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The propaganda and collusion at the heart of “Stop the boats.”

By Jennifer Wilson - posted Wednesday, 12 January 2011

In the Brisbane Courier Mail on December 20 2010, Opposition leader Tony Abbott called for:

an "urgent" return to temporary protection visas, the reopening of the Nauru detention centre and turning the boats around.

"We stopped the boats before, we can stop the boats again if we put the right policies in place," he said.

It’s not clear just where Abbott intends to “stop the boats” and “turn them around.” Presumably before they enter Australian waters. Nobody has yet requested that the Opposition Leader clarify his proposals.


Will he use the navy, and will they fire on vessels that disregard instructions, risking death and injury to asylum seekers and their children? In international waters?

Will he kill and maim them rather than let them apply for asylum?

Why is nobody in the mainstream media asking him these questions?

Instead, on January 4 2011, Sydney Morning Herald senior journalist Paul Sheehan yet again resorts to using the completely wrong term “illegal boat arrivals” and yet again makes the completely irrelevant characterisation of boat arrivals as people “without proper papers.”

The Coalition mantra of “Stop the Boats” disregards Australia’s international obligations, incurred as a consequence of signing the UNHCR 1951 Refugee Convention. Asylum seekers who arrive by boat, even without papers, are entitled to apply for refugee status in Australia, according to both our domestic and international law.

For the last few years, politicians from both major parties have sought to find ways around our obligations to those seeking asylum, rather than ways to responsibly fulfill our undertakings.


One of the major tactics used is the propagandist description of boat arrivals as “illegal”. The mainstream media in general support and promote this propaganda. The justification is that boat arrivals have breached our sovereignty, and our right to protect our borders.

What’s not acknowledged is our domestic and international legal obligation to accept asylum seekers no matter how they arrive. Those seeking asylum are not illegal immigrants breaching border security. Their pursuit of asylum legally removes them from that category.

In July 2010 both Adrienne Millbank of the Age and Greg Sheridan of the Australian, launched calls in their respective newspapers for Australia to withdraw from the Refugee Convention, claiming that 1951 Convention is no longer appropriate for world conditions. These calls continue in the blogosphere, and in the mainstream press.

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This article first appeared on the author’s blog No Place for Sheep.

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About the Author

Dr Jennifer Wilson worked with adult survivors of child abuse for 20 years. On leaving clinical practice she returned to academia, where she taught critical theory and creative writing, and pursued her interest in human rights, popular cultural representations of death and dying, and forgiveness. Dr Wilson has presented papers on human rights and other issues at Oxford, Barcelona, and East London Universities, as well as at several international human rights conferences. Her academic work has been published in national and international journals. Her fiction has also appeared in several anthologies. She is currently working on a secular exploration of forgiveness, and a collection of essays. She blogs at

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