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Academic historians today argue that Australia’s immigration policy was once so shamefully racist it was comparable to South Africa under apartheid. They claim all the new white settler societies established under the British Empire in Africa, the Pacific and North America shared the same racist attitudes towards outsiders and dispensed the same degree of violence against indigenous peoples. Some historians label these societies ‘herrenvolk democracies’, making a direct comparison with the ‘master race’ nationalism of Nazi Germany. They say the White Australia Policy originated in sentiments of ‘blood and race’ and that the policy represented a ‘messianic pursuit of racial purity’. Academics also claim the most dominant racial concept in nineteenth century Australia was Social Darwinism, the most brutal of all the theories about race that emerged at the time.
However, Keith Windschuttle’s The White Australia Policy, finds that these historians fundamentally mistake the Australian character, Australian nationalism and the reasons for the introduction of the White Australia Policy. The formal legislation of the policy was the Immigration Restriction Bill of 1901, which provided a dictation test in a European language as the requirement for immigration. It was preceded by a series of entry taxes on Chinese immigration and a continuing debate over the legitimacy of importing large numbers of Melanesian labourers to work the sugar fields of Queensland. Windschuttle argues that none of this even remotely resembled the racial policies of South Africa and Germany. Windschuttle finds that Australia is not, and never has been, the racist country its academic historians have condemned.