The Production of Sovereignty and the Rise of Transversal Policing: People-Smuggling and Federal Policing

By Pickering, Sharon | Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, December 2004 | Go to article overview

The Production of Sovereignty and the Rise of Transversal Policing: People-Smuggling and Federal Policing


Pickering, Sharon, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology


Border-policing has been the subject of increasing criminological concern in the US and Europe: however, it has garnered relatively little attention in Australia. This article addresses the federal border-policing effort that has contributed to policing out the refugee. It has done so through a focus on people-smuggling that has increasingly relied on public debate depicting people-smuggling as a matter of national security. The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has made significant contributions to debates that have considered people-smuggling a matter for law enforcement. This article argues that through an analysis of AFP reports we can trace how they have contributed to the construction of the people-smuggling problem. In drawing on international-relations theory, notably concepts of statecraft and transversality, the article concludes that the AFP has made a central contribution to a wider attack on refugee protection with far-reaching consequences for the nature of federal law enforcement.

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   Migrations do not assume the form of invasions; they did not in
   the nineteenth century when border controls were minimal or
   nonexistent, and they do not today ... If we can accept that
   migration is not simply an aggregation of individual decisions,
   but a process patterned and shaped by existing politico-economic
   systems, then the question of control and regulation becomes more
   manageable (Sassen, 1999, p. 56).

In the past decade, people-smuggling has come to dominate discussions regarding the assumed need to police Australia's northern border. Initially this task fell to the military, primarily the Royal Australian Navy. Increasingly it has become a task for the AFP. It is a task not carried out on the border of the rolling seas but within Australia and within other nations, notably Indonesia and refugee-producing nations. Even more than the US/Mexico border, the Australian border is truly a borderland where drawing cartographic lines on the sea seems futile as waves crash over and fishing boats traverse the Torres Strait on a daily basis and the policing apparatus comes to operate as much from within other nations as within the nation that empowers it. However, we are yet to criminologically ask how such a borderland, such a version of the sovereign state, is produced and policed by federal policing? This paper will address this question by examining how the AFP has shaped public discourse around people-smuggling.

Sovereignty, Borders, Statecraft

The key literatures I bring to bear on this examination of federal border-policing come from the interdisciplinary study of borders, sovereignty and statecraft. Sassen suggests there is a growing convergence in the rooting of immigration policies within a shared understanding of national borders and the role of the state that includes:

   (1) the sovereignty of the state and border control as the heart of
   the regulatory effort (whether on land or at airports or consulates
   in sending countries); and (2) an understanding of immigration as
   the consequence of emigrants' individual actions (the receiving
   country is taken as a passive agent, one not implicated in the
   process). Refugee policy, in contrast recognizes additional factors
   as leading to outflows. The framework for immigration singles out
   the border and the individual as the sites for regulatory
   enforcement (Sassen, 1996, p. 69).

In the case of Australia, refugee policy is no longer a buffer for the refugee against the regulatory effort meted out against unauthorised immigration. The border-policing effort is played out upon human bodies in spite of potential claims for refugee status. How this is legitimated by the individual and collective agents of the state grants insight into how practices of statecraft occur through the border-policing function.

The performance of modern statecraft is often understood as constituted by a series of state practices (primarily through the use of state power, institutions and representatives) to enact and enforce state boundaries that are central to the performance of state sovereignty (Devetak, 1995, 2001; Doty, 1996). …

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