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Realigning Our Migration Policies, Taking a Holistic Approach to View Refugees as Skilled Migrants

admin : November 28, 2014 6:39 am : APH forum, Articles APH papers, Authors A - Z, Featured Articles, Latest Articles, Latest News / Events, Snoek, Kartia

by Kartia Snoek
PhD Candidate
Melbourne University


Controlling who can and cannot migrate to Australia has been a part of the political landscape since Federation. In the first half of the twentieth century these exclusionary policies were based on race, predominantly aimed at restricting immigration from Asia and applied through a dictation test stipulated in the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth). One hundred years later, exclusionary sentiment remains. 

This time based on mode of arrival. Those who arrive by boat, without a valid visa are viewed not as immigrants who could contribute to Australian society, but as ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘welfare cheats’. Government policies demonise this immigrant group, moving them to detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru to prevent their entrance into Australia. The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) is viewed as an hindrance, rather than a tool to promote human rights.

Events at the turn of the twenty-first century, like the Howard Government’s decision to refuse entry to the Norwegian vessel the Tampa, which had rescued 439 refugees from international waters, the sinking of the SIEV-X in which hundreds of refugees died, hunger strikes in detention centres, the decision to excise some Australian islands and the opening of detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island increased focus on refugee and asylum seeker issues. More than a decade after Tampa, the shock of SIEV-X and ongoing reports concerning harsh conditions in detentions centres little has changed and we are no closer to finding solutions. Refugees continue to be demonised, played as political footballs in a cyclical game of compassion against border control and a hardline stance. As more and more people languish in detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru, as more evidence is brought to light in terms of the terrible conditions in these camps it is time Australia united to find a bipartisan solution.

In an attempt to contribute to a solution this paper begins by analysing two early decisions of the High Court involving Australian-born former residents who lived in China and were declared prohibited immigrants when they returned to Australia and failed the dictation test under the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth). These cases indicate that migration and citizenship law in Australia was controlled not only by legislation like the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth), but also through policies and legal doctrine, including a test relating to community belonging. More than one century later, concerns in terms of becoming a part of the Australian community remains.

During the second half of the twentieth century Australia accepted more and more migrants, first from northern Europe, then southern and eastern Europe, and later Asia, Africa and the Middle East. This paper briefly charts these changes to migration policy to argue that migrants from across the globe now form part of the Australian community. Modern exclusion may be based on a method of arrival, but modern solutions should be based on a holistic view of Australian migration law, where refugees are viewed as immigrants who can, and will, given the right tools, contribute to the Australian community.

Introduction: Border Control, Exclusion, and Community Belonging

On Australia Day in 1908, James Francis Kitchen Minahan, also known as Ying Coon, returned to Melbourne, his place of birth.[1]  Unable to write fifty words in English he was declared a prohibited immigrant who could not enter Australia.[2]  The son of an Anglo-Australian mother, Winifred Minahan and Chinese father, Teung Ming, he lived with both until he moved to China with his father, when he was five years old.[3]  After court proceedings, including an appeal to the High Court of Australia, James Minahan was permitted entry into Australia. His mother’s status as an Australian born British subject of European descent provided him with an Australian domicile. He was not an immigrant. Victoria remained his ‘original home’ which he ‘never abandoned.’[4] 

Seventeen years later, Lucy Wong Sau, the Australian born daughter of Chinese parents and wife of an Australian resident was declared a prohibited immigrant and sentenced to six months imprisonment after she failed to write fifty words as dictated by a customs officer.[5] In 1875, eight years before Lucy Wong Sau was born her father, On Hing, who owned the general store in Gulgong in New South Wales was granted a naturalisation certificate in the then colony. 

When his health deteriorated the family left for China. Lucy On Hing, as she was then known, was six years old.  After marrying Wong Sau, a market gardener resident in Sydney in 1917, Lucy Wong Sau returned
to Australia in 1924.  Despite her husband’s residency and her father’s naturalisation certificate the High Court found there was ‘not the slightest evidence of anything Australian about’ her, ‘except her birth.’[6]  She ‘was not Australian in point of language, bringing-up, education, sentiment, marriage, or any of those indicia which go to establish Australian nationality.’[7]  She was not returning to her original home or domicile, but arriving in ‘a new home because she had married a husband who was living here.’[8]

James Minahan and Lucy Wong Sau fell foul of s 3(a) of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth). Under this
section fifty words in any European language could be dictated by customs officials to all immigrants entering Australia. 
If the immigrant failed to write the fifty words they would be declared a prohibited immigrant, sentenced to six months imprisonment and prevented from entering Australia.[9]  Australian migration law, however, has always been more complicated than a single piece of legislation. As the cases illustrate the High Court referenced not only the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth), but also created a test relating to whether or not the ‘prohibited immigrant’ was returning home as ‘a constituent part of the Australian community.’[10] 

Immigration restriction and community belonging are recurring themes in Australian migration law and policies, as is the fact that community attitudes and government policies shift and change. In 1908 the idea that someone could be born in Australia, lack English and still be a part of the broader Australian community was accepted by a majority of the High Court, this was not the case in 1925.[11]  As Australia’s migration policies evolved, and adapted a circularity of strong border protection stances, moving towards more compassionate policies and back again has occurred.

Australian Immigration Policies during the Twentieth Century, from Restriction to ‘Populate or Perish’ to Border Control

For the first half of the twentieth century Australian migration law was primarily concerned with upholding the White Australia Policy.  If focus fell on immigration it was usually in a restrictive sense.  The dictation test remained a part of Australian law for more than fifty years.[12]  The test was primarily aimed at curbing Asian immigration,[13] disproportionately affecting the Chinese community, although immigrants from countries ranging from the Philippines to Chile, Syria to Fiji, Portugal to the United States of American were also targeted and excluded.[14]  Under the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901 (Cth) thousands of Pacific Island labourers were deported.[15]  With the introduction of the Naturalization Act 1903 (Cth) residents from Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands could not apply for certificates of naturalisation.[16]  This discriminatory section was removed in 1920.[17] 

According to Kim Rubenstein these pieces of early legislation were framed by ‘a philosophy about membership of the Australian community’ which included a ‘fear and antagonism towards aliens, such as Chinese immigrants’ and lead to ‘a particularly “Australian” sense of nationhood.’[18]  Despite this, in a legal sense the concept of an Australian citizen, whether natural-born or naturalised did not exist until the Nationality and Citzenship Act 1948 (Cth) was implemented.[19]  Prior to this those born in or naturalised in Australia became subjects of the British monarch.[20] 

In the House of Representatives, during the second reading of the Nationality and Citizenship Bill 1948 the deputy opposition leader, John Eric Harrison, accused the second Chifley Government of creating ‘a sinister plan – to liquidate the British Empire’ and permitting ‘a secret conclave to take from us our British citizenship.’[21]  Kim Edward Beazley countered this, noting that Australian citizenship was a complex mess of entwining controversies

a Chinese from Hongkong is a British subject, a Chinese from Malaya is a British subject, and an Indian is a British subject, but none of them have ever been accorded the rights of Australian citizenship by previous legislation or practice of Australia … Before this legislation was introduced, coloured British subjects were excluded from Australian citizenship by practice, and there has been no political dispute about that practice.[22]

The Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 (Cth) was a step away from Australia’s racially restrictive immigration policy, from which Australia would not return.  Nevertheless a discretionary policy where residents not from Europe were routinely refused naturalisation certificates remained.  In 1947 applications for naturalisation still asked ‘Is the applicant of European (white) race or descent?’[23]

Understandings of Australian citizenship was not the only change to occur during the 1940s.  Many commentators note that the end of World War II saw an increased focus on the need for Australia to ‘populate or perish’.[24]  The government favoured and wanted to encourage migration from Great Britain by offering assisted passages for British migrants who served in the armed forced and their families.  They were introduced in 1947 and later extended to include other European countries like the Netherlands, Italy, and Norway.[25]  Gradually, migration from outside Europe

The basis for this change can be seen in a speech on migration policy by Arthur Calwell, then Minister for Immigration, which stated that ‘Australia wants, and will welcome, new healthy citizens who are determined to become good Australians by adoption.’[27]  He outlined a ‘publicity campaign’ occurring ‘in Britain and in other centres of potential immigration on the European continent.’[28]  Negotiations between the British and Australian Governments led to the conclusion of two agreements, one provided free passage to British migrants who had served in the defence force, as well as their families, another allowed for ‘assisted passages to civilians in the United Kingdom who are not eligible under the free passage scheme.’[29]  The Government also set about welcoming ’50,000 orphans from Britain and other countries that have been devastated by the war.’[30] 

In the speech Calwell considered that ‘the door to Australia’ was ‘always open within the limits of our existing legislation to people from the various dominions, the United States of America, and from European continental countries,’ so long as they were ‘sound in health’ and would ‘not become a charge to the community.’[31]  In turn the Australian community was expected to assist in assimilation.[32]  His speech also referenced the United States’ defence policy, noting that it was ‘residence, and not nationality’ which determined whether or not someone could serve in the defence force.  In advising that ‘Australia closely examine this American attitude’, Calwell appeared to be moving away from a strict interpretation of the White Australia Policy.

Unfortunately, campaigns are fostered in this country from time to time on racial and religious grounds by persons who have ulterior motives to serve.  The activities of such people cannot be too strongly condemned.  They are anti-Australia and anti-Christian, and make not for national unity and national well-being but for the creation of discord and bitterness
that is harmful to Australia at home and abroad.[33]

In Australia the aftermath of the Second World War focused the Government’s attention on migration policy and population increase, in the international arena the world’s attention began to focus more keenly on the plight of refugees.  Australia was the first country outside Europe to accede to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) on 22 January 1954, three months before it entered into force.[34]  Under the Convention a refugee was defined as someone outside their country of nationality due to fear of persecution because ‘of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.’[35] 

Australia’s approach to refugees prior to World War II was limited.  In 1938 at the Evian Conference Australia agreed to re-settle 15,000 European refugees over a three year period.  This was, however, half the recommendation of S M Bruce, the British High Commissioner, and actually represented a reduction in Australia’s refugee intake.[36]  Furthermore, despite the persecution facing Jewish communities in Europe only 12,000 of these refugees were required to be Jewish.[37]  This inadequate response to Jewish refugees did not immediately improve in the post-war period.  In August 1945, the same month in which Calwell’s speech promised to welcome 50,000 British orphans,[38] only two thousand Jewish refugees were allowed to settle in Australia – moreover they were required to have a close relative already resident in Australia and to be a survivor of the Holocaust.[39]  This was eventually increased to include Jewish refugees who escaped Europe but still required resettlement,[40] it provides an interesting contrast to the Displaced Persons Scheme which settled ‘thousands of refugees from Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, and the Baltic states.’[41]  Gwenda Tavan explains that for refugees arriving under the Displaced Persons Scheme

Two-year work contracts were imposed on the refugees to ensure they would supply labour where it was most needed and hardest to obtain.  The contracts were also aimed at keeping the trade union movement on side, and the native-born population assured that the newcomers would not take Australian jobs or threaten living standards.[42]

Tavan also explains that it was policies such as this one which ‘had major implications for how the White Australia policy would be administered and presented by governments during the next two decades.’[43]  Tavan’s book, The Long Slow Death of White Australia clearly articulates the ways in which the White Australia Policy was gradually dismantled, arguing that Australia’s ‘roots of continuing sensitivity about various immigration issues lie, in essence, in the nature of the abolition of the White Australia.’[44]

Changes to immigration policies were less open during the 1950s.  It was not until 1956 when Harold
Holt, then Minister for Immigration announced that ‘non-European wives or husbands of Australian citizens’, as well as some non-European residents who had ‘been here for a long period of years’ would be eligible for naturalisation.[45]  Two years later the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) was passed, repealing the dictation test first introduced in the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth).[46]  During debate concerning the bill, Hugh Alan Leslie, the member for Moore in Western Australia considered ‘that the dictation test and the constant use of the words “White Australia” have done more harm to this country than we can calculate.’  According to Leslie

One aspect of the bill, which, I think, will provide satisfaction is the abolition of the dictation test in connexion with our immigration policy.  Those who have read the history of this test will recall that it was a dishonest subterfuge which was endorsed by the National Parliament out of respect for the dictates of the good people at Westminster.  The subterfuge was adopted in an attempt to be selective in our immigration policy and to make sure that, in laying down the standards we would apply, we would not offend anybody outside.[47]

Despite this sentiment, obstacles in terms of access to Australian citizenship and nationality persisted for those residents not born in Europe until well into the 1960s.[48]  During the 1960s and 1970s Australia’s understanding of who would be considered a part of the Australia community began to shift, correspondingly in the international arena the definition of who could be considered a refugee was broadened. 

Originally, the Refugee Convention was limited to those affected by events occurring prior to 1 January 1951.  It was at the discretion of the signatory nation whether its scope extended beyond Europe.[49]  In 1967 the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967) acknowledged that ‘new refugee situations have arisen’, making it ‘desirable that equal status should be enjoyed by all refugees covered by the definition in the Convention irrespective of the dateline 1 January 1951.’[50]  The Convention now assisted refugees from all over the world – from those fleeing fascism in South America to those fleeing Communism in Vietnam. 

In 1972 the Australian Labor Party, lead by Gough Whitlam, gained power on an election platform which included ‘a non-racially based immigration policy and ratification of the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination’.[51]  Al Grassby, then Minister for Immigration, removed the ‘privileges reserved for British ‘white’ immigrants’, as well as the ‘discriminatory practices against ‘non-white’ and non-British immigrants.’[52]  Nevertheless, immigration intake under the Whitlam Labor Government actually decreased.[53]  It would increase under the Coalition which came to power under Malcolm Fraser in 1975.

The following year the first refugees from Vietnam arrived on a small boat off the coast of Australia.  Fraser’s response was one of compassion.[54]  From 1976 until 1982 the Fraser Government permitted more than two thousand Vietnamese refugees who arrived by boat to settle in the community.[55]  More than 200,000 refugees lingering in camps in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand were able to migrate to Australia.[56] 

Ten years later, when refugees fleeing Cambodia arrived by boat Australia’s compassionate response reversed.  These refugees were greeted with legislation establishing detention centres and the ‘Special Assistance Category Program’ designed ‘to encourage boat arrivals to return to Cambodia and apply for sponsorship to Australia under normal migration procedures.’[57]  In 1992 Prime Minister Paul Keating introduced mandatory detention for all people who arrived in Australia lacking a valid visa.[58]

This less compassionate stance continued.  When refugees from the Middle East arrived in the late 1990s, the Howard Government introduced temporary protection visas (TPVs).  A TPV lasted only three years, holders then had to reapply to remain in Australia, they could not sponsor family members to come to Australia, were not permitted to return to Australia if they travelled overseas and had access to limited social and settlement services.[59]  This policy, coupled with mandatory detention was draconian and cruel, increasing uncertainty, exacerbating mental health issues and denying refugees the ability to make a full and productive life in Australia.[60]  Although the Howard Government viewed the outcome of the November 2001 election as ‘a mandate’ in terms of ‘their treatment of asylum seekers,’ Don McMaster notes that ‘by February 2002 the strategy of dehumanising asylum seekers came back to haunt both Howard and his government.’[61]  By 2007 as more people in the community questioned these policies, John Howard became only the second Prime Minister to lose his seat as  the Australian Labor Party, lead by Kevin Rudd, won the election by campaigning for an end to ‘the so-called “Pacific Solution”‘, promising to provide ‘permanent, not temporary, protection to all refugees’ and to limit ‘the detention of asylum seekers.’[62]

Fast forward another seven years, and compassion is gone.  In 2012 under Julia Gillard the Australian Labor Party introduced the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Act 2012 (Cth), which provided ‘for the taking of offshore entry persons from Australia to a regional processing country.’[63]  Today, under a Coalition Government lead by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, many refugees are in indefinite detention, in squalid camps on Nauru and Manus Island and temporary protection visas look set to be re-introduced.[64] 

The Abbott Coalition Government is currently legislating to change the Maritime Powers Act 2013 (Cth) and the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) through the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill which began its ascent through the House of Representatives and the Senate on 25 September 2014.  This bill allows international obligations and the rules of natural justice to be disregarded during certain exercises of maritime power Australia, ignores our non-refoulement obligations integral to
the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), re-defines ‘a well-founded fear of persecution’ so that it does not exist if people can ‘modify’ their behaviour, fast-tracks cases so that appropriate judicial review will not always be available, and re-introduces a number of forms of temporary protection visas.[65]

These temporary protection measures include a safe haven enterprise visa where those found to be refugees would be required to work in regional areas for five years, if during this period they did not access welfare benefits for three and a half years they could apply for another visa - it could be another form of temporary protection, or an employment visa, for example the 457 work visa.  The safe haven enterprise visa will not be made available to people in detention on Nauru and Manas Island, it would be accessible only by refugees already in Australia.  Furthermore, despite being found to be genuine refugees the visa is not a path to Australian citizenship and gives no ongoing guarantee of permanent protection.[66]  Despite linking Australia’s humanitarian migration intake with a labour policy, it is in fact another punitive measure aimed at curtailing the rights of refugees who arrive by boat. 

Last century when James Minahan and Lucy Wong Sau returned to Australia, one was allowed to stay, the other forced to leave.  As it stands Australia’s current migration program is not based on race, but it remains restrictive and exclusionary in terms of mode of arrival.  From 2012-2013 only 20,019 places were provided for migrants to settle in Australia on humanitarian grounds, more than sixty percent of these visas were granted to offshore refugees.  Of the 7504 visas granted to onshore refugees, 4949 visas were granted to people who arrived by boat.  In contrast there were 129,200 available under skilled migration programs and 60,800 for family reunions.[67] 

One part of the skilled migrant program which has garnered media attention is the 457 visa.  This visa was implemented in 1996 to permit ‘skilled workers to be employed in Australia for up to four years.’[68]  The occupations included are diverse, ranging from various forms of engineering, to fashion designers, from teachers to brick layers, flower growers to dancers, nurses to real estate agents and cafe managers.[69]  Australia clearly needs skilled migrants, safe haven enterprise visas envisage that refugees can fit within this criteria, why should the humanitarian program be their only option in terms of settlement in Australia?

Balancing Lost at Sea with Lost on Land, finding Compassionate Responses towards Refugees who arrive by Boat

Refugees are migrants who can, will and do contribute to the Australian economy and community. However to successfully do this we must provide refugees with appropriate paths to citizenship and permanent protection.  Writing in The Age on 18 June 2014 Julian Burnside suggested that ‘all boat arrivals to Australia’ could ‘be released into the community’ and ‘required to live in a specified rural town or regional city.’[70]  In a sense this is similar to the safe haven enterprise visa suggested by the government. Burnside’s solution, however, was challenged when the television program
Q & A visited Geelong on 30 June 2014 due to fears of rising unemployment and cuts to government services.[71]  Opposition to a proposal for a mosque to be built in Bendigo displayed some of the prejudices which remain in many regional areas.[72]  There are regions in Australia experiencing a jobs surplus, however, many also struggle to maintain viable health and welfare services.  Confining refugees to regional areas of Australia without adequate support is cruel and unsustainable.  Regional Australia should not be the sole solution.

Temporary protection visas – whether they include work rights or not, mandatory and offshore detention, ignoring our international obligations and rules of natural justice will not provide Australia with a way forward.  We need to create programs where refugees can migrate to Australia, not only under humanitarian programs, but also through the skilled migration intake. For unauthorised arrivals this may include the issuing of a visa stipulating the work they must undertake, or that they undertake training to work in certain occupations or industries for a specified period of time, but this should provide for permanent protection, so that refugees can contribute not only in terms of economics and labour, but as Australian citizens who are
an vital part of the Australian community. This could address some of the skilled shortages, but should not be limited to rural industries.  Both regional and metropolitan Australia must be part of the solution. 

Australia’s history is one of a migrant nation, working to attract skilled migrants from across the globe. We need to view refugees as a viable part of Australia’s migration scheme.  Discourse viewing those who come for humanitarian reasons as queue jumpers, Centrelink recipients and economic migrants must shift.  Refugees should be viewed as another group of skilled, semi-skilled or possibly skilled migrants who can and will contribute to the Australian economy.  A recent article in Good Weekend magazine indicates that this is a real possibility. Dr Munjed Al Muderis arrived in Australia by boat in 1999, fleeing Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.  Under Australia’s mandatory detention policy he was sent to Curtain Detention Centre, in northern Western Australia; two months after his release he found work at the Mildura Base Hospital.  He now works as a surgeon providing amputees with prosthesis which allow for greater movement and less discomfit.  His interview with Greg Callaghan demonstrated the fallacies of terming refugees who arrive by boat as burdens on Australian society – ‘I received Centrelink payments for two months before becoming an Australian tax payer … There’s this argument that I’m the exception, but that’s completely false.  Out of the 1252 people who were with me in Curtain, 13 were doctors – and 12 of those are now practicing as specialists in Australia.’[73] 

Our refugee and asylum seeker policies appear to be perpetually cyclical – hardline, followed by compassion, followed by even more draconian measures.  It is time for change.  We need to move the boundaries in our migration law, and view refugees as other migrants who can, and will contribute to Australia, who have a right to permanent protection and citizenship.  We exist in a globalised world, as part of an international community.  We are a signatory of the Convention and as a well-resourced country have a responsibility to care for refugees whatever their mode of arrival. 

Source List

[1] ‘Affidavit of John Gardner Davies, sworn the 22nd day of April, 1908 and evidence of Hugh James Mercer’, available in POTTER Lionel Frank versus MINAHAN James Francis Kitchen, National Archives of Australia (NAA), A10074, 1908/31, page 17.

[2] Ibid, page 18.  See also Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth), s 3(a).

[3] ‘Affidavit of John Gardner Davies’, above n 1, page 17; Potter v Minahan (1908) 7 CLR 277, 286-7 (Griffith CJ).

[4] Potter v Minahan (1908) 7 CLR 277, 278.

[5] Donohoe v Wong Sau [1925] 36 CLR 404, 405.

[6] Donohoe v Wong Sau (1925) 36 CLR 404, 409 (Higgins J).

[7] Donohoe v Wong Sau (1925) 36 CLR 404-5, 408 (Isaacs J).

[8] Donohoe v Wong Sau [1925] 36 CLR 404, 408 (Higgins J).

[9] Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth), s 3(a).

[10] Potter v Minahan (1908) 7 CLR 277, 278; Donohoe v Wong Sau [1925] 36 CLR 404, 404.

[11] Potter v Minahan (1908) 7 CLR 277, 278; Donohoe v Wong Sau [1925] 36 CLR 404, 404.  Justice Isaac’s test relating to ‘being a constituent part of the Australian community’ formed the minority opinion in Potter v Minahan.  In Donohoe v Wong Sau the test was either utilised or agreed upon by the entire High Court.

[12] The Migration Act 1958 (Cth) repealed the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth), the Immigration
Restriction Amendment Act 1905 (Cth), the Immigration Restriction Act 1908 (Cth), Immigration Restriction Act 1910 (Cth), the Immigration Act 1912 (Cth), the Immigration Act 1920 (Cth), the Immigration Act 1924
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1925
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1930
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1932
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1933
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1935
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1940
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1948
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1949
(Cth), the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901
(Cth), the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1906
(Cth), and the Aliens Deportation Act 1948
(Cth).  See Migration Act 1901 (Cth), s 4(1), the Schedule.

[13] Yûichi Murakami, ‘Australia’s Immigration Legislation, 1893-1901: The Japanese Response’ in Vera Mackie and Paul Jones (eds), Relationships: Japan and Australia, 1870s-1950s (Parkville, Vic: University of Melbourne, 2001)
45-70, 45; A C Palfreeman, The Administration of the White Australia Policy (London and New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1967) 1; Wang Gungwu, ‘Foreword’ in Laksiri Jayasuriya, David Walker and Jan Gothard, Legacies of White Australia, Race, Culture and Nation (Crawley, Western Australia: University of Western Australia Press, 2003) vii; Erin Ihde, ’1 January 1901, Australia Federates, Australia Celebrates’ in Martin Crotty and David Andrew
Roberts, Turning Points in Australian History (Sydney: UNSW Press, 2009) (87-99) 95.

[14] Barry York, Immigration Restriction, 1901-1957, Annual Returns as Required under the Australian
Immigration Act between 1901 and 1957 on Persons Refused Admission, Persons who
Passed the Dictation Test and Departures of Coloured Persons from Australia (Canberra,
Centre for Immigration and Multicultural Studies, Australian National
University, Canberra, 1992) 1, 13-74.

[15] Pacific
Island Labourers Act 1901 (Cth); Pacific Island Labourers Act 1906 (Cth).  See
also Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, The Call for Recognition, A Report of the Situation of Australian South Sea Islanders (Sydney: Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 1992)

[16] Naturalization Act 1903 (Cth), s 5.

[17] Nationality Act 1920 (Cth).

[18] Kim Rubenstein, Australian Citizenship Law in Context (Prymont, NSW: Lawbook Co, 2002) 52.

[19] Ibid, 38-9.  See also Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 (Cth).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Nationality and Citizenship Bill 1948, Second Reading Speech, House of Representatives, Thursday 18 November 1948, 3234 (Hon. Eric John Harrison, Member for Wentworth, New South Wales).  See also Helen Irving,
‘Citizenship before 1949′ in Kim Rubenstein (ed), Individual, Community, Nation, Fifty Years of Australian Citizenship (Kew: Australian Scholarly Publishing Pty Ltd, 2000) (9-20) 19.

[22] Nationality and Citizenship Bill 1948, Second Reading Speech, House of Representatives, Thursday 18 November 1948, 3234 (Kim Beazley, Fremantle, Western Australia). 

[23] See for example “BIN KATIB Samsudin – born 15 July 1918 Indonesian”, NAA, A435, 1947/4/1253, 6.

[24] See for example Timeline: Australia’s Immigration Policy (SBS News, 3 September 2013)
on 23 September 2014.  See also Gwenda Tavan, The Long Slow Death of White Australia (Carlton North, Victoria: Scribe Publications, 2005) 33.

[25] Michael Klapdor, Moira Coombs and Catherine Bohm, ‘Australian Citizenship: a Chronology of Major Developments in Policy and Law’ (Parliament of Australia, Department of Parliamentary Services, Background Note, 11 September 2009), page 5, 7 on 25 September 2014.

[26] Ibid, page 8.  See also Tavan, above n 24, 73, 147-166.

[27] Discussion on Migration and the Commonwealth Government Policy – United Kingdom White Paper, House of Representatives, 2 August 1945, 4912 (Arthur Calwell, Minister for Immigration and Minister for Information).

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Denmark ratified the convention in 1952, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and Norway ratified the convention in 1954.  States Parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol  (UNHCR) <
http://www.unhcr.org/3b73b0d63.html > on 11 November 2014.

[35] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees opened for signature 28 July 1951 (entered into force 22 April 1954), art 1(2).

[36] Michelle Langfield, ‘The Fortunate Few: Jewish Refugee Policy and Women’s Experiences in the 1930s’ The Oral History Association of Australia Journal 22 (2000) 36-46, 37.  See also Malcolm Turnbull, ‘Refugees
and the Evian Conference’ in Safe Haven; Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia (National Archives of
Australia, 2012) <http://guides.naa.gov.au/safe-haven/chapter2/refugees-evian-conference.aspx>
on 10 November 2014. 

[37] Ibid.

[38] Calwell, above n 27, 4914.

[39] See also Malcolm Turnbull, ‘Post-1945 Immigration Policy’ in Safe Haven; Records of the
Jewish Experience in Australia (National Archives of Australia, 2012) <http://guides.naa.gov.au/safe haven/chapter2/refugees-evian-conference.aspx>
on 10 November 2014.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Tavan, above n 24, 49.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives, Thursday 18 October 1956, 1595 (Harold Holt, Minister for Immigration).

[46] The Migration Act 1958 (Cth) repealed the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (Cth), the Immigration
Restriction Amendment Act 1905 (Cth), the Immigration Restriction Act 1908 (Cth), Immigration Restriction Act 1910 (Cth), the Immigration Act 1912 (Cth), the Immigration Act 1920 (Cth), the Immigration Act 1924
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1925
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1930
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1932
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1933
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1935
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1940
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1948
(Cth), the Immigration Act 1949
(Cth), the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901
(Cth), the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1906
(Cth), and the Aliens Deportation Act 1948
(Cth).  See Migration Act 1901 (Cth), s 4(1), the Schedule.

[47] Migration Bill, House of Representatives, Tuesday 16 September 1958 (Hugh Alan Leslie, Member for Moore, Western Australia) 1266.

[48] Paper delivered by the Hon. Hubert Opperman, O.B.E., M.P., Minister for Immigration, Canberra, 28 May 1966, 8, Making Multicultural Australia, <http://www.multiculturalaustralia.edu.au/doc/opperman_1.pdf> on 1 November 2012.

[49] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,art 1 A(2), B(2).

[50] Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees 1967 opened for signature 31 January 1967 (entered into force 4 October 1967).

[51] Klapdor, Coombs and Bohm, above n 25, page 9.

[52] Jenny Hocking, Gough Whitlam, His Time (Carlton, Victoria, Miegunyah Press, 2012)

[53] Klapdor, Coombs and Bohm, above n 25, page 10.

[54] Klapdor, Coombs and Bohm, above n 25, page 10.

[55] Timeline: Australia’s Immigration Policy (SBS News), above n 24.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Migration Legislation Amendment Act 1989 (Cth), s 59(1) (4).  See also Department of Immigration and
Citizenship, Australia, Community Information Summary, Cambodia-born (Community Relations Section of DIAC)
on 28 September 2014; Brian Galligan and Winsome Roberts, Australian Citizenship (Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 2004)

[58] Timeline: Australia’s Immigration Policy (SBS News), above n 24; Refugee Council of Australia, Timeline of Major Events in the History of Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program (February 2014) <http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/f/rhp-time.php> on Thursday 25 September 2014; Migration Legislation Amendment Act 1989 (Cth).

[59] Janet Phillips, Temporary Protection Visas (Parliamentary Library, Department of Parliamentary Services, Research Note, 11 May 2004) on 28 September 2014; Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, Temporary Protection Visas <http://www.asrc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/TemporaryProtectionVisas_Nov14.pdf>
on 23 September 2014.

[60] See for example National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, A Last Resort? - Summary Guide (Australian Human Rights Commission) on 14 November 2014; Refugee Council of Australia, Policy Brief, Temporary Protection Visas (24 September 2013) on 14 November 2014; Lucy Fiske, Australia’s TPV Policy, Inhumane, Exclusionary and Unnecessary (Centre for Human Rights Education, Curtain University, Western Australia) on 14
November 2014.

[61] Don McMaster, Asylum Seekers, Australia’s Response to Refugees (Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 2002) x, xi.

[62] See for example Refugee Action Committee, Temporary Protection Visas (13 May 2008)
on 25 September 2014;  Klapdor, Coombs and Bohm, above n 25, page 16-17; Elibritt Karlsen, Developments in Australian Refugee Law and Policy 2007-10 (Parliament of Australia, 18 October 2010) <http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/1011/RefugeeLaw#_ftn4> on 23 September 2014.  See also Jason Koutsoukis, ‘Rudd Romps to Historic Win’ The
Age, 25 November 2007, available at http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2007/11/24/1195753376406.htmlv
on 11 November 2014.

[63] Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Act 2012 (Cth), Schedule 1, s 1, amending s 4 of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth).  See also Refugee Council of Australia, above n 58.

[64] Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, above n 59.

[65] Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill in regards to disregarding international obligations and the rules of natural justice see Schedule 1, Part 1, ss 22A, 22B, 75A and 75B, in terms of ignoring non-refoulement obligations see Schedule 5, Part 1, s 197C, for changes to the definition of a ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ see Schedule 5, Part 2, s 5J, in terms of fast tracking certain refugee status claims see Schedule 4, for the re-introduction of temporary protection visas see Schedule 2, Part 1, Division 1, ss 3, 5 and Schedule 2, Part 4, ss 30-1, 38 and 52, for safe haven enterprise visas see Schedule 2, Part 1, Division 2, ss 13-18.

[66] Sarah Whyte, ‘Scott Morrison strikes deal with Clive Palmer to reintroduce temporary protection visas’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 25 September 2014 <http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/scott-morrison-strikes-deal-with-clive-palmer-to-reintroduce-temporary-protection-visas-20140925-10lpui.html>
on 11 November 2014
.  See also Cameron Wilson, ‘Will a new visa moving refugees to the regions assist with
labour shortages?’, Bush Telegraph, 2 October 2014, Radio National <http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bushtelegraph/visas/5783160> on 11 November 2014.

[67] Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Migration Programme Statistics (Australian
Government, 12 September 2014) <https://www.immi.gov.au/media/statistics/statistical-info/visa-grants/index.htm>
on 26 September 2014; Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Migration Programme Statistics (Australian
Government, 27 August 2014) <https://www.immi.gov.au/media/statistics/statistical-info/visa-grants/migrant.htm>
on 26 September 2014; Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Fact Sheet 60 – Australia’s Refugee and
Humanitarian Programme (Australian Government, 27 August 2014) <https://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/60refugee.htm>
on 26 September 2014.  See also Refugee Council of Australia, Statistic on Asylum Seekers Arriving in Australia (February 2014) on 13 November 2014.

[68] Stephanie Anderson, Morrison Highlights Proposed Changes to 457 Visa Scheme (SBS News, 10 September 2014) on 26 September 2014.

[69] For a full list of the skills available for the 457 visas see, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Consolidated Sponsored Occupations List (Australian Government, 15 July 2014)
on 26 September 2014.

[70] Julian Burnside, ‘Asylum Seekers can be Managed with Cheaper and more Humane Options’, The
Age, Wednesday 18 June 2014.

[71] Q & A, Giddy Up Geelong, (Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), 30 June 2014) transcript available at < http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s4012281.htm>
on 14 November 2014.

[72] See for example Bendigo Mosque: Council Approves Construction Despite Fiery Public Meeting (ABC, 24 June 2014) <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-19/bendigo-council-approves-mosque-despite-objections/5534634> on 14 November 2014.

[73] Greg Callaghan, ‘Munjed’s Choice’ in the Good Weekend Magazine, The Saturday Age, Saturday 20 September 2014, 18-21.

© APH Network and contributors 2010.
All rights reserved.
Citation: Kartia Snoek. Realigning Our Migration Policies, Taking a Holistic Approach to View Refugees as Skilled Migrants. Australian Policy and History. July 2010.
URL: http://www.aph.org.au/realigning-our-migration-policies-taking-a-holistic-approach-to-view-refugees-as-skilled-migrants

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Raising our eyes in the wake of the Federal Election

admin : September 13, 2013 1:19 am : AIH399-2012/13, APH forum, Articles Opinion Pieces, Authors A - Z, Featured Articles, Latest Articles, Lowe, David

by David Lowe

Director of the Alfred Deakin Research Institute at Deakin University and co-founder of the Australian Policy and History Network


Come September, Aussie Rules football fever is everywhere in Victoria, and indeed to varying extents, it captures attention throughout Australia. For the clubs lucky enough to be playing finals footy, and for their supporters, the sense of climax is palpable. The cocoon of finals footy envelops workplaces, playgrounds, chance encounters and friends and families. We commune as we imbibe the finals season. For footy commentators, too, there is extra attention – their opinions are more hungrily and nervously devoured.  One of the commentator’s favourite recommendations that has grown in popularity over the season has been for players heading towards their forward line to ‘lower their eyes’ in order to hit one of their teammates leading towards them. It’s an interesting phrase that suits some teams’ tactics better than others; but alas, in the case of sport reflecting life, it is a phrase that has suited the national conversation about what matters to Australians in the Federal Election.


We have been encouraged by both of the major parties, in particular, to lower our eyes. Labor and Liberal campaigns were determinedly inward-looking, inviting us to judge how we are travelling as a nation according to a mixture of half-sketched equations of financial house-keeping and an awkwardly balanced commitment to growth and jobs while bettering the house-keeping. What has been missing is the rest of the world, at a time when the rest of the world matters. If, for example, we are to understand the full implications of Australia’s national debt, it might help to know how it stands in relation to debts of other members of the OECD; if we are placing high premium on how the previous government responded to the Global Financial Crisis, then might not the IMF’s views on Australia’s performance matter? Not so long ago, Joe Hockey came back from a trip to Europe reflecting on whether the ‘Age of Entitlement’ was over, a statement that was provocative and suggestive of more policy debate to come – but this, like the Henry Tax Review before, sank silently the closer we came to election campaigning. If, as some argue, a regional approach to refugee arrivals might profit from remembering the Fraser Government’s agreement reached with Malaysia relating to Vietnamese refugees fleeing conflict in the late 1970s, then might we not need to be better informed about how this actually worked and whether it translates in instructive manner to today’s predicament? And while there seems to be considerable variety in how other developed countries have tried to reduce carbon emissions, might it not be a good idea to hold some of them up for detailed scrutiny rather than overlook them or sweep them to one side?


I hope the condition is temporary, but we have become less international and less historically literate as a consequence of the Federal Election.  Labor’s great leap into ‘the Asian Century’ was nowhere. Perhaps the most interesting foreign initiative was the Liberals’ ‘New Colombo Plan’. The aim to sponsor Australian students to study and hopefully also work for set periods in Asian countries, as part of their higher education experience, is a most worthy one – and I hope it will succeed. The name of the project recalls a partly-Australian-led initiative beginning in the 1950s, the Colombo Plan for aid to South and Southeast Asia, and so invites at least, some historical reflection. The Colombo Plan is well-remembered by Australians (especially those over the age of 50) as a means by which Australians came to know Asia, and supported development in Asia, particularly through sponsoring Asian students to study in Australia. It is rightly held up as a positive story of engagement that managed to cut through persistent obstacles to better Asian-Australian relations in the 1950s and 60s of Cold War alliances and the White Australia policy. Like the sketch we have of the ‘New Colombo Plan’ the old one consisted primarily of a series of bilateral agreements between donor and recipient countries: Australia struck agreements with particular countries to provide developmental aid and scholarships according to need and fit. But a soft form of regionalism grew with the Colombo Plan. At annual meetings, in the active publicity around the projects, there developed a stronger sense of interdependence and even a language of internationalism and regionalism. I hope that the New Colombo Plan can also embrace this multi-directional ‘people-to-people’ regional quality, too. Under the old Colombo Plan, recipient countries enjoyed becoming donor ones as they grew, and promoted regional training centres for general use. Today, Papua New Guinea is quietly rolling out a modest program of development assistance for its neighbours. The O’Neill government has already pledged financial assistance to help Fiji prepare for elections next year; and it has extended aid to Tuvalu, Tonga and the Marshall Islands. In addition to long-established regionalism in the form of entities such as ASEAN, there are new forms of regional co-operation stirring in Australia’s neighbourhood. To the extent that we have a historical hook offered in the name of the ‘New Colombo Plan’, there also comes the renewed need for Australians to build with the dynamics of change, rather than standing apart.


Given where I have travelled in these reflections, perhaps the Aussie Rules football means of inviting Australian politicians to raise their eyes seems too flippant. But there is another bitter/sweet connection. For all the AFL’s extraordinary efforts, the sport we love (and I’m a hopeful Hawks supporter) doesn’t attract more than mild curiosity and ex-pat fanaticism overseas – with Ireland perhaps as partial exception. If we do not raise our eyes in political and policy debate, then there is a danger we will succumb to the same kind of mixture of satisfaction and insularity that characterizes Australian Septembers. Unlike footy, wherein there is always next season, our national conversations are at risk of becoming impoverishing in ways that could be felt both here and overseas, and with consequences that take longer to correct.

© APH Network and contributors 2013. All rights reserved.

Citation: David Lowe, Raising our eyes in the wake of the Federal Election. Australian Policy and History. September 2013.

URL: http://www.aph.org.au/raising-our-eyes

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University Autonomy and the Public Interest

admin : September 10, 2013 7:35 am : AIH399-2012/13, APH forum, Articles APH papers, Authors A - Z, Forsyth, Hannah, Latest Articles

by Hannah Forsyth

Executive Summary

  • University scholars have long argued that institutional autonomy and intellectual freedom are necessary conditions for assuring the integrity of tertiary education and university research.
  • Governments maintain the necessity for a proper accounting of public funding and ask universities to provide evidence that they are making optimum use of such support.
  • This is not a new problem. In fact, it is a necessary tension requiring ongoing negotiation between the higher education sector and government.
  • This article outlines some of the ways that university autonomy and the public interest have been negotiated since the Commonwealth first became involved in funding universities during the Second World War. The pattern of this involvement suggests the need for a shared commitment to negotiating the terms of this support to assure quality, reliable research for the public good. History can help us see what is at stake as the negotiations continue, helping each side to understand the other.
  • A key complication, however, is in a growing tendency among universities towards a prioritisation of self-interest over the public good, further problematising the issue of trust and accountability, and threatening, I maintain, their future autonomy.


The Problem with Universities

On 23 November 2012, the former Federal Minister for Education, John Dawkins, sat at the back of the room in an afternoon session of a symposium on the university reforms he instigated twenty-five years ago. It was late in the day and university administrators were squabbling over the best type of incentive structures government should implement in order for universities to properly perform their task.


Dawkins leaped to his feet, articulating what was obviously a long-held frustration: why do the universities need to wait for the government to put structures in place? What is wrong with these autonomous institutions that they’re not able to do the job themselves?


The 1987 Dawkins reforms represent a key moment in Australian university history where the conflicts between university autonomy and the public interest were at the centre of policy debate. But it was not the first time this problem was present.


In fact, British historian Conrad Russell (1993) argues that there is an inherent tension at work. Universities need autonomy to be able to properly perform their task, but democracy demands that governments be permitted to determine the priorities of their expenditure and be allowed to account for the public value of the work they have funded.


This article outlines the ways that university autonomy and the public interest have been negotiated since the Commonwealth first became involved in Australian universities during the Second World War.


What interests do universities and governments share?

Most Australian universities were established as state institutions. Over time, colonial and state governments expressed a variety of interests in universities, including the development of an Australian-born elite to serve in state parliaments, research to underpin industrial innovation, and facilitation of regional development in de-industrialising areas such as Geelong and Wollongong.


At the Commonwealth level, university and government interests first converged during the Second World War.


The Universities Commission was established in 1942 by Minister for War Organisation of Industry, John Dedman, as a way for the Commonwealth to enhance the contribution of academic training and research to the war effort. It was therefore, by necessity, a fairly intrusive structure. In the emergency of war, University vice-chancellors and most academics did not mind: it is possible some looked to future Commonwealth support to supplement state funding.


We know, however, that many within the universities were simply keen to contribute what they could to the shared goal of success in the war. The benefits for the national war effort were considerable. Spectacular advances in weaponry, optical munitions and medical discoveries were all evidence that academic research could underpin military success. Universities also fast-tracked the education of doctors and other professionals needed in wartime.


This pattern of shared interest has never ceased. Universities continue to educate, research and provide other public services that align to government goals and the public good. Everything from snake anti-venom, public health, food safety, climate change, safer mining, revival of indigenous languages, better power sources and more productive international relations has been negotiated between university scholars and government and industry groups.


Why is there a tension?

Despite so many shared interests, university and government goals are not always aligned. Before the Second World War was over, tensions were evident in the new bargain. As early as 1943, in a conference between the Chair of the Universities Commission, Richard Charles Mills, and National Union of Australian University Students representatives, a University of Melbourne student asked the question directly:

It seems to be certain that the Commonwealth interest in education is going to be permanent… The most important question seems to me to be whether the Commonwealth is going to carry conditions with the money it gives … The Commonwealth’s position appears to be very strong because of its money.

At that time, Mills explained that he did not know what the Commonwealth’s intentions were or whether ongoing funding would carry conditions.


One year later, when Mills was negotiating Commonwealth funding for university infrastructure, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney, Sir Robert Wallace, asked that the government supply the funding but allow the university to decide how to use it. ‘What I am asking’, he said ‘is that you give us the money and be done with it’.


Wallace knew Mills well. They had for some years been colleagues at the University of Sydney, so such frankness may have been license derived from familiarity. But it also reflected a tension inherent in their positions. ‘It is a large sum of money’, explained Mills, ‘when the Government says “we gave this subsidy, did the universities find it all right?” we must be able to say something more than just “Trust the Universities”’. In response, Sir Robert maintained that ‘I think that is the wrong attitude’.


What was it that Wallace thought was ‘wrong’? He clearly believed that the government should provide no-strings funding that the university spent as it saw fit. While this naturally went against government habit and principles of accountability, Wallace believed that allowing government to direct spending precisely was a way for the government to determine the priorities of university research and teaching. He considered it to be important that universities determine their own spending priorities, because in so doing they also determined the direction of their academic work. Wallace was also persuaded that this autonomy represented a principle that the government should uphold.


What is the history of university autonomy?

University autonomy has a bumpy history. Medieval universities were rarely autonomous, especially from the church. Nevertheless, it was the church’s tradition of autonomy from the state that universities inherited. German enlightenment values took this convention further, so that the German universities insisted on principles of academic freedom as a way of assuring the reliability of the research that was their hallmark. Universities in the United States adopted this German model and developed their own tradition of academic freedom, a central tenet of which was academic tenure, the idea being that only scholars secure in their employment could really pursue unbiased work.


In Britain, university autonomy and the intellectual freedom associated with it emerged slowly; a key turning point was when Cambridge and Oxford relinquished their religious test (requiring acceptance of the 39 Articles of the Church of England as a condition of enrolment) in 1871. When government funding became central to the running of higher education in the UK, the Universities Grants Committee was established in 1919 with the explicit aim of providing a ‘buffer’ between political interests and university spending.


In the twentieth century, academic freedom became central to debates about the university (especially research) worldwide. In the Soviet Union, research findings by geneticist Trofim Lysenko were falsified (and agreement by fellow scientists enforced) in order to align with political sentiment, resulting in agricultural failure and substantial economic hardship in the 1930s and 1940s. This alerted many within governments and universities everywhere to the importance of maintaining a system of independent research. It instilled an ideal that democratic nations, by contrast, would protect academic freedom in their universities.


Nevertheless, in Australia in 1946, influential British scholar Eric Ashby observed that universities here were under more threat from political and sectarian influence than in other Commonwealth countries. Due to regular external pressures on the nation’s universities, vice-chancellors like Robert Wallace were notoriously wary of government interference. Indeed, this was a key frustration for CSIRO chair, Ian Clunies Ross, who expended considerable energy in the late 1940s and early 1950s encouraging the vice-chancellors to petition the Commonwealth government for ongoing financial support of universities, finding that many preferred less funding to increased government influence.


Eventually Clunies Ross was successful in persuading both the universities and the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, to conduct a review. In 1957, the Murray Review of Australian Universities recommended that the Commonwealth invest considerable sums in the universities and that a buffer body like the British Universities Grants Committee be established to administer this funding.


Anxious as a result of news of invasions of academic freedom in the United States under Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist policies, academics watched the Commonwealth government’s response to the Murray report closely. All seemed to be well. Menzies was widely accepted as a ‘university man’ and historians have since acclaimed his habit of protecting university autonomy from interference by other, less sympathetic, politicians.


Confidential cabinet documents held in the National Archives, however, tell a different story. Much as Menzies was sympathetic to the universities, he was also compelled to ensure that Federal funding resulted in national benefits. While those in the universities considered the Australian Universities Commission to be a buffer body like its UK counterpart, Menzies instead saw it as the vehicle for assuring fulfilment of government goals. To Cabinet, he argued:

Money is the weapon by which oversight of universities will be secured, but the intention is more than monetary. It is hoped that the Commission will devote itself to thought about the development of universities in the widest sense. It will advise precisely on the buildings which the Commonwealth should support at each university…as well as expenditure on other matters such as laboratory equipment or libraries.

A.P. Gallagher (1982) argues that the Australian Universities Commission mediated gradual but steady increases in government interference in university business.


Is there a problem with government incentive structures?

From the concern of students in 1943 to Menzies’ declaration that money is a ‘weapon’, it is clear that funding has long been a key method of influencing university behaviour.


In 1987, Federal Minister John Dawkins instituted a set of reforms that made the relationship between money and university behaviour more explicit.


It was a moment intended to compel universities to meet government goals, rather than negotiate the public good. Trust between government and the universities had in fact been disintegrating for some time. In fact, ambivalence in government circles to the public value of universities was an international phenomenon, reported by higher education leaders across the OECD in 1980. Political leaders needing to prioritise scarce funding after the 1970s oil shocks increasingly considered universities to be cloisters of privilege and profligacy; it was a reputation probably well-earned, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, when higher levels of funding coincided with the moment that politicians of the 1980s were undergraduate students themselves, able to observe and criticise scholarly waste.


Structuring funding to create incentives for university prioritisation seemed to be a useful way to assure the government achieved its goals with the money expended, while also leaving universities with the choice to do otherwise if they could find alternative income sources. The buffer between political aims and university priorities – which by then was called the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission, or CTEC – was no longer needed in such a system and was dismantled.


This also disabled the system intended to facilitated a shared negotiation of funding for the public good. Most felt it was not working to achieve that goal anyway. In Canberra, politicians and public servants had long felt that CTEC was altogether too cosy with the universities. University administrators were generally of the opposite view – as a result, few vice-chancellors opposed its abolition.


Peter Karmel – a ‘godfather’ of higher education policy, contributing to every review between Murray’s in 1957 and Bradley’s in 2008, the last submission just months before his death – was the most vocal critic of this change in structure. He had recently chaired CTEC himself. Karmel argued that the transfer of control from CTEC to the Minister-controlled National Board of Employment, Education and Training was nothing short of a revolution. He observed a shift in the perceptions in Canberra of the value of higher education. From a focus on citizenship and the collective public good, measured by the level of government funding, or input, politicians and public servants instead sought specific outputs. The specificity of these requirements and their link to funding posed the kind of risk to the universities – perhaps not immediately, but structurally – that the mid-century concerns for university autonomy had sought to address. The buffer body, Karmel believed, was the safeguard against a future Lysenko, and its loss was deeply worrying.


Karmel’s view was not popular either in the universities or in government at the time. Only one vice-chancellor made an attempt to claim autonomy, rejecting the new incentive structures. University of Melbourne Vice-Chancellor, David Penington, approached the University of Sydney hoping the two oldest universities might decline entry to Dawkins’ ‘Unified National System’. Like Karmel, Penington’s concern was also for the public value of research:

Research policies controlled from Canberra, he [Penington] says, run the risk of being short-term and politically motivated. Had the Dawkins policies been in place during the polio epidemics, research funds would have gone into creating better iron lungs. The discovery of the Salk and Sabine vaccines which eradicated polio were the result of simple curiosity. It is impossible, he says, to dictate creativity.

Despite Penington’s vocal opposition, the alliance with Sydney required to reject it was unsuccessful, for Sydney’s Vice-Chancellor, John Ward was unwilling to risk the loss of funding that would result.


Peter Karmel was particularly damning of the compliance by the tertiary sector’s leaders with the loss of autonomy at the end of the 1980s. Of course, among the believers in incentive structures, there was no loss of autonomy: they were incentives, not requirements and universities were in fact free not to take them up. Government, however, had a responsibility, went the argument, to fund university work that was in the public interest. But there was a problem: an incentive scheme assumed universities would behave in their own self-interest rather than holding a shared interest, with government and others, in the public good.


How is the public’s interest in universities maintained?

One problem is that the public’s interest in universities has shifted over time. As well, even within each timeframe, there are widely divergent issues at stake. Specific industries, for example, have specialised needs for educated, skilled graduates and for particular research and research extension. Students and their partners, children and parents, have unique hopes for their lives as a result of tertiary studies. Some, but not all of those hopes are financial or career driven; many have been motivated by intrinsic love of subject matter, or by a broad belief in the value of liberal education. For most members of the public, their interest in universities is about personal hopes as a result of their participation in the system.


From a public policy perspective, however, while the investment of public funding in universities has imagined its effects at different levels (sometimes the nation, the state, individual citizens, consumers) the purpose of funding universities has been remarkably consistent.


Since the Second World War, a key aim of government has been investment in university research and education for the purpose of guiding the economy in new directions. Innovation would support new commercial and industrial capacities, as would a tertiary-educated labour force.


Government aims have never been solely economic, however. University knowledge has been seen as a way to assure the health, safety and civility of the nation. Moreover, it had important international effects, signalling Australia’s standing and the nation’s contribution to the global good.


In successive periods, since the Second World War, these aims have been variously nuanced, but they have been curiously stable. Appropriate custodianship of university knowledge became a key method for guaranteeing economic stability, for shoring up authority for political decisions and for engineering social change.


What coheres this public interest, I argue, is the perceived necessity in the second half of the twentieth century to mitigate against uncertainty.


Economies grounded in knowledge can respond to the whims of the market; with knowledge, governments can confront disease outbreaks, the vagaries of international alliances and arm themselves to deal with the unpredictability of nature. A society with a strong knowledge-base is more civilised, less unequal, has a higher standard of living. All these are built upon the same need: among the uncertainties of the twentieth century, knowledge was the only source of security. As a result, universities in that century flourished, though rarely with the autonomy they associated with earlier eras.


Some of that loss in autonomy is tied up with university responses to incentive schemes. Over time, these schemes have enacted their own assumptions about university self-interest, so that universities moved from a collegiate of disinterested scholars (ideally, if not always actually) to explicitly considering themselves to be interested parties.


Since the 1980s, university leaders have often sought to reconfigure much of their task in commercial terms, including their ability to attract government funding on a competitive basis. Unlike the public institutions they had been in the 1940s and 1950s, universities began to behave like an industry, competing with one another (and indeed other sectors) for commercial and government revenue.


While this pattern seems to assure that the public’s need for education and research are explicitly met, the public’s interest in protecting against research findings that pander to specific interest groups at the expense of others is at the same time threatened by this shift in structure. It seems obvious that maintaining the public’s interest in self-interested universities is a key cause for the ever-escalating requirement for detailed accountability – the ‘audit culture’ so many academics decry – further restricting university autonomy. Now that the university itself is one these interest groups, the public’s interest seems doubly compromised.


Further Reading

Ashby, Eric. The Challenge to Education. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1946.

Bessant, Bob. ‘Robert Gordon Menzies and Education in Australia’. in Stephen Murray-Smith (ed.), Melbourne Studies in Education. Melbourne: University of Melbourne Press, 1977, pp. 163–87

Brown, N. ‘From the state to the citizen to the economy’, Australian Universities Review, 34, no. 1, 1991, pp. 22-28.

Flexner, Abraham. Universities: American, English, German. London: Oxford University Press, 1930.

Forsyth, H. ‘Academic Work in Australian Universities in the 1940s and 1950s’. History of Education Review 39 (1), 2010, pp. 38-50

Forsyth, H. The Ownership of Knowledge in Higher Education in Australia 1939-1996, PhD Thesis: The University of Sydney, 2012 http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/8606

Gallagher, A.P. Coordinating Australian University Development: A Study of Australian Universities Commission 1959-1970. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1982.

P.H. Karmel, Reflections on a Revolution: Australian Higher Education in 1989 (Canberra: AVCC, 1989).

Macintyre, Stuart. The Poor Relation: A History of the Social Sciences in Australia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2010.

Marginson, Simon.  Education and Public Policy in Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Russell, Conrad. Academic Freedom. London: Routledge, 1993

Scott, Joan W. ‘Knowledge, Power and Academic Freedom’. Social Research 76 (2), 2009, pp. 451–80.

Tannock, P.D. A Study of the Role of the Government of Australia in Education since Federation 1901-1968. PhD Thesis, John Hopkins University, 1969.

Trow, Martin. Twentieth Century Education: Elite to Mass to Universal. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.



© APH Network and contributors 2013. All rights reserved.

Citation: Hannah Forsyth, University Autonomy and the Public Interest. Australian Policy and History. September 2013.

URL: http://www.aph.org.au/university-autonomy-and-the-public-interest

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Sending Our Women to War: The Role of Women in the Australian Army from 2000 to Today

admin : April 19, 2013 3:58 am : AIH399-2012/13, APH forum, Articles APH papers, Authors A - Z, Evans, Hannah

Hannah Evans

School of Humanities, University of New England (UNE)

Executive summary


  • The roles of women in the Australian Army have undergone significant changes since the 1980s, and have led to more employment opportunities for women.
  • This article outlines the changing nature of female employment opportunities in the Australian Army, and the Australian policy changes that have guided these developments. It argues that their employment has been progressively shaped by strategic Australian policy and the nature of both domestic and overseas operations.
  • Traditional definitions of combat-related duties and combat roles are made redundant in modern day asymmetrical warfare.
  • This article considers the potential future for female employment in combat roles. It proposes that Defence policy should consider that the nature of current operations and the current roles undertaken by women are complex, and thus should review policy changes on a tactical and value for policy basis, rather than in the pursuit of female equality and political correctness.


After nearly five years of service in the Australian Army, both in Australia and on multiple deployments overseas, upon reflection it has become clear to me that women are in combat roles. Since the beginning of my career, I have been taught to shoot and hit a target, patrol as part of a section that is attacking an enemy, and do my job in a combat environment. As an Administration Clerk I have been taught the essentials of soldiering, and in my role as a Junior Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) I am expected to be able to lead a section of soldiers under fire. Without this first-hand experience, I might have accepted the argument that women have been excluded from combat related duties. If that is true, however, then please remove my weapons qualifications, take away my field kit, and leave me to be a uniformed receptionist!

On a daily basis, serving men and women alike make great personal sacrifices. The Australian public, however, sees little of this. Much of the information that is publicly released by the ADF is highly sanitised (often because of operational and secrecy requirements) and in response to accusations, investigations or for recruiting purposes. Accordingly, the media has highly criticised the working conditions for women in the Australian Army, due to a perceived lack of equality. Yet, the role performed by women in the modern day Army is no less dangerous than their male counterparts. In light of the recent investigations into sexual harassment and the announcement by former Defence Minister Stephen Smith to commence the full integration of women into combat roles by 2016, it is timely to shed some light on what women actually do in the Army. By drawing on publicly released Defence sources, I argue that combat duties are inherent to all categories of employment within the Army and that policymakers should develop and review defence policy with regards to the complex tactical and operational requirements that women have been working amongst. I believe that the pursuit of equality should not be the basis for policy reform, especially not for an organisation that requires capability and performance in order to protect Australia’s interests.

Integration – pushing the boundaries for equality

Defence statistics from 1 June 2012 showed that, from current overseas defence operations, 307 ADF women (including Army) made up a total of 9 per cent of the total deployed force, whilst within the Army alone women make up approximately 10 per cent of the force. These percentages have shown a minimal growth of less than 5 per cent over recent decades, suggesting that both the Army and ADF have not increased in attractiveness for women. The revolution in female employment in the Army began in the mid-1980s, with the disbanding of the Women’s Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC). This pathway reflected a change in Australian society and led to the integration of women into previously male-only roles. It was accompanied, for instance, by the removal of automatic discharge upon pregnancy and equal working conditions.

The Army was officially exempted from the Sex Discrimination Act, 1984 with regards to combat duties and combat roles. These are defined as: ‘Those requiring a person to commit, or participate directly in the commission of, an act of violence against an adversary in time of war’. Consequently, women were excluded from employment in frontline combat roles and units. Regulation 3 of the Sex Discrimination Regulation defines combat-related duties as ‘duties requiring a person to work in support of, and in close proximity to, a person performing combat duties, in circumstances in which the person may be killed or injured by an act of violence by an adversary’. Both of these definitions (for which the Army still is exempt), however, do not account for modern instances of self-defence or acts committed in times of asymmetric warfare, where direct engagement with the enemy is equally likely in combat support roles. An example of this is when a female medic was attached to an Infantry section for an ‘outside the wire’ patrol in Afghanistan; she was chosen for the task due to her qualifications rather than her gender and was required to be able to actively engage with the enemy. Ironically, the Sex Discrimination Act was aimed at eliminating discrimination against females, yet the Act prevented women, who were once employed in combat related duties, from continuing in these roles (for example in the Royal Australian Engineers and also Royal Australian Corps of Transport).

As Melanie Oppenheimer notes, policy was amended in May 1990 to allow women to serve in combat-related positions (a trial of three years where the combat-related duties exemption was removed). This opened up more career opportunities for women, raising the number of positions available for women in the Army to 55 per cent. Also in 1990, women were allowed to serve in combat-related positions in the Gulf War, in the roles of medics, nurses, logistics and supplies operators, military police, intelligence analysts, drivers and movement operators. During this Operation, all personnel, regardless of rank or gender, were at risk of chemical and biological weapons attack. As unbiased as the threat of NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) attacks so, too, was the training and protective standards that were applied throughout the operation, women also had to work in severe environmental conditions whilst donning NBC protective equipment. It seemed for the first time that the nature of warfare had rendered as redundant the traditional definitions of combat roles and combat duties.

In December 1992, women finally were allowed to serve in all units, albeit in combat-related support roles. For previously male-only Infantry units that only employed male support staff (such as Operator Administration and Operator Supply), this change saw women being able to ‘post in’ to these units for the first time. Moreover, it allowed females to work within combat units, and also participate in training and deployments with the unit. Although women were posted in support roles to these units, if that unit was raised as a combat unit, then consequently women could be attached to frontline units and therefore exposed to direct contact with the enemy. There remained only Special Forces, Infantry, Artillery, Armoured and Combat Engineers roles from which women were excluded.

Debates over the combat-inclusion of females in the Army have emerged numerous times over the past two decades. In 1991 and again in 1992, in response to allowing women to serve in combat units the Army created a Women Evaluation Team to examine the Combat Related Employment of females within the Army. In 2000, the Australian government again reviewed the policy of combat exclusion and subsequently removed reservations that were put in place by the Keating government that would have led to all employment categories of the Army being open to women. A National Interest Analysis review proved that the Australian public was not ready to send their daughters, sisters and mothers into frontline roles. Although trials were held where females could participate in combat duty initial employment training and in Special Forces selection programs on the basis of research, the issue of women in combat roles lay dormant until 2011. In September of that year, due to mounting public pressure from the ADFA Skype scandal, the Australian government ‘re-reviewed’ the policy and removed the gender restrictions for combat employment categories. Pragmatically, they placed the caveat of selection on the basis of job merit over gender, and advocated that this policy would improve overall ADF capability, even though this cannot be proven until after the full integration of women is completed in 2016.

In June 2012, the government approved a five-year implementation plan for females into combat related roles, and on the 27 September 2012 the Defence Minister announced that all gender restrictions would be removed. Consequently, upon graduation female Staff Cadets now are able to elect combat duty postings, including: Infantry Officer; Artillery Officer; Armoured Corps Officer; and Combat Engineer Officer. Following this, the in-service transfers for currently serving Non-Commissioned Officers and Other Ranks will be offered in January 2013, and these transfers will be successful upon meeting requirements such as the Physical Employment Standards Testing. This strategy of filling the combat ranks with women ‘from the top down’ is intended to help the transition for ‘off-the-street’ female recruits by 2016. The review recommended that no less than two females per combat section (a section can consist of up to 12 people) should make a ‘critical mass’ to reduce the risk of sexual harassment and to provide a peer support network within the section. Yet, this overlooks critical questions often asked by commanders in the Army. For instance, will there be enough females willing to transfer or enlist into those roles to make up that critical mass? Also, will those numbers and the change of policy bring about a significant tactical advantage on the ground? Keeping in mind the relatively small numbers of women within Defence, and the potential for even smaller numbers within combat roles, it is understandable that most combat sections will not have females because of the ‘critical mass’ requirement.

All Army members are required at some stage of their career to undertake Extra Regimental duties and Appointments, which are professional duties that are not gender specific and are provided at all units and in most cases sub-unit level. Some of these positions include: Fire Warden; Work Health and Safety Officer; Equity and Diversity Officer; Stocktaking Officer; and Duty Officer. Alongside these roles, personnel can elect to take on specific positions within their posted unit, such as Training Officer or Recruiting Officer. Such positions often are nominated to personnel on the basis of merit. In regards to the position of Training Officer, a female would be expected to impart their knowledge on Infantry Tactics and Operational Briefings. Similarly, an instructor at the Recruit Training Battalion (Kapooka) would have the same training outcome and performance expectations as her fellow instructors.

The overseas experience

Since the Gulf War, roles that Australian Army women have undertaken overseas whilst on deployment and on exercise have been diverse and as equally dangerous as their male counterparts. In recent deployments, women have been tasked within high threat areas fulfilling jobs that often are outside of their job description. A female driver, for example, could be transformed from a Heavy-Rigid Driver into a section member engaging with the enemy in order to fight through an ambush. This is the reality that the soldier and officer must adhere to regardless of gender. A common attitude of ‘soldiers first’ and then the job second has been a key training point for deployments and throughout Initial Employment Training, again disputing the traditional definition of combat roles. The Australian Army has been in a state of constant deployment since the Gulf War and as a result of the unbiased nature of asymmetrical warfare, females have been in the firing line and taking on roles such as patrolling, community engagement, and security piquets that traditionally were in the domain of combat-related corps such as Infantry.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, deployed units required all members regardless of gender to carry out their employed job roles as well as security procedures relevant to the deployment. These could include the wearing of Combat Body Armour, performing security piquets and maintaining the base’s fortification. Regardless of gender or rank, all Army members deployed to the Middle East need to be aware of the threat of Indirect Fire (and NBC attacks) and be prepared to take up arms if called upon. In Afghanistan, however, female Army members have used their gender to a cultural advantage. Coalition forces have actively engaged with the female half of the Afghani population as part of Female Search Teams (FST), Female Engagement Teams (FET) and also Female Human Intelligence Exploitation Teams (FHET). The use of these Teams in engaging with the local Afghani female population has been proven to be a great boon to coalition forces, yet, in order to actively engage with this population, female members were required to operate in high risk areas. In the case of FSTs and FETs, women were required to carry out these tasks as well as their normal duties. One of the main functions of the FETs is in support of education programs, economic development and to provide basic healthcare services. The focus on their roles has been of a non-combatant nature, although the tasks have been in areas where the risk of direct confrontation with the enemy is likely. Even while women were gender restricted in these war-like operations, all personnel were equally at risk. As one female corporal deployed to Afghanistan points out, whereas women did not actively assist with day patrols outside of the Forward Operating Bases, their male counterparts (i.e. equally qualified in the same Combat Service Support category) were permitted to do so.

Female clerks were never given the opportunity to patrol with other forces but there were instances where the male clerks were given the opportunity to assist with day patrols. I believe the opportunity is restricted for females as it would be a greater issue with media etc. Not to say that a males life is less valuable. I just believe Australian politicians may not be ready for the backlash from society if a female were to die on operations.

Corporal, Australian Army

Along with deployments to war-like operations, women have been taking part in Humanitarian or Stabilisation Operations and Regional Operations. These roles have been just as complex and varied according to the mission tasks and force requirements. At times, Army females have been required to take on jobs throughout the operation that are out of corps job roles (where they are working in areas not defined by their employed trade). One example of this is in Sinai (Operation MAZURKA) where Army members contributed to the Multinational Force and Observers, this organisation was established in 1981 and is still in force today. Women have contributed to this operation, in both out of corps job roles and also in support of the headquarter element. Similarly, women have also contributed to the ADF contribution to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (Operation ASLAN), which is overseeing the development and nation-building for South Sudan. Throughout this operation, Army women have been engaged in aviation and logistics support roles (such as drivers and petroleum operators), out of corps military liaison officers and also in headquarters positions.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Army women also have engaged in civil and military regional operations and exercises that support the maintenance of peace and stabilisation. In Operation BEL ISI in Bougainville, Operation HELPEM FREN in the Solomon Islands and Operation ASTUTE in East Timor, women have actively engaged in the range of support programs and monitoring teams. In these operations, women have been required to monitor and support the civilian population as part of Civil Military Co-operation teams (CIMIC). These teams were used in similar ways to that of FETs in the Middle East and are good examples of how deployed women have been tasked with traditionally unconventional roles. During these operations women have experienced unconventional employment as part of the CIMIC, civilian monitoring teams, Headquarters staff, police liaison teams and as interpreters.  They have also operated in their traditional roles such as radio operators, drivers and logistics staff. This use of females to engage with the local populace in non-warlike operations highlights the problems surrounding the traditional definition of combat-related duties. How can this definition of ‘combat-related duties’ be applied to the roles taken on by modern Army women that are working in battle spaces where the threat is undefined, and likewise so is the nature of their duties and roles?

On the home front

Domestically, the Australian Army has contributed to the protection of Australia throughout times of hardship and uncertainty. Both male and female Army members were employed as part of Search Teams and in support of security teams, which worked closely with federal and state police to ensure that these events were safely and securely accomplished. These types of operations are further examples of where gender has not been an operational concern, and as such the likelihood of threat exposure has been the same for every member. Key contributions for the Australian Army in terms of recent support and ceremonial duties are the Sydney Olympics (Operation GOLD), the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the aftermath of the Queensland Floods (2011), the Victorian Bushfires (2009) and Cyclone Yasi (2011). During these types of operations women have taken on even more unconventional roles, providing emergency assistance to local communities throughout Australia, in the aid of rebuilding, participating in search teams, and in support of police forces. A great majority of the roles that women engaged in during these domestic operations were out of corps roles, but they contributed in their conventional employment categories, too.

Currently, one of the biggest efforts to protect Australia’s offshore maritime interests and in border security is the ADF domestic operation, Operation RESOLUTE. The Transit Security Element (TSE), comprised of both males and females, was tasked between both the Australian Army and Navy, operating in the Northern Australian Waters (it is supported by Headquarters Northern Command and the Regional Force Surveillance Units). The role of TSE is to assist in providing security in Australian and International Waters and undertake the safe apprehension and transfer of potential irregular immigrants. The Transit Security Element personnel are tasked aboard the Navy’s Armidale Class Patrol Boats and also Australia’s Customs and Border Protection Vessels. As part of their duties the TSE can be expected to participate in Boarding Parties, securing and searching vessels and potential irregular immigrants (known to the majority of Australians as asylum seekers) as well as daily sea-faring duties. These kinds of domestic operations demonstrate females’ ability to work in out of corps roles and engaging in tasks that are of the same nature as males from combat corps. Interestingly, although women did not need to be in a combat corps to be able to do the job, like the FETs and FSTs they simply did the job and returned to their original employment category.

Support services and culture

Australian Army women have a number of formal welfare and support services available to them, however, the popular motivation towards peer support still has been identified in Defence and government reviews as the most commonly used support system. Army women have readily available access to support services ranging from fairness and equity networks to housing support services including: the Defence Community Organisation; Padre support; the Defence Equity Organisation; the Defence Women’s Network; and rank hierarchy. The Review into the Treatment of Women in The ADF revealed that most ADF members were happy within Defence, but it also brought to light many complaints that females are given preferential treatment. This report implied that women in the Army are treated ‘more fairly’ than their male counterparts and that if women served in certain roles this may affect the capability of those employment categories, therefore reducing the overall performance of the unit.

The nature of the ADF’s war-fighting mission and emphasis on its ‘warrior culture’ perpetuates this belief, as has, until recently, the policy restriction on the employment of women in direct combat roles. The removal of this restriction means this formal policy barrier is gone, but the practical impact on women’s participation is less clear.

The Review into the Treatment of Women in The ADF

This review also noted that the support services currently in place for both males and females are inadequate, and this places extra stain on the effective integration of women into Army combat roles. More importantly, while this review was comprehensive, it failed to address the overriding aspect that the Army is trained to be an Offensive and Defensive force. The ‘civilianisation’ of support mechanisms and the introduction of Equity and Diversity policy does not increase tactical capability. What, then, is the application of these mechanisms and policy in a tactical sense for the strategic commander whose decisions are based upon the considerations of the battle space and mission rather than the ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation of their soldiers and officers? The five-year integration plan for females into combat roles will foster more equality for Army women, but will the tactical advantage for commanders be as equally significant as the costs to review and implement the reform?

Right now our soldiers are at war. It might not be a war of national mobilisation but, nevertheless, we are defending our national interests and our young men and women are in mortal danger right now. There is a real live enemy out there trying to kill our soldiers. The decision we make about supporting current operations and shaping of the Army in the future are not esoteric decisions. They are real and vital and lives depend on our conclusions.

LT GEN (ret.) Peter Leahy, AC

In the last two decades, Australian Army women have experienced significant change in employment opportunity and equality of working conditions and with the ever changing nature of Defence policy and the strategic concerns of the Australian government, there will no doubt be more opportunity for Army women to exhibit their ‘mettle’. But in today’s terms the Army has planned to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 and the full integration of trained women in combat roles will not be until late 2013, which may be too late for women to ‘earn their desert guernsey’ in roles such as Infantry in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, changes to this policy must consider the future implications of women serving in war-like operations. How will Australia respond when a female soldier is taken hostage? How will Defence compensate women with hip injuries and who are unable to bear children due to long-term load carrying stresses? If a female Rifleman is killed overseas, will policy change back to the way it was? All soldiers, male and female are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, however we must first ask ourselves, is it necessary to put women even further in harm’s way? Will putting women in these roles increase tactical capability? From my experiences, I can honestly say that women in roles such as Infantry will not increase capability, since women are already employed in combat roles and where gender is a necessity for the task then women are used, they do not need to be in a combat role (like Rifleman) to be able to march with an Infantry section. While these final steps towards full integration of Army women are great strides towards equality, policy should not be changed purely in the pursuit of fairness or for political correctness. It is clear that more consideration is required by policy makers to implement changes on a tactical and value for policy basis, and consider the bigger picture effects of putting women on the ‘so called’ frontline.

*The views expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the Department of Defence or the Australian Army, or any other organisation. Responsibility rests with the author alone.


Selected Further Reading

Andrew Hetherington, Push for more women, in Army the Soldiers’ Newspaper, ed. 1288, Capital Fine Print, Canberra, 2012.

Arthur Marwick, Women At War 1914-1918, William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd, Glasgow, 1977.

Australian Defence Force, Report of the review into policies and practices to deal with sexual harassment and sexual harassment and sexual offences at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Department of Defence, Canberra, 1998.

Australian Human Rights Commission, Review into the Treatment of women in the Australian Defence Force: Phase 2 Report, Australian Human Rights Commission, Sydney, 2012.

Chris Masters, Uncommon Solider, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 2012.

Clare Burton, Women in the Australian Defence Force: two studies, Canberra, Department of Defence, 1996.

Defence Jobs, Removal of Gender Restrictions, revised 29 November 2012,  http://www.defencejobs.gov.au/women/RemovalofGenderRestrictions/15/, accessed 01 December, 2012.

Department of Defence, History of Women in the ADF in the Defence Fairness and resolution, http://www.defence.gov.au/fr/RR/Womenindefence/History.html, accessed
01 September, 2012.

Department of Defence, Global Operations, http://www.defence.gov.au/op/index.htm, accessed 05 October, 2012.

Department of Defence, Women in the Australian Defence Force, http://content.defencejobs.gov.au/vsBlog/pdfs/Women_In_The_ADF.pdf, accessed
02 September, 2012.

Department of Defence, Pathway to change – Evolving Defence Culture, http://www.defence.gov.au/pathwaytochange/, accessed 13 September, 2012.

Department of Defence, Removal of Gender Restrictions from ADF Combat Roles, http://defence.gov.au/women/implementationplan.htm, accessed 03 December, 2012.

Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Australian Women In War Investigating the experiences and changing roles of Australian women in war and peace operations 1899 – Today, Canberra, 2008.

Eva Cox, Women in the frontline … fighting dinosaurs in the ADF, revised 12 April 2011, http://theconversation.edu.au/women-in-the-frontline-fighting-dinosaurs-in-the-adf-766, accessed  05 October, 2012

Headquarters International Stabilisation Force, ‘Engaging The Female Populace’, http://info.publicintelligence.net/ISAF-FemaleEngagement.pdf, accessed 16 October, 2012.

Megan Doherty, Willing to be warriors in Canberra Times, 7 May 2000.

Edwina Carr, Life after War in Cleo Australia December 2012, Moorebank, 2012, p. 74.

‘Female Engagement Teams in Afghanistan’, http://www.army.gov.au/Our-work/News-and-media/News-and-media-March-2012/Female-Engagement-Teams-in-Afghanistan, accessed 10 November, 2012.

Janette Bomford, Soldiers Of The Queen Women in the Australian Army, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 2001.

Kathryn Spurling, & Elizabeth Greenhalgh, (eds.), Women in uniform: perceptions and pathways, School of History, Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra, 2000.

Lorna Ollif, Women in Khaki, Southwood Press Pty Ltd, Marrickville, 1981.

Mark Doran, Suggestions supported, in Army the Soldiers’ Newspaper, ed. 1289, Capital Fine Print, Canberra, 2012.

Mark Doran, Loving the artillery life, in Army the Soldiers’ Newspaper, ed. 1293, Capital Fine Print, Canberra, 2012.

Melanie Oppenheimer, Australian Women and War, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Canberra, 2008.

Molly Moore, A Woman At War, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1993.

Parliament of Australia, Women in the armed forces: the role of women in the Australian Defence Force, revised December 2000, http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Publications_Archive/archive/womenarmed, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Group, accessed 28 October, 2012.

Peter Leahy, The Australian Army in the Twenty-First Century, in The Sydney Papers Summer 2005, Sydney, 2005.

Roles open next year, in Army the Soldiers’ Newspaper, ed. 1293, Capital Fine Print, Canberra, 2012.

Siobhan McHugh, Minefields and Miniskirts, Transworld Publishers Pty Ltd, Moorebank, 1993.



© APH Network and contributors 2013. All rights reserved.


Citation: Hannah Evans, Sending Our Women to War: The Role of Women in the Australian Army from 2000 to Today. Australian Policy and History. April 2013.

URL: http://aph.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/evans-women-in-aust-army.pdf


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Out of Sight, Out of Mind? The Use and Misuse of Groundwater in Perth, Western Australia

admin : April 4, 2013 4:52 am : AIH399-2012/13, APH forum, Articles APH papers, Morgan, Ruth

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? The Use and Misuse of Groundwater in Perth, Western Australia

Ruth Morgan

School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies, Monash University


Executive summary


  • Groundwater supplies in Perth are under stress.
  • About 80 per cent of all water used in Perth comes from underground.
  • Groundwater is declining due to a drying climate, pine plantations, and excessive pumping.
  • Despite the city’s dependence on groundwater, there still is a lot to be learned about these reserves.
  • The history of the use and misuse of groundwater in Perth shows how decades of complacency have taken their toll.


As many Australians sweat through some of the hottest conditions on record and battle raging bushfires, it is easy to forget that just two years ago many people were sandbagging their properties against rising floodwaters. Before those La Niña rains, many urban and rural Australians faced years of drought and tough water restrictions. When it comes to water in this country, it seems there is either too much, or too little.

In lean years, water from underground can make up the difference. Pastoralists in inland Australia rely heavily on the stores of freshwater in the Great Artesian Basin, while groundwater helps sustain farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin during dry periods.

Pumping groundwater is not just a source of water for rural Australians. In Perth, Western Australia, groundwater contributes about half of the suburban water supply. These reserves helped water managers avoid implementing the harsh restrictions recently experienced in other Australian cities. It is a dependence that has slowly increased over the past forty years as dwindling rains fail to fill the city’s dams. Although the construction of two desalination plants have helped to ease some of this burden, groundwater remains a vital source for the Western Australian capital as 80 per cent of all water used in Perth comes from underground.

Perth’s groundwater reserves, however, are in bad shape. The region’s drying climate means that underground water is not being replenished as it once was. Meanwhile, largely uninterrupted and unfettered supplies of groundwater have allowed the people of Perth to use water profligately and to expect to be able to continue to do so. Groundwater extraction from the Gnangara Mound, for instance, has more than doubled over the past twenty years. Familiarity, then, has bred, if not contempt, at least indifference. A significant contributor to this state of mind is the very nature of groundwater, that it is hidden underground, subterranean, and therefore invisible. As Benjamin Franklin supposedly said, ‘When the well runs dry, we will know the worth of water’. One of the problems with groundwater depletion is that, unlike the ebbing waterline of a dam or water tank, it is a process that is difficult to observe with the naked eye. Such is the hidden nature of this process that Spanish researchers described the global escalation of groundwater abstraction during the twentieth century as the ‘silent revolution’.

Underneath the suburbs of Perth lie substantial quantities of groundwater that have accumulated there over many thousands of years. Rainwater and stormwater percolate through the sandy soils and porous limestone to slowly replenish these reserves, which also are fed by streams that drain into the ground.

It has been very easy for a magic pudding mentality to develop around groundwater in Perth, and the networks and infrastructure of water supply that have developed in the suburbs have played a significant role. Although the collective provision of water supplies provides substantial health and equity benefits for consumers, there are drawbacks to this system, too. Water consumers, as Maria Kaïka argues, become alienated from the sources of their water supplies through large reticulated networks. Divorced from the centralised source of supply, they may come to expect more and more affordable water, and become increasingly unprepared for interruptions to their supply. This reticulated relationship with water is playing a role in shaping the so-called ‘hydro-illogical’ cycle of Australian water policy.

Examining the history of the use and misuse of groundwater in Perth can help to break from this frustrating cycle and shine a torch through what author Michael Pollan calls ‘this fog of presentness’. In doing so, histories of groundwater can help make visible the resources and challenges that have been invisible or ignored for too long.

Water in the nineteenth century

The first Governor of the Swan River Colony and its most avid campaigner, James Stirling, assured prospective settlers of the ample water supplies that could be found in the freshwater lagoons near the Swan River. Sustained by a shallow water table, these waterscapes were part of a chain of wetland lakes that ran along the coast, forming the basis of important seasonal food chains and paths for Nyoongar movement around the region.

For most of the nineteenth century, the people of Perth relied on natural springs and household wells for their water supplies. Their proximity to cesspits meant that drinking water often was contaminated and diseases spread easily. The association of nearby swamplands with disease as well as demands for fertile land and flood management prompted a series of drainage programs that transformed the hydrology of the Swan Coastal Plain.

A campaign for better quality water supplies in the 1880s resulted in the beginnings of a reticulated network in the city, supplied by the construction of Victoria Reservoir in the Darling Ranges in 1891. Although local critics lauded dams as symbols of civilisation, this infrastructure proved inadequate for the rapid growth of Perth during the goldrushes of the 1890s and led to a ‘water famine’ in 1897. Little improvement was made after Federation, and in the 1920s angry voters complained about their unreliable water supplies, vividly comparing what did flow to ‘liquid sausage meat’. Despite these protests, significant changes were not forthcoming and artesian water continued to provide most of Perth’s water into the 1940s.

Watering the suburbs

With the completion of several major dams soon after the Second World War, the easy access to affordable scheme water, combined with anxieties about cleanliness, hygiene and green gardens, led to a rapid escalation of water consumption in Perth households during the 1950s and 1960s. And the water authorities were only too happy to oblige their demands: Australian engineers and governments shared an institutional culture that fostered a ‘predict and provide’ approach to the development of water services.

The city’s dams, however, could not sustain the escalating demands of a population growing in size and prosperity. International efforts to further global hydrological studies in the early 1960s had encouraged Australian endeavours to undertake the long-awaited measurement of the continent’s water resources. In Western Australia, explorations of the Swan Coastal Plain around Perth revealed extensive stocks of water below the ground, the Gnangara Mound in the north, and the Jandakot Mound in the south. Less than a hundred years earlier, the Government Geologist had argued it would be ‘hopeless to expect to procure Artesian water near Perth’ and recommended a scheme for supplying water from the streams of the Darling Ranges. The water authorities now believed that these reserves could be cheaply utilised to supply the suburbs.

By the mid-1970s, these aquifers provided about 10 per cent of Perth’s water supply and experts predicted the city’s reliance on this source would grow. When harsh water restrictions and higher water prices were introduced later in the decade, many households responded by installing private bores or wells in their backyards. The only cost was sinking the well and keeping it maintained. By installing these private supplies, these households essentially gained access to virtually unlimited water for garden use, and, as a result, bore ownership in Perth trebled between 1976 and 1982.

Water authorities welcomed this boom in bore ownership: as half the average household consumption of scheme water was being used in the garden, bores alleviated the burden on public supplies. But, as not one of these bores was licensed, metered, or monitored, water use skyrocketed. One 1985 report estimated that a household with a domestic bore consumed over seven times the amount of water of a household dependent on public supplies.

By the end of the 1970s, then, both scheme water supplies and private supplies in Perth were being drawn from the subterranean treasure trove of groundwater beneath the suburbs. The public and private utilisation of these groundwater reserves helped to perpetuate the belief of consumers in the endless supplies of plentiful, cheap water that sustained their profligate water culture.

Competition and concern

Not everyone was enamoured with these developments. Market gardeners south of the Swan River at Jandakot, for instance, challenged government bans on their chemical and fertiliser use that were introduced to protect the groundwater reserves beneath their farms. Others around Wanneroo reacted similarly when the government restricted the availability of water licenses during the 1980s. No longer able to access the groundwater freely, market gardeners were concerned that the licenses would dramatically increase their costs of production.

Meanwhile, in the 1960s ecologists estimated that over half of the wetlands of the Swan Coastal Plain had been lost already, and they predicted that the public and private abstraction of large amounts of groundwater would endanger those that remained. They expected the draw on groundwater would threaten sensitive communities of flora and fauna, not least the migratory waterbirds that depended on them. These concerns were realised in 1991 when large tracts of banksia woodland perished, prompting the water authorities to curb their pumping.

Mixed messages

With daytime water restrictions in place since 1994, the state government produced the Perth Groundwater Atlas in 1997. It was designed to help households determine whether they were ideally located to sink their own bore. Obtaining private water supplies was a community service, as it alleviated pressure on the development of public water infrastructure and helped to lower the water table in urbanised areas. This move was met with staunch criticism from the Conservation Council, which argued that excessive garden irrigation promoted the leaching of fertilisers and pesticides into Perth’s sandy soil that might pollute underground reserves. Besides, in some coastal suburbs the use of household bores already had led to saltwater intrusion and rendered these backyard investments useless.

Nevertheless, when the drought of 2001 struck, the state government offered households a financial incentive to install a bore. To date, about one in four Perth households have access to private supplies. Market gardeners, meanwhile, faced new restrictions on the expansion of their properties and found it necessary to sink deeper bores to reach the declining water table. Some also feared that the installation of meters on their bores would pave the way for the government to charge them for their water use. It was only in 2007 that backyard bore use was restricted to three days per week and a recent Department of Water report conceded that they do, indeed, draw a substantial amount of water from beneath the suburbs.

But it is not only the water authorities with whom the market gardeners have been tussling: over 20,000 hectares of pine plantations on the Gnangara Mound are guzzling groundwater, too. These pines were planted in the Wanneroo area in the 1920s to stimulate the state’s softwood industry on what then were deemed to be useless soils. Despite struggling initially, the pines flourished to such an extent that researchers estimate that they are responsible for at least a third of the decline of the Mound’s water levels. But the terms of a twenty-five year government agreement, signed in 2002, to provide timber for the production of laminated veneer lumber prevent accelerating a thinning of the plantation. This timeline provides some relief for those who enjoy the aesthetic and recreational aspects of the pine plantation, as well as for the endangered Carnaby’s black cockatoos that forage there.

Drying out

As the drought of 2000-01 took its toll on the city’s dams, groundwater again took up the slack, contributing over half of Perth’s water supplies. Water from the Gnangara Mound also was pumped into Mundaring Weir to supply Kalgoorlie residents through the Golden Pipeline. It did not take long for this burden to take its toll on the already strained underground reserves and the wetlands that depend on them. Faced with the challenge of ecological triage, authorities pumped water into some areas like the Yanchep caves and Lake Jandabup in the hope that this might revive them.

Local Aborigines were especially critical of the mismanagement of the Gnangara Mound. Some elders lamented the passing of a time when they could travel through the pine plantation, find water and food in the swamps, and pick wildflowers. Neither the government nor water authorities had consulted the Nyoongar community about tapping the reserves of the Gnangara Mound during the 1970s. It was not until the mid-1980s that a survey of culturally significant places was undertaken, by which stage some participants considered it was too late. More recently, elders told researchers that it was ‘meaningless’ to identify individual sites of significance as the entire area was of spiritual and cultural importance.

It is little wonder, then, that many people in Perth and the southwest did not trust the government to safely manage the utilisation of a vast, untapped aquifer further south, the South-West Yarragadee. Ongoing questions about Perth’s water security in a drying climate dominated the 2005 election, and a year later a seawater desalination plant was completed at Kwinana to supplement the city’s water supplies. A second was finished in 2011.

New challenges, new directions

Late last year, scientists made a startling discovery: years of low rainfall, water abstraction, and thirsty pines had combined to produce a sinking effect in Perth suburbs. Geoscience Australia reported that some suburbs had sunk up to 6mm a year since the late 1990s. For conservationists, these findings confirmed their long held suspicions that environmental authorities had inadequately policed the water abstraction of market gardeners and the Water Corporation.

The state government recently announced the success of a trial to replenish the Gnangara Mound with treated wastewater. In the coming months, it will determine whether this recycled water will be added to public water supplies. It obviously hopes that Perth residents are more willing to stomach the plan than their Queenslander counterparts in Toowoomba, who rejected a similar proposal in 2006. The prospect of recycling wastewater in Western Australia’s capital presents an alternative vision to the evergreen possibility of piping water from the state’s northwest.


Although Perth’s groundwater reserves are the city’s lifeblood, they have long been shrouded in mystery and uncertainty. In 2008, a CSIRO scientist explained to reporter Åsa Wahlquist:

There are still major questions about the recharge under different climate and land-use regimes, what the sustainable yield is, what the relationship between the fluctuations of those water levels and the environmental health is. So even a system like that on the doorstep of Perth, and half of the water supply of Perth, is not as well understood as we would wish it to be.

Likewise, backyard bores remained unmonitored and excessive abstractions unpoliced. Despite these grey areas, there are two certainties: Perth households are among the highest water consumers in the nation; and they pay the least for the privilege.

Urban Australians may be detached from the processes of acquiring and delivering (ground)water. But numerous dry winters, ‘water crises’, and devastated wetlands since the 1970s cannot have been invisible to the people of Perth. Or, is it a case of out of sight, out of mind?


Selected Further Reading

Bill Bunbury, Till the Stream Runs Dry: a history of hydrography in Western Australia, Perth, Dept of Water, 2010.

CSIRO, Water Yields and Demands in South-West Western Australia, Perth, CSIRO Water for a Healthy Country Flagship, 2009.

Dept of Water, Gnangara Groundwater Areas Allocation Plan, Perth, Dept of Water, 2009.

Stuart Fisher, Report on Consultations with the Combined Metropolitan Native Title Working Group regarding the Aboriginal Heritage Values of the Gnangara Water Mound, Floreat, Fisher Research, 2005.

Joseph Gentilli and Hugo Bekle (eds), Wanneroo – Joondalup – Yanchep: planning, people, environment, Bassendean, City of Wanneroo, 1998.

Quentin Grafton and Karen Hussey (eds), Water Resources Planning and Management, Melbourne, Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Maria Kaïka, ‘Interrogating the geographies of the familiar: domesticating nature and constructing the autonomy of the modern home’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 28, 2004, pp.

Marnie Leybourne and Andrea Gaynor (eds), Water: histories, cultures, ecologies, Crawley, UWA Press, 2006.

Manuel Llamas and Pedro Martinez-Santos, ‘Intensive groundwater use: a silent revolution that cannot be ignored’, Water Science and Technology Series, 2005, vol. 51, no. 8, pp. 167-74.

Edward McDonald, Bryn Coldrick and Will Christensen, ‘The green frog and desalination: a Nyungar metaphor for the (mis-)management of water resources, Swan Coastal Plain, Western Australia’, Oceania, vo. 78, 2008, pp. 62-75.

Don McFarlane, Context Report on Southwest Water Resources for Expert Panel Exmaining Kimberley Water Supply Options, Canberra, CSIRO, 2005.

Ruth A. Morgan, ‘Dry horizons: the responses of Western Australian water managers to the enhanced greenhouse effect in the late 1980s’, History Australia, vol. 8, no. 3, 2011, pp. 158-76.

Ruth A. Morgan, Running Out? An environmental history of water and climate in southwest Western Australia, 1829 to 2006, PhD thesis, University of Western Australia, 2012.

Ruth A. Morgan, ‘A thirsty city: an environmental history of water supply and demand in Perth’, Studies in Western Australian History, vol. 27, 2011, pp. 81-97.

Ruth A. Morgan, ‘Western water dreamers rise again with Colin Barnett’s canal vision’, The Conversation, 3 August 2012, < http://theconversation.edu.au/western-water-dreamers-rise-again-with-colin-barnetts-canal-vision-8625>.

Rory O’Connor, Connie Bodney and Lorna Little, Preliminary Report on the Survey of Aboriginal Areas of Significance in the Perth Metropolitan and Murray River Regions, East Perth, Heritage Council of Western Australia, 1985.

Tom Stannage, The People of Perth: a social history of Western Australia’s capital city, Perth, Perth City Council, 1979.

Sorada Tapsuwan, Zoe Leviston and David Tucker, Sense of Place: Perth Community Attitudes Towards Places of Significance on the Gnangara Groundwater System, Perth, Gnangara Sustainability Strategy, CSIRO, 2009.

Patrick N. Troy (ed.), Troubled Waters: confronting the water crisis in Australian cities, Canberra, ANU Epress, 2008.

Jac van der Gun, Groundwater and Global Change: trends, opportunities and challenges, UN World Water Assessment Programme, Paris, UNESCO, 2012, <http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002154/215496e.pdf>.

Åsa Wahlquist, Thirsty Country: options for Australia, Crows Nest, Allen and Unwin, 2008.

Water Authority of Western Australia, Perth Urban Water Balance Study, Perth, Water Authority, 1987.

Water and Rivers Commission, Perth Groundwater Atlas, East Perth, Water and Rivers Commission, 1997.



© APH Network and contributors 2013. All rights reserved.


Citation: Ruth Morgan, Out of Sight, Out of Mind? The Use and Misuse of Groundwater in Perth, Western Australia. Australian Policy and History. March 2013.

URL: http://www.aph.org.au/files/articles/outSight.htm

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