The paper examines the class context of Australian mass immigration from southern Europe, particularly from southern Italy, in the late forties and early fifties. I argue that economic and political considerations were primary in the minds of the industrialists (especially from the automotive and iron and steel sectors), politicians and senior public servants who developed policy on the size and composition of mass immigration at the time. These considerations included the desire to overcome chronic labour shortages through the importation of what was commonly considered to be ‘docile’ and ‘hard working’ labour. The industrialists who deeply influenced mass immigration policy were convinced that the mass immigration of southern Europeans (particularly southern Italians) would shift the balance of power between organised labour and capital further towards the latter. This created tensions within the councils of immigration policy development between the industrialists and those representing the trade unions. The role of the public service and of the Immigration Minister in quarantining the policy advice of the industrialists from excessive trade union intervention is also considered in this paper.