Asylum-seekers and the insecurity of a
This article is about insecurity: the insecurity brought about by fear of the ‘other’.
In Australian public policy this has been exempli ed by the reaction of the
Australian Government to the asylum-seekers who were rescued by the MS Tampa
in September 2001. Immigration and refugee policies have both been based on a
sense of insecurity.
A paradox exists in Australia. On one hand Australia has the reputation of a
tolerant multicultura l nation; indeed, a ne example of a successful immigrant
society. Australia made a large and constructive input into the formation of the
United Nations after World War II, and in many ways has been at the forefront of
international human rights diplomacy in more recent times. On the other hand
Australia has had highly controversial and racist policies such as the White
Australia policy and more recently, the mandatory detention of asylum-seekers;
both of which have violated the human rights treaties Australia fought so hard to
obtain. In focusing on the latter aspect of the paradox, this article will maintain that
a historical continuity connects the enactment of the White Australia policy at the
beginning of Federation to the uncompromising and draconian approach to Australian
refugee and detention policies at the centenary of Federation. Both re ect a
sense of insecurity that seems to be embedded in the Australian psyche.
At the beginning of 2001 Australia celebrated the centenary of Federation, a
milestone in nation and identity building, and an event to acknowledge, celebrate
and re ect upon. By the end of 2001, and after a series of events in which
asylum-seekers were refused the right to seek sanctuary on Australian soil, this
re ection resonated with the rhetoric and the fears that had existed in Australia at
the time of Federation.
Those fears gave rise to the White Australia policy, an intrinsic element of the...