The experience of walking the security perimeter of the G20 is not without an acute sense of irony. With our footsteps around and around the newly created border around the Brisbane CBD, those of us participating in the Walking Borders project are speaking to the power of the line, and the authority that keeps that line intact. We are questioning the word “democracy”. One has the sense, from the media, that participating in the G20 is to be a member of something important. Brisbane is certainly wearing the hosting of the G20 like a badge of honour. Yet, through it, I have become an interloper in my own city. Allowed in some spaces, not allowed into others. In this parallel universe I have become the “them” in the “us”, possibly for the first time. The G20 has given birth to a line, where once there was none, a border that we now trace with our feet and with the fragile line of white paper boats that we lay. The police presence is tangible and multimodal. Inorganic and unyielding man-made figures in the form of plastic barricades shout No Entry!, their solid forms contrasting the tenuous sounds of sirens and helicopters that occasionally penetrate the haze coming off the Brisbane summer street where we walk. The sirens and the helicopters are murmuring to us about important business going on, business that we are not privy to. This, I realise, is the business of borders. Blue-suited bodies, flesh and blood, stand on corners, while mobile packs of blue-suited bodies on bikes whizz eerily through emptied streets, cutting even more surreal lines across my sense of place. Stepping one foot in front of the other and sinking into that deep thinking-feeling space, the experience teaches me that there are three important ingredients to creating the borders that many Australians feel we need so badly: First, is the hand that draws the line and then comes the line itself. Today, I have become the third essential component, the space on either side. Step by step in the heat, I explore the significance of authority, loss of control, and who gets to stand on one side of the line or the other. This is the G20, a microcosmic reflection of what is happening at the outer edges of the Australian border, not so far from here.


On the national stage, the “protection” of Australian maritime borders[1] from Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMA’s)[2] has been an ongoing feature of political discourse, rhetoric, and strategy across both Labor and Coalition-led governments for some time[3], setting the scene for gradual but nevertheless significant shifts in legislation designed to support (legal) actions that might be taken to “keep them [asylum seekers] out”[4]. In the last Australian election in 2013, asylum seekers were reported as being the second most important issue behind the economy, for voters of all political persuasions, but particularly those with more polarized political ideologies, that is, the far left and far right[5]. Moving beyond the nation’s borders, the question of asylum seekers arriving on boats has also been a critical and strategic driver in the development of Australian influence in the Asia Pacific Region[6].

Located within increasingly problematic movements of refugees on a global scale[7], this social issue is one which has (d)evolved in such a way that the discursive framing of “boat people” has now become less a marker of humanitarian values and more a political barometer of the Australian government’s capacity to lead effectively[8]. It seems that in the Australian political sphere, a strong need has emerged to take a ‘tough stand’, which is often reflected in language that positions asylum seekers as ‘deviants’ and ‘criminals’[9]. Also integral to this discursive construction of “boat people” are “people smugglers”, and Australia’s self-imposed “morally legitimate”[10] role as protector to individuals and families who succumb to the dishonesty of smugglers and who ultimately end up risking their lives in making the journey[11].

Using rhetoric that is strongly infused with notions of criminal justice, a punitive[12] governmental response has been progressively enacted over the years to deter irregular asylum seekers[13]. The problematic nature of this rhetoric is perhaps best understood when framed by the line that was drawn in the sand on January 1, 2014 in response to a spike in numbers of arrivals in 2012[14]. This date symbolises a clear shift in government efforts to normalize the enforced exclusion of all asylum seekers arriving by boat. By applying the principle of “no advantage”, all boat arrivals prior to this date were placed on a waiting list to apply for either a three-year Temporary Protection Visa (TPV), or a five-year Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV)[15]. Asylum seekers who are determined not to be genuine refugees are repatriated[16]. The principle of “no advantage” was designed to deter asylum seekers by threatening the loss of any temporal or financial benefit from arriving “illegally” as opposed to through more legitimate immigration pathways[17]. Using offshore detention centers as holding spaces, “no advantage” in fact translates to an indefinite limbo, where already traumatized people are only given limited access to legal support, media and “civil society”[18]. Government policy thus acts to deter asylum seekers with the prospect of disadvantage, regardless of the authenticity of the individual’s claim to refugee status[19].

The truly shocking part of this is that whilst people arriving before January 1st 2014 had some possibility of eventual resettlement in Australia, since this date, the Australian government has implemented a strict “No Way” policy that is enforced militarily through Operation Sovereign Borders, whereby without exception, “…if people try to come to Australia illegally by boat, there is no way they will ever make Australia home. The way to Australia is closed”[20]. Besides being aimed at minimizing potential terrorist threats[21], the official rationale for this inarguably hardline and anti-humanitarian approach is that the removal of the right to resettle or find permanent residence in Australia will reduce the number of future arrivals, thus allowing the Australian government to wage war on “people smugglers”[22] and prevent the loss of life[23]. Whilst finding a degree of favor within certain segments of the Australian population, this strategy has also been argued by some as “…providing punitive and discredited deterrent measures with a pseudo-humanitarian gloss”[24].

Attempting to unpack public response to government policy on asylum seekers is a causal dilemma, complicated by the fact that, as members of the public do not generally have face-to-face contact with refugees, it is the responsibility of the media to mediate and propagate relevant public discourse in this area[25], leaving a very complex issue open to reductive and problematic representations. Does the Australian government take action in light of public opinions relating to asylum seekers who arrive by boat, or is it a case of top-down discourse that influences public opinion? McMaster (2002) discusses asylum seekers by way of a sociocultural paradox, juxtaposing Australia’s multicultural self-imposed reputation against a history of intolerance, most famously exemplified in the White Australia Policy and more recently in the detention of refugees. Underpinning this paradoxical approach is a longstanding fear of invasion[26], referred to by McMaster as “the fear of the floodgate”[27]. More specifically, researchers have argued that negative attitudes towards asylum seekers stem from concerns relating to citizenship and economic security[28], a threat to Australian sovereignty[29], or, worse, the threat of increased criminal deviance[30]. Government policies attempts to “protect” Australia’s sovereign borders are thus an example of politicians playing “…to the darkest fears in the Australian psyche”[31].

In 1996, political wildcard Pauline Hanson famously articulated this fear in her maiden speech to parliament, where she argued, “…if I can invite who I want into my home, then I should have the right to have a say in who comes into my country”. Five years later, then Prime Minister John Howard’s federal election speech was similarly “uncompromising” in terms of the view that Australians have the “fundamental right…to protect its’ borders”, arguing that it was the public who would “…decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”. In the face of federal government statist policy, growing numbers of Australians, activists, religious leaders, union leaders, medical professionals, teachers, celebrities and politicians have subsequently demonstrated their outrage at how these practices cause harm to vulnerable lives. To date, more than 100 submissions have been made by various individuals and organisations to the Parliament of Australia for inquiry into various aspects of the offshore regional processing of asylum seekers (Parliament of Australia, 2016a). Concerns have also been raised by a number of organisations such as The Australian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, The United nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Law Centre, to name but a few (Parliament of Australia, 2016b).

And you, do you feel like any of this is wrong?


[1] Customs and Border Protection (CBP) manages an area of approximately 36,000 km of coastline and the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone (Pickering, 2014, p.191.

[2] Terminology used on the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection website (, 2016)

[3] Grewcock, 2014a,b; Pickering, 2014; Pickering & Weber, 2014.

[4] Every & Augoustinos, 2008a, p.565; Every & Augoustinos, 2008b

[5] ABC, 2013

[6] Grewcock, 2014a, p.74

[7] Devetak, 2004; Christie & Sidhu, 2006

[8] Pickering & Weber, 2014, p.1008

[9] Devetak, 2004, p.105

[10] Pickering & Weber, 2014, p.1009; see also Phillips, 2009 for a discussion on the “…(gendered) war to secure the nation-state’s borders.

[11] Grewcock, 2014b; Pickering & Weber, 2014, p.1009; Christie & Sidhu, 2006

[12] Glendenning, 2015.

[13] Pickering, 2014.

[14] Approximately 44,250 asylum seekers arrived by boat in the period between September 1 2008 and June 30      2013, with a peak in 2012, when 17,202 refugees were reported to have arrived on 278 boats (Grewcock, 2014a,b).

[15]*, 2016

[16] Christie & Sidhu, 2006

[17] Grewcock, 2014b

[18] Grewcock, 2014b, p.112; Pickering & Weber, 2014; Christie & Sidhu, 2006

[19] Veracini, 2013.



[22] Grewcock, 2014a

[23] Pickering & Weber, 2014.

[24] Grewcock, 2014b.

[25] Saxton, 2003

[26] Clyne, 2005;Glendenning, 2015.

[27] McMaster, 2002, p.284.

[28] Spinney & Nethery, 2013.

[29] Clyne, 2005.

[30] Cameron, 2013; Clyne, 2005

[31] McMaster, 2002, p.288; Every & Augoustinos, 2008.



Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). (2013). Vote Compass: The most important issues to voters. Retrieved from on 1st February, 2016.

Australian Government: Department of Immigration and Border Protection. (2016). Retrieved from

Cameron, M. (2013). From “Queue Jumpers” to “Absolute Scum of the Earth”: Refugee and Organised Criminal Deviance in Australian Asylum Policy. Australian Journal of Politics and History, 59(2), 241-259.

Christie, P., & Sidhu, R. (2006). Governmentality and ‘fearless speech’: framing the education of asylum seeker and refugee children in Australia. Oxford Review of Education, 32(4), 449-465.

Clyne, M. (2005). The use of exclusionary language to manipulate opinion. John Howard, asylum seekers and the reemergence of political incorrectness in Australia. Journal of Language and Politics, 4(2), 173-196.

Devetak, R. (2004). In fear of refugees: the politics of Border Protection in Australia. The International Journal of Human Rights, 8(1), 101-109.

Every, D., & Augoustinos, M. (2008a). Constructions of Australia in pro- and anti-asylum seeker political discourse. Nations and Nationalism, 14(3), 562-580.

Every, D., & Augoustinos, M. (2008b). “Taking advantage” or fleeing persecution? Opposing accounts of asylum seeking. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 12(5), 648-667.

Gilchrist, M. (2013). A Personal Reflection on the Recent Australian Discourse on Asylum Seekers. Social Alternatives, 32(3), 48-50.

Glendenning, P. (2015). Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Human Dignity. Social Alternatives, 34(1), 27-33.

Grewcock, M. (2014a). Australian border policing: regional ‘solutions’ and neocolonialism. Institute of Race Relations, 55(3), 71-78.

Grewcock, M. (2014b). Back to the future: Australian border policing under Labor, 2007-2013. State Crime, 3.1, 102-125.

McMaster, D. (2002). Asylum-seekers and the insecurity of a nation. Australian Journal of International Affairs, 56(2), 279-290.

Phillips, K. (2009). Interventions, interceptions, separations: Australia’s biopolitical war at the borders and the gendering of bare life. Social Identities, 15(1), 131-147.

Pickering, S. (2014). Floating carceral spaces: Border enforcement and gender on the high seas. Punishment & Society, 16(2), 187-205.

Pickering, S., & Weber, L. (2014). New Deterrence Scripts in Australia’s Rejuvenated Offshore Detention Regime for Asylum Seekers. Law & Social Inquiry, 39(4), 1006-1026.

Saxton, A. (2003). ‘I certainly don’t want people like that here’: The discursive construction of asylum seekers. Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy, 109.1, 109-120.

Spinney, A., & Nethery, A. (2013). ‘Taking our Houses’: Perceptions of the Impact of Asylum Seekers, Refugees and New Migrants on Housing Assistance in Melbourne. Social Policy & Society, 12(2), 179-189.

Veracini, L. (2013). Why Settler Australia Needs Refugees. Arena Magazine, Issue 125.



2 thoughts

  1. Tema controvertido y complicado. Ahora vivimos en Europa el tema de los refugiados de Oriente Medio con idéntica variedad de criterios. Olvidamos que las migraciones han existeido, existen y existirán siempre por muchos y diferentes motivos. ¿Cómo llegaron los primeros blancos a Australia?. ¿Quién nos otorga el derecho de salvar o condenar vidas?.


    • si, son preguntas muy relevantes carlos- gracias por el comentario. en australia existe mucha histeria con este tema- creo que esa histeria viene del hecho de que nosotros mismos estamos viviendo en tierra robada. nosotros mismos somos los invasores, asique es precisamente eso que vemos reflejado en el “otro”. tengo mucho interes (y miedo) en lo que esta pasando en europa…que sera, sera……… besito, cate.


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