Australian Immigration

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Australia has a rich migration history starting with the first migrants being convicts transported from Britain between 1788 and 1840. Free immigrants began arriving in the 1790’s (Walsh: 2001) The Industrial revolution which caused wide spread poverty and unemployment in Britain, as well as the demand for workers in the wool industry in Australia enticed more free settlers to Australia, followed by the Gold rush in the 1850’s of which the largest group of immigrants were the Chinese. The bringing in of Polynesian labourers to work in the sugar plantations of Queensland also contributed to the population numbers swell. From 1851 to 1861 just over 600,000 people had migrated to Australia from many varied backgrounds and culture. By the time of federation the total population was close to 4 million people. (Walsh: 2001). Today Australia has a population close to 22,400,000 people of which one in four people come from a culturally diverse and linguistic background (Dept of Immigration and Citizenship, 2009).

This essay will explore the social issues of immigration in Australian society especially in relation to refugees. It will give an overview of the history of immigration in Australia. It will then go on to explore refugees and discuss the perceptions of refugees, settlement issues of refugees and then go on to look at the practice of mandatory detention of refugees in Australia.

One of the first pieces of legislation to be passed after federation was the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 or what was to be known as the white Australia policy it was a policy based on race not nationality. (Holmes, Hughes, Julien 2007). This was driven by the ‘white miners resentment towards the Chinese diggers which culminated in violence at Lambing flat NSW, the fear that imported Polynesian workers would take jobs from white Australians was instrumental in the decision by politicians’ to warn “there was no place in Australia for “Asiatic's and coloureds” (Dept Of Immigration and Citizenship, 2009) Another restriction was the dictation test used to exclude certain applicants by requiring them to pass a written test in a language with which they may not be familiar with nominated by an immigration officer. (Jayaraman, 2000).

After the end of the Second World War the government took a different approach to migration. The near invasion of Australia by the Japanese caused a rethink into population numbers. In 1945 the Department of Immigration was established and it was resolved that Australia should have an annual population growth of two percent of which only half could come from natural increase. And while the government still wanted the majority of the population to be Anglo Celtic the restrictions were relaxed. The government negotiated agreements with other governments to help achieve its migration targets. (Rivett, 2002). In 1956 non European residents were allowed to apply for citizenship.

The Migration Act 1958 introduced a simpler system of entry permits and abolished the controversial dictation test. The revised act avoided references to questions of race. A review of the non- European policy in March 1966 was the watershed in abolishing the “White Australia policy”. In 1973 the Whitlam Labour Government took further steps in the gradual process to remove race as a factor in immigration policies which included the legislation that all migrants of whatever origin to obtain citizenship after three years of permanent residence. Other steps included the issuing of policy instructions to overseas posts to totally disregard race as a factor in the selection of immigrants and the ratification of all international agreements in relation to immigration and race. (Dept of Immigration and Citizenship, 2009).

In 1978 the government commissioned a comprehensive review of immigration in Australia. Far reaching new policies and programs were adopted as a framework for Australia’s population development. This...
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