‘Stop the boats’: Sunak’s anti-asylum slogan echoes Australia’s harsh policy

Of note and a cautionary tale of simplistic slogans vs complex realities:

“Stop the boats.” The white-on-red slogan on Rishi Sunak’s podium on Tuesday was – word for word – the slogan used by Tony Abbott to win the Australian prime ministership a decade ago.

To Australian audiences, so much of the rhetoric emerging from the UK over its small boats policy is reminiscent of two decades of a toxic domestic debate.

A succession of Australian prime ministers have led the rhetorical charge against asylum seekers, insisting that their arrival is an issue of “national security” and “border protection”. They are “illegals”, “queue jumpers” and “terrorists”, Australians have been told, while people-smugglers are the “scum of the earth”.

That hostile and militarised language has held a potent place in the Australian political debate for 20 years. And the language is the fundamental basis of the policies that flow from it: of deterrence and forcible turnbacks, of “offshoring” and indefinite detention.

The rhetoric not only allows governments to create for asylum seekers a “hostile environment”, it compels it from them. This too has been copied in the UK straight from the Australian playbook.

Even many of the characters are the same. Alexander Downer, Australia’s former high commissioner to the UK, argued in the Daily Mail on Tuesday in support of immediate deportation and a lifetime ban from Britain for “anyone caught trying to enter Britain by a dangerous ‘irregular route’, such as a Channel crossing in a small boat”.

Downer was a foreign minister in the conservative government of John Howard that first implemented the “Pacific solution” of warehousing refugees on foreign islands.

The Tory strategist Sir Lynton Crosby was the federal director of Howard’s conservative Liberal party, overseeing his four successful election campaigns.

And Crosby’s protege Isaac Levido, later an adviser to Boris Johnson, was deputy campaign director for the Liberal party’s 2019 election campaign, bolstering the premiership of Scott Morrison, who came to prominence as the architect of the adamantine Operation Sovereign Borders, and who famously adorned his prime ministerial office with a trophy of a boat engraved “I stopped these”.

Source: ‘Stop the boats’: Sunak’s anti-asylum slogan echoes Australia’s harsh policy

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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