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163 Burton to Heyes

Letter CANBERRA, 1 March 1948

I am forwarding herewith, informally, a Note prepared by an
officer of this Department setting out certain arguments in favour
of a token quota system for prospective Asian migrants to

The author of the Note has spent several years in India, and it is
possible that his elaboration of the Indian aspect may be of
interest to you in the event of the matter arising for
consideration some time in the future. [1]



The present juncture of affairs, both national and international,
seems to indicate that the introduction of a token Quota System
for prospective Asian immigrants is not merely feasible but also
highly desirable. In summarising below the grounds for this view,
the case of India is singled out as being the special concern of
the Middle East Section, although doubtless what applies to India
may be taken as applicable, mutatis mutandis, to other Asian
countries as well.

1. The official defence of our 'White Australia' policy is that it
is based an economic and social, not on racial, grounds. If this
were in fact the case, then there would be no bar to the entry
into Australia, with a view to permanent settlement, of thoroughly
educated and westernised Indians. Since this is not so, there are
grounds for the criticism that Australia's immigration policy
contains elements of racial discrimination.

2. Indians can understand, and readily accept, the exclusion of
lower-class Indian labourers, on the economic grounds that their
admission would never lower Australian standards, disrupt
Australian economy and undermine the welfare of the unskilled
Australian worker. The exclusion of such migrants is demonstrably
justifiable, and it is clear that there can be no modification of
the existing policy in this respect. Nevertheless, the Indian
view, not without some justification, is that the exclusion of
educated and westernised Indians (e.g. qualified engineers,
doctors, lawyers, journalists, etc.) can only be described as
racial discrimination, especially in view of Australia's expressed
desire for 70,000 migrants per year to provide the manpower for
her general economic expansion and development.

3. Illustrations of the general Indian attitude were set out in
New Delhi Despatch No. 52/46 dated 22nd December, 1947. The latest
illustration if Pandit Nehru's Foreign Policy Speech in the
Dominion Legislature on 4th December, when, inter alia, he
referred in more general terms to 'the old and painful subject of
Indians in the British Commonwealth'. The Indian aspect of the
question merits special attention and may be briefly elaborated as

(a) Australia's stock in India stands high, and a tone of
friendliness and goodwill runs through practically all references
to Australia in the press-with one exception, i.e. the occasional
reference, more or less sharply critical, to the 'White Australia'
policy. The introduction of a token Quota System would do much to
remove this one standing source of grievance and criticism.

(b) When in 1946, the United States passed an Act permitting the
entry of 100 Indian migrants per annum, the Act was hailed
enthusiastically in India as indicating the elimination of anti-
Asiatic prejudice in America. A similar gesture from Australia
would probably be hailed in India even more enthusiastically,
because of Australia's close association in the mind of Indians
with the traditional 'White Australia' policy.

(c) One of the obstacles to India's remaining within the British
Commonwealth is her resentment at the racial discrimination
indicated, first by the treatment of Indians in South Africa, and
second by our own 'White Australia' policy. The elimination of
this resentment is as desirable as the advantages of persuading
India to remain within the Commonwealth are obvious.

(d) While, it is true, it cannot be claimed that India's remaining
within the Commonwealth depends entirely on Australia modifying
her Immigration policy, nevertheless it is certain that the
introduction of a token quota system would have at least some
effect on India's attitude towards the British Commonwealth as a

(e) In the next few decades, independent India may well become the
leading power in the Far East. Consequently the importance of
fostering and developing friendly relations with India, as an
independent neighbour of Australia, needs no elaboration. In
matters of Trade and Defence, for example, the advantages to
Australia of a friendly India are obvious.

4. Figures supplied by the Immigration Department indicate, that
during the 12 years between 1933 and 1945, the number of Indians
arriving in Australia exceeded those departing by 390, i.e. an
increase of about 30 per year. Very possibly, under the existing
regulations these Indians came within the category of 'merchants'.

5. It may be noted, in passing, that Indians who qualify under the
official definition of 'merchant' are permitted to land and settle
in Australia. To this extent, the Australian immigration policy is
not racial in character. There is no objection to Indians as such
settling in Australia provided they fulfil the conditions laid
down in the definition of 'merchant'. To extend the privilege of
entry to other Indians outside the merchant category, therefore,
would involve no departure from principle but merely a
modification of its application in practice.

6. It is suggested, therefore, that this entrance privilege be
extended to other Indians besides merchants, and that the annual
average be raised from 30 to, say, 50 per year. Prospective
migrants could be carefully screened, and a condition of
acceptance laid down that they sign a declaration of their
willingness to accept and uphold the Australian way of life and to
become 100% Australian citizens.

7. Such a concession, namely raising the quota to 50 per annum and
including higher-class Indians in addition to merchants, would
involve no deviation in principle from the existing policy, but
simply a modification in its practical application. The proportion
of Indians to the total population of Australia would remain
infinitesimal, and the cost of such a concession would be nil. In
fact, Australia would stand to gain in intellectual and technical
equipment, particularly in the admission of specially trained or
qualified Indian migrants. In any case, Australia would always be
able to keep the matter under close control.

8. Indians would in no way resent the exercise of any close
scrutiny or control of prospective migrants. In any case, from the
Indian point of view, the process of scrutiny and the size of the
quota would be of no moment compared with the all-important fact
of the quota itself.

9. This raises the argument of 'the thin edge of the wedge',
which, in more general terms, embodies the two following

(a) Asian settlers will multiply rapidly and form distinct

(b) Pressure will be brought to bear subsequently for the
admission of increasing numbers of Asians.

10. The reply to these apprehensions is as follows:-

(a) i. Statistics of the rate of population growth of Asians
already in Australia would probably indicate that this particular
apprehension need not be taken seriously.

ii. In any case, the chances are that a considerable proportion of
the Asian settlers, particularly the superior, more thoroughly
westernised types, will intermarry with Australians, the Asian
strain becoming progressively weaker.

iii. The more highly educated or wealthy types are unlikely to
have large families.

(b) iv. At the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi [2], March
1947, in the
Discussion Group on Racial Problems and Inter-Asian Migration, the
right of all countries to determine the future composition of
their population was freely admitted and even emphasized. With a
view to eliminating resentment, however, some delegates urged a
quota system for all Asians.

V. Once a token quota system is established, the sense of racial
discrimination will be eliminated, and it is most improbable that
any Asian country will agitate for the admission into Australia of
increasing numbers of its nationals.

vi. Not only will there be no moral grounds for any such
agitation, but not a few of the Asian countries have restrictive
Immigration policies themselves, which would constitute
embarrassing 'cupboard skeletons'.

vii. In the remote event of any such agitation developing,
Australia would be on unassailable grounds in categorically
refusing to make any further concessions.

11. The recent outcry in the Australian press over the 14 Malaya
repatriates [3] would seem to indicate that popular support for
the introduction of a token Quota System would not be lacking. The
widely representative character of the protest is significant.

12. To sum up, instances could be multiplied of the rising tide of
Asiatic feeling on the score of racial discrimination. While it is
possible to make a gesture on a goodwill basis at the present
stage, this may become progressively less possible in the future.

13. The purpose of the present Note is not to suggest specific
figures, but simply to recommend the consideration in principle of
a token quota system. The determination of the actual quotas
would, of course, be the province of the Immigration Department.

It is suggested, however, that the figures be related
approximately to the population of the various Asian countries
concerned with some appropriate weightage in favour of India,
Pakistan and Ceylon, as being sister Dominions. For instance, if
China's quota were, say 50 per annum, India's might be 60,
Pakistan's 30, Ceylon 20, Burma 20, etc. (It is not considered
that the exclusion of Japan from any quota system, at any rate for
many years to come, would require any special justification.)

1 At the end of the note Burton wrote: 'PS I want to emphasise
that this note is a Personal one and does not necessarily
represent considered Dept. views.'
2 See Document 139, note 2.

3 See Document 158, note 1.

[AA:A1838, 169/10/8/3, i]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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