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331 Mackay to Evatt

Dispatch 52/46 (extracts) NEW DELHI, 22 December 1946

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 Indians.

[matter omitted]

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.

[matter omitted)

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 'merchants'.

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 December.

(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 High Commissioner

[AA:A1067, M46/9/21]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History