was also passed to deport labourers from the Pacific Islands and to deny entry to 'prohibited' immigrants. There were also calls to encourage more migrants from Britain.
The White Australia policy was dismantled in several stages, beginning in the late 1950s:
- The Migration Act 1958 introduced a simpler system of entry permits and abolished the controversial dictation test introduced.
- The last parts of the White Australia policy were removed with the passing of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. This Act made it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of race, colour, descent or ethnic origin.
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- Why do you think the Australian Government introduced restrictions on who could migrate to Australia?
- What impact did legislative changes made in the years following Federation have on the movement of people to Australia? What effect do you think these restrictions had on attitudes to members of 'prohibited groups,' including the many who were already living in Australia?
- A dictation test was one of the tools the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 used to achieve Australia’s immigration goals. How was it used to control which migrants came to Australia? How effective was the dictation test in maintaining a 'white' Australia? Why do you think the Australian Government stopped using the dictation test?