Degree Name

Master of Arts


School of History and Politics - Faculty of Arts


The issue of asylum seekers was central to the 2001 Australian federal election campaign. Of several incidents involving asylum seekers during the campaign, two have become essential to the election narrative: the so-called children overboard and SIEV X incidents. Although both incidents involved asylum seekers, they were also quite different. During children overboard, the Government was very quick to inform the public of what occurred, although this was later proven wrong, whereas the Government did not wish to publicise the deaths of 353 asylum seekers onboard SIEV X. Most Australians are now well aware of the truth behind children overboard, but the controversy surrounding SIEV X is still relatively unknown. Both cases illustrate that the Australian Government was able to minimise public outrage over its actions - actions which, according to a number of people, should have caused mass outrage. The central aim of this thesis is therefore to analyse how the Government managed to prevent outrage over its actions. One method for analysing how those in power, such as governments, inhibit outrage is the backfire model. The backfire model builds on the concept of 'political jiu-jitsu' and classifies Government actions into five methods: cover-up; devaluation of the target; reinterpretation of the event; using official channels; and intimidation and bribery. Extensive evidence is presented showing that in both cases, children overboard and SIEV X, the Government implemented all five methods. Recognising when a government attempts to implement one of the methods allows activists to execute their own counter-strategies, and in doing so challenge the government's authority and bring about positive social change.

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