Official Channels or Public Action: Refugees in Australia
The release of the so-called Palmer Report, Inquiry into the Circumstances of the Immigration Detention of Cornelia Rau, again placed the Australian Government’s policies on immigration in the media. As with previous controversies over these policies, such as the ‘children-overboard’ incident, an inquiry was launched. This was seen by many refugee and mental illness advocates as an opportunity to obtain a measure of truth and justice. Were their hopes realized, or has the government managed to reduce the outrage felt in the community over this incident? The backfire model provides a theoretical tool for analysing how groups with power and authority, such as governments and corporations, inhibit the formation of outrage within the community after an unjustified use of power. The backfire model can also be used by activists to develop methods to counter groups with power and authority. This model can be used to analyse the treatment of refugees and immigration detainees in Australia. One of the methods examine in the backfire model is official channels, which contrary to popular opinion can be used by the government to suppress outrage. The Senate Select Committee into a Certain Maritime Incident and the Palmer Inquiry are shown below as examples of official channels used by the government in this manner. Also analysed in this paper is the change to the composition of the Australian Senate, which has led to a situation where inquiries are now less likely to be a useful tool for activists in their campaign for just treatment of refugees. The importance of public action by refugee support movements is subsequently analysed, demonstrating the importance of popular movements in bringing about changes to the Australian government’s immigration policy.