White Australia Policy, Foucault’s Theories

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 9
Words: 2308
Reading time:
9 min
Study level: College


During the periods of 1901 to 1973 many policies were placed that created an air of racial antagonisms (Jensz 2010, p 192). The various acts passed by the Victorian government were to more established on locking out non-white immigration into Australia so that the whites in Australia would not have to compete for existing resources. Some acts also passed by the same government that was meant to protect the white instead robbed the people of their freedom and rights (Delanty 2003, P 18). Michael Foucault a famous socialist believed in the freedom of people, to him the application of knowledge and power was one way to live freely (Mills 2003, p 67).

White Australia policy

The white Australia policy consisted of various policies that were meant to restrict the non-white immigrants to Australia (Hacking 2004, p 73). These policies borrowed a lot from the South Africa apartheid that saw the whites completely segregate the Africans. The policies put in place were to ensure that the non-white immigrants did not enjoy the resources of the country especially after gold was discovered in 1851.

This was termed as the golden era rush, where masses of immigrants moved to Australia in 1852 to work in the gold mines, and have settlements (Bessant et al 2006, p 128). The biggest group of immigrants was the Chinese people seeking prosperity in the goldfields. This led to great competition in the goldfields and a lot of disagreements and racial discrimination between the immigrants and natives.

The tension between the groups led to several boycotts and riots like the lambling riots that took place between 1860 and 1861. Many riots followed afterward and the Victorian government put a commission to solve the problems and grievances of the goldfields (Pateman 1988, p 38). As a result, the immigration of Chinese was banned and Chinese already in Australia were levied heavy taxes to discourage them from working in the goldfields.

The immigrants were further restricted, by the trade union, mostly because of the sugar cane plantations. The trade union protested against Asians and Chinese who were brought to the plantation to work for a low wage and poor working conditions. The trade union argued that the nonwhite immigrants were taking up jobs away from the white men. The restrictions of all non-white races were furthered however because south Australia had a treaty with Japan the restrictions were amended to make the Natal act of 1897 that restricted the person government saw fit (Gould 1964, p.1).

The bone of contention was on nonwhite immigrants and with the passing of Australia’s first government; it passed the immigration restriction act in 1901 that was meant to restrict non-white immigrants into Australia.

Immigration restriction act 1901

This was Australia’s act of parliament, which was a result of the white policy and its main purpose was to lock out non-white immigrants into Australia (Judt 2010, P 11). The labor union played a big role in this act because the union leaders saw immigrants as a threat to the natives; the immigrants were a cheap source of labor, therefore, a preferred source of labor in the plantations and goldfields. This act gave immigration officers lots of powers to prevent illegal immigrants into Australia; the punishment for illegal immigration was six months jail term and deportation. The immigrants were subjected to a lot of racial discrimination and harassment from the immigration officers. The act’s main purpose was to keep out a class of people from immigrating to Australia (Joseph 2004, p 110-112).

The act gave birth to the dictation test, a test given to people who wanted to migrate to Australia, and it allowed the officers to test the individual’s basic language skills. This test was to be dictated using European language and not necessarily English, the subject was to write a maximum of fifty words correctly to pass the test.

This test was however used to totally lock out other races without showing it openly, officers could use often many languages unfamiliar to the person carrying out the test to make sure that no one unwanted passed the test. The test even put in English was very hard and anyone who took the test was likely to fail (Hacking 2004, p 74). The dictation test was a tool of discrimination because the test was ideally to be applied to immigrants arriving in Australia, however, the test would be given to specific races that were unwanted.

The dictation test demonstrated the inequality practiced from 1901 to 1953 that saw the reforming of the test (Kenny 2011, p 173). In 1934 for example the real intention of the dictation test was revealed through a political activist named Egon Erwin Kisch from Czechoslovakia. Mr. Kisch on arrival to Australia took the test and the officer in charge of dictation went as far as using several European languages. Kisch was conversant with several languages. At some point the, officer dictated in Scottish Gaelic and Kisch failed the test. In the high court case, it was established that the officer’s Scottish Gaelic was not fluent, but Kisch was still declared an illegal immigrant.

This shows the effort placed by Australia to keep off unwanted immigrants, and this went further to even impose and use unethical methods. After the high court case by Mr. Kisch, a lot of ridicule was pointed at the dictation test approach, bringing wide attention to its true conventions.

This act also locked out certain classes of immigrants for example people with infectious diseases, ex-convicts, pimps and prostitutes, and lastly people who were mentally disabled (Flew 2004, p 78). This was outright discrimination against the less fortunate in society and also disabled persons. There were specific classes of people who were exempted from the provision act. Any person acting on behalf of their government was welcomed to Australia, all members of the royal family, the royal navy, captain, and crew of any ship. Here the non-white policy was cast aside and such classes were welcomed into Australia and given special attention. Such classes were granted certification of exemption and were permitted to come into Australia.

The investigative capacity of inequality is evident in this act because it only provided for the well-to-do classes and people that had power and authority. The rest of the immigrants had to pass through a lot of hardships to settle in Australia. Most people came in ships as illegal immigrants in search of success but were jailed and deported on discovery (Bauman 2001, p 6). The immigration ministry would carry out a search on ships to ensure that they did not carry illegal immigrants. The ships and captains were fined heavily if suspected to have carried illegal immigrants, and sometimes a ship was totally banned if illegal immigrants were found in it. The control of immigrants was strongly taken up and the immigration office had several punishments for any illegal immigrant. Apart from imprisonment, the illegal immigrants were put in goldfields and used as free labor to the country before deportation. This experience was to discourage any immigrant from illegal entry.

Aboriginal protection act 1869

The aboriginal protection act passed by parliament in 1869, was meant to protect and add more powers to the inhabiting or existing native people, who were the white people. This meant that everything belonged to the white population and the nonwhite immigrants had no right to share any of it. This meant that the immigrants had no share of land and its resources in Australia (Armitage 1995,p 23).

The aboriginal protection act controlled the white population, from the extensive franchise of wealth to access to free public education. The act however was amended in 1871 and the act turned out as a controlled action of the white population. It sought to impose on how people were to live, work and even marry; their lifestyle was predetermined for them which robbed them of their freedom (Armitage 1995, p 24).

This act passed by the Victorian parliament was introduced to have the natives take up the country’s resources but it turned out as one that oppressed the people. People were forced to work where they did not want to work, the whites were limited on choice of a partner (McClelland and Smyth 2009, P 3). This is because there were regulations about marriage, children were sent away from their families to work elsewhere tearing families apart. This act played the role of creating a stolen generation, in the process of trying to regulate and control the lives of indigenous Australians.

The act also provided for regulation of the half-caste, where children would be removed from their homes and put in foster homes to blend with the white society. The people of the mixed descent race were required to move from their home and settled were told by the board. The people were distressed for families were separated and people were no longer free to carry on with their lifestyle (Stanovich 2000, p 44-46).

This expulsion was meant to displace the mixed descent and as a result, the mixed-race would be dissolved. These racial inequality representations played a vital role in constructing a world of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ because the mixed-race in Australia would try to look out for where they would fit in an effort to separate themselves from the other white populations (Walter and MacLeod 2002, p 122). The schools they attended, their cultural background, the clubs they joined, the open restaurants were different from the white population. This created disparity between the white population and the nonwhite immigrants and a big gap was established in Australia (Casmir 1994, p 37).

Over time, the consequences of the policies passed by parliament led to the increase of racial inequality. This is because the policies were evidently in favor of the white population and wanted nothing to do with non-white immigrants. The Australian parliament propagated this atmosphere with the likes of Stanley Bruce Australian prime minister in the Australian federation election campaign, stating that the white Australia policy was to continue to ensure that Australia was only white. Bruce stated that having mixed race was one of the reasons countries had insolvent issues (UK government 1875, p 3). This among other leaders’ attitudes kept the racial discrimination network alive, keeping out non-whites was believed to be the best approach to develop Australia. The immigrants already in Australia were only dimmed fit to work as casual laborers doing domestic work and working in the plantation fields.

Michael Foucault theory on knowledge and power

Michael Foucault a socialist guru believed strongly in the freedom of people, and that individuals react differently to different circumstances. As an observer of human relations and a philosopher, Foucault has established the theory of knowledge and power. Foucault believes that knowledge is a conjunction of power, relations, and information, he goes further to say that it is not possible to exercise power without knowledge. It is also not possible to engender knowledge without power (Foucault 1980, p 3).

Foucault (1980) emphasis on knowledge in sync with power in real life can assume the authority of truth and also it came to make itself true (5). Foucault believed that power existed and he does not portray power negatively but rather believes that power creates reality. Knowledge is a form of power and knowledge can be gained from power, power exists everywhere and it can come from everywhere. The imbalances of power and knowledge between groups have produced disparity between the groups (p. 7).

The white Australian policy produced information on the superiority of the white population and diminished the non-white immigrants. The labor union, the earl government of Australia at all cost fed the public with the knowledge of superiority. Foucault (1980) speaks of how knowledge and power are the powerful abstract force that determines what will be considered as the truth and what will be known (p 16). The role played by the Australian government to pass knowledge about the non-white immigrants was what created the non-equality feeling amongst the immigrants. The policies passed by the act of parliament were dabbed to protect the white population by making sure the wealth and resources of the land belongs to the whites.

Foucault’s theory of truth talks of knowledge aligned with power produces the truth and the truth notion. The aboriginal protection act was passed by parliament as a way to protect the white population and its resources. What the white population did not know was it was an act that would control their lives and limit them on how to lead their lifestyles. It was also a form of dissolving the mixed-race to remain a white society. Had the people known they would develop the power to protest against a law that seemed to control their lives (Foucault 1980, p 20).

The immigration restriction policy that introduced the dictation test was a face value used to cover up racial discrimination. Parliament told the public that it was a means to vet immigrants coming to Australia. The truth behind it was that some races were unwanted and were not to be allowed in Australia. Foucault believes knowledge is power, if an individual acquires information on an issue, then the person can be aware of what they are dealing with. If most immigrants knew that the test was a measure to lock out certain races then this would mean the non-white immigrants would know what to expect.


Between the periods 1901 to 1979, the white Australian policy, saw non-white immigrants restricted from entering Australia, using several acts passed by parliament. A lot of techniques were used to keep Australia a white population and racial discrimination was evident and rampant. The policy was an apartheid system of discriminating people from a certain class, color, and background and introduced disintegration of the non-white immigrants and the mixed-race society.


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