The Australian Department of Immigration was established by Ben Chifley, Australia’s new Prime Minister, on 13th July 1945. Chifley together with the new Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, championed a ‘populate or perish’ initiative. Still reeling from the threat of a Japanese invasion in 1942, the Australian Government saw the need to rethink the politics of population and power.
Australia was a large country with a small population, made even smaller by the loss of young men conscripted in the Second World War. There was a need for a larger work force and people for protection. Calwell estimated that the population needed to increase by 2%, twice as much as could be gained by natural growth. To make up the shortfall, Calwell calculated that Australia would need 70,000 immigrants per year and set his sights on Britain:
‘it is my hope that for every foreign migrant there will be 10 people from the United Kingdom.’
The ‘White Australia’ policy of the previous Government still prevailed…
‘Foreign’ migrants were welcomed under the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) agreement, signed by Australia in July 1947 and in which the Government covenanted to accept war refugees or ‘displaced persons’ from all over Europe from 1945 until 1954.
But it was the British that Calwell really wanted to attract. Due to their similarities in culture, language and appearance, Calwell believed that the British would settle the best out of all European countries. And so the Department for immigration began pursuing a policy to seek fit, healthy, employable (white) Britons (and North-west Europeans who could speak the language) to fit an idealistic model of a new, more populated Australia.