PM Ben Chifley (Labor) is still hailed as one of Australia’s great Prime Ministers. Rarely, however, are his thoughts on the topic of immigration quoted for modern readers.
As Australians await the next national budget announcements on 13 May 2014 – with their potential to include new and hopefully lower immigration targets – we’d like to share with readers an editorial from the Melbourne Age some 65 years ago.
“National Ideal of White Australia”, Editorial, The Age, 31 May 1949
In a few plainly expressed homely paragraphs, the Prime Minister, in his Sunday night “weekly broadcast”, re-stated the basic factors behind our national policy of vigorous but selective immigration. These, as Mr Chifley pointed out, are as valid today as when the statutes of the respective states were incorporated in a federal law early in this century.
There is no ideal in which national agreement so nearly approaches unanimity as the desire for homogeneity, colloquially expressed in the terms “white Australia.” Any tampering with this policy for economic gain on the part of some small, affluent minority who would welcome a flood of cheap, coolie labor, or by a few impractical sentimentalists, would arouse wide spread indignation. Australia asks only the same right as that recognized and practised by every other nation – the right to determine how her population shall be composed. This generation of Australians recognizes a duty to preserve the heritage passed on by the pioneers who developed this continent and made it habitable.
It is to be hoped that Mr Chifley’s clear disclaimer will dispose of the false and mischievous notion that any sense of racial superiority is expressed or implied in our national policy. The blare of publicity which has attended the routine carrying out of the law in a few exceptional cases arising from the peculiar circumstances of the war, is to be deprecated. If traced to its source, this clamor will be found to be motivated, not by any mass urge of Asians to gain unrestricted right of entry into Australia – a right which they themselves do not accord even to other Asians – but by the strong desire of critics prepared to discredit the government by any propaganda device.
The peoples of Asia, toward whom in their upsurgent consciousness of nationality Australia adopts good-neighborly attitude, would not find in this continent with its own problems of light rainfall over wide semi-arid areas and liability to droughts, any appreciable relief from their population pressures. Their leaders who are well informed on the subject will endorse Mr Chifley’s words that, “the only way for Asians to achieve peace and prosperity for all their nations, was through strenuous efforts in their own lands, and not through emigration.” To this end they can rely on the good will, cultural friendliness and the material benefits of mutually advantageous trade with Australia.
These words reflect an age of practical intelligence, a time when ordinary people understood the importance of national survival and social cohesion as a “light on the hill”. Chifley would roll in his grave to learn of the size and composition of our current immigration program and their inevitable demographic consequences.