Alfred Deakin speaks on the Immigration Restriction Amendment Bill

[Extracts from a speech by Alfred Deakin regarding the Immigration Restriction Amendment Bill, in the House of Representatives, 10 November 1905.]

The Immigration Restriction Act, No. 17 of 1901, covers two entirely distinct classes of immigrants. The first comprises those who are sought to be excluded because of differences of type and tendency, which render their assimilation with the people of our own race difficult, if not impossible. It was thought necessary in the earliest days of the Commonwealth to pass a measure for their exclusion. The Act does not on the face of it distinguish between the nations to which it is applied, and in only one or two portions of the measure does a word occur which even indicates that its administration is intended to be directed to peoples such as those to whom I have referred, who are not members of the group of races which from colonizing Western Europe, have spread themselves over a large portion of the habitable globe.

The other class of immigrants dealt with are those under contract, who will presently be the subject of comment in connexion with another measure. What I am now asking honorable members to examine is a proposed amendment of the Act, which will apply particularly to those peoples to whom I have referred, some of whom are separated from us by a great gulf of inherited traditions, character and aims ; and all of whom under administration come within the scope of the existing measure. Our control is exercised by means of the application of an education test, which is neither the most convenient form of exclusion nor that which is most readily appreciated elsewhere. It involves a certain amount of indirect action, although from the very first day that it was adopted until the present time, it has been directly and consistently employed, and by this time its purpose is everywhere understood.

When the education test was adopted as the least objectionable method of excluding those whom we felt bound to keep from our shores, it was feared that the control exercised would be less efficient than if direct prohibition had been resorted to in regard to people described by race or colour. I think, however, that experience has shown that the apprehension was groundless. The annual returns, which have been laid upon the table, prove not only that a smaller number of coloured aliens are being admitted into the Commonwealth, but that year by year the number of departures of such people exceeds the number of arrivals. They also show that of those who do come here a considerable number are only nominally admitted, as in the case of the pearl shell fishers, in order that they may sign contracts which are fulfilled on the sea. In a similar manner, the greater number of the Chinese and others who figure in the returns as having entered the Commonwealth have been previously domiciled here, or have been in possession of State permits or other permits entitling them to admission. Consequently, the gross figures demonstrate that the number of coloured aliens within the Commonwealth is decreasing steadily, and is likely to decrease more rapidly year by year. Then, when judging the education test which has been applied to only a limited extent, honorable members must remember that those recorded as having failed to pass the test, and who have been refused admission to the Commonwealth, do not represent anything like the whole number of those who have been prevented from coming here by its operation. Those who come here and subject themselves to the test represent the few who have some hope of overcoming the difficulties presented by the Act. Probably thousands were deterred by it from embarking for Australia. I am justified in stating that the education test, as now applied, has proved efficient, and has enabled us to shut out from the Commonwealth those whom it was desired to exclude. Only a few individuals have succeeded in defeating it.

This measure proposes to make a series of minor amendments, rendered necessary by the ingenuity of professional men, who have been able to discover particular means by which the intentions of the Act can be defeated. The first amendment is intended to make members of the police force of any State officers under the Act. This is necessary, because the Commonwealth officers are stationed on the sea-board, and when a prohibited immigrant manages to reach the interior an officer has to be despatched from the sea-board to apply the education test. The proposed amendment will enable any policeman who may be on the spot to administer the test. . . . The only power we have in reference to the police is that contained in section 14. We are there empowered to appoint particular police officers, but that involves a separate appointment in every case. What we seek is authority for any policeman to apply the education test provided under the Act. Under paragraph n of sub-section 3 several legal difficulties have arisen in regard to the dictation test. First of all, there is doubt as to whether the word “passage” does not imply that the test to which the immigrant is subjected shall conform to certain requirements. Again, it is urged that the passage must contain only fifty words, and that the dictation of fifty-one or forty-nine words invalidates the whole test.

Then the use of the word “European” by implication draws a distinction between people to whom the test is intended to be applied, which so far as the administration of the Act is concerned, is quite unnecessary. This Bill is designed to repair slight omissions and to close small loopholes, which have been discovered in .the practical working of the Act. With exceptions to which I shall presently allude, I might conclude, with these few words, my statement of the purposes of the measure. But, in addition, the fact cannot be overlooked that — however silent the Act may be upon the point — it is intended to be applied to people of particular races. That provision must not be regarded as having been inserted in any Pharisaic spirit, and must not be held to imply any assertion of superiority on our part. Probably every nation, every tribe — and even smaller gatherings — is satisfied that its country, its district, its village is the best in the world, and that its members are better than anybody else, partly because they try themselves by their own standards.

. . . People try themselves by their own standards, and, naturally, return a verdict which is favorable to themselves. But assertions of superiority are neither conveyed nor implied in this Bill, which simply recognises the incontestable fact that, despite the unity of humanity, its diversity is more operative in fact. The branches and families into which the human race is divided have followed different paths for ages. They have developed in different directions to such an extent that it is now found that any attempt to suddenly blend their blood, unite them in institutions which are foreign to them — or in politics or economic relations — leads to disruptions and disturbances of a serious kind. These blends are apparently of advantage to neither race directly — and certainly not to the advantage of any hybrid races which spring from them.

. . . I refer both to the mode and to the fact of such blendings. We cannot deny that the experience of today promotes a reaction from the theory of the century before last, when all peoples were grouped in one mass as if they were divided by no other than artificial distinctions which, by the mere alteration of systems of education, could be readily overcome. That idea is passing away, even in the British Empire, made up of many races, following many different systems of life, with widely divergent religious beliefs, who are able to unite for the purposes of maintaining and extending that Empire. Certain bounds have been drawn between its peoples to trespass which means not only peril, but undoubted loss. That is the experience of modern times ; it is the experience of those Englishmen who have devoted their lives to work in Asia and elsewhere amongst people foreign to ourselves, whom half-a-century ago we should have endeavoured to turn into Europeans by imitation on then existing European patterns. We have since found that it is wiser to allow each people to develop along its own lines, by the perfecting of its own methods of civilization, than to endeavour to impose our methods upon them. They do best for themselves in their own countries. I say this because occasionally we find ourselves challenged from the pulpit and the lecture-room as setting up claims to superiority over other nations which no thoughtful man would prefer. As we cannot know how we ourselves look in the judgment of an All-seeing Eye, we do not attempt to judge other peoples, but we recognise that racial and national differences are prominent features which we have to take into account in practical life. Nor are we selfishly exclusive in our laws. Owing to the exceptional conditions prevailing in this Continent, and to the fact that the native races promise to become extinct, the first settlers of Australia have an opportunity which has existed nowhere else in the world, of endeavouring to gradually people our land with the descendants of white races capable of blending with advantage and relatively all of about the same grade of culture or possibilities of culture. That is what we generally refer to as the White Australia policy. This measure, instead of detracting in any way from that policy, aims at rendering the law more efficient in its enforcement. In formulating that policy and abiding by it, we are not called upon to cast, even by inference, any slur upon any other people, to imply in them any special defects, or suggest anything more than a separateness of character, aim, and tendency to which I have already alluded. It is an imperative necessity at the present time that, in pursuance of our great national ideal, we shall exclude the people of the East, of whom two races in particular possess claims upon our respect and admiration. Within the Empire, we have an empire — Hindustan — some of whose races are amongst the most intellectual that the world has known. They rank amongst the intellectuals to-day, and enjoy many heritages comparable with those of most advanced peoples. A tribute to their accomplishments in literature and art is unnecessary. Their records are sufficient to merit admiration. . . . I wish only to safeguard those who support legislation of this character against the assumption that their action is derogatory to any people. The Hindoos as members of the same Empire are entitled to special consideration at our hands.

Then there is the nation who have recently sprung into such prominence, attracting the admiration of the world for their ability and patriotism, by their achievements in arms, science, and industry. They are the allies of the Empire to which we belong. Before they won their recent successes many people, including myself, bore tribute to their standing and promise. Now the whole world realizes that it is confronted by a young and virile people, whose possibilities cannot be gauged, although we know that they are of a very high order.

It becomes us, therefore, to see if, in regard to the excluded races generally, but particularly in regard to the two I have mentioned, we cannot, without altering the policy to which this country is pledged, amend the expression of our law and its administration. We can convey to them our appreciation of their qualities, and, while excluding permanent settlers from among them, inflict no sense of offence. To this end we propose to omit the word “European” before the word “language” in the sub-section to which I have previously referred. We shall then declare that the test shall be in a prescribed language, instead of a European tongue, a provision that will give us just as ample a control as we have at present.

. . . The intention is to carry but the existing practice, which is to prescribe such a language in each case as will lead to the rejection of the persons intended to be rejected. That is deliberately done. The test is not of education, and was never proposed as such. It is a means of exclusion, devoid of offence. In pursuance of the same policy, we are now proposing that a general arrangement, which meets with the approval of Parliament, may be brought into operation. . . . The Bill provides not for an alteration of the policy of a White Australia, but for a change in the method of administration.

Commonwealth of Australia, Parliamentary Debates, Immigration Restriction Amendment Bill, Second Reading, 10 November 1905