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Arthur Calwell


The O'Keefe case



Arthur Calwell

[Mrs. Annie O'Keefe was an Indonesian, whose first husband was killed in an airplane crash during the war, and who had been rescued from the Indonesian jungle with her family of eight children and brought to Australia. It was stipulated at the time of her entry, according to statutory safeguards, that she would leave the country when required to do so. She became one of many war refugees accepted as temporary entrants, subject to the Minister for Immigration's authority. After several years in Australia she received an offer of marriage and applied for permanent residence credentials from the Department of Immigration. She soon learned that marriage to an Australian conferred no privilege of permanent residence for a war refugee accepted as a "prohibited migrant". Mrs. O'Keefe appealed the decision to the High Court, which ruled in a majority decision that Mrs. O'Keefe did not qualify as a prohibited migrant since she had not taken the dictation test (which was used to determine that status), and therefore the Minister for Immigration no longer had authority to deport her.]




Let me state the number of persons who came to Australia during the war in circumstances similar to those which brought the O'Keefe family here. A total of 15,000 persons were evacuated to Australia from nearby countries, and were given sanctuary during the war. All of them knew that they were here for the duration of the war, and for that period only. All of them knew that they must go back to their own countries when the war was over. We were glad, in the interests of humanity, to give them refuge in Australia while the war lasted, but there was never any doubt that they were to return to their own countries afterwards. Of the 15,000 persons who sought sanctuary in Australia, 5,473 were non-Europeans. Of these, practically all have returned voluntarily to their own countries...

"If we allow these people to stay we shall open
the flood gates to any Asiatics who want to come here"


If those people who are attacking me on the O'Keefe case are logical and honest and have any elementary sense of decency, they must agree that if I allow Mrs O'Keefe to stay I have perforce to let back into this country those Indonesian husbands of Australian women whom I have already repatriated. I cannot make distinctions between the sexes and between Indonesian men who are Moslems and those who become Christians. The attempt to use the religious argument is indecent... If we allow these people to stay we shall open the flood gates to any Asiatics who want to come here. Honorable members opposite do not stand for a white Australia; they stand for a black Australia. There are, unfortunately, far too many of their type in Australia today who want to break our laws... There is a great peril if we weaken our laws and allow people to enter Australia, where they may establish colonies and can never be assimilated. I have weighed the costs and measured the risks. I know where my duty lies. All of us, and myself in particular, as Minister, have a responsibility, not merely to the present generation, but also to posterity. We have to hand down this country to our children and our children's children in the same manner as we received it from our fathers and as they received it from their fathers. Our grandfathers and great grandfathers laid the foundations of Australia broad and large, and made it possible for this democracy to exist as it is today. We can have a white Australia, we can have a black Australia, but a mongrel Australia is impossible, and I shall not take the first steps to establish the precedents which will allow the flood gates to be opened. I respect Asiatic people. I do not regard them as inferiors, but they have a different culture and history, different living standards and different religions from our own. They can live, and, I hope, enjoy whatever they can get from the earth's bounty in their own countries. We can make a success of our democracy here. I challenge those who attack us, and who have the temerity to raise the issue, to have the courage to force the matter to a division, and let us know where we all stand. Let us separate the sheep from the goats.



Arthur Calwell was the federal Minister for Immigration 1945-1949
This document is an extract from Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, Vol. 201, pp. 60-61, 63-64, 9 February 1949

The Association for the Advancement of Australian Culture