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Immigration - Ministerial Statements - Admission of Refugees and Displaced Persons - 6th March, 1947

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Presented by Command, 6th March, 1947 ; ordered to be printed, ith December, 1947.

[ C o s t o f P a p e r .—Preparation, not given ; 620 copies ; approximate cost of printing and publishing, £9.]

Printed and published for the G o v e r n m e n t of the Co m m o n w e a l t h o f A u s t r a l ia by L. F. J o h n s t o n , Commonwealth Government P rinter, Canberra. (P rin te d in A u stralia.)

No. 55. [Gr o u p 1.1—F .7 9 5 0 .— P r ic e 6d .


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Much has been written and said in recent weeks about the admission to Australia of refugees and displaced persons from Europe and Shanghai, and particularly about those of the Jewish faith. Without probing—at least for the moment—the motives inspiring this public comment,

I feel impelled to restate certain important facts.

In the first instance, the policy of the present Government in providing for the entry of a limited number of refugee and displaced aliens is in line with the policy which was introduced by the Lyons Government early in 1939 as an obligation accepted by Australia under a widely publicized international agreement.

The second fact is that wherever there is any concern about the present policy in regard to refugee immigrants, it is due mainly to misunderstanding caused by a lack of knowledge of the facts, to exaggerated and untruthful news reports and to periodical outbursts of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

Thirdly, it is important to bear in mind that the number of pre-war refugees which Australia agreed to admit and the number who reached Australia before and during the war, is many thousands less than the total which Australia agreed to take in 1939.

Fourthly—and lastly—I emphasize that in proportion to the Government’s total immigration programme based mainly on migrants from Britain, from other selected European countries and from the American continent, the proportion of refugee aliens of Jewish faith who will have reached Australia over a period of, say, four to five years from the end of the war will be extremely small.

Let us examine the background to Australia’s attitude to the admission of refugees.

In 1938, the Lyons Government sent a delegation headed by the then Minister for Trade and Customs, the Honorable Member for Balaclava (Mr. White) in this Parliament, to attend a conference arranged by the United States of America to discuss the problem of political refugees in Europe. The Conference, held at Evian in France during July of that year, was attended

by representatives of 32 countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada and other British Dominions as well as Australia.

The agenda included the following tasks :— To consider what steps can be taken to facilitate the settlement in other countries of political refugees from Germany (including Austria). To consider what immediate steps can be taken, within the existing immigration

laws and regulations of the receiving countries, to assist the most urgent cases. To consider the establishment of a continuing body of Governmental representatives, to be set up in some European capital, to formulate and to carry out, in co­ operation with existing agencies, a long-range programme looking towards the

solution or alleviation of the problem in the larger sense.

To prepare a resolution making recommendations to the participating Governments with regard to the subjects enumerated above and with regard to such other subjects as may be brought for consideration before the inter-governmental meeting.

The Honorable Member for Balaclava stated the Australian attitude at this first conference when he said this :— The Government of the Commonwealth of Australia has had very much in mind the problem of foreign migration as well as British, and a proportion of new arrivals during recent years has been from foreign sources. Realizing the unhappy plight of German and Austrian Jews, they have been included on a pro rata basis which we venture to think is comparable with that of any other country. To ensure that the new arrivals are suitable, they are very largely sponsored by the Australian Jewish Welfare Society.

The Honorable Member referred to the work of the conference with this concluding paragraph. What the United Kingdom is doing, together with our own efforts and those of others already related, will, we trust, encourage members of the Inter-governmental Committee here assembled to formulate further plans for co-operation towards the solution of a tragic world problem and thus bring hope to many unhappy people.


It is interesting to recall that the Honorable member, as leader of the Australian delegation, was appointed Chairman of the Sub-Committee which heard the representations of various organizations that were concerned with the relief of political refugees coming from Germany (including Austria) at that time. With the representatives of ten other countries he received a Sub-Committee appointed by 39 of these organizations, which were of Jewish and Christian

character and came from various parts of Europe. In his report, the Honorable member said that the moving stories told disclosed what he described as— A great human tragedy which calls for early amelioration and challenges the Conference to early co-operative

action to that end.

From what 1 know of the circumstances existing at that time and in the light of experience since, and of my understanding of the situation as Minister for Immigration during the past eighteen months, I am satisfied that the policy adopted by the Government of that day was the correct one and fully expressed the feelings of the Australian people.

The Evian Conference decisions provided for the detailed organization necessary to enable these hundreds of thousands of people to be admitted to other countries with prospects of living in reasonable freedom. The Conference formed an inter-Governmental Committee to meet subsequently in London, and it was a responsibility of the Chairman of that Committee to approach the Governments of the countries of refuge and settlement, with a view to developing opportunities for permanent settlement.

In the Commonwealth Parliament on 1st December, 1938, the Honorable member for Indi, who was then Minister for the Interior, made a statement, by leave, on the acceptance in Australia of these European refugees. He referred specifically to the arrangements to provide for Jews, as well as Christians, in this class of immigrants. In the course of his statement, the Honorable member for Indi

said this— The Government of the Commonwealth has been invited with the governments of the other Dominions and His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom and the governments of other powers to consider the plight of many thousands of unfortunate people as the result of recent happenings in Europe.

It views with feelings of deep sympathy the sufferings of people both of Aryan and non-Aryan races who have become refugees. The Government has considered very earnestly the extent to which it can, in concert with other countries, assist in a humanitarian way to alleviate the conditions of these unfortunate people.

The Government feels that, if a solution of this problem is to be found, countries must be prepared to receive a proportion of those to be expatriated, in relation to the capacity of the countries to assimilate them.

The honorable gentleman continued— In recognizing this obligation, and after careful examination Of the position, the Commonwealth Government has decided that Australia should assist to the extent of receiving up to 15,000 refugees over a term of three years. In arriving at the figure of 15,000 over a period of three years, the Government has been influenced by the necessity that the existing standards of living should not be disturbed and for reconciling with the interest of refugees, the interests of Australia’s present population, and of the people of British race who desire to establish themselves in Australia.

The Government will approve of only the admission of those classes whose entry into Australia will not disturb existing labour conditions. Special consideration will be given to individuals who have the capital and experience necessary for establishing and developing industries not already adequately catered for, and, in particular, those industries the product of which would command a market within and outside Australia.

The Honorable member for Indi went on to add— Although the refugee problem is one quite apart from the general question of immigration, in that it deals with the specific question of the amelioration of the conditions of oppressed people, at the same time it is essential that it should be considered in relation to the general question of immigration so far as the Commonwealth is concerned. The Government has decided, therefore; that, on broad lines, the admission of refugees should conform to the same principles as those governing the entry of white aliens generally.

The Government appreciates that an indispensable factor in the assimilation of refugees into the general community is that there should be available in Australia some body or organization able and willing to give them a helping hand after arrival and to assist in their absorption.

These refugees may be divided into three classes : Aryans ; non-Aryan Christians, i.e., people wholly or partly of Jewish race of the Christian religion ; and Jews. The Jewish community in Australia has set up an organization called the Australian Jewish Welfare Society for the purposes of assisting in the absorption of Jewish refugees after their arrival in Australia. This body is doing good work. The establishment of a separate organization is necessary in order to assist in the absorption of Aryan and non-Aryan Christian refugees after their arrival in Australia.

It is necessary that such an organization should be adequately financed to enable it to successfully undertake this work, and I am advised that church and other organizations in various parts of Australia have already expressed a desire to assist in the establishment of such an organization. .

The Commonwealth Government hopes that various public bodies throughout Australia will co-operate in establishing a body for the purpose of helping Aryan and non-Aryan Christian refugees after their arrival. The Government would be prepared to consider the granting of some small financial assistance to assist in the establishment of such an organization.

The Honorable member for Indi explained that in all cases permits for the admission of these refugees would be granted strictly in accordance with the general Australian immigration policy providing for the entry of persons of European race or descent, and that they would be handled within the limits of the average quota of 5,000 a year which he had explained.


The Honorable m em ber emphasized the following points :— Every refugee must be desirable as an individual, and of good character and health, of which prior evidence must be forthcoming. He must have the approved amount of landing money or have his maintenance guaranteed by some approved individual or organization in this country.

Desperate as is the need of many of these unfortunate people, it is not the intention of the Government to issue permits for entry influenced by the necessity of individual cases. On the contrary, it is felt that it will be possible for Australia to play its part amongst the nations of the world, in absorbing its reasonable quota of these people, while at the same time selecting those who will become valuable citizens of Australia and, we trust, patriots of their new home, without this action disturbing industrial conditions in Australia.

The quota which I have stated means that there will be some increase, but a not very great increase, of the rate at which permits have been issued to people of the refugee classes during the last six months. It is part of the policy of the Government to plan that aliens who are given permission to come to Australia shall be distributed as widely as is possible throughout our country, in order to facilitate their assimilation into our population, and the Government maintains a steady policy against facilitating or permitting undue aggregation of aliens in any particular towns or centres.

That concludes the statement of Government policy to the House of Representatives by the Honorable member for Indi in December, 1938. If I m ight say so, th a t statem ent of policy is as valid to-day as it was when first made to this House.

When the inter-Governmental Committee dealing with European refugees met in London in February, 1939, Australia was represented by the Acting High Commissioner at that time, Mr. J. S. Duncan, and two other officers of the staff of Australia House. Mr. D uncan reported the decisions of th e A ustralian Government on the recom mendations from th e Conference a t Evian, and in doing so he made this announcement—

The Australian Government feels that if a solution of this problem is to be found countries must be prepared to receive a proportion of those to be expatriated in relation to their capacity to assimilate them. In recognizing this obligation and after careful examination of the position, the Commonwealth Government has decided that Australia should assist to the extent of receiving up to 15,000 refugees over a term of three years.

And so Australia was bound by this agreement to accept 15,000 refugees and displaced persons in the three years of 1939, 1940 and 1941. T hat is the background to the pre-war policy of the Lyons Government on Jewish and refugee im migration. The num ber of refugees who actually arrived in A ustralia were 1,556 in 1938 and 5,080 in 1939, th e first year covered by th e agreement originated a t Evian.

There were other arrivals during the war years—328 in 1940 ; 98 in 1941 and 56 in 1942, ap art from a p a rty of aliens transferred from the U nited Kingdom to Australia in the steam er Dunera by the British Government. The aliens aboard the Dunera were a t first interned as a precautionary measure while certain investigations were carried out. A num ber were then released under specific conditions laid down by the A ustralian Government’s Aliens Control

system. Most of these were allowed their freedom when it was established th a t th ey were willing and able to assist in the A ustralian war effort, and m any served in employment companies of our m ilitary forces. About three-fifths were re p a tria te d ; while a proportion rem ained in A ustralia following an exam ination of their record in war service, and in civil life generally.

The to tal num ber of refugees who reached A ustralia on the Dunera was 2,542. Of these people, 1,451 were repatriated, 165 emigrated to other countries, 13 died and 913 were perm itted to rem ain in Australia. The following details apply to those who remained in Australia :—

Enlisted in Em ploym ent Companies of the Australian Military Forces 564


Engaged in work of national importance . . .. .. 123

Released for Allied Works Council .. . . .. . . 46

Released for seasonal work . . . . . . . . . . 38

Aged and infirm .. ·· ·· ■· · . . . 1 1 8

Ministers of religion and students .. .. .. . . 24

Whatever were the conditions of distress suffered by refugee peoples in 1938, Honorable members will not doubt that their plight in 1945 was even more acute. The total number of this class of immigrant admitted to Australia between the end of 1938 and 1945, when the Immigration Department wras established, was, as Honorable members may have computed from

the figures I have already given, 6,475. This left 8,525 who could be admitted within the figures set by the 1939 Evian agreement. I t m ight be appropriate to mention here th a t nearly 6,000,000 persons of the Jewish faith died in enslaved Europe during the war years and, in the early post-war period, the plight of

refugees and displaced persons by the hundreds of thousands was one of the m ajor tasks which faced th e allied nations—and indeed it is still a trem endous responsibility. In response to requests by relatives living in Australia able to accommodate and maintain individual refugees, this Government decided to grant a limited number of landing perm its on

hum anitarian grounds. I t invoked the assistance of the same Jewish Relief Organizations which had co-operated with the Lyons Government in the pre-war years.


In a statement issued on 23rd January, 1947, 1 explained the extent to which humanitarian considerations could be accepted as the grounds for admission to this country in future. I said that the Government felt it had gone as far as it could reasonably be expected to go for the present in granting landing permits on humanitarian grounds to the victims of religious, racial or political persecution and the issue of permits on this basis had been closed. It was intended, I explained, that in future the approval of applications would be more selective from the point of view of the intending migrants’ ability to contribute to Australia’s economic welfare, with particular regard to their ages and proficiency in those skilled occupations where there was a marked shortage of labour.

I also pointed out in that statement that the Government’s policy had always been to give full preference to returning Australians and British migrants on any ship where it could influence the allocation of passages and that this policy would continue to be adhered to. The similarity between the appreciation of this problem of refugee alien immigration shown by the Lyons Government in 1938 and 1939 and the views of the present Government is acknowledged readily.

All the refugee persons who have been granted landing permits, whether Jewish or otherwise, since the end of the war, have been nominated individually by relatives or friends in Australia able and walling to guarantee them accommodation in their own homes and able to guarantee them maintenance independent of Government aid.

I mentioned earlier that much of the public misunderstanding of the alien immigration question was due to exaggerated and untruthful news reports. Some of the most extraordinary and brazen inaccuracies seen in many years have been spread by certain newspapers during recent weeks in alleged news statements on this question of refugee aliens.

Because of a confused sort of editorial policy shown by one of the most culpable newspapers concerned, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, I can only assume that the campaign has a political origin. While displaying blatant falseholds about alien immigration in streamer headings the same newspaper produces editorials ostensibly pleading for racial tolerance and condemning all forms of racial and religious hatred. .

On Tuesday, 11th February of this year, the Sydney Daily Telegraph published a story with a full page banner heading stating 3,000 refugees wrere coming to Australia. The report went on the say that three Dutch liners, the Johan de Witt, Oranje and Johan Oldenharneveldt, had been chartered by an American and Netherlands Jewish Relief Organization and would bring more than 3,000 displaced persons from Europe to Australia by the end of April.

I had, the day before, issued a statement concerning the Johande Witt in which I explained that a number of aliens with landing permits for settlement in Australia were coming to this country on that vessel and that it was also carrying passengers for Batavia. The aliens on their way to Australia held landing permits that had been issued on the humanitarian grounds explained

a few minutes ago, and the permits' had been in force for twrelve to eighteen months. At first I was told that 600 aliens were coming to Australia on this vessel, and later this figure was revised by the Dutch shipping authorities to 700. Inquiries cabled to the Australian Minister at the Hague on the day of publication of the

statement in the Daily Telegraph brought an immediate reply which caused me to issue a Press statement on Friday, 14th February, saying— There is not one grain of truth in the story featured by the Sydney Daily Telegraph and the Melbourne Sun Pictorial that the Dutch ships Oranje, Johan Oldenharneveldt and Johan de Witt have been chartered by a Jewish Relief Organization to bring thousands of Jewish refugees to Australia.

A cablegram received to-day from Mr. Keith Officer, Australian Minister to The Hague states— There is absolutely no foundation for the statement regarding the three steamers. Johan Oldenharneveldt is in the Mediterranean carrying troops to the Netherlands East Indies. Oranje is en route to Amsterdam with passengers from Batavia. There is no intention of either ship going to Australia on charter or otherwise.

I have been in touch with the local branch of Hebrew International Aid Society who assure me that there is no intention to charter ships and that they fully appreciate the need for closest co-operation and observance of conditions laid down by you. In reply to my inquiry as to whether either of these ships could be chartered by the Australian Government, Mr. Officer said—

I cannot guarantee that either ship will be available for charter, but I will advise you further on this point. As stated above, there is no intention of either ship going to Australia.

My press statement went on to say— I am forced to the conclusion that the original story of the alleged chartering of the three Dutch vessels was concocted in the Sydney office of the Daily Telegraph as part of a campaign to arouse the passions of racial bigots and to embarrass the Government. . .

The seriousness and sinister character of this anti-Semitic campaign cannot be over-emphasized. There is ample evidence that this story, which was given wide currency by two newspapers, has caused the utmost confusion and misapprehension in the public mind.

I concluded my press statement with these words— The people responsible for this concoction have done a grave disservice to Australia.

The facts as given by Mr. Officer were so unassailable that even the Sydney Daily Telegraph was obliged to publish the statement fairly fully. But it made one significant alteration. It stated in parenthesis that the news item being contradicted by my statement had been published “ in the Australian Press on 11th February.” It just did not mention that the report

so convincingly exposed as a lie was faked in the Daily Telegraph office and then published as a news item. That is just one example of the unashamed distortion and misrepresentation that is being published on this question of Jewish immigration.

In the light of the actual numbers of new arrivals and with a full knowledge of the background to the Government’s policy on the entry of refugees and displaced persons, I look forward to a continuation of the constructive attitude on immigration shown by all Australians who really want to make their country secure and see its economy expand. I have consistently

tried to keep immigration on a national plane. It is not a political question and although it is obvious that much of the criticism of different phases of Australia’s immigration planning and its progress is due solely to the fact that a Labour Government is responsible for this policy, I have refused to allow the vital question of immigration to be made a matter of political disputation.

A few days ago, it was my privilege to announce that the free and assisted passage schemes entered into by the Australian and United Kingdom Governments would begin on the 31st of this month. For the time being, shipping difficulties will limit the flow of British settlers, but there will be no relaxation of the Government’s sustained efforts to obtain a maximum allocation of berths for British migration purposes and there is every evidence that these efforts will result in us reaching our objectives much earlier than was previously expected.

Measuring the extent of refugee immigration over the last eighteen months and estimating the flow for the next two or three years against the Government’s total programme of encouraged immigration from all sources, it will be seen that the proportion of this class of refugee settler will be comparatively small. As far as we can ensure it, no undesirable persons will be admitted

in the refugee or any other class of settler. But few though these victims of man’s inhumanity will be when set against the scores of thousands—and ultimately the hundreds of thousands—of our own kith and kin whom we propose to bring from the United Kingdom to these shores, our programme of assimilation by education

aims to make each and every one of them a good Australian citizen. We encourage neither racial nor religious hatreds when war comes. We appeal then for the highest contribution of citizenship from everybody and the war just ended found that that appeal had not been made in vain.

It is an axiomatic truth that Australia’s security depends more on man-power than on any other factor. It is equally true that those who might attack us in the future will be no respecters of names or racial origins. Should Australia have need of every man she can muster when that day comes, let it not be said of any Australians living to-day that we turned away

from these shores a single person who desired to settle here and who had within his heart and soul the capacity and the will to become a good Australian citizen

Printed and Published for the Government of the Co m m onw ealth of A ustralia ,/y L. F. J o hnston, Commonwealth Government Printer, Canberra.