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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1959.3/66331
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- Oblivious to the obvious? Australian asylum seeker policies and the use of the past
- Neumann, Klaus
- References to the past play a crucial role in the development of government policy. Those drafting a new policy often try to heed what they consider to be historical lessons. In order to construct such lessons, they might, for example, analyse the effectiveness of analogous previous policies. Contributors to public debates about government policy, be it within or outside the parliamentary arena, also regularly draw on the past in support or criticism of new initiatives. In discussions about new policies, however, relevant pasts tend to be invoked selectively. Occasionally, policy makers or contributors to public debate ignore historical policies and practices. Often they do so because they assume that the situation prompting the formulation of a new policy is unprecedented. Two instances of a highly selective remembering of precedents and relevant historical contexts are the subject of this chapter. My first case concerns the development of an Australian Government response to the anticipated arrival of Vietnamese ‘boat people’ in 1975; here, I am particularly concerned with the selective use of the past by policy makers. In the second case—a debate about a bill designed to prevent asylum-seekers from engaging Australia’s protection obligations—I am concerned mainly with the public use of the past by supporters and opponents of the proposed legislation. In the first case, policy makers ignored what appeared to be highly relevant historical precedents in their deliberations. In the second case, contributors to public debate invoked histories that were blatantly inaccurate. It is tempting simply to identify and highlight such omissions and errors in order to draw attention to inadequacies in the process of policy formulation, and to the shortcomings of particular political debates. As satisfying as such an approach might be, however, it would add little to our understanding of the political process. In the following, I demonstrate that the analysis of apparent failures to draw on the past could contribute to a better understanding of the role of histories in policy making and historical debate.
- Publication type
- Book chapter
- Research centre
- Swinburne University of Technology. Faculty of Life and Social Sciences. Institute for Social Research
- Does history matter? Making and debating citizenship, immigration and refugee policy in Australia and New Zealand / Klaus Neumann and Gwenda Tavan (eds.), Chapter 3, pp. 47-64
- Publication year
- ANU E-Press
- Publisher URL
- Copyright © 2009 ANU E-Press. Published version of this paper reproduced here in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher.