Timeline: Australia's Immigration Policy

Since the early days of European settlement, immigration has caused huge debate and controversy in Australia. This timeline looks at key events along the way.

Customs backs response to Geraldton boat

A Customs review found authorities acted appropriately when an asylum seeker boat reached Geraldton.

1831 – 43 years after the arrival of the First Fleet and the beginning of British colonisation in Australia, the first assisted migration begins with workers from Britain encouraged to apply. Other immigrants follow that decade, including German Lutherans leaving their homeland in search of religious freedom and better economic opportunities.

1860 – Many Chinese miners take advantage of Australia's Gold Rush, but it causes tensions that come to a head in an 1860 riot. 3,000 European miners drive the Chinese off the Burrangong Goldfield in New South Wales.

1888 – Tensions continue over Chinese workers and in 1888 the Premiers of all the pre-Federation colonies (except Tasmania) agree to further restrict Chinese immigrants.

1901 – Among the first laws passed by the Federal Government in the new Commonwealth of Australia is the Immigration Restriction Act 1901. It introduces a dictation test to prevent 'non-whites' from entering Australia as immigrants. The laws create the legal foundation of the White Australia Policy.

The War Years – During the war years and the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands of British settlers are given assistance to come to Australia, and German Jews fleeing persecution are also admitted, but immigrants considered 'aliens' are required to register with the authorities and in some cases classed as 'enemy aliens' and interned in camps.

1945 – Australia embarks on an ambitious 'populate or perish' program to encourage immigration after the war. British migration is especially encouraged in the years that follow.

1947 – Permanent residency is granted to non-European immigrants for business reasons and to those who have lived in Australia continuously for 15 years. This represents the first challenge to the White Australia Policy.

1950 - Immigration Minister Harold Holt makes an historic decision to allow 800 non-European war refugees to remain in Australia. In the following few years, Australia enters into assisted migration schemes with various European countries and the United States.

1958 - The Revised Migration Act 1958 introduces a simpler system of entry permits and abolishes the controversial Dictation Test introduced at Federation in 1901.

1963 – The 50 page is published by Melbourne University. It advocates a wider immigration policy, especially allowing immigration from Asia. The manifesto is taken seriously by political parties and the press, but change isn't immediate.

1966 – Hubert Opperman, Minister for Immigration in the newly elected Howard Holt Government, announces that applications from prospective settlers will be considered on their suitability as settlers, their ability to integrate readily and whether they have qualifications useful to Australia. It's effectively the beginning of the end of the White Australia Policy.

1972 – By the time the White Australia Policy is formally abolished by the Whitlam Government in 1972, thousands of Asian immigrants have already been allowed into the country.

1975 - The Racial Discrimination Act is adopted, finally making racial discrimination illegal.

1976-1982 – The phrase 'boat people' enters the national lexicon as over 2,000 refugees from Vietnam arrive in Australia directly by boat. Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser allows boat people to settle in Australia, and supports the resettlement of over 200,000 more refugees whose claims are processed in camps in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand.

1989 – A second wave of boat arrivals begins, with about 300 people arriving by boat each year, mostly from Cambodia, Vietnam and Southern China.

1992 – Paul Keating's Government introduces a change of policy, with mandatory detention for all people arriving without a valid visa.

1999 – A third wave of asylum seekers begins to arrive, predominantly from the Middle East. The numbers are larger than before, with the asylum seekers often assisted by people smugglers.

2001 – This year is a key turning point in recent immigration policy... John Howard's Government denies permission for the Norwegian vessel the MV Tampa to enter its waters after rescuing 438 mainly Afghan refugees from a stranded boat off Christmas Island, sparking international condemnation.

It prompts what becomes known as the 'Pacific Solution', where outlying parts of Australia such as Christmas Island are excised from the migration zone. This means asylum seeker arrivals there cannot automatically apply for an Australian visa.

Boat arrivals are then either returned to Indonesia, processed on Christmas Island or sent to newly established offshore processing centres at Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or the Pacific island nation of Nauru.

This allows them to be dealt with by Australian immigration officials outside of Australian law. Although aimed at discouraging people from making the journey, the Pacific Solution is widely criticised by human rights groups.

2008 – The Kevin Rudd Government announces the closure of the centres at Manus Island and Nauru. Asylum seekers arriving by boat will now be processed at Christmas Island.

- More than 100 boats carrying in excess of 5,000 refugees, mostly from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, arrive in Australia this year. It's the biggest surge in a decade that has seen hundreds killed in failed attempts to reach Australia by boat.

The Julia Gillard Government reopens the asylum seeker processing centres at Manus Island in PNG and Nauru, prompting renewed controversy over offshore processing and the treatment of asylum seekers, especially families, while in detention.

2013 – 66 Sri Lankan asylum seekers manage to reach the Australian mainland by boat, arriving at Geraldton in Western Australia in April. The following month, the Australian mainland is also, controversially, excised from the official migration zone.

6 min read
Published 21 June 2013 at 1:27pm
By staff
Source: SBS