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Australian immigration history
“A History of the Department of Immigration – Managing Migration to Australia” has been released to commemorate 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Department of Immigration. Publication highlights challenges relating to Australian immigration history.
This publication is a brief history of the Department of Immigration and Australian immigration overall and captures some of the key events, highlights and challenges relating to immigration to Australia.
Chapters one and two look back at the early history of immigration to Australia. This early history provides a useful context for understanding the challenges faced by the new Department in overseeing an ambitious nation-building plan in the post-World War II period. These chapters reflect upon the historical policies which maintained a restricted approach to immigration that primarily favoured migration from Britain. Throughout the first half of the 20th century non-British migrants were not encouraged, and non-Europeans were excluded altogether, although some European groups did manage to filter through. The immigration history of Australia prior to the establishment of the Department provides an indispensable backstory to appreciate the magnitude of the transformation of Australian society that the Department presided over in implementing the immigration programme following the end of World War II.
Chapter three examines the establishment of the Department in 1945 and the first two decades of the immigration programme. By necessity, the new Department had to look beyond the British Isles to achieve the scale of immigration the Curtin and Chifley Governments championed with bipartisan support. The first two substantive secretaries of the Department, Tasman Heyes and Peter Heydon, both engineered and guided the establishment of the Migration Programme.
Heyes oversaw the diversification of the programme to include people from across Europe, beginning a process that transformed the social and cultural landscape of Australia. When Heydon became the Secretary of the Department in 1961, he began a process of dismantling the ‘White Australia Policy’ approach to immigration, which had defined Australia’s approach to immigration since before Federation. Heydon prepared the way for a nondiscriminatory programme that considered applicants on the basis of merit and skills rather than the colour of their skin.
Chapter four covers Australian immigration history of 1970s and 1980s, exploring how the Department managed the advent of jet travel and the decline of the migrant ships that had been such a feature of the migration journey to Australia. During this period, the Department shifted the Migration Programme away from the assisted migration schemes, which had characterised immigration to Australia since settlement, to a programme that started to respond more specifically to Australia’s economic, social and labour concerns through a greater focus on skills and family reunion. The Department further refined its migrant settlement services, creating a model that was admired and emulated by other countries.
The chapter also traces the tradition and practice of humanitarian resettlement which began with the resettlement of 170,000 people from displaced persons camps in Europe and continued throughout the 1960s with discrete groups of refugees resettled from Europe, South America and the Middle East. This was followed by refugee boat arrivals from Indochina after the end of the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia in 1975. In response to the unprecedented phenomenon of asylum seekers arriving on Australia’s doorstep, the Humanitarian Programme was established in the late 1970s to provide a more targeted and orderly response to future refugee crises.
Publication has been created by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. This publication is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia licence. Whenever a third party holds copyright in material in this publication, the copyright remains with that party. PDF copy of the document is available here.