publication . Article . 2006

Ethics and exclusion: representations of sovereignty in Australia’s approach to asylum-seekers

Katharine Gelber; Matt McDonald;
Open Access English
  • Published: 01 Apr 2006
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Country: United Kingdom
<jats:p>From 2001, the Australian government has justified a hard-line approach to asylum-seekers on the basis of the need to preserve its sovereignty. This article critically evaluates this justification, arguing that the conception of sovereignty as the ‘right to exclude’ involves a denial of responsibility to the most vulnerable in global politics. We particularly focus here on the ways in which the Australian government has attempted to create support for this conception of sovereignty and ethical responsibility at the domestic level, through marginalising alternative voices and emphasising the ‘otherness’ of asylum-seekers and refugees. We conclude by sugge...
free text keywords: JV, DU, Political Science and International Relations, Sociology and Political Science, Global politics, Law and economics, Global ethics, Government, Sovereignty, Argument, Law, Sociology, Refugee, Denial, media_common.quotation_subject, media_common, Ethical responsibility
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9 Such a conception is evident in a range of definitions of sovereignty in international relations, including negative (Jackson, Quasi States, pp. 27-9), external (Bull, The Anarchical Society, pp. 16-17), juridical (Samuel Makinda, 'The United Nations and State Sovereignty: Mechanisms for Managing International Security', Australian Journal of Political Science, 33:1 (1998), p. 104) or Westphalian sovereignty (Stephen Krasner, Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,1999), pp. 3-4).

10 Such a conception of sovereignty is particularly apparent in the work of proponents of humanitarian intervention. For example Wheeler, Saving Strangers; Alex J. Bellamy, 'Humanitarian Intervention and International Society', Review of International Studies, 29:3 (2003), pp. 321-40.

11 On this point, see Jens Bartelsen, A Genealogy of Sovereignty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

12 Norman Fairclough, Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language (London: Longman, 1995), p. 1.

13 On this point see R. B. J. Walker, Inside/Outside: International Relations as Political Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 159-83.

14 Wouter Werner and Jaap de Wilde, 'The Endurance of Sovereignty', European Journal of International Relations, 7:3 (2001), p. 302.

15 William Maley, for example, argues that when Australia acceded to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 'it relinquished as a sovereign act any absolute control over who could enter the country and under what circumstances'. William Maley, 'Asylum-Seekers in Australia's International Relations', Australian Journal of International Affairs, 57:1 (2003), p. 189.

16 M. Gibney, 'Liberal Democratic States and Responsibilities to Refugees', American Political Science Review, 93:1 (1999), p. 178.

17 On these points, see Don McMaster, 'Asylum-Seekers and the Insecurity of a Nation', Australian Journal of International Affairs, 56:2 (2002), pp. 279-90. The increase in suffering of asylum-seekers is particularly apparent in the context of the mental health implications of long periods in detention centres, particularly for children. On this point, see Mitchell Smith, 'Asylum-Seekers in Australia', Medical Journal of Australia, 175 (2001), pp. 587-9.

18 On this point, see Andrew Linklater, The Transformation of Political Community (Cambridge: Polity, 1998), p. 206). For a discussion of partial and impartial approaches to the obligations of liberal democratic states to refugees and asylum-seekers, see Gibney, 'Liberal Democratic States'.

19 On Australia's historical fear of (particularly Asian) immigration, see Don McMaster, Asylum Seekers: Australia's Response to Refugees (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2001).

20 Katharine Gelber, 'A Fair Queue? Australian Public Discourse on Refugees and Immigration', Journal of Australian Studies, 77 (2003), p. 29. [OpenAIRE]

21 Sophie Morris, 'New Bid to Repel Asylum Seekers', The Australian, 5 November 2003, pp. 1, 6.

22 This created a diplomatic furore, with an Indonesian Immigration Department spokesperson arguing that Australia was treating Indonesia like a 'trash bin'. Kimina Lyall; Sophie Morris and Marianne Kearney, 'Not Your Trash Bin', The Australian, 13 November 2003, p. 1. When parliament reconvened on 24 November the regulations were disallowed by the Senate: Mark Phillips, '4000 islands put back on the map', Herald-Sun, 25 November (2003), p. 2.

23 McMaster, Asylum Seekers, p. 67.

98 references, page 1 of 7
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