Supporters of the Australian Labor Party will often claim that the ALP under Gough Whitlam ended the White Australia policy. As a student of history, I find that claim exasperating.
The claim that Whitlam ended White Australia revolves around the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which removed a few legal quirks from the original Immigration Restriction Act 1901. Even in this Whitlam piggybacked on over two decades of immigration and racial legislation reform under the Menzies/Holt governments.
Following the conclusion of World War II it was Labor immigration minister Arthur Calwell who despite wide ranging opposition deported 500 non-European wartime refugees, with the Melbourne Sun condemning the “harsh and gratuitously offensive manner” of Calwell during the deportations. Calwell attempted and failed to pass the War-time Refugees Removal Act 1949 that would have granted the government power to ignore potential court challenges for future cases of deportation. Calwell, a long-time supporter of the Australian Natives’ Association that advocated for white-only immigration, stated that White Australia was a policy which: ‘has always been in the forefront of the Labor Party platform.’
By contrast the Menzies/Holt governments introduced many changes to immigration law, ultimately removing race and nationality as factors for assessing potential immigrants. Under the Menzies government, over 180,000 wartime European refugees were resettled in Australia and were sponsored by the International Refugee Organisation. An important legislative change was the Migration Act 1958 which removed both the controversial English language test and the use of race as a factor to assess immigrants to Australia. Prime minister Holt introduced the Migration Act 1966 that placed all potential migrants on an equal legal footing, judging applications no longer by race or nationality but solely based upon the potential benefit the applicant could bring to Australian society. As a result, non-European settlers rose from 746 in 1966 to 2696 by 1971.