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Social Policy Section
- This paper outlines the views of federal senators and members regarding
immigration during World War I. It follows an earlier Parliamentary
Library publication titled The immigration debate in Australia: from
Federation to World War One.
- Immigration almost ceased during the war, but parliamentarians debated
about how to increase population without changing the White Australia policy or
compromising working pay and conditions.
- The group of immigrants deemed ‘undesirable’ expanded to include
people of enemy origin, southern and eastern Europeans, and members of new radical
Parliamentarians debated the treatment of immigrants and people
of enemy origin, and wartime legislation and regulations stripped these groups
of many civil and commercial liberties. Nearly 7,000 people were interned in
Australia during the war, and most of these were ultimately deported.
- Questions parliamentarians raised during the war continue to be discussed
in the 21st century, including whether an immigrant can become a ‘genuine
Australian’, whether politicians should control citizenship without judicial
recourse and the extent to which national security should come at the cost of
Wartime views on immigration: ‘The
White Australia policy stands’
Opposing views on immigration
Attitudes towards ‘aliens’:
‘Australian born, or the enemy within the gates?’
War Precautions Acts and regulations
Wielding war precautions powers
Strengthening war precautions powers
The commercial sphere
Post-war period: naturalisation a
mere ‘scrap of paper’?
Extension of war precautions powers
Abbreviations for political
This paper outlines the views of federal senators and
members of Parliament regarding immigration during World War I. It follows an
earlier Parliamentary Library publication titled The immigration debate in Australia:
from Federation to World War One.
The first section of this paper outlines parliamentary debates about how to maintain
the White Australia policy without antagonising Australia’s allies and how to
add to the country’s population without compromising Australians’ working pay
and conditions. The second section traces debates about the treatment of people
of enemy origin during the war. The final section foreshadows debates about
post-war immigration policies.
Parliament generally passed the Bills mentioned in this paper
quickly, because restricting immigration and controlling people of enemy origin
were seen to be vital in defending Australia. The Australian Labor Party (ALP)
was elected to government in September 1914, soon after the start of the war,
and governed until the newly-formed Nationalist Party took control in
1917. Both of these governments were led by William
(Billy) Hughes, and both prioritised national security as the ‘supreme
Parliamentary debate was curtailed early in the
war, when the ALP had a large majority in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition,
Joseph Cook (LIB), agreed everything ‘must be made to bend in war time to the
supreme purpose of making the State safe’.
While more parliamentarians questioned the treatment of
people of enemy origin during the second half of the war, these remained in the
minority, and Parliament continued to prioritise national security.
The cohort of people deemed to be ‘desirable’ immigrants shrank as the war went
on, and people deemed to be of enemy origin were progressively more tightly
Australian citizenship was not established until the Nationality
and Citizenship Act 1948, so during World War I Australians were classified
as British subjects.
Non-British subjects in Australia were called ‘aliens’. In some circumstances,
they could become British subjects in Australia through a process of
This paper uses the phrase ‘people of enemy origin’ to refer to three groups of
people in Australia: aliens from countries at war with Britain, naturalised
British subjects originally from those countries, and British subjects with
ancestors from those countries.
on immigration: ‘The White Australia policy stands’.
While the states were responsible for promoting immigration
to Australia, the Commonwealth had the power to restrict immigration.
Before the war, non-Europeans were prevented from immigrating to Australia, southern
and eastern Europeans were permitted but not assisted, and other Europeans,
including British and German people, were supported to immigrate.
There was a brief immigration ‘boom’ from 1910, but this was abruptly ended by
the beginning of the war in August 1914.
Immigration during the war was ‘strongly criticised’, and
activities encouraging immigrants almost ceased.
Reflecting this, immigration was not subject to much debate in Parliament, although
as early as 1915 the Minister for Trade and Customs, Frank Tudor (ALP),
called for the Government to develop ‘policy to be brought into operation at
the conclusion of the war‘.
While some parliamentarians were concerned about the impact of immigration on working
pay and conditions, and others depicted desirable immigrants as nation-builders,
academic Gerhard Fischer suggested that there was ‘consensus about the goal’ of
preserving a racially exclusive ‘White Australia’.
The Immigration Restriction Act 1901 continued to be
‘strictly enforced’ during the war to prevent non-European immigration.
In 1915, Hughes (ALP) described the
policy as one of the few to which ‘all parties are committed by their votes and
However, as outlined in The immigration debate in Australia: from Federation
to World War One, ‘Britain was opposed to overt racial
discrimination on the part of Australia’ due to the multicultural composition
of its empire and its international trade and strategic priorities. Many parliamentarians
were therefore concerned about how to maintain ‘the vital policy of a
White Australia’ without offending Britain and their allies.
For example, James Fenton (ALP) warned that Japan ‘expects English-speaking
nations to treat her and her subjects as equals, with mutual exchange of citizenship’.
Senator James Stewart (ALP) similarly noted ‘Indians are fighting side by side
with the Australians in France’ and predicted ‘a claim will doubtless be made
on their behalf for free entry to Australia’. Some parliamentarians urged for the White
Australia policy to be administered in a more conciliatory manner. For example,
Senator Thomas Bakhap (LIB) cautioned the White Australia policy
… carried to an unnecessary and vexatious
length, and administered in a manner calculated to irritate those great
coloured populations which are to the immediate north of Australia, and with
whom, whether we like it or not, as time goes on, we must have increasingly
Even this tentative criticism required his qualification: ‘I
do not mean to impugn the general desirability of a White Australia policy’,
and reassurance that the ‘White Australia policy stands’.
While the White Australia policy was largely accepted in
Parliament, parliamentarians expressed different views about ‘white’ immigration.
Many promoted immigration as a means to increase Australia’s population and
strengthen its defences and economy. Ernest
Carr (NAT) supported ‘a systematized method of immigration which will help to
fill our waste places and increase our productiveness’.
Many parliamentarians preferred immigrants from Britain who were prepared to
work on the land, such as William Finlayson (ALP), who claimed that ‘our own
kith and kin from the British Isles are the most acceptable immigrants to this country’.
Other parliamentarians, particularly those associated with
the labour movements, opposed mass immigration. They warned that introducing
immigrants risked worsening the living and employment conditions and prospects
of men already working in Australia. Joseph Hannan (ALP) expressed some concern
at the notion of state‑supported British immigrants:
I hope that the Prime Minister will, in the interests of the
thousands in Australia who are at present out of employment, use his influence
to induce the States to cease further efforts in this direction until our own
industrial position shall have improved.
The fear that immigrants would usurp the position of
Australian workers was voiced more stridently by many parliamentarians during
the conscription debates of 1916 and 1917.
When debating the Military Service Referendum Bill in 1916, Frank Anstey (ALP) moved
to replace the words ‘Military Service’ with ‘Coloured Labour’ in the title because
he believed non-European workers would have to be imported if conscription was
Other parliamentarians warned that aliens already in Australia were likely to
take the jobs of Australian soldiers. For example, William Fleming (LIB) demanded:
‘How can we ask the young men of Australia to join the army as freely as we
would like when we know that proper precautions are not being taken … to insure
that their own billets are not filled by these aliens?’
While conscription was defeated in referenda in 1916 and 1917, concern about
aliens taking employment from British subjects continued to be expressed
Public antagonism towards southern and eastern Europeans in
Australia was rife by the second half of the war.
They were treated with suspicion because they were perceived to threaten the
privileges and jobs of British subjects.
In 1917, Edward Corser (NAT) cautioned:
… honorable members should know that Britishers are being forced
out of the sugar industry in Queensland, and their places are being taken by
Italians, who work upon a co-operative basis, and are not bound by the
decisions of any Wages Board.
Moreover, some parliamentarians argued against allowing the
immigration of these groups because they perceived them to be ‘incompetent
foreigners’ who ‘cannot work, and … will not work’.
Returned soldiers supported riots against Italian, Greek and
Slavic people, known collectively as the ‘olive peril’.
There was also a public backlash when Australia accepted a small number of
European migrants during 1915 and 1916.
Perhaps in response, Australia banned Maltese and Greek immigration from 1916.
Parliamentarians did express some sympathy for these immigrants; for example, Arthur
Rodgers (NAT) acknowledged the ‘White Australia policy
has been juggled about badly in connexion with the poor Maltese’.
Some also opposed the forced repatriation of Italian men, as will be outlined later
in this paper. Nevertheless, most parliamentarians welcomed the restrictions,
believing ‘some limitation should be placed on the number of southern Europeans
towards ‘aliens’: ‘Australian born, or the enemy within the gates?’
There was a great deal of parliamentary debate regarding the
treatment of people of enemy origin in Australia during the war (described in
Parliament as the ‘enemy within the gates’ by, for example, Senator Albert
In 1915, Senator Edward Millen (LIB) declared ‘I think the public temper was
extremely patient and tolerant’.
However, the Minister for Defence, Senator George Pearce (ALP), described the
‘considerable amount of resentment against the German section of the community’,
which was estimated to comprise no more than two per cent of the population of
Two years later, Senator Henry Turley (ALP) noted that ‘feeling against enemy
aliens is growing’.
During the second half of the war, groups including the Salvation Army, the
Australian Natives’ Association and the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’
Imperial League of Australia expressed antagonism towards Germans in Australia.
This public antipathy was reflected in parliamentary debates
and resulting legislative changes. Many parliamentarians portrayed naturalised British
subjects originally from enemy nations and people with enemy heritage as
disloyal and dangerous. In 1914 Senator Stewart (ALP) asserted ‘at the present
moment there is in Australia a strong feeling against Germany in every shape
One year later, then Attorney-General, Hughes affirmed ‘no German can be
trusted during this war’.
Other parliamentarians distinguished between ‘trustworthy’
people of enemy origin, and those who remained loyal to their enemy heritage.
William Finlayson (ALP) neatly captured this distinction when he stated:
We have the honest, naturalized citizen, who is a genuine
Australian - who has renounced his native country and takes no cognizance of
what is going on there. Then, unfortunately, we have others - too many of them
- who profess allegiance to Australia while in their hearts they hold
allegiance to the enemy countries from which they come.
Loyalty to the Empire was perceived to be proved by military
service, as illustrated by Senator Pearce in 1918:
… there are in the Commonwealth persons of enemy origin who
have demonstrated their loyalty. One cannot read any casualty list that does
not include the names of men of enemy origin.
Senator John Grant (ALP) further opined, ‘so far as Germans
among us who are loyal to Britain are concerned, nothing should be done to
Thus, by differentiating between loyal and disloyal people of enemy origin, parliamentarians
could simultaneously support the repression of dangerous elements in society
while expressing sympathy for others.
This led to an ongoing debate: who should be authorised to decide
which people of enemy origin were trustworthy and which were not? Many wartime Acts
and regulations gave the Governor-General and members of the Federal Executive Council
(comprising the Prime Minister and ministers) almost absolute discretion over
such assessments, and allowed them to widen the scope of who could be deemed an
Precautions Acts and regulations
Control over people of enemy origin was primarily extended
during the war through the War Precautions Acts and the regulations and
orders made under these Acts. The previous Parliamentary Library publication, The immigration
debate in Australia: from Federation to World War One, provides a thorough
overview of the parliamentary debate about the War Precautions Act 1914.
Essentially, the War Precautions Act empowered the Governor-General,
acting on the advice of the Executive to prohibit aliens from landing or
embarking in Australia, and to deport aliens.
It also required aliens to reside and remain within certain places, and to
comply with administrative controls regarding registration, change of abode,
travelling and trading.
In addition to these powers, the War Precautions Act
gave the Governor-General and members of the Federal Executive Council wide discretion
to make laws which determined which people of enemy origin would be trusted and
which would not. Senator Pearce, who remained
Minister for Defence throughout the war, outlined how he and
other ministers used their powers, stating ‘wherever there is a doubt we give
the benefit of the doubt to our own cause, and not to the person against whom
the charge is made’.
James Fenton (ALP) warned this lack of scrutiny risked civil liberties: ‘the
Government will continue to rule by regulation. … Ministers, with the
Governor-General, could constitute a meeting of the Executive Council, and do
practically anything behind the back of Parliament.
A few parliamentarians also criticised the role of the military authorities in
enforcing the new powers, such as Edward Riley (ALP), who cautioned: ‘the Ministry must be very careful how it hands over the civil rights of
the people to military control’.
Some parliamentarians argued people should be able to defend
themselves in court from being labelled an enemy alien, losing their financial
liberty, interned, and deported.
Frank Brennan (ALP), for example, challenged ‘the
complacent view of those who are content to say that, in the interests of
safety, we must do this or that’. However, Hughes, then Attorney-General, asserted
there was ‘about the civil law a majestic dignity and circumlocution which is
unfit to deal with espionage and treachery in a time of national danger’.
He asserted that democracy would be protected under the war precautions
powers because the law would be dependent on ‘the will of the people as
expressed through their representatives and the Government’.
Parliamentarians poised to gain extraordinary powers
promised to use them responsibly. Senator Pearce promised in 1915: ‘I shall
certainly set my face against any unrestrained use of these powers. ’
Attorney‑General Hughes echoed this, declaring:
… the Prime Minister has given
the honorable member his positive assurance, and I give him mine, that this
power will be used only when absolutely necessary, and only to the extent that
is absolutely necessary.
These assurances were
generally accepted, and the Leader of the Opposition Joseph Cook (LIB) merely
Everything will depend upon the administration of the Acts,
and for that administration the Government, and only the Government, can take
full responsibility … I simply say to the Government, "Good luck to you;
take your Bill, and do what seems good."
According to William Watt (Nat), the ‘bulk of honourable members’ agreed
ministers should be free to rule covertly on matters of national
security. For the same
reason, ministers often refused to discuss actions taken against
people of enemy origin, citing the ‘public interest’.
war precautions powers
The War Precautions Act was amended to broaden the
Government’s powers twice in 1915, once in 1916, and extended in 1918 following
The first Act was passed after only a single day of discussion, without
amendment or serious opposition.
There was more debate about later iterations, as parliamentarians increasingly
expressed concern at how earlier versions had been used to enforce censorship,
reduce civil liberties, and expand the powers of the military in a period that
was perceived to be less dangerous than when the first Act was passed.
Parliamentarians who questioned the war precautions powers
appeared primarily concerned with protecting the civil liberties of British
subjects, not people of enemy origin. Indeed, most were convinced Australia’s
safety depended on controlling this group, as illustrated by Senator Pearce:
I am not so optimistic as to believe
that all the friends of Germany are inside our concentration camps or outside
of Australia. It is quite possible that some civilian friends of the German
cause are at large here, and if a favorable opportunity occurred, they might
take some action detrimental to our country.
Some parliamentarians pushed
the Government to tighten controls on people of enemy origin, and Jens Jensen
(ALP), complained of being ‘attacked right and
left because we do not intern more people, and do not deal more severely with
Senator Albert Gould (LIB) advocated forcing ‘all Germans, whether
naturalized or not … to take out a licence to remain at large, and to report
themselves at regular intervals to the police’.
Senator Pearce argued against this, replying:
All alien enemies over the age of 13 years are compelled to
report weekly to the police. It is not thought that there is sufficient reason
for compelling naturalized subjects of enemy origin to report; but suspicions
[sic] cases are kept under surveillance, and if there is sufficient reason they
These concerns continued to
be raised throughout the war, and in 1918 Herbert Pratten (NAT) described how
there had been ‘simmering in Sydney for many months, if not for years,
rightly or wrongly, very grave dissatisfaction with the Defence Department for
allowing enemy aliens the freedom they have’.
A few parliamentarians did advocate for people of enemy
origin, although it was unusual for their concerns to change policy or alter proposed
legislation. In 1915, Frank Brennan (ALP) supported providing ‘just government
to all who are within our boundaries, even though they may not be British
While the Bill in question was amended to exempt aliens from court martial,
this leniency was not extended to enemy aliens because, as Attorney-General Hughes
… the offences dealt with in this Bill are those which no
person is more likely to commit than an alien enemy, and no person is more
likely to commit them with the deliberate intent of inflicting vital injury on
There were a series of other changes to the war precautions
powers in 1915, including placing the onus on individuals to prove whether or
not they were aliens, and reasserting the Government’s power to intern enemy
aliens without appeal to the courts.
The latter drew vehement opposition in both Houses from parliamentarians
concerned about conferring ‘such immense arbitrary and autocratic power’ on the
Government, but these arguments gained little support given the circumstances
of the war.
As Senator Hugh de Largie (ALP) declared, ‘this Bill is an emergency
measure arising out of the war, we cannot freely criticise it in the usual way
in this Chamber.’
The 1916 War Precautions Act further extended the Government’s powers,
permitting the prescription and regulation of:
… any action to be taken by or in regard to alien enemies, or
persons having enemy associations or connexions, with reference to possession
and ownership of their property, the continuance or discontinuance of their
trade or business, and their civil rights and obligations.
This allowed the Government broad control over the lives of
people it deemed to have ‘enemy associations or connexions’, however, the 1916 Act
passed both Houses with little comment.
A series of regulations were
also passed in 1916, such as requiring aliens to register with alien
registration officers and notify them of any changes of address.
For the first time, passports were made mandatory for most travellers over 15
years of age, though people of enemy origin were not allowed to leave Australia
by passport even if they were naturalised British subjects.
In 1917, aliens were prevented from using new names without permission, and it
was announced that enemy aliens would be required to report to police at least
So many regulations were made that Senator
Gardiner (ALP) reflected: ‘every tremor, every panic of the Government, was met
by a new War Precautions regulation’. As previously noted, the War Precautions Acts permitted the Governor-General to make regulations and orders on
the advice of the Executive, thereby avoiding parliamentary scrutiny.
According to Edward Riley (ALP), this effectively enabled the Executive to ‘make
any regulation they choose’.
One of the most controversial uses of the war precautions
powers was to forcibly repatriate men with Italian heritage to fight for the
Italian national army.
Frank Brennan (ALP), for example, argued that it was a betrayal tantamount to
… no white man, having been invited to this country, and
being in the enjoyment of the protection which the British flag gives to every
white man in the Commonwealth, so long as he obeys its laws, should be torn
from his family and this country for compulsory military service abroad.
William Finlayson (ALP) further warned that the Government
was risking White Australia. He asked:
How can we attract any immigrants when we pursue the policy
that is now being pursued, and allow persons of foreign extraction who have
made their home here to be forcibly seized and deported for military service?
Others were concerned for the families left behind, the ‘women
and children in this country who are in no manner at fault’.
The repatriations continued to be debated in Parliament as late as 1920.
The Government did not overtly claim the repatriations were necessary for
Australia’s national security, although historian Karen Agutter asserts it
‘was keen to cooperate’ when the Italian Consul General proposed the plan.
The principle of protecting national security led to the
internment of 6,890 people in Australia during the war.
Most were of German or Austro-Hungarian background, and over two-thirds of them
were Australian residents before the war.
They included naturalised and natural-born British subjects of enemy origin who
were interned under War Precautions regulations.
Parliamentarians did not strongly challenge the principle underpinning
internment, but some questioned the level of ministerial control over
unchallengeable and indefinite detention ‘for
securing the public safety and the defence of the Commonwealth’.
Some argued the lack of judicial scrutiny prevented the internees from
accessing a fair trial, and resulted in unjust decisions. For example, William
Maloney (ALP) alleged the Minister ‘may have interned rich Germans, but not to
the extent that he has interned poor Germans’.
In 1918, Arthur Blakeley (ALP) further argued members of the Government ‘act
with perfect friendliness towards Germans who hold certain political opinions,
but display marked antagonism towards other Germans holding different political
Thus, the Government was accused of using war precautions to promote political
interests ‘for purposes which have absolutely nothing to do with the war’.
The Government sought to confine potentially dangerous
elements in society without appearing to punish them excessively, and described
conditions in the internment camps as acceptable. When questioned about the
camps in 1917, Littleton Groom (NAT) declared ‘the general conditions and
arrangements at the concentration camps are satisfactory’.
The conditions of interned aliens were
occasionally positively compared to those of Australian soldiers, and
allowances were paid to the families of those interned.
Despite this, scholars argue that the ‘internal disciplinary regime certainly
rendered them [camps] into places of punishment’.
Other legislation also affected aliens and people of enemy
origin by restricting naturalisations, disenfranchising and limiting freedom of
association. Reflecting on these restrictions in 1919, William Finlayson (ALP) declared:
‘We have made naturalization in Australia of no value whatever.’
Given the ‘strong feeling against Germany’ and suspicion of
people of enemy origin, parliamentarians sought to quantify the population of
enemy aliens in Australia, and limit who could undergo the naturalisation process
to become a British subject.
By November 1914, Australia had ceased naturalising people of German birth,
except for those over 60 years of age.
Parliamentarians expressed concerns at the perceived risk to national security
posed by potentially disloyal individuals in Australia holding both enemy and
British citizenship status, and introduced legislation in 1917 in ‘deference to
the opinion, that we should have some provision against dual nationality’.
The resulting Naturalization Act 1917 required applicants to renounce
their existing nationality, advertise their intent to become naturalised
British subjects, produce character references, and be able to read and write
The Naturalization Act also granted the Commonwealth an unrestricted
power to revoke naturalisation. While the Government portrayed the legislation as administrative,
others regarded changes to naturalisation as significant, and some suggested
that the amendments should be delayed until after the war as they feared
Australia had ‘a distorted view of the people of enemy countries’ which was
likely to change in the future.
Some also appealed for the rights of women to retain their status as British subjects,
arguing it was anachronistic that a ‘woman sacrifices her nationality by
marrying a foreigner’.
Regardless, the Naturalization Act passed successfully, and similar
arguments were raised again in 1918 and 1920 without significant impact.
As noted above, some parliamentarians perceived people of
enemy origin to be less committed to the British Empire’s war effort than
Internees and naturalised British subjects born in an enemy country were therefore
barred from voting in the conscription referenda of 1916 and 1917 (unless
proved to be the parent of a member of the defence forces), as well as the
federal election in 1917.
Anyone suspected of having enemy heritage could be challenged, and their votes
William Maloney (ALP) described this deprivation of citizenship rights as ‘a
disgrace and a dishonour’.
Again, parliamentarians sought to distinguish between ‘loyal’ and ‘disloyal’ people
based on military service. Littleton Groom (LIB) argued:
… many born in Australia of naturalized parents are fighting
at the front, and have proved themselves fine British soldiers … Relief might
well be given in the case of those naturalized persons who have sons serving
with the Imperial Forces.
Ultimately, parents of soldiers were permitted to vote in
both referenda and the federal election, even if they were of enemy origin.
Some parliamentarians argued for this right to be extended to other enemy
aliens and naturalised migrants. Senator Henry Turley (ALP) pointed out that
not all people of enemy origins had sons they could send to war, and argued
that the authorities were reluctant to recruit these men anyway, declaring ‘in a few months it became known that no one with a
German name had any chance for the Expeditionary Forces’. Matthew Charlton (ALP) noted ‘many of those
who were deprived of their electoral rights are as good and loyal citizens of
the Commonwealth as I am’ and argued that the disenfranchisement of this group
was a deliberate move to promote the conscription cause.
Hughes, who was Prime Minister from 1915, dismissed these concerns as trivial
compared to the ‘titanic struggle in which the civilized world is engaged’.
He asserted ‘while penalizing very many loyal Germans by our action, we thought
that it was only right that this vote should be decided by persons of British
Therefore, the election and referenda proceeded without the votes of enemy
aliens and naturalised migrants, and, in 1918, the Leader of the Opposition, Frank
Tudor (ALP) described how:
Bitterness has been engendered among the large number of
people of German extraction in this district [Albury] through the operation of
the provision in the late referendum disfranchising people whose fathers were
born in Germany.
James Catts (ALP) stated that it had been estimated that
between 80,000 and 100,000 people were disenfranchised and prohibited from
voting in the 1917 referendum.
While the Unlawful Associations Act 1916 was primarily
intended to target members of the anti-conscription Industrial Workers of the
World group, it included an additional penalty for people other than British
subjects born in Australia. In addition to six months imprisonment, they could
be deported if convicted of being a member of an unlawful association and
hindering the production of war supplies or advocating ‘the taking or
endangering of human life, or the destruction or injury of property’.
Senator Allan McDougall (ALP) protested the ‘men who cause the trouble are
British born and British subjects who are members of that organization’, but
nevertheless the Bill passed with this difference in punishment.
The powers under the Act were broadened in 1917 because Prime Minister Hughes argued:
‘Experience has shown that the law then enacted is insufficient to enable us to
cope with this great menace to society.’
In addition to limiting naturalisation, voting and freedom
of association, wartime powers also prevented people of enemy origin from
freely engaging in business. Legislation was introduced to limit the financial
freedoms of people of enemy origin and tear ‘out the cancer of German influence’.
Trading with enemy aliens or any businesses
‘under the influence of enemy subjects … or mainly for the benefit or on behalf
of enemy subjects’ was prohibited, and contracts annulled, even for businesses
registered within the British Empire. By the end of 1914, the premises of any firm,
company or person could be searched, and records impounded.
People of enemy origin were prevented from holding shares, buying land and
using any patent, trade mark or registered design during the course of the war.
As with the War Precautions Acts, the duration of
debate about these Bills varied. The Trading with the Enemy Act 1914 passed
with little discussion, and while there was some debate regarding raids on
businesses in November 1914, generally parliamentarians accepted then
Attorney-General Hughes’ blunt view: ‘better that a few individuals should
suffer than that the safety of the Commonwealth should be imperilled’.
The Patents, Trade Marks and Designs Act 1914 and amendments also
passed rapidly, though Patrick Glynn (LIB) pointed out it entailed ‘something
outside the ordinary laws of confiscation’.
Showing some concern for the affected aliens, Hughes cautioned:
This is not a Bill to legalize looting … Civilized warfare
does not interfere with the property of individual enemies; this is now one of
the settled principles of international law.
Discussion in later years acknowledged the effects on people
with enemy origins to a greater extent. For example, Senator Gardiner (ALP), Vice-President of the Federal Executive
Council (the constitutional mechanism for providing ministerial
advice to the Governor-General), declared
… every consideration has been given to enemy subjects, and
... allotments and allowances should be given to aliens who are not dangerous
to the community; and who are not interned.
Some parliamentarians, such as Senator William Senior
(ALP), still raised the likely effects of the Enemy Contracts Annulment Bill
on people of enemy origin, protesting, the ‘Government
propose [sic] to take away from him the means by which he lives’. Indeed, people suspected of
having enemy heritage were progressively ‘forced out of employment,
their businesses were shunned’.
By 1918, between 600 and 700 men voluntarily sought internment who ‘because of
their nationality, and because they were looked
upon with suspicion, were unable to secure employment’. King O’Malley (ALP) described the impacts of
I met a German the other day who said, "I come here, and
I make a leetle [sic] home, and now I am starving." We do not wish to
persecute the Germans who are here.
Such concerns were not
sufficient to prevent the passage of Bills perceived to contribute to the war
As with the war precautions powers, parliamentarians debated
the level of authority granted to ministers through this legislation. The
Attorney-General could dictate the commercial dealings
of businesses and people with enemy origin, and declare arrangements to be
‘enemy contracts’ and therefore void.
Some parliamentarians suggested that people
should have the opportunity to ‘argue [their] status before the
Attorney-General makes a declaration.’
There was also concern that some legislation countered the British Proclamation
of September 1914, which gave ‘express permission
for subjects to continue their trading with all subjects of the German Emperor
who are still permitted to remain in the British Dominions’. Joseph Cook (LIB) cautioned
against this display of Australian initiative, hoping they were ‘not throwing a
boomerang, which will return and hit us worse’. O’Malley
(ALP) also criticised the scope of the Enemy Contracts Annulment Bill:
… people here, many thousands of miles away from the seat of
war, have nearly gone mad about chasing the enemies of the country. I have read
the Bill with fear and trembling. After careful study, it appears that if your
wife has an uncle who is the grandson of a German born before the Flood, you
are trading with the enemy.
Despite these protests, most
parliamentarians supported the introduction of legislation preventing people
with enemy origins from fully engaging in business. As Senator Hugh de
Largie (ALP) put it in 1915: ‘Certain outrages have been committed by Germans,
and we are anxious to get level with them.’
Post-war period: naturalisation a
mere ‘scrap of paper’?
Following the war, Cook, who had by then joined the new
Nationalist Party with Hughes, described immigration as ‘the most insistent of
all our immediate problems’.
Many immigration tensions continued in the post-war period, including bolstering
White Australia through immigration while excluding ‘undesirables’, and
maintaining the White Australia policy in the face of geopolitical opposition. Some
parliamentarians, particularly those associated with labour causes, also resisted
the mass immigration of European people, because of ‘a feeling that the fewer
workers there are in Australia the more work there is for those who are here’.
Concerns about immigration were also intensified by the Spanish Flu epidemic,
and William Maloney (ALP) expressed concerns about the adequacy of Australia’s
quarantine systems on immigrant ships.
Nevertheless, some parliamentarians advocated for a ‘big
immigration scheme’ as the ‘basis of our security’ and ‘national solvency’.
Prime Minister Hughes opined: ‘… we must get men of [the] right type and get
them on the land and not in the great cities’.
While parliamentarians continued to prize British immigration, and welcomed
former British soldiers, some also suggested that post-war Britain would not
provide enough people.
Joel Gabb (ALP) declared: ‘I yet believe that the intermingling of the blood of
other white people with our own is good for us, and must help to build up a
stronger and better nation.’
A few parliamentarians continued to warn that the
administration of the White Australia policy damaged Australia’s international
reputation, such as William Maloney (ALP), who stated that it ‘caused enmity
and ill-feeling on the part of more than one-third of the human race’.
Nevertheless, the policy was still supported, and Maloney was careful to temper
his criticism by proclaiming: ‘I believe in the policy of a White Australia,
and would gladly give my life to preserve it.’
Prime Minister Hughes’ defence of the policy at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference
was also widely celebrated by parliamentarians.
of war precautions powers
Although the war ended in November 1918, war powers continued to be enforced.
As Minister for Defence in 1915, Senator Pearce (ALP) declared that he
looked forward to a time when the war precautions powers could ‘be swept into
the waste-paper basket’.
When the war did cease, however, the Government extended the War Precautions
Act, with Pearce arguing that the ‘sudden cessation of the activities which
have arisen in consequence of the war could not be accomplished without danger
to the community’.
The extension of war powers in 1918 was vehemently opposed by some
parliamentarians, who focused on the impact on the economy, extension of censorship
and the internment of Australians thought to be ‘disaffected and disloyal’.
Some parliamentarians also challenged the deportation of
people under the war precautions powers, particularly because it included naturalised
Arthur Blakeley (ALP), for example, argued in
I do not care what crime may
be charged, no man or woman should be deported without trial. It may have been
necessary during war time … but surely the time has passed when we cannot allow
the full light of day to be thrown on every individual in this community
against whom a charge is made.
William Finlayson (ALP) also criticised the Government for
‘absolutely refusing’ the relatives of deported people ‘even the ordinary
courtesy of a communication’.
Frank Brennan (ALP)
warned that discrimination would:
… create amongst their friends
and relatives a feeling of hostility and disloyalty which is likely to live
many years after the war is over ... So far from the Government safeguarding
the interests of the nation, the interests of the nation will be, to a great
extent, jeopardized by these acts of injustice.
Others, such as then Treasurer William Watt (NAT), defended
the deportations, arguing ‘if
there is a slight injustice in some part of the procedure adopted, the safety
of this community is more important than the display of sentiment towards a
particular class of people’. Of 6,890
people interned in Australia during the war, 5,414 were
deported, along with 736 family members and un-interned enemy aliens.
Other legislation passed in the post-war period continued to
limit the freedoms of people of enemy origin. The War Precautions Act was
repealed in 1920, but in that year the Government passed a series of Bills to
‘take to themselves, by enactment, powers which they wielded under the War
Precautions Act and its regulations’.
These were not passed as quickly as they were during the war, but rather were discussed
at length in 1919 before the Seventh Parliament ended, and passed at the end of
1920. The Aliens Registration Act 1920 continued the monitoring of alien
registrations, address changes and changes of name.
Some parliamentarians opposed the Aliens Registration Act because it
allowed suspected aliens to be arrested without a warrant, and the collection
of suspects’ fingerprints.
Others criticised the Act because they perceived it did not restrict
undesirable immigration, and nor did it encourage desirable immigration.
The Nationality Act 1920 repealed and replaced the Naturalization
Act 1903–1917, and granted the Governor-General (and by extension, the Executive)
absolute discretion over naturalisation.
The Nationality Act also allowed for the revocation of the citizenship
of naturalised British subjects, and people whose mother or father were
naturalised, without appeal. Reasons for denaturalisation could include being
deemed disloyal or not of good character, being sentenced for serious criminal
behaviour, or for trading or communicating with the enemy during wartime. This
denaturalisation could also be applied to the subject’s wife and children. This
was criticised as making naturalisation a mere ‘scrap of paper’ and Leader of
the Opposition, Frank Tudor (ALP) warned it ‘takes away the papers of many
persons now naturalized’.
Frank Brennan (ALP) opposed revoking naturalisation certificates, arguing:
… when we take a man into the ranks of our citizenship we
should render ourselves permanently responsible for him … The law can and ought
to punish guilty persons for what they do. When we make persons citizens, we
should be permanently responsible for them.
These arguments were overruled by the Government, which
claimed the right ‘to keep out undesirables’.
During 1918 and 1919, almost 150 naturalisation certificates were cancelled,
mostly those of internees.
The Immigration Act 1920 barred such a broad group of
people from immigrating that Tudor declared it could effectively ‘be
interpreted in such a way as to keep out practically any person’.
People suffering from mental instability were prohibited, although this was uncontested
in Parliament because it was seen to keep Australia ‘pure, physically and
Germans, Austrian-Germans, Bulgarians, Hungarians and Turks were also excluded
for five years.
James Fenton (ALP) did ask: ‘Why should we shut our doors for so long to
desirable classes of new citizens?’. However, generally, British immigrants
were still preferred.
Historian Michele Langfield argues while ‘ideology had never
previously been used as a standard of acceptability’ in assessing immigrants to
Australia, the Act also allowed officials to ‘restrict migrants on the basis of
Many parliamentarians protested against the provision allowing political
radicals to be deported, potentially including anarchists, Sinn Feiners and
William Finlayson (ALP) characterised the Bill as:
… nothing more or less than a declaration of war against any
person in the community who ventures to hold a political opinion different from
that of the Ministry of the day.
Nevertheless, Alexander Poynton (NAT) aligned the Bill with
the urge to ‘prevent this country being made the dumping ground for the
discards of all other countries’.
This paper has traced Australian parliamentary debates
regarding immigration during World War I and immediately afterwards. Parliamentarians
continued to debate how to strengthen the nation through immigration without
changing the White Australia policy or compromising working pay and conditions.
At the same time, discrimination against southern and eastern Europeans and
people of enemy origin intensified.
The parliamentary debates illustrated a range of tensions
within Australian politics that are still being explored in the 21st century.
This included debates about precisely what additional powers a government
should have in responding to threats to national security, such as restrictions
on movement and association or changes to citizenship status. There were also
tensions about the extent to which Parliament and the judiciary should be
allowed oversight of the Government’s power. Parliament also saw debates about
questions of national identity and loyalty, with some parliamentarians implying
the impossibility of multiculturalism and arguing that an immigrant must have
‘renounced his native country’ to be a ‘genuine Australian’.
Ultimately, parliamentarians passed extraordinary wartime
legislation in an effort to protect Australia’s national security, but
progressively sidelined parliamentary scrutiny and repressed both British
subjects and people of enemy origin. According to William Finlayson (ALP), the
legislation, ‘which was originally intended to accomplish a salutary and proper
purpose’ had ‘developed into something very different’ and ‘become a vicious
for political affiliations
ALP Australian Labor Party
LIB Liberal Party of Australia
NAT Nationalist Party
. W Watt, ‘Question:
Deportations’, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 August 1919,
accessed 15 June 2015.
A number of the parliamentarians quoted in
this paper changed political affiliation during the period, for example, Hughes
moved from the Australian Labor Party (ALP) to the Nationalist Party (NAT) in
1917. Where parliamentarians are quoted in this paper, only their party
affiliation at the time of their statement will be indicated in parentheses
following their names. A list of party abbreviations is shown at the end of
this paper. For more information on parliamentarians and their affiliations,
see: Parliamentary Library, ‘Part
6—historical information on the Australian Parliament: Members since 1901’,
Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, 44th
Parliament, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2014, accessed 9 June 2016.
. G Fischer, Enemy
aliens: internment and the homefront experience in Australia 1914–1920,
University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld, 1989, p. 24.
. Fischer, Enemy
aliens, op. cit., p. 50.
. J Stewart, ‘Adjournment’, Senate, Debates, 8 February 1917,
accessed 24 May 2015.
. For example:
W Maughan, ‘Governor-General’s
speech: Address-in-Reply’, Senate, Debates, 15 October 1914; J
Bill 1914–1915’, Senate, Debates, 16 July 1915; and H Gregory, ‘Japanese
Navy’, House of Representatives, Debates, 7 October 1920, accessed 6 June 2015.
. For example,
see: W Maloney, ‘Second
reading speech: New Guinea Bill’, House of Representatives, Debates,
15 September 1920; and H Pratten, ‘Commercial
Activities Bill’, Senate, Debates, 28 August 1919, accessed 11 May
. J Newlands, ‘Adjournment’,
Senate, Debates, 27 September 1916, accessed 21 May 2015.
. K Agutter,
‘Captive allies: Italian immigrants in World War One Australia’, Australian
Studies, 1(10), 9 December 2009, p. 5.
. The Government
was criticised for facilitating the passage of 220 mostly non-British settlers in
July 1915, and again, in 1916, when 311 Maltese immigrants arrived on the
Arabia and SS Gange. See Langfield, ‘Recruiting
immigrants: the First World War and Australian immigration’, op. cit., p.
58, accessed 14 June 2015. For an example of parliamentary debate about the Maltese
immigrants, see: E Needham, ‘Ministerial
Statement: New Ministry: war policy’, Senate, Debates, 6 December
1916, accessed 21 May 2015.
. For example,
a 1914 regulation allowed ‘where the Minister [of State for Defence] has reason
to believe that any naturalized person is disaffected or disloyal he may by
warrant under his hand order him to be detained in military custody …’, War Precautions
Regulations 1914, accessed 5 January 2015.
. G Pearce, ‘Adjournment’,
Senate, Debates, 7 July 1915, accessed 1 May 2015.
. For example,
see: M Considine, ‘Paper’,
House of Representatives, Debates, 5 December 1918.
. For examples,
see: G Pearce, ‘Alien
enemy citizens’, Senate, Debates, 14 May 1915; L Groom, ‘Question:
Internment of people of Australian birth’, House of Representatives, Debates,
9 March 1917; and E Millen, ‘Question:
Industrial workers of the world: arrests’, Senate, Debates, 6 September
1917, accessed 9 June 2016.
 For an example
of concerns about censorship see: F Anstey, ‘Second
reading speech: War Precautions Bill (No. 2)’, House of Representatives, Debates,
28 April 1915; for an example of concerns about civil liberties see: E Riley, ‘Second
reading speech: War Precautions Bill (No. 2)’, House of Representatives, Debates,
28 April 1915; and, for an example of concerns about militarism, see: D
reading speech: War Precautions Bill (No. 2)’, House of Representatives, Debates,
29 April 1915, accessed 7 May 2015.
. War Precautions
(Passports) Regulations 1916; P Glynn, ‘Question:
Passports’, House of Representatives,
Debates, 14 June 1917, accessed 22 May 2015. Exemptions included:
members of the British naval or military forces while on duty, seafaring men,
people with permits to travel between Australia and New Zealand, people
authorised to travel between Australia and Papua or Norfolk Island, and people
with certificates exempting them from the dictation test. See also J Doulman
and D Lee, Every assistance and protection: A history of the Australian
passport, Federation Press, Leichhardt, NSW, 2008, p. 66.
. Agutter, ‘Captive
Allies: Italian Immigrants in World War One Australia’, op. cit., pp. 5–6.
‘Captive allies: Italian immigrants in World War One Australia’, op. cit., p.
. J Beaumont, ‘First
World War—going to war 1914–18: the view from the Australian Parliament’,
Parliamentary Library lecture, Canberra, 19 March 2014, p. 5, accessed 14
. Fischer, Enemy
aliens, op. cit., p. 65.
. D Dutton, ‘Revocation
of naturalisation’, in Citizenship in Australia: a guide to Commonwealth
Government records, Research guide, National Archives of Australia, 2000,
accessed 11 November 2015.
. For examples, see: W Watt, ‘Question:
Australian wives of internees’, House of Representatives, Debates, 3
October 1918, accessed 3 June 2015; F Brennan, ’Second
reading speech: Nationality Bill’, House of Representatives, Debates,
27 October 1920; and N Makin, ’Second
reading speech: Nationality Bill’, House of Representatives, Debates,
3 November 1920, accessed 5 June 2015. See also: D Dutton, One of us?: A
century of Australian citizenship, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2002, pp. 13-14,
accessed 11 June 2016.
‘First World War—going to war 1914–8: the view from the Australian Parliament’,
op. cit., p. 4, accessed 14 June 2015.
. E Page, ‘Second
reading speech: Immigration Bill’, House of Representatives, Debates,
19 November 1920, accessed 5 June 2015. See also: S Nicholls, ‘Question:
Lead urgently needed’, House of Representatives, Debates, 11 March
1920, accessed 6 June 2015.
. W Maloney, ‘Question:
Arsenal’, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 November 1918,
accessed 2 June 2015.
Clark and G McCoy, Habeas Corpus: Australia, New Zealand, the South Pacific,
Federation Press, Leichhardt, NSW, 2000, p. 187.
. Fischer, Enemy aliens, op. cit, p. 65.
. Fischer, Enemy aliens, op. cit., p. 302.
Bill’, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 November 1920, accessed
5 June 2015.
. E Page, ‘Second
reading speech: Immigration Bill’, House of Representatives, Debates,
19 November 1920, accessed 5 June 2015; J Grant, ‘Second
reading speech: Aliens Registration Bill’, Senate, Debates, 12
September 1919, accessed 4 June 2015.
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