White Australia Policy

Standard

We’ve had a rash of news stories about employees being paid less than the legal minimum wage. In the most extreme cases it has not been an oversight or a one-off try-on, but a business model that works like this:

  • A small-time businessperson buys a franchise from a big company, such as Seven-Eleven.
  • The cost and conditions of the franchise make it impossible to pay legal wages and make a profit.
  • So the franchisee employs foreign students and pays them a fraction of the legal wage. The big company (the franchisor) may give a nod and a wink, or even informally explain how to do it.
  • People on a student visa are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week to help finance their studies, but they are induced to work 40 or more hours per week for 20 hours’ pay. How are they able to do this and study effectively as well? The likely answer is, “They can’t.”.
  • Timesheets are falsified to make the books look right, and the students don’t complain because they are as culpable as their employers: they are breaking the terms of their visas and could be deported.

In revelations of this law-breaking on TV most of the students and most of the franchisees appear to be of South Asian origin. None (that I have seen) appear to be of Anglo-Celtic origin. This observation sent me to my bookshelves to find an old publication called ‘Australia: Official Handbook’. It is dated January 1945 and it was sent by the Repatriation Commission to a new immigrant. The following passage is interesting:

“At the outset it may clear away misconceptions to give a brief outline of the immigration policy that is generally known as the “White Australia” policy.

“To the principle of “White Australia” all political parties in the Commonwealth subscribe, for the economic reason that the white man’s standard of living would be endangered by the introduction of coloured labourers who would be prepared to accept wages and to work and live under conditions that are not acceptable to a white workman.”

I share this without editorial comment.

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