The United States and Australia Compared
Monash Studies in Global Movements series
Edited by John Higley, John Nieuwenhuysen and Stine Neerup
Chapter 5: Border Control in Australia
Peter Mares INTRODUCTION For several years Border Security has rated among the top programmes on Australian television. The prime-time ‘docu-drama’ takes a fly-on-thewall look at the operations of Australia’s immigration and customs officials. It films in airport arrival halls and on coastal surveillance vessels. We see Latin American drug smugglers sweat as their imported souvenirs are tested for cocaine, elderly Asian migrants protest as their exotic foods are confiscated for quarantine reasons, forlorn Indonesian fishermen protest as Australian security officials burn their boats. The success of Border Security might seem odd in a country that has few undocumented migrants and low levels of unregulated border crossings, but its popularity is testament to a deeply entrenched Australian view that migration is acceptable as long as it is an orderly process tightly controlled by government. When this ‘culture of control’ (Cronin, 1993) comes under challenge, public anxiety about migration begins to rise. As former Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock argued in relation to the unauthorized arrival of asylum seekers by boat, if there is a perception that the orderly processes of migrant selection and arrival are being undermined, there is a risk of a public backlash against migration in general, which could encourage the rise of xenophobia (Mares, 2002, p.110). In the official mind at least, Australia’s ‘culture of control’ is not just about protecting the borders against human incursion, it is also about defending the public legitimacy of immigration against fickle public opinion. Unfortunately for government, recent challenges to the integrity of...
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