Arthur Calwell (1896 – 1973) was an Australian politician who:
- represented the Division of Melbourne in the Australian House of Representatives for the Australian Labor Party from 1940–72;
- was the Minister for Information in the Curtin Government from 1943–45;
- was the inaugural Minister for Immigration in the Chifley Government from 1945–49; and
- was Leader of the Australian Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition from 1960–67.
- Calwell is also notable for being only the second victim of an attempted political assassination in Australia (the first being Prince Alfred in 1868). On 21 June 1966, Calwell addressed an anti-conscription rally at Mosman Town Hall in Sydney. As he was leaving the meeting, and just as his car was about to drive off, a 19-year-old student named Peter Kocan approached the passenger side of the vehicle and fired a sawn-off rifle at Calwell at point-blank range. Fortunately for Calwell, the closed window deflected the bullet, which lodged harmlessly in his coat lapel, and he sustained only minor facial injuries from broken glass. Calwell later visited Kocan in the mental hospital (where he was confined for ten years), and through a regular correspondence encouraged his eventual rehabilitation.
Calwell after the shooting
Kocan is led away
- He was succeeded by Gough Whitlam, whose government was elected in 1972, the year that Calwell retired.
- He was frequently critical of Whitlam, especially since he knew that Whitlam intended abandoning the White Australia Policy, the policy that effectively barred people of non-European descent from immigrating to Australia. It was progressively dismantled between 1949 and 1973.
- The point has been made that until the 1950’s, most Australians supported the White Australia Policy, so that Calwell’s views were a reflection of society as a whole.
- Famously having said in parliament in 1947 that “Two Wongs don’t make a white”, he subsequently explained that his comment had been a play on words, being a reference to a Chinese resident called Wong who was wrongly threatened with deportation, and a Liberal MP, Sir Thomas White. The newspaper report had failed to capitalize the word “white” and the joke had therefore been transformed into a racist comment.
- Was Calwell racist? He admitted being proud of his white race but declared other races should be equally proud of their cultures. He opposed multiculturalism but learned Mandarin to converse with Asian residents and constituents.
- He also stated "If any people are homeless in Australia today, it is the Aboriginals, They are the only non-European descended people to whom we owe any debt. Some day, I hope, we will do justice to them."