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Claire Higgins, Asylum by Boat

Asylum by Boat:
Origins of Australia's Refugee Policy

Is Asylum by Boat just another Fraser Hagiography?

Project SafeCom's Jack Smit casts a critial eye over a newly published book






Is Asylum by Boat just another Fraser Hagiography?

Reading Notes for Claire Higgins, (2017), Asylum by Boat: Origins of Australia's Refugee Policy (Sydney: UNSW Press).

These Reading Notes are my summarised findings around the question whether the book Asylum by Boat reinforces the romantic notion, now well established in Australia (see e.g. Cooke, 2015), that the Fraser government singularly and uncompromisingly complied with all of Australia's obligations under the UN Refugee Convention, and whether claims hold true that this period represented, as Robert Manne (2010) claims, "the halcyon years for boatpeople". Although these pages can be read as if they are, my notes are not a "book review", because I only highlight what I regard as the most controversial aspects of Fraser's 'boat people legacy', mostly in line with the pressure points explored in my previous research.

Primary Sources

The book was written following the author's Doctoral Thesis at University of Oxford (Higgins, 2013), but also with the support from, and in close collaboration with, the University of NSW Kaldor Centre for International Law. The author extensively uses several significant primary sources. Amongst them are:

  1. Nancy Viviani's comprehensive academic work on the Vietnamese refugee outflow and Australia's responses to those resettled - or not resettled - by the Fraser government. Viviani's work is now widely regarded as seminal and authoritative on this subject (e.g. Viviani, 1984, 1996; Viviani & Lawe-Davies, 1980).
  2. Work notes and meeting records by UNHCR's Legal Advisor to the Australian government during the Fraser years, Mr Guy Goodwin-Gill, noted for his major publication The Refugee in International Law (Goodwin-Gill & McAdam, 2007), a unique foundation work noted with acclaim around the world. This book was co-authored by Dr Jane McAdam of the Kaldor Centre.
  3. Many Commonwealth records from the Fraser, Hawke and Keating government period, including declassified Fraser government Cabinet records, accessed at Australian National Archives, Canberra. Personally of note are those I also used in my research: Submission No 2906, 23 Jan 1979 and Submission No 3200, 7 June 1979 (CofA, 1979a, 1979b).
  4. In addition to these central sources, several 'usual' academic works dealing with the subject matter within the relevant period and policy area were consulted; I used many of these same sources in my research: Jupp, Neumann, Crock, Betts etc. (Betts, 2001; Crock, 1993; Fraser & Simons, 2010; Grant, 1979; Hoang, 2011; Jupp, 2002; Jupp & Kabala, 1993; Lusher & Haslam, 2007; Manne, 2010; Mares, 2001; Marr & Wilkinson, 2004; Neumann, 2015; Schloenhardt, 2003; Stats, 2015; Tran, 1980).
  5. The author conducted research interviews with Malcolm Fraser, Former Prime Minister; Ian Macphee, Former Immigration Minister under Malcolm Fraser; Michael MacKellar, Former Immigration Minister under Fraser; John Menadue, Former Secretary of the Immigration Department; and Moss Cass, Labor opposition spokesman for Immigration during the Fraser years.
  6. In addition, some senior Immigration officers, employed during the Fraser years were interviewed; some continued to work in Immigration during the Keating & Hawke government years. These included Derek Volker, Assistant Secretary; Wayne Gibbons, who later became Deputy Secretary under Paul Keating's Immigration Minister Gerry Hand, and Stewart West, Immigration Minister during the Bob Hawke government.

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