In 1901, the parliament of the new Commonwealth of Australia passed a series of laws designed, in the words of the Prime Minister Edmund Barton, “to make a legislative declaration of our racial identity”. An Act to expel the large Pacific Islander community in North Queensland was followed by a law restricting further immigration to applicants who could pass a literacy test in a European language. In 1902, under the Commonwealth Franchise Act, “all natives of Asia and Africa” as well as Aboriginal people were explicitly denied the right to vote in federal elections. The “White Australia policy”, enshrined in these laws, was almost universally supported by Australian politicians, with only two members of parliament speaking against the restriction of immigration on racial grounds.
(Online publication January 05 2011)
* Joanna Cruickshank lectures in Australian and Pacific history at Deakin University. She has published on the history of Methodism in eighteenth-century England and Aboriginal missions in nineteenth-century Australia. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.