I have the honour to address you on the subject of India and the
'White Australia' policy.
1. The Indian Attitude
The large majority of Indians today associate Australia, first and
fore-most, with the traditional 'White Australia' policy. This
association is almost invariably accompanied by a feeling of
sensitiveness, even resentment, which is implied, sometimes
tacitly and sometimes explicitly, in the questions asked by
2. The Official Defence
The official defence of our 'White Australia' policy is that it is
based on economic and social grounds, and not on racial grounds.
Nevertheless, it has to be admitted that Australia's immigration
policy, as it stands at present, is also racial and not merely
economic and social. Indians can, of course, understand the
exclusion of hordes of lower-class Indian labourers, on the
economic ground that their admission would lower the present
standards in Australia and undermine the welfare of the Australian
unskilled worker, and that both qualitatively and quantitatively,
the exclusion of such migrants is demonstrably justifiable. But
the Indian view is that the exclusion of educated and westernised
Indians, such as qualified engineers, doctors, lawyers,
journalists, etc., can only be described as racial discrimination,
especially in view of the fact that, in the present period of
general economic expansion and development, Australia needs as
many competent individuals as she can attract.
3. The Quota System
In a letter to me dated 16th April, 1946, Mr. Peters of the
Immigration Department stated that the 1933 census showed that the
number of Indians then residing in Australia was 2,404. The
appendix to his letter (see Annexure 'B') indicated that between
1933 and 1945 the number of Indians arriving in Australia exceeded
those departing by 390, a yearly increase of about 30. Under the
existing regulations, these presumably belong to the category of
An extension of the entrance privilege to other Indians besides
merchants, as well as an increase of this annual average quota
from, say, 30 to 50, is well worthy of consideration.
Such a concession, namely raising the quota to 50 and including
higher-class Indians in addition to merchants, would be slight in
practice and yet highly significant to Indians as indicating a
modification of the racial discrimination and exclusiveness
associated with the present 'White Australia' policy, and also as
being a gesture of goodwill to India as she enters upon her new
national status. The proportion of Indians to the total population
of Australia would remain infinitesimal, the cost to Australia
would be little, and we should gain tremendously through the
general approval which such a gesture would arouse.
4. The Present Opportunity
The present juncture, in world affairs seems to be eminently
suitable for a modification of the existing regulations with
regard to Indians:
(a) We are entering on a post-war period of new plans and ideals,
in the national sphere as well as in the international; a review
of our 'White Australia' policy at the present juncture would be
in keeping with this new world-tendency.
(b) America has just passed her Indian Immigration Act permitting
the entry of 100 Indian migrants every year into the United States
of America. This Act was enthusiastically hailed in India as a
gesture indicating the elimination of anti-Asiatic prejudice in
America. A similar gesture from Australia would be hailed even
more enthusiastically, especially in view of Australia's close
association in the mind of Indians with the traditional 'White
Australia' policy. (c) Apart from her 'White Australia' policy,
Australia's stock in India stands high today. A tone of
friendliness and goodwill runs through practically all references
to Australia in the press. A recent example was the notably
cordial reception given to Australia's message of goodwill, which
was read out at the opening of the Constituent Assembly on 9th
(d) India has convened an Inter-Asian Conference for February-
March, 1947. The question of racial discrimination, particularly
as involved in the migration policies of the countries concerned,
is bound to be raised.
(e) India is on the threshold of her independence. The importance
of fostering and developing friendly relationships with India, as
an independent neighbour of Australia, cannot be over-emphasized.
Moreover, judging by recent pronouncements, India will before long
demand equality of rights in the matter of migration.
In the next few decades, independent India may well become the
leading power in the Far East. A gesture which can be made at this
stage on a goodwill basis may have to be conceded later under
pressure from a nation of 400,000,000 people, possibly in alliance
with other Asian peoples comprised in a total population of
approximately 1,000,000,000 in an arc extending over the North of
Australia from India to Japan. In this event, far greater inroads
into the 'White Australia' principle might have to be made, with
no compensatory advantage in goodwill to Australia.
To sum up, India under British rule has had little voice in
international affairs and has generally remained quiescent on
questions of migration policy. There are signs, however, of a
rapid awakening. Obviously no country can do much to give
permanent relief from the pressure of India's ever increasing
population (5,000,000 births every year), but India's pride
resents any bar which she thinks is exclusively directed against
her nationals. It is believed that no great number of Indians
would actually migrate to Australia were they permitted to do so.
What they would like to feel, however, is that there is no bar
against their entry. The institution of a small annual quota would
make little difference to the existing entry rate, would remove
the feeling of resentment which Indians now have and would still
enable Australia to keep the matter under close control.
If you are able to fulfil your intention of visiting India next
year, as we all hope you will, you will appreciate that your views
on Migration will be eagerly probed and some pronouncement on
Australian Government policy will be sought.
IVEN G. MACKAY