HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF
MALTESE REFUGEES IN 1916
The Advertiser Saturday 14, 2002 page 27
A little known vignette of Australian history, with some remarkable parallels to recent events, happened way back in 1916.
However, on arrival in Australia after a boat journey of five weeks, they found the political climate less than welcoming. The then prime minister, Billy Hughes, was campaigning in favour of the conscription referendum. He was worried that the arrival of this boatload of migrants would fuel the fears of anti-conscriptionists, that while fighting a war overseas their jobs would be
Accordingly, the Australian authorities invoked Section 3(a) of the Immigration (Restriction) Act. That section provided that: "Any person who, when asked to do so by an officer, fails to write out at dictation and sign in the presence of the officer a passage of 50 words in length in a European language directed by the officer is a prohibited immigrant.
The Maltese migrants, who were by then detained under armed guard, were promptly, given a test in the Dutch language - and failed. They were shipped off to the Pacific Island of Noumea.
The parallel so far with Australia's reaction to the arrival of a fresh wave of immigrants arriving by boat more than 80 years later suggests little has changed. But public outcry even during the turmoil of World War I resulted in the eventual return of the Maltese men to Australia.
One of them, Emmanuel Attard, enlisted in two world wars, and like many migrants before and after him contributed to the development of what has become a successful multicultural community.
The migration test provision replaced laws expressly prohibiting by reference to race, such a migration by refs the Victorian 1855 anti-Chinese laws. Racism was also entrenched in the Constitution, which once provided that the reckoning of the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth or of a state shouldn't include Aboriginal natives.
Laws in all states and territories, except Tasmania, now prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race. The most recent report of SA's Equal noted that there Opportunity Commission were 323 complaints relating to race lodged with the commission a significant decline over previous years.