Australia is similar to America in many ways. They are both industrialized nations, they were both settled by the British, and they both have multi-ethnic societies. However, the two countries have vastly different immigration laws. In America, we will let almost anyone move here and work. An American immigrant can be from (almost) any country, race, or religion. Australia on the other hand, has had a much stricter policy determining who can move to their country. Australia’s immigration law is ethnocentric in nature because it excludes anyone who is not of Anglo-Saxon descent. The policy is in the best interest for the British settlers, rather than in the best interest for humanity.
Australia was first discovered by Captain James Cook in 1770. He determined this land was uninhibited and proclaimed it as belonging to the King (Jayaraman 2000:136). The British began colonizing Australia in 1788 (Castles and Zappala 1999:273). At first, Australia was used as a separate place for the British to put their convicts while they were serving their time (Jayaraman 2000:137). Following this, many more British settlers began moving to Australia. By 1901 Australia “became a self-governing entity through Federation and the adoption of a Constitution” (Castles and Zappala 1999:273).
When the British began to make Australia their own, they determined the Aborigines, Australia’s indigenous people, needed to be exterminated. Before the British landed the aboriginal population was estimated to be 200,000 to 500,000 people. It was depleted to 20,000 by 1900 (Jayaraman 2000:136). The aborigines were murdered or moved to reservations. They were not considered citizens and had no type of political power whatsoever (Jayaraman 2000:137). Australian society was divided into “indigenous and non-indigenous” (Old Contempt…2001:175). The British thought the best way to deal with the aboriginal people was to steal their children and assimilate them in a white, Christian environment. In December 1901, the “Immigration Restriction Act” was formed and stayed until 1959 (Jayaraman 2000:139). Thus the “White Australia Policy” was started. Formally, the goal of the policy “was to base national identity on British heritage and to deal with diversity though assimilation” (Castles and Zappala 1999:274).
Australia is a country composed almost entirely of immigrants. Australia has always tried to attract people to move to their country, but had strict guidelines under the “White Australia Policy” in order to do so (Chapman and Iredale 1993:359). This policy stated that anyone not of white-European heritage would not be beneficial to the nation as a whole and would therefore not be accepted as an immigrant to the nation. It was also known as the “restrictive immigration policy under the commonwealth immigration restriction act of 1901” (Jupp 1995:207). If a person was a white European, they then had to pass a qualification test. Sometimes this was a literacy test, sometimes a skills test. They wanted to see if their immigrant’s overseas qualifications would meet the standards of Australia’s workers (Chapman and Iredale 1993:359). According to A.C. Palfreeman “only those whom the officer intended to exclude were given the test and the ‘European language’ chosen was one which the immigrant could not possibly know.” After the abolishment of the “Immigration Restriction Act” the language test was done away with (Jayaraman 2000:139).
Australia needs skilled immigrants to perform specialized labor (Chapman and Iredale 1993:361). “Populate or perish” has been the motto for the country whose current population is still merely 17 million (Australia…1994). After 1945, a massive immigration plan was launched to build the nation. For a long time the majority of the immigrants were white European, until the end of the “White Australia Policy” and a large amount of Asian immigrants entered the country (Castles and Zappala 1999:274). Britian provided the largest number of immigrants early in the century, “though it’s share is down from 44.3% in 1962-1963 to 12% in 1992-1993. At this time, 43% of the migrants were from Asian countries (Australia…1994). “Australia has placed the highest priority on immigration since 1945 and experienced the greatest proportional population as a result” (Ongley and Pearson 1995:766).
“White Australia” as a policy and an idea failed in many ways. Potential immigrants lost interest in moving to Australia, it alienated the mostly Asian states, and it made Australians world view of Britain’s theories “unfashionable” and in no good interest of Australia (Jupp 1995:209).
The immigration law now has new standards and a “multi-cultural” policy. Australia is much more lenient about who may immigrate to the country. In 1967 the amendment of their constitution gave aborigines citizenship and the right to vote. Also, in 1992 the aborigines were granted land rights which had previously been taken away (Jayaraman 2000:142). The Australian government has changed too. It went from being labor ruled to a Federal Liberal government in March 1996. The liberal party is parallel with the British conservatives and the American Republicans (Johnson 1997). However, Australia is still under the control of the British republic. There is a proposition to change the constitution and make Australia an independent nation (Jayaraman 2000:144).
After the change of government the immigration law became stricter. The number of immigrants taken in was decreased and the fees and waiting period to become a citizen increased. Although Australia has come a long way in their policies from the settlement days, there is still a lot of reconciling to do with the Aborigines (Castles and Zappala 1999:285). In the past, Australia has caused many hardships for it’s indigenous people and non-white immigrants. Importantly though is the fact that “Australians at various times have shown the capacity to learn from past mistakes and rectify them” (Jayaraman 2000:145). As long as the ethnocentric attitude does not come back and they keep the mind-set of a multi-cultural society, Australia’s ethnic relations will improve.
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