Immigration to Australia after World War II

Immigrants to Australia waving from a boat.

After World War II, it was obvious to most Australians that their defenses during the war had been relatively weak. Australia had narrowly escaped a Japanese invasion and security-minded post-war governments concluded that rapid population growth now had to be made a priority. The 1945 population of seven and a half million people were far too few people to protect Australia, they argued.

Immigrants wanted

Spurred on by invitations from Canberra, post-war British immigration to Australia was substantial. However, the Brits did not fill the country to the extent that the Australian government wanted. To boost immigration numbers, therefore, in the late 1940s, the government came to accept as new citizens European refugees of any nationality, as well as displaced Middle Easterners.

Asians to oppose communism

From the 1950s onward, Asian students were also welcomed to Australia. Inviting them was part of an education scheme where the Asian students, after finishing their degrees, were meant to go back to their home countries and oppose communism. The students’ Asian home countries, it was hoped, would thereafter become strongly capitalist and work as free market-barriers between Australia and Mao Zedong’s communist China. If this failed, many Australians feared, Asian countries would begin to fall like dominoes to the collectivist faith, and Australia could be the last domino brick to fall.

Without really intending it, and quite paradoxically, the old policy of keeping Australia white and British, in the mid-20th century, came to be undermined by attempts to save the country from outside threats. Gradually, Australia’s ethnic makeup now shifted, and when a large number of Vietnamese refugees were accepted into the country in the 1970s, the White Australia policy was considered fully overturned.

Multiculturalism

If the politicians had asked the general public outright whether or not they wanted to take large numbers of Southern European, Middle Eastern and Vietnamese refugees into their country in the 1940s, 50s and 70s, a majority of the people would likely have said no. But the politicians never consulted the people in this way. Instead, they used their democratic mandate to take decisions that they believed were best for Australia’s security and for the world. As a consequence, Australia became both more multiracial and more multicultural.