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

3 Jan

January 8 2011: No Place for Sheep lodged a complaint with the Australian Press Council, claiming that Sheehan’s article breaches principles 1,2 3 and 6 of the Statement of Principles.

No Place for Sheep earlier sent the following letter to the Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald:

In the last paragraph of his article of January 4th, Mr Sheehan refers to “illegal boat arrivals” and arrivals “without proper papers.”

Will Mr Sheehan kindly explain his complete disregard for the Australian law that permits those seeking asylum to arrive in any manner, and without documentation?

It used to be that journalists were required to get their facts right.
This would seem to be an example of either woeful ignorance on the part of Mr Sheehan, or deliberate obfuscation in order to promote political propaganda.
Would the SMH please explain Sheehan’s campaign of disinformation?
This was not published.


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.

In fact, Australia revisited our agreement to the original Convention and subsequent updates and additions as recently as 2008, so the Convention has not exactly languished unexamined for almost sixty years.

There may well be reasons why the Convention needs re-assessment. However, until such time as it is revisited, the facts remain that Australia did not add a rider to the Convention limiting the manner in which asylum seekers could arrive in this country. Australia did not specify that those seeking asylum must have a certain amount of money, or no money. Australia did not say we would accept asylum seekers only from specific countries. Australia did not add a clause specifying only people in queues.

At the heart of “Stop the Boats” is a profound dishonesty and immorality. Those promoting this position are making a mockery of UN Conventions, and domestic law.

They are advocating the behaviours and attitudes of a rogue state, while in an act of two-faced political bastardry, continuing to apparently support the principles of the Convention, by virtue of making no move to withdraw from it or change it.

If we don’t intend to abide by our obligations we should withdraw from the Convention, and change domestic law. As it is, we are inviting asylum seekers to seek sanctuary in Australia, then incarcerating, criminalizing or refusing them entry when they accept our invitation.

We are subjecting them to indefinite mandatory detention when they have done nothing more than recognize Australia as a democratic country that has signed the Refugee Convention, and therefore as a safe place for them to seek asylum.

This is a despicable act of duplicity, of which our nation should be thoroughly ashamed.

On December 6 2010, Amnesty International launched a campaign they titled Stopping the spin on “the boats.” Amnesty’s research found that hostility towards asylum seekers originates not in racism, but is primarily caused by myths and misinformation, for example their portrayal by politicians and some mainstream commentators as “illegals without papers.” This framing implies to the community that boat arrivals are committing a criminal act by attempting to force their way into the country ahead of a mythical queue comprised of those who do not arrive by boat. This offends a strong community sense of the fair go, and provokes antipathy and outrage, and is entirely inaccurate.

It’s a brilliant example of the power of propaganda when applied by both politicians and colluding media.

In November last year, a High Court ruling put all asylum seekers on an equal footing under Australian law, regardless of their mode of travel. (Sydney Morning Herald November 11 2010. Court casts doubt over legality of processing off-shore asylum seekers.) In spite of this re-affirmation of our domestic law by the High Court, Abbott and many media commentators still continue to use the term “illegals.”

Assertions that asylum seekers want to come here because they know they will receive welfare payments etc makes little psychological sense. 

People with the drive, ingenuity and courage to undertake journeys such as theirs, are not usually people who easily accept welfare as a life-style.

However, when people with these strengths are incarcerated for indefinite periods and/or issued with temporary protection visas (TPVs) whose long term uncertainty has alarming effects on their well being, they are damaged in ways they have not been damaged in the countries they fled, and may well be much reduced in their extraordinary strengths, and their will to survive and prosper. Their spirits can be broken.

Australian governments manage to achieve what the Taliban could not.

As a nation, we cannot continue to behave in this duplicitous manner, giving lie to the international commitments we voluntarily undertake, as well as to our own domestic laws.

Politicians must be forced to acknowledge our international responsibilities, along with our domestic laws and concerns. Politicians must not be allowed to toss our international obligations, and our corresponding domestic laws out the window, in order to win an election.

Whenever one of them starts up about stopping the boats, somebody needs to ask, what about the Refugee Convention we’ve signed? What about our own laws?

When will the mainstream media abandon its role of political apologist, and ask these questions?

Bush, Blair and Howard ignored the UN and its weapons inspectors, and took us to war in Iraq. It isn’t difficult to ignore the UN, very little if anything happens as a consequence.

But is that the point? Isn’t the point rather about being a country that cares about the morality and ethics of its way of being in the world? A country with the common decency to abide by its commitments?

Does our word as a country mean so piteously little that we are under no compunction to abide by it?

Are we happy to be a country whose signature on an international UN Convention is worth less than the paper it’s written on?

The questions need to be asked of all politicians engaging in the refugee debate. We should be demanding straight answers, and refusing to accept this ongoing campaign of disinformation.

Asylum seekers are not the problem, but they are an easy target.  The real problem is politicians with no moral compass, and not much interest in anything more than winning the next election.

The problem is politicians who have decided to exploit asylum seekers, even to their deaths, for their own political gain.

The problem is a tame media, who lack the courage to confront political inaccuracies and lies.

We have a responsibility to instigate a reassessment of the Convention if it is no longer to our liking. Until then, we are obliged to fulfill our commitments. Just as with any domestic law, we cannot decide to ignore it because it no longer seems appropriate.

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

  1. gerard oosterman January 4, 2011 at 2:18 am #

    Quote:At the heart of “Stop the Boats” is a profound dishonesty and immorality. Those promoting this position are making a mockery of UN Conventions, and domestic law. Unquote

    Historically though, Australia always have managed a rather unfriendly attitude towards all outsiders.
    The White Australian policy lingered on till the seventies. Children exported from England also into the seventies were put to work and abused. My own family’s arrival back in the fifties was hardly friendly. Whatever help was available, it was done grudgingly. The Nissan huts and maggots infected food was common on arrival for hundreds of thousands of migrants. The army was called in at Bonegilla camp to quell unrest after the suicide of 3 migrant youths.
    Perhaps, those first arrivals, chained to decks and fed gruel never forgave their captors. We often give what was given to us.


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