'Boat People' and Discursive Bordering: Australian Parliamentary Discourses on Asylum Seekers, 1977-2013





Australian parliament, asylum seekers, ‘boat people’, discourse analysis, borders


This article draws upon content analysis of Australian parliamentary transcripts to examine debates about asylum seekers who arrived by boat in three historical periods: 1977–1979, 1999–2001, and 2011–2013. We analyze term frequency and co-occurrence to identify patterns in specific usage of the phrase “boat people.” We then identify how the term is variously deployed in Parliament and discuss the relationship between these uses and government policy and practice. We conclude that forms of “discursive bordering” have amplified representations of asylum seekers as security threats to be controlled within and outside Australia’s sovereign territory. The scope of policy or legislative responses to boat arrivals is limited by a poverty of political language, thus corroborating recent conceptual arguments about the securitization and extra-territorialization of the contemporary border.

Author Biographies

John van Kooy, Monash University

John van Kooy is a researcher and PhD candidate at Monash University. He can be reached at john.vankooy@monash.edu.

Liam Magee, Western Sydney University

Liam Magee is an associate professor at Western Sydney Uni- versity. He can be reached at l.magee@westernsydney.edu.au.

Shanthi Robertson, Western Sydney University

Shanthi Robertson is an associate professor at Western Sydney University. She can be reached at s.robertson@westernsydney. edu.au.


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How to Cite

van Kooy, J., Magee, L., & Robertson, S. (2021). ’Boat People’ and Discursive Bordering: Australian Parliamentary Discourses on Asylum Seekers, 1977-2013. Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 37(1), 13–26. https://doi.org/10.25071/1920-7336.40661