The Australian Constitution had enshrined and legitimised the White Australia policy by a direct reference to race as a provision for enfranchisement and disenfranchisement.
Provision as to races disqualified from voting
For the purposes of the last section, if by the law of any State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the people of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of that race resident in that State shall not be counted.
A Threat To White Australia
By 1901, there were approximately 9000 Pacific Islanders working the cane fields of Queensland. Their presence was seen as an enormous threat to White Australia. During the first year of Federation, Prime Minister Barton introduced the Pacific Island Labourers Bill into the Federal Parliament.
“White Australia!” – With a Black Smudge
Politics is a game, and politicians are gamblers. Probably, nearly all politicians would prefer to win with honest cards; but the essential thing is to win…”
The Bulletin, April 6, 1901
Although the enactment of the White Australia policy in 1901 is usually associated with the Immigration Restriction Bill in both the popular and political mind it was also enacted by the passing of the Pacific Island Labourers Bill. In Parliament, the debate for one often merged into the debate for the other. In the flurry to produce a white nation and render invisible the Aboriginal inhabitants of Australia, the concern was to protect Australia’s borders from non-white newcomers and to exclude those who were already in the country; the Pacific Islanders.
The Bill ordered the recruitment of the Pacific Islanders to cease after 1903 and gave the federal authorities the power to deport any Islander found in Australia after December 1906. The only Pacific Islanders allowed to stay were those who had arrived in Queensland prior to September 1, 1879, those working in crews on ships and those granted certificates of exemption under the Immigration Restriction Act (1). The Bill granted compensation to the sugar industry and ordered the introduction of white labour on a just wage.
The inference was not so apparant to many readers and constitutional jurists alike suffice it to suggest that the Australian founding document had given the green light for lawmakers to pass respective federal laws legitimising laws of exclusion of persons from equal enfranchised rights based purely on race. The most salient law that would be passed after the passing of the Australian Constitution within the British Parliament in 1901 was the passing of the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901 leading up to the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901.