A Fair Queue? Australian Public Discourse on Refugees and Immigration

Article excerpt

The term 'queue-jumpers' and variations on this theme have been widely applied in recent months in Australian public discourse, especially since the commencement of the so-called 'Tampa crisis' on 27 August 2001, when a boat carrying 438 unauthorised arrivals heading for Australia sank in international waters in the vicinity of Christmas Island. (1) This paper analyses this discourse in three components. First, I will identify the use of the queue analogy within contemporary Australian public discourse. I will consider definitional and historical uses of the term 'queue', and explore the implicit themes embedded in the meaning of queues, with a view to identifying an established word-use. Finally, I will examine elements of refugee immigration policy in Australia to establish whether this policy conforms to the characteristics and thematic underpinnings of a queue as defined earlier. The focus of this paper will be on the use of the terms 'queue' and 'queue-jumpers' in Australia between 26 August and December 2001, during and immediately after the Tampa crisis. Restricting the word-use to this specific timeframe enables a coherent analysis of immigration policies, procedures and outcomes within a rapidly changing policy area.

Contemporary Australian Public Discourse

Recently, the use of the queue analogy and synonymous terms has become ubiquitous in several fora. In the case of public discussion on regular radio talkback shows, for example, on 27 August John Laws on 2UE spoke to a caller who referred to unauthorised arrivals as 'backdoor people'. Laws responded by referring to them as 'gatecrashers'. (2) On 28 August Mike Carlton on 2UE spoke to a caller who raised the issue of 'correct procedures' for immigration twice within a two-minute call and, in an obvious reference to the notion of a queue, asked: 'If you were in a parking lot waiting for a parking spot and somebody pushes [sic] in, how do you feel?'. (3) On 31 August Kerri-Anne Kennerley on 2GB spoke to another caller who used the term 'queue-jumping' twice within a two-minute telephone conversation. (4) Also on 31 August Richard Glover on ABC's 2BL radio program spoke to a caller who opined that 'these new arrivals are just jumping the queue'. (5) On 3 September Alan Jones on 2UE said of asylum-seekers who had tried to come to Australia via Indonesia that 'as soon as they left Indonesia they were queue-jumpers'. (6) On 4 September he again used the term 'queue-jumpers'. (7)

Similarly, the queue analogy has been evident in the parliamentary arena. On 23 August 2001 the House of Representatives discussed the Migration Legislation Amendment (Immigration Detainees) Bill (No 2) 2001, which strengthened the ability of Australian officials to respond to the escape of detainees, and the use or manufacture of weapons by detainees. During debate National Party MP De-Anne Kelly referred to unauthorised arrivals as people 'trying to migrate to Australia by queue-jumping'. (8) During federal parliamentary debate on 29 August on the Border Protection Bill 2001, which would have retrospectively sanctioned the Australian government's treatment of the Tampa crisis and permitted the Australian navy to tow a ship carrying unauthorised arrivals out of Australian waters and into international waters, Labor senator Robert Ray reaffirmed the notion of a queue by suggesting that the Labor Opposition wanted to 'build an orderly refugee program, and ... allow people to queue orderly [sic]'. (9)

The use of the analogy has been evident in the print media also. On 20 November in a letter to the editor in the Australian newspaper, Gavan Breen referred to the 'queue whose jumpers the Minister [for Immigration] likes to talk about'. (10) On 2 December an article in the Sun Herald was titled, 'More boat people jump the queue'. (11)

Although the term queue has become ubiquitous in contemporary discourse, this is far from the first time the term has been used in the context of Australian immigration policy. …