Britain and Australia are keeping close ties when it comes to immigration policy.

Australia, a tropical paradise south of the equator; the home of the Koala, the kangaroo and the Minogues. As culturally relevant to us Brits as the counties upon our shore — but vastly misunderstood. Deep beneath this heaven of golden sands is a heavily racist society; purged of natives, steeply divided and until recently, it actively sought a policy which encouraged a completely white citizenry.

A hostile immigration policy?

As the threat of a newly formed virus gripped Wuhan in the winter of 2020, the region went into lockdown and foreigners fled. Australians stuck in the midst of the chaos in China were forced to quarantine on the Australian territory of Christmas Island, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean used to imprison immigrants for over half a century. The site is infamous for its decade-long court disputes that toyed with individuals’ livelihoods, the mysterious deaths, and the horrific acts of abuse and violence.

The existence of the Christmas Island camp has shone a light on the Australian government in the past two decades. It was briefly closed down in the late ’90s, but reopened as ‘The Pacific Solution’ when a Norwegian freight ship rescued 433 asylum seekers from their sinking vessel — only to be refused entry into Australian Waters, sparking somewhat of an international controversy. Then Prime Minister, John Howard would later claim:

‘we will decide who comes to this country and the manner in which they come’.

This stance, as popular now is it was two decades ago, is a policy Australia has followed in some form since its inception in 1901. In a world increasingly reliant on one another, this is a seemingly dangerous interpretation of immigration policy to exercise. So why is Britain taking its immigration inspiration from a country far younger than all of our major cities? Should we not be conveying a message of unity to our peculiar cousin across the globe by refraining from a policy of isolationism?

A history of violence

Perhaps it is important to recall a very short history of British-Australia to understand why taking pointers on foreign policy may be counterproductive to the ever-globalising world in which we live.

Everyone has heard of the ‘founding’ of Australia in 1788, when Arthur Phillip landed on the curious island and sought to form a penal colony for British criminals. For over a century, Australia as we know it was six independent states of New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia. A common misconception about this landing in Australia is that the island-continent was a barren desert with no human life. This is false. By the time of the British invasion, 250 different nation-tribes existed with estimates of up to 1.25 million people stretching back over 65,000 years.

European settlement obliterated these tribes. A report by the Guardian, aptly named ‘the killing times’ said that mass murder and massacres against the Aboriginal tribes were ever-present from at least 1784 to as late as 1927. The killings were not pockets of random  violence, but conducted by British soldiers and police officers as part of a state-sanctioned attempt to eradicate the Aboriginal people.

The motive for the British attempt to eradicate the native population has been explored in many, many essays, and would require more than this article to touch the surface of explanation.

By the late 19th century, Henry Parks (renowned federationist) began using the enduring slogan of ‘one people, one destiny’ (sound familiar?) in his pursuit to unify Australia. Alas, Australia was unified in 1901 as one of Queen Victoria’s final royal pledges before her death. What is important about the federation of Australia, is that this is the point at which its policies and legislation were unified, making it the autonomous country it is today. Still under the British Empire, but now a self-ruling dominion instead of the six states presided by British rule. Parks’ vision would be adopted very quickly in a series of legislations called ‘The White Australia Policy’.

White-Australia Policy can be seen as an extension of the benevolent attempts of state-pursued Aboriginal eradication. In short, it’s very racist. The policy sought to only allow immigration from White-European states. It rounded up Pacific Islanders and deported them. To ensure that policy objectives were met, a series of tests for non-White immigrants were introduced — which would largely be impossible to pass.

This cruel policy was not dismantled until 1973.

The ‘Immigrant’

The aftermath and prevailing legacy are of distinct racial lines. White-Australia Policy defined the Australian as the white man, making Australia intrinsically a racist state that was actively distrustful of the ethnic ‘other’ and that set out a precedent for racial superiority. Their points-based system, which Boris Johnson and Priti Patel have now gleefully adopted, embodies this spirit of exclusion. It also sets a precedent that immigrants are just that; immigrants. They’re function is to benefit the nation, not to better themselves. Thus, immigrants are in danger of forever being treated as mere cogs in the system, instead of as citizens in the country.

A world which treats foreign workers as numbers on a spreadsheet and dictates their value according to their education, their productivity and their level of training, will always remain divided. Britain, a previously cosmopolitan heartland in Western Europe has failed here. It should have guided our precarious cousin on the other side of the planet instead of taking pointers on deeply divisive legislation.

Boris Johnson has very readily taken inspiration from a policy grounded on three centuries of racial cleansing. Britain’s foreign policy exemplar is a country that has been historically distrustful of the racial ‘other’ and actively defiant when it comes to integration.

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