Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Fact Sheet 30

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A. fifty years of post-war migration…..
Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Fact Sheet 30 1995
Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Fact Sheet 30
1995 marks the 50th anniversary of Australia's post war migration program.
Since 1945, more than 5.3 million people have come to Australia as new settlers. Their arrival has had a marked influence on all aspects of our society.
The trigger for a large scale migration program was the end of World War Two.
In Europe, millions of people were stranded outside their homelands, unable to return. In Australia, there was a desperate shortage of labour and a growing belief that substantial population growth was essential for the country's future.
These and other factors led to the creation, in 1945, of a federal Immigration portfolio.
By 1947, a post war immigration boom was underway, with a large and growing number of arrivals of both government assisted and other immigrants.
Agreements were reached with Britain, some European countries and with the International Refugee Organisation to encourage migrants, including displaced persons from war torn Europe. By 1950, almost 200,000 people had arrived.
A million more migrants arrived in each of the following four decades. Today, nearly one in four of Australia's 18 million people was born overseas. Britain remains the largest single source country of migrants, but other regions — notably Asia — have become more significant.
Early Migration Waves
The date of the first human occupation in Australia remains an open question, but evidence exists that humans have been on the continent for at least 40,000 years. Consequently, Aboriginals are regarded as the Indigenous people of Australia.
Initially, the mainstay of migration from Europe was transported criminals. Starting in 1788, some 160,000 were shipped to the Australian colonies. They and the officials of the penal system were, from the early 1790s, joined by free immigrants.
The 1820s saw a marked increase in the migration of free persons from Britain.
Early migration peaked beeween 1851 and 1860, when arrival levels were around 50,000 people a year. During this gold rush era, Chinese immigrants were the largest non British group.
Over the years, the migration program has reflected economic or social conditions in Australia and elsewhere. For example:

  • a population imbalance resulted in deliberate efforts to attract women (1860 to 1920);

  • Afghans, in the second half of the 19th Century, arrived to play a part in opening up the continent's interior; and

  • Japanese, late in the 19th century, were instrumental in the pearling industry.

The two world wars also influenced Australia's migration program — the resettling of ex-servicemen, refugees and young people were significant chapters in Australian immigration history.

Post war Developments
The most ambitious part of Australia's migration program followed the end of World War Two.
Australia negotiated agreements with other governments or international organisations, to help achieve high migration targets.
The agreements included:

  • a system of free or assisted passages for UK residents;

  • an assisted passage scheme for British Empire and US ex servicemen, later extended to ex-servicemen or freedom fighters from the Netherlands, Norway, France, Belgium and Denmark;

  • an agreement with the International Refugee Organisation to settle at least 12 000 displaced persons a year, from camps in Europe;

  • formal migration agreements, often involving the grant of assisted passage, with the UK, Malta, the Netherlands, Italy, West Germany, Turkey and Yugoslavia; and

  • informal migration agreements with Austria, Greece, Spain, Belgium and others.

Economic and humanitarian events around the world subsequenty influenced the size and source countries of the Australian program. At various times in the 1950s and 1960s, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia were important migrant source countries.

There were also significant intakes of Hungarian and Czech refugees following unrest in those countries in 1956 and 1968 respecectively, from Chile following the overthrow of the Allende Government in 1973, from Indochina after the end of the Vietnam war in 1975, and from Poland after martial law was declared in December 1981.
Today the migration program is global using one set of criteria for applicants anywhere in the world, with migrants originating from more than 170 countries.
Today's Program
This financial year (1994 95), 73 000 migrants will arrive under the skills and family reunion categories of Australia's migration program, and another 13 000 humanitarian entrants will rebuild their lives here, having fled persecution or suffering.
(In the past decade, the number of arrivals peaked in 1988 89 [145 300 arrivals] but world economic conditions subsequenty saw a downturn in interest in migration, and the number of places made available for new settlers. Numbers are now rising.)
Today's program also recognises that business globalisation has resulted in a major flow of people who often do not want to stay in Australia permanently. Some 88 000 people received visas for temporary entry to Australia last financial year to undertake specific work, do business, entertain, play sport or (for young people) for a working holiday.
The migration program is also involved with other people here temporarily — in 1994, Australia was hosting about 70 000 overseas students, and in 1993 94 it welcomed more than 3 million short term visitors.
The Impact of Immigration
The post war immigration program has benefited Australian life in many ways.

Immigration affects the demand side of Australia's economy through:


  • migrants' own spending (food, housing and leisure activites);

  • business expansion (investment to produce extra goods and services); and

  • expansion of government services (health, education and welfare).

  • It also affects the supply side of the economy –

  • Iabour, skills and money introduced into Australia;

  • new businesses developed by migrants;

  • migrant contributions to technology; and

  • adding productive diversity through knowledge of international business markets.

The make up of Australia's population has changed dramatically over the past 200 years — from an almost total Aboriginal population, to (after 100 years of immigration) a predominanely Anglo Celtic one by 1900, to its present mix of about 74% Anglo Celtic, other European 19% and Asian 4.5%.

Some of the social effects of this change have been the introduction of more than 100 languages into Australian life (while retaining English as the common language), the growth of community language schools, ethnic media, businesses, new foods, and diverse religious and cultural activities.
Immigration is a major contributor to Australia's population growth.
At the end of World War Two, Australia's population stood at just over 7 million, with around 90% born in Australia.
The migration program of the past 50 years has changed the population markedly — both the natural population increase and migration have combined to result in a population of around 18 million. Today, about 75% are Australian born.
The contribution of migration to population growth varies — in the year ending 30 June 1993, about 18% of population growth was due to the net migration gain. By contrast, in the late 1980s the net migration gain accounted for around 55% of population growth.
Currently, Australia's population is ageing. However, the average immigrant on arrival is about five years younger than the average Australian, slowing down the ageing of the population.
Statistical Summary
In the 50 years of planned post war migration, Australia has seen:

  • 5.3 million migrants arrive;

  • within this figure, about 2.8 million males, 2.5 million females;

  • more than 500,000 people arriving under humanitarian programs, initially as displaced persons and more recently as refugees; and

  • a population rise from about 7 million to around 18 million.

In the last financial year (1993 94):

  • almost 70,000 new settlers arrived, bringing with them unrequited capital transfers of about $ 1.1 billion;

  • more than 11,000 of the new settlers came under the humanitarian program;

  • an additional 88,000 people received visas allowing them to take up temporay residence;

  • 2.27 million visitor and 41,500 student visas were issued; and

  • 16,000 New Zealanders arrived either permanently or for a long term stay.

B. Cultural influences from non immigrants.

Until after the second world war the fundamentals of Australian culture continued to be as solidly British as in colonial times. R.G.Menzies inherited the mantle of the earlier anglophile Prime Minister, Stanley (later Lord) Bruce, who represented Australian interests in London during the 1930s. When Australia celebrated its very British sesquicentenary in 1938, 150 years after the first permanent European settlement at Sydney, Menzies was federal Attorney General. The following year he became Prime Minister, and soon after he announced that as Britain was at war with Germany, so too was Australia. It was still inconceivable that 'the motherland' should be involved in a war without receiving Australian assistance. The later 1930s had seen isolated intellectual attempts to distinguish a nationalistic Australian culture from the wider British imperial heritage, but the view as expressed in the official sesquicentenary celebrations at Sydney in 1938 remained deferentially British and imperial. Australian university departments were still generally headed either by British academics or by Australians who had completed their education at Oxford or Cambridge universities.

After the second world war, when a federal Labor government planned the foundation of an Australian National University dedicated to research, it looked largely to Britain for advice and for its foundation professors. Even in the later 1960s, it would be common for bright Australian university students to further their studies at British universities as 'Commonwealth Scholars'. Top Public Schools had often brought their headmasters out from Britain, and church leaders continued to be imported from England, Ireland or Scotland. Most Australian architecture was derived from British models, although when Canberra was planned after the first world war the more adventurous American architect, Walter Burley Griffin, was engaged with sometimes controversial results. 

At one level, the arrival of large numbers of United States troops on Australian soil after war broke out with Japan in 1941 marked a watershed (turning point) in Australian history. With its sturdy republican sentiments and ancient suspicions of British imperialism, the US had stepped into the breach left by the tragic capture of Singapore by the invading Japanese in February 1942. Not only had Britannia's great naval base at Singapore failed to protect Australia from the north, but thousands of young Australian soldiers were now captive in enemy prison camps. Curtin's Labor government, which replaced the Menzies government in 1941, was not bound to the same extent by the old deferential relations with Britain. The Australian Prime Minister insisted that Australian troops be brought home from Europe, although Churchill vigorously opposed this. Fortunately, Curtin also stood up to Churchill's plan for the returning Australian Seventh Division to be sent to British Burma, where they would have provided more prisoners of war for the Japanese. 

The Australian governments that defended Australian interests against Churchill's strongly expressed wishes were forced to depend heavily on the American military forces that filled the vacuum left by Britain's withdrawal from the Pacific. But they maintained traditional links with Britain, which was to act as a partial antidote to American political, economic and cultural domination in the post-war world. Ironically, the anglophile R.G. Menzies would return to power after the war, aided by an election promise to remove petrol rationing, which the Labor government had retained in order to help the British government in its difficult post-war economic plight. 

Despite Menzies' attempts to maintain traditional Australian respect for British royalty, and for British institutions and culture generally, American commercial and cultural influences steadily permeated the post-war Australian scene. The arrival of very large numbers of non-British immigrants from all over Europe during the immediate post-war years also helped to undermine the old assumptions of a monolithically 'British' culture in Australia. So far had the process gone by the Vietnam War era that one of Menzies' Liberal successors as Prime Minister could welcome Lyndon Johnson, the President of the United States, with an assurance that Australians were 'all the way with LBJ'. Britain was not involved in the Vietnam War, whereas young Australian military conscripts were. 

In those same post-war years a humiliated Japan, forced to surrender in 1945 by American nuclear devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, became a new sphere of American power and influence. Japanese industry was quickly revived, and during the 1950s Japan became a significant importer of Australian wool and other raw materials. Traditional British imports from Australia decreased in those years, as Australian producers of dairy products and meat found it increasingly difficult to compete with the quality of New Zealand produce. Britain was already being forced to confront the reality of an emerging European Economic Community; the pressure to join the EEC grew as it became increasingly clear that Britain's empire could not survive the impact of post-war nationalist movements. 

Robert Menzies' energetic and vocal support of Britain in the Suez Canal conflict of the mid-1950s represented Australia's last fling in the old imperial game. When Wilson's British Labour government withdrew all forces from East of Suez soon after, traditional 'imperial' thinking became pointless in Australia. From that point even conservative Australian governments faced with threats from Communist nations to the north would have to rely on the belief that Australia could turn to the United States for protection. Australian culture was infiltrated by powerful American cultural influences, especially through television, and was being modified from within by the diverse cultural influences of the growing immigrant groups. Serious debate on constitutional reform, whether it be to lessen the power of the British monarchy in Australia or to pave the way for a future republican form of government, did not take place at a popular level, however. 

During the Vietnam War years, some Australian intellectuals feared that political and cultural subservience to the United States was replacing the earlier subservience to things British. The emergence of the Whitlam Labor Government at the end of the war initially inspired hope in the adherents of the Australian republican movement. Within months Queen Elizabeth's official status was redefined as 'Queen of Australia'. Whitlam was not initially concerned about the continuing role of the Governor-General in Australian politics, but events of 1975, when Sir John Kerr suddenly dismissed the Prime Minister to resolve a political stalemate between the Houses of Parliament, changed that. This spectacular incident focused public attention on the remains of Australia's links with Britain. Even so, little public interest could be aroused for an Australian republic, with its implied cutting of the knot with Australia's past. Even less public interest could be stimulated by suggestions that the British 'Union Jack' be removed from Australia's flag.

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