"These Few Small Boats": Representations of Asylum Seekers During Australia's 1977 and 2001 Elections
This paper compares the asylum-seeker discourses of prime minister Malcolm Fraser and his minister for immigration and ethnic affairs, Michael MacKellar, during Australia's 1977 federal election campaign, with those of prime minister John Howard and his minister for immigration and multicultural affairs, Philip Ruddock, during the much-analysed 2001 election campaign. It argues that in 1977 Fraser was not an outspoken advocate for asylum seekers as he was later in life, but that his silence-when considered in conjunction with MacKellar's emphatic and humanising statements-functioned to depoliticise boat arrivals and calm public concerns. Further, it demonstrates that the arguments prosecuted by the Howard government in 2001 were not new; similar arguments had been made in 1977 but were decisively rebutted by MacKellar at the time. This analysis ultimately suggests that while government discourses have the power to amplify the latent fears and hostilities that can lead to moral panics, they also have the capacity to defuse them.