For example, it may be that discussion of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers in Asia are still framed by the country’s historical treatment of immigrants, presenting Australia as still being stuck in the conservative past. Discuss how the reporting of Australia situates Australia in the region and the implications of these representations of Australia in Asia. Australia have been in an on-going struggle to cope with an almost constant influx of asylum seekers, many originally from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq, who make their way to Australia by boat via Southeast Asia.
Australia is constantly in the spot light regarding its treatment of these aforementioned asylum seekers, with the media ever-questioning whether their complex array of policies are framed by the country’s historical treatment of immigrants, presenting Australia as still being stuck in the conservative past. Using examples from recent editions of the Jakarta Post, the largest English language newspaper in Indonesia, this essay will examine how Australia and the treatment of asylum seekers issue is being reported, how it situates Australia in the region and the implications of these representations of Australia in Asia.
Since Australia became a nation in 1901, a number of recurring themes have shaped the actions of generations of policymakers: as a creation of imperial Britain, Australia has always been a long way from ‘home’ and often painfully conscious of its isolation and potential vulnerability; “The sense of being strangers in a strange land, surrounded by peoples of whom they knew little other than that they were different, alien, and possibly hostile, shaped much of Australia’s early international relations,” (Beeson, 2001).
Asia was to play a pivotal role in shaping Australia’s future in that it provides immense new markets and unprecedented trading opportunities. However, Asia was seen as a threat with their overwhelming numbers. The developing racial prejudice was increasingly linked to economic concerns, with fear of Asian migrants taking work from Anglo-Australians and British Migrants. The white Australian policy, also known as the anti-Asian immigration policy, was Australia’s approach to immigration for the most part of the 20th century.
Over subsequent years, Australian governments gradually dismantled the policy with the final vestiges being removed in 1973 by the new labour government (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2012). Nevertheless, Australia has proved to be anything but consistent when it comes to its direction in foreign relations and policies, particularly the Asian-orientated ones.
On the one hand, Australia is trying to reposition itself in Asia as a friend, trader and security partner, with much reference to Asian countries as ‘neighbours’; “In framing the relationship with Asia in neighbourly terms it could appear that Australians had no thought of giving offense to people who were racially different,” (Walker 2002). And on the other hand, political leaders such as One Nation Party’s Pauline Hanson, mentioned in her maiden speech that she believes Australia is being “swamped by Asians” (New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board, 2003).
Unfortunately for those genuinely for ‘Asianization’, the white Australia policy has provided an ‘excruciatingly embarrassing legacy for subsequent generations of policymakers keen to embrace Asia, rather than keep it at arms-length’ (Beeson, 2001). The same applies to their treatment of asylum seekers. Former Prime Minister John Howard’s government introduced the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’ in response to the Tampa crisis in 2001 where hundreds of asylum seekers were stranded in international waters.
The policy enforced that the asylum seekers were to be transported to detention centres based on Christmas Island, Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, and on the tiny island nation of Nauru, while awaiting processing. However, the policy was dropped in 2007 with claims that it was cruel to make people wait for years to be processed. Regardless, the current Labour government under Julia Gillard has reintroduced much of the Pacific Solution in an attempt to try deterring people smuggling.
This issue too has historically-based representations of Australia as a culturally exceptionalist and racially-based society. As revealed by former Prime Minister John Howard, “if we throw up our hands and say we’re going to stop doing this, we’ll be saying to the world that anybody can come… And I promise you that would be a recipe for this country, to be – I don’t want to use the word ‘invaded’, it’s the wrong expression – but the shores of this country would be thick of asylum seeker boats, thick with asylum seeker boats,” (Klocker & Dunn, 2003).
Such inconsistencies have been damaging to Australia’s relationships with nations in the region, in particular with Indonesia as the examples of The Jakarta Post will emphasise. There has been a rapid decline in Australian-Indonesian relations since the Timor crisis in 1999 where Australia engaged in a humanitarian-led intervention which was believed to have only been done for economic and political gain (Ferguson, 2001). The Howard government in December 1999 for a time signalled that the East Timor peacekeeping operation indicated the strength of Australia in the region, and even suggested some kind of regional power role (Kelly 1999).
This not only caused resentment within Indonesia, but also sparked concerns within the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) group as a whole (Ferguson 2001). Australia’s policies have been deemed as having ‘lack of focus and direction’ with Australia being “caught between its history, economic interests and its geographic location and should be seen as in Asia but not of Asia” (Broinowski, 2001). As mentioned earlier, Australia is still dealing the overwhelming influx of asylum seekers, travelling by boat via Southeast Asia.
How they are handling it in terms of the welfare and future of the asylum seekers has been a “policy arena of some considerable media prominence” (Klocker and Dunn 2003). With the use of examples from recent editions from the Jakarta Post, it is clear that Australia is not favoured by its journalists. By law, Indonesia has press freedom; Article 4 of the 1999 Press Act states: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed as a basic right of the citizens … Toward the national press, there shall be no censorship, banning or broadcasting prohibition” (Basorie, 2012).
Their freedom is evident in the sheer brutality of the articles, with complete disregard of its ‘neighbour’. In Melanie Morrison’s article entitled ‘Time to rethink Australian policies’ released in May 2012, she sums up Australia’s history as “a complex web of policy failures, defective laws and cheap political rhetoric. ” The report focuses on how their “punitive policies” decided upon a “knee-jerk reaction” led to hundreds of Indonesian fisherman being jailed. She highlights the reality of how these men are from some of the poorest parts of Indonesia and are “economically far worse off that the people they re transporting” yet they are being punished harshly for it. She also gives voice and face to the experiences of the asylum seekers, to allow the refugees to be seen publically as individual people for whom audiences could have human sympathy. In another article by Bagus BT Saragih in June, he reports on how a people smuggling ringleader (Captain Emad) was taken into detention on Christmas Island and was given a protection visa and Australian residency only three months after his arrival.
This while (as of May) there were 56 Indonesians, including children, who were still in detention in Australia. According to Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, “if those who allegedly masterminded people smuggling were granted residency permits in Australia, while others who fell victim to such criminal acts have been detained, it really disappoints the Indonesian government. The logic is difficult to accept,” (Saragih 2012), suggesting there is simply no logic when it comes to making these decisions.
There are two articles written by Duncan Graham, who is actually Australian and, according to his blog, he has previously worked for Fairfax Press (The Age & Sydney Morning Herald), was an ABC TV and Channel 9 presenter and producer; an AAP stringer journalist and a Radio 6NR manager. For someone with so many ties to the Australian media, you would think he would have something pro-Australian to say. But, this is not the case.
In the first article entitled ‘Hundreds of lives perish while politicians bicker’, as the title suggests, he points fingers at both sides of the problem, saying the politicians of Australia and Southeast Asia have failed in not finding a solution to the issue of asylum seekers who are dying on their way to Australia. He bluntly mentions that “if the leaders were public servants, they’d be prosecuted for gross negligence. Because they are politicians, they blame others. He quotes former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, known for his immense support for multiculturalism, saying “our treatment of refugees, and the poisonous debate engaged in by our major political parties has done Australia much more harm throughout the region. ” In the second article, he discusses the, new ‘Australia by boat – No advantage! ’ videos on YouTube, the latest strategy in a complex series of policies rapidly introduced and passed in August by the Australian government. He begins by describing the stereotypical tourist advertisement, ‘showing majestic landscapes and fine shopping’ that say ‘please come…stay and enjoy our eautiful country’s advantages’. He then contrasts the starkly different message of the ‘No Advantage’ videos, 40-second clips pitched to the foreign asylum seekers in Indonesia keen to cross the Indian Ocean but facing tough new laws designed to swamp their plans. The videos state that there is no advantage in paying a people smuggler to travel to Australia, and informing that the Australian government is preparing to transfer asylum seekers who travel by boat to Nauru or Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. This includes people who arrive alone, in family groups, and children.
Cut with clips of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announcing the policy, the ad repeats the phrase ”no advantage” five times, just in case the viewers do not get the message. Graham concludes the article by saying “if you still like to visit the Great South Land and cuddle a koala, do not be deterred by all this negativity. Provided you have got cash for a holiday, a visa and intention to return home you are welcome. Just don’t come by boat. ” The last article sums up the general feeling regarding Australia’s policies, in that they are a joke and cannot be taken seriously.
Despite the harsh measures they have taken, it has not stopped asylum seekers from getting on those boats, risking their lives for a better one. Conversely, Broinowski (2001) points out that with all the discussion and critiques of Australia’s objectionable practice of ‘caging’ illegal immigrants for long periods while their cases are processed, no one bothers to mention a comparative, perhaps the current war crimes in Mali involving cruel punishments, such as amputations, the stoning to death of an unmarried couple, summary executions, recruitment of child soldiers, among others.
By considering only one perspective, these writers appear to make all other nations ‘do-gooders’ while Australia comes out as the only ‘no-gooder’. Nevertheless, it does not exclude the fact that Australia has a tarnished reputation in the region. According to Beeson, “by not having a clearly defined strategy for encouraging closer relationships with its neighbours, one which allows it to play a more effective and influential role in regional affairs, Australia may be increasingly marginalised from a region upon which its long-term military and economic security depends”.
It relation to its economic security in the era of globalisation, John Stone, former secretary to the Treasury and National Party senator, rightly said, “big business is again calling for an increase in our immigration program. It should understand that there can be no hope of that unless the policies of the past twenty years are fundamentally rethought,” (New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board, 2003). References Abolition of the ‘White Australia’ Policy. 2012. Australian Government. Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Retrieved on October 15, 2012 from http://www. immi. gov. u/media/fact-sheets/08abolition. htm Anti-Discrimination Board of New South Wales. (2003). Race for the Headlines: Racism and Media Discourse. Retrieved on October 10, 2012 from http://foreword. com. au/2011/10/eatock-v-bolt-the-delicate-balance-between-racial-tolerance-free-speech/ Basorie, W. 2012. Indonesia’s press is dangerously free. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved on October 17, 2012 from http://www. thejakartapost. com/news/2012/05/15/indonesia-s-press-dangerously-free. html Beeson, M. 2001. Australia and Asia: The Years of Living Aimlessly. Retrieved on 14 October, 2012, from http://espace. ibrary. uq. edu. au/eserv/UQ:10902/mb-aa-03. pdf Broinowski, A. 2001. About face: asian representations of Australia. Retrieved on 14 October, 2012, from https://digitalcollections. anu. edu. au/bitstream/1885/46227/6/02whole. pdf Ferguson, J. 2001. Nationalism and Identity: Indonesia, Australia and East Timor. Retrieved on October 17, 2012 from http://www. international-relations. com/wbip/wblec3. htm Graham, D. 2012. Get the message: No advantage! Right?. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved on October 14, 2012 from http://www. thejakartapost. com/news/2012/09/13/get-message-no-advantage-right-part-1-2. tml Graham, D. 2012. Hundreds of lives perish while politicians bicker. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved on October 14, 2012 from http://www. thejakartapost. com/news/2012/06/28/hundreds-lives-perish-while-politicians-bicker. html Kelly, P. 1999. Delusion of Grandeur. Weekend Australian, 11-12th December, p25. Khoo, O. 2006. Telling Stories: The Sacrificial Asian in Australian Cinema. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 27:1, pp. 45-63. Klocker, N. and Dunn, K. 2003. Who’s driving the asylum debate? Newspaper and government representations of asylum seekers. Retrieved on 14 October, 2012, from