From “G’day mate, welcome!” to “Stop the Boats!”

… how Australia’s politicians have chosen to make strategic use of language to change the nation’s psyche from Humanity and Equanimity to Fear and Loathing


The Vietnam War and the ensuing increase in immigration came just as the last elements of the ‘White Australia Policy‘ had been removed from legislation. And when Malcolm Fraser took office he showed leadership in ‘encouraging the better angels of our nature’” (John Menadue, Former Immigration Dept Secretary) in response to those hoping to call Australia home.

From 1975 to 1982, some 200,000 migrants arrived from Asian countries, including nearly 56,000 Vietnamese people who applied as refugees. In addition, policies were put in place to grant entry to 2059 ‘boat people’ – refugees from Vietnam who arrived without documents or official permission after hazardous sea voyages to the northern coast of Australia. The immigration program focused on resettlement and multiculturalism. In 1978 the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs was created.

And Australia remains the richer for all of this.

The Governor of South Australia, Hieu Van Le, arrived in Darwin Harbour in a small fishing boat to be greeted by two men in a tinnie, one of whom who raised his stubby and shouted, “G’day, mate. Welcome to Australia!”

But …

From the time of the ‘The Tampa Affair‘ under John Howard, it has served politicians’ ambitions to change the welcome to vilification.

Stop the Boats” and “IMAs” (Illegal Maritime Arrivals) are careful not to have any reference to human beings. “Border Protection” and the “Australian Border Forcemake sure Australians feel threatened enough to have to rely on the government to be safe. The Department of Immigration has changed to the Department of Home Affairslooking inwards instead of looking out at the rewards new people bring. And the language is always about risk and terror and detention and removals and “a flood of illegal arrivals“. So when the main item on the Department of Home Affairs’ contact page is entitled “Report Something Suspicious, there’s no doubt where the government’s focus lies.

It’s well known that fear is a powerful tool in the hands (and mouths) of the ambitious. But does anyone ever question whether they, themselves, are victims of The Culture of FearNo one calls themselves a terrible driver, no one sees themselves as racist. And NO ONE would like to think they were able to be manipulated. By politicians of all peopleBut just maybe, though the most damaged people are clearly those fleeing their own nation’s horrors for a safe haven, all Australians might just be the victims of a few “public servants” who aspire to control more than they should ever be entrusted with.

The film, “Stop the Boats” is currently being screened around Australia (in Sydney on 16 April, in Brisbane Premiere on 18 April … with the film’s Facebook page providing information on any other upcoming viewing opportunities).
Anyone who DOESN’T think that the Australian psyche has been damaged by the language of the nation’s politicians in the 21st century might not lose anything by seeing the film or thinking a little more deeply about why Abbott, Turnbull, Dutton et al have been saying what they have, the way they haveand whether or not Aussies can still claim that it’s ‘unAustralian’ NOT to give people a ‘fair go‘ or to put children on an island in such conditions that they want to kill themselves.
Sadly, it’s beginning to seem very Australian to use language that destroys human beings and helps a few privileged men get very very powerful.

2 Replies to “From “G’day mate, welcome!” to “Stop the Boats!””

  1. You didn’t include the term I hate most “border protection”. What, we are vulnerable to a few poor people who reach our shores undocumented? We are SO WEAK we need to protect ourselves so cruelly?? Reminiscent of Hitler’s excuse for trying to exterminate Jews. Not as bad perhaps, but where does it stop?

  2. Hi Rae – couldn’t agree more about that vile phrase. If you check out the second para after the “But…” you’ll see a sentence that says:
    “Border Protection” and the “Australian Border Force” make sure Australians feel threatened enough to have to rely on the government to be safe.
    The regime of the Third Reich keeps springing alarmingly to mind with every new action (or inaction) undertaken by our “Home Affairs” Minister. Quite a few people don’t seem to realise that dreadful things go on while a large number people continue to live their relatively stable lives. It’s a relief to know that there are people like you who will say what needs to be said WHILE those dreadful things are happening. No one wants to be someone who has to look back from the future and say ‘I heard the stories but I didn’t do anything’. I hope more people will realise that these awful things are genuinely being done by our government NOW and speak out the way they all say they would have if they’d been in Germany under Hitler.

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