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Research Guides

More People Imperative: Immigration to Australia, 1901–39


1901, Immigration Restriction Act

This Act was the basis of the 'white Australia' policy for over fifty years. Rather than focus on particular nationalities as the anti-Chinese legislation had done in the nineteenth century, it prohibited all those who failed to pass a dictation test of fifty words in a European language. After 1905, any prescribed language could be used although this change was never implemented. The use of the test by immigration officers was discretionary and aimed to exclude all those who looked 'coloured'. The Act also prohibited those who had criminal records, were mentally ill, considered immoral, had contagious diseases, were unable to support themselves, and, until 1905, manual labourers under contract. The Dictation Test was abolished under the Migration Act 1958; the 'white Australia' policy officially came to an end in 1966.

1901, Pacific Island Labourers Act

Under this Act all Pacific Islanders were to be returned to their places of origin by 1906.

1901–2, Commonwealth Royal Commission on Foreign Contract Labour in Western Australia, (Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers, vol. 2, Paper A44, p.871ff).

1903, Commonwealth Naturalisation Act

This Act prevented non-Europeans in Australia from acquiring British citizenship and remained in force until 1956–7. Non-British Europeans could apply after two years' residence. Amendments were passed in 1917 (whereby prospective applicants had to advertise their intentions to become naturalised in the press), 1920 (which repealed the 1903 Act, included the Territories and imposed a fee for the Certificate), 1936 (when women were allowed to apply for independent naturalisation, or take on 'deemed naturalisation' by using the marriage as certification), 1946 (which confirmed that a woman who was a British subject would not lose her status of Australian citizen if she married an 'alien'), and 1948 (which repealed the earlier Acts and amendments and for the first time, men and women of Australia could gain citizenship by either birth or descent, registration or naturalisation. Thereafter, the application for naturalisation could be made one year after arrival although a further five years' residence was required to obtain approval).

1904, Western Australian Royal Commission on the Immigration of non-British Labour, (Western Australian Parliamentary Papers, vol. 2, Paper No. A7, p.102).

1904, New South Wales Royal Commission on the Decline of the Birth Rate and on the Mortality of Infants in New South Wales, (New South Wales Parliamentary Papers, Second Session, vol.1V, pp.791–955).

1905, Contract Immigrants Act (the Amending Immigration Act 1905)

This Act amended and superseded the clauses relating to contract immigrants in the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act. Much tighter procedures were put in place. Employers resident in Australia wishing to bring in labourers under contract had to gain approval from the Minister of External Affairs. This would be granted only if equivalent labour was unavailable in Australia, contracts were in writing, there was no industrial dispute pending, and current award wages were paid.

1911–12, Royal Commission into the Alleged Shortage of Labour in the State of New South Wales, (New South Wales Parliamentary Papers, vol. 2, pp.665–1135).

1913–14, Victorian Royal Commission to Investigate Certain Complaints re Closer Settlement, (Victorian Parliamentary Papers, vol. 2, No. 28).

August 1914 to November 1918, World War I, virtual suspension of immigration for the duration of the war.

1914, 1915, War Precautions Act

This Act, first passed in October 1914, conferred broad and arbitrary powers on the Federal government to restrict civil liberties, especially the activities of 'aliens' (non-British) in Australia. It was repealed in 1920.

1915–16, Victorian Royal Commission on Closer Settlement and a General Review of the Finances of Closer Settlement, (Victorian Parliamentary Papers, vol. 2, No. 21, 1915 and vol. 2 No. 29, 1916).

1916, War Precautions Aliens Registration Regulations

These regulations required all Europeans in Australia to register and to report any change of address. They were superseded by the Aliens Registration Act 1920.

1917, United Kingdom Royal Commission on the Natural Resources, Trade and Legislation of Certain Portions of His Majesty's Dominions, London HMSO, known as the Dominions Royal Commission, Part 1, Migration and Settlement.

1920, Aliens Registration Act

This replaced (and incorporated) the regulations of 1916 above. The main purpose of the Act was to trace all Asians and prohibited immigrants in Australia. It was repealed after only one year.

1920, Enemy Aliens Act

Officially this was the Amending Immigration Act 1920. It prohibited Germans, Austrian-Germans, Bulgarians, Hungarians and Turks from entering Australia for five years from 2 December 1920. The same Act prohibited anyone who advocated the forceful overthrow of the Australian or any other government. It was repealed (with the exception of Turks) in 1925.

1921, Joint Commonwealth and States Scheme

This Scheme brought about a new cooperation in the field of immigration between the Australian Federal and state governments in 1921. The Commonwealth government took responsibility for recruiting and transporting assisted immigrants to Australia while the states advised the Commonwealth on the type and number of immigrants required. The Commonwealth thereafter provided assisted passages; the states controlled reception, employment and aftercare. Directors of Immigration were appointed in both Australia and in London.

1922, Empire Settlement Act

Under this Act, the British government agreed to cooperate with the Commonwealth government to provide funds for assisted passages for selected migrants from the United Kingdom and for land settlement schemes in Australia. Its broader aims were to stimulate primary production, foster industry and trade within the Empire and provide for its stability and security. The Act was renewed in 1937 for a further fifteen years but effectively came to an end with World War II.

1925, Victorian Royal Commission on Soldier Settlement, (Victorian Parliamentary Papers, vol. 2, No. 32).

1925, £34 Million Agreement

This agreement between the Commonwealth and British governments aimed to expand settlement in Australia and increase the capacity of already settled areas to support a higher population. The Commonwealth could raise loans up to a maximum of £34 million over ten years and provide low interest loans to the States. Half the funds could be used for land settlement, the other half for approved public works. Australia had to raise an additional pound for every pound supplied by the British government. The Agreement was cancelled in November 1935.

1925, Royal Commission to Investigate the Social and Economic Effect of the Increase in the Number of Aliens in North Queensland, known as the Ferry Report, (Queensland Parliamentary Papers, vol. 3, A28, pp.25–52).

1926, Development and Migration Act

This Act provided for the setting up of a Commission to stimulate the development of Australia's resources, attract more immigrants and examine new settlement schemes. Its members were Herbert Gepp of Tasmania, the Hon. John Gunn of South Australia and Charles Nathan, CBE, of Western Australia.

1930, Virtual suspension of all assisted immigration owing to the depression.

1933, Royal Commission on Migrant Land Settlement,(Victorian Parliamentary Papers, vol. 1, Paper No. 3).

1934, riots in Kalgoorlie and Boulder, Western Australia, against Italians, Slavs and other foreigners.

1936, Partial reintroduction of assistance schemes by the Commonwealth government.

1937, Renewal of the 1922 Empire Settlement Act for a further 15 years.

1938, Renewal of assistance schemes by the Commonwealth government.

September 1939 – September 1945, World War II , virtual suspension of immigration in general for the duration of the war.