‘The “White Australia” policy must go’: The Communist Party of Australia and immigration restriction

Jon Piccini, Evan Smith

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The Australian far left has a long and conflicted history of engagement with the politics of whiteness. The Immigration Restriction Act, colloquially known as the ‘White Australia Policy’, was amongst the first acts of newly created Australian commonwealth in 1901. It was strongly argued for by the left of politics, particularly the Australian Labor Party, who saw sit as a means of securing the union movement’s gains from cheap foreign labour. Against such a backdrop, this chapter examines the Australian far left’s opposition to immigration controls, asking to what degree was its intervention significant in the eventual ending of the policy in 1973. Early, frustrated opposition to the policy by the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) was given energy by the end of World War II, which saw both the first cracks in the policy – as southern and eastern European migration was encouraged for the first time – and the emergence of a stronger line of far left critique. The CPA published a pamphlet interrogating White Australia in 1945 and opposed the deportation of Chinese refugees and a host of others in the immediate post-war era. At the same time, however, the CPA was calling for immigration quotas owing to housing shortages and opposed the immigration of particular nationalities, derided as ‘Balts’, who were seen as anti-communist. The CPA’s equivocal position was rejected in the early 1960s by the early actions of Australian ‘New Left’, who formed a group called ‘Student Action’ to oppose White Australia, using strategies borrowed from the American civil rights movement. Yet, this and movements such as the Immigration Reform Group were more closely aligned with modernising currents in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) than the far left, which instead supported the struggles of Indigenous Australians and opposing the Vietnam War. This chapter concludes by considering this contradiction: that while protesting in solidarity with an Asian people seen as subjugated by imperialism, the Communist Party often remained on the side-lines practically. The task of abolishing Australia’s racialist immigration policy was left to centrists in the ALP.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Far Left in Australia since 1945
EditorsJon Piccini, Evan Smith, Matthew Worley
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)978-0-429-48734-7
ISBN (Print)9781138541580, 978-1-138-04385-5
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Communist Party of Australia
  • White Australia Policy
  • immigration policy


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