ABSTRACT

By 1901, the federal Labor Party had a remarkably straightforward platform. In addition to adult suffrage and a citizen army, they stood for a White Australia, old-age pensions and compulsory arbitration.1 White Australia, combining racial exclusions in immigration with the exclusion of indentured labour, was not particularly controversial at the time but it was critical to ideas of both nationhood and manhood. As his biographer notes, Alfred Deakin was a crucial figure in the passage of the Immigration Restriction Act, the first substantive piece of policy legislation of the new Commonwealth.2 In March 1901, Deakin was writing a column for the London Morning Post, in an oddly ventriloquist stance where he pretended to be a correspondent based in Sydney, commenting on political matters, including the views of ‘Mr. Deakin’. The curious status of these letters as historical evidence can make it difficult to know ‘Mr. Deakin’s’ real thoughts. But it was clear enough he endorsed what he wrote about White Australia: ‘the cry for a “White Australia” is taken up on every hand, and Ministerial policy on this point is already practically accepted as the foundation for a national policy’.3