Daily Archives: August 25, 2015

‘Across the Seas: Australia’s Response to Refugees. A History’ by Klaus Neumann


2015, 300 p. plus notes

There’s often a frisson of  defiance among non-Coalition voters when singing  the second verse of our national anthem, the dreadful ‘Advance Australia Fair’.  Irony of ironies, in our national anthem, we declare

For those who’ve coming across the seas

We’ve boundless plains to share

knowing full well that Australia currently funds off-shore detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island  that were deliberately designed to ensure that those who come across the seas do not (by ‘hook or by crook’) share in our boundless plains.

In the introduction to his book, Neumann declares his intention to make the present appear unfamiliar, by drawing attention to both radical differences in Australia’s refugee policy in the past, and at the same time, to identify continuities and parallels in past and present policies.  His account is chronological, commencing with Federation in 1901 and concluding in 1977.  Why 1977? Because it was then, he argues, that the public response to refugees to which we are now accustomed had been fully formed.  I finished reading this book, having read the obituary to Fraser govt Immigration Minister Michael MacKellar that very morning, and Neumann has convinced me that his endpoint of 1977 is an appropriate one.

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