164 Burton to Heyes

Memorandum CANBERRA, 15 April 1948


The attention of this Department has recently been drawn to two matters which seem to emphasize the need for a closer integration in the carrying out of Australian immigration policy with the carrying out of general foreign policy, which the Australian Government is endeavouring to pursue. The matters in question involve the service on the wives of two white British nationals resident in Australia of orders to leave the country within a stated period. It is understood that one of the wives was born in Singapore of Chinese extraction, and the other in Tonga.

Both cases have been attended by a good deal of publicity. In the case of Mrs Carvill, the Chinese-born wife, service of the order to leave has been prominently reported in the Singapore press, and threatens to give rise to a further outburst of anti-Australian agitation. There is ground for expecting that the reaction of the wealthy, powerful and politically conscious Chinese community in Singapore and Malaya to what it will regard as a further example of Australian discrimination against the Chinese race will be even more violent and far reaching than that which followed the recent case of the Malay seamen. The possibility of a tragic boycott against Australia and of attempts to have the issue raised at the next session of the United Nations General Assembly cannot now be ruled out.

You will agree that one of the cardinal objectives of the Australian Government's policy-both immigration policy and foreign policy-is the protection of Australia in the future from threats which arise out of our peculiar geographical position.

As one means to this end we endeavour to extend Australia's influence throughout eastern and southeastern Asia. We seek to extend our commercial relationships through these areas and in general to build up goodwill towards Australia among the various Asian peoples living in close proximity to us. To this end, the Australian Government, as you are no doubt aware, has made available substantial funds to be used for the granting of scholarships at Australian Universities and other institutions to selected students from all countries in South-east and east Asia.

[1] In addition Australia has intervened strongly, through the United Nations and by every other available means, on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Indonesia in its efforts to secure its independence. Furthermore, Australian supplies are being distributed in various war-devastated countries in Asia.

My fear is that the Australian Government's efforts along these lines might be cancelled out in the implementation off immigration policy, which has exactly the same basic objectives.

It would seem to me that without modifying policy in any way, its application might take into account reactions to particular acts which tend to prejudice the ultimate objective the policy has in mind. Reports received from Australian overseas posts show that resentment against Australia is growing with each immigration ruling that receives wide publicity. This in turn can lead to discussion on the world forum of the Assembly. On the other hand, if administered, having in mind these reactions, no harm would be done and it would not be difficult to defend our immigration policy. Though many countries have long resented it, they have so far been prepared to acknowledge and respect it, however grudgingly. It is clear, however, that these same countries will become increasingly vocal, and their pressures more embarrassing, unless individual borderline cases, particularly those where family complications and British nationality are involved, can be handled sympathetically and with an eye to possible political consequences, even although the consequence might be that in a limited number of cases permits to remain in Australia might be indefinitely extended.

1 See Document 155.

[AA:A1838, 3004/11/3, i]