Sunday, 8 July 2018

The Abbott Government response to national security: proportionate or a moral panic?


The Abbott Government response to national security: proportionate or a moral panic?


Box, M. (2018). The Abbott Government response to national security: proportionate or a moral panic? Paper presented at the 2018 Federation University HDR Conference Ballarat. Retrieved from


It is a long tradition of the Hobbesian realist view of politics that the most important duty of a government is the ‘protection of their citizens’. Since 2001 the dominant mantra in Australian federal politics has been protection of the community from ‘illegal boat arrivals’ and terrorists. However, is the response proportionate and necessary to the risk posed or is it a moral panic?
Based upon the theory of moral panics and the nationalism perspectives of imagined communities and ethnic moralizers, this presentation explores the manner in which the Abbott Government (2013-2015) portrayed these issues. The words of the prime minister through transcripts and media releases published on his official web page at the time are analysed utilizing a discourse analysis model adapted from James Gee’s ‘Discourse analysis toolkit.’  It is concluded that although these issues were of significant national security concern the way they were handled constituted a moral panic.
 The importance of this research rests in the almost universal agreement of terrorism scholars that one of the aims of terrorism is to cause a government to over react and hence undermine its legitimacy. Descending into a moral panic based policy response would achieve such an aim resulting in ‘policy blowback’ consequently weakening rather than strengthening national security.




Theoretical Perspectives: 

1.       Performed by an irregular non-state actor wishing to achieve a political/politico-religious aim.

2.       Targets non-combatants to cause fear so as to force them to undertake or refrain from undertaking a political action.

3.       Aims to produce an overreaction by government so as to undermine its legitimacy.


1.       Benedict Anderson (1983) ‘Imagined communities’
The nation “is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (p 7).

2.       Paul Brass (1976) ‘Ethnic Mobilisers’
“Ethnic transformation begins only when elites consciously choose to select ethnic symbols as a basis for mobilization of support in competition with other elites...” (p 239).


Moral panics

1.       Phenomena brought about by heightened public fear of a perceived threat

2.       The demonised group is seen as the cause of the threat to social norms

3.       Government will react in a manner disproportionate to the threat




Abbott, T. (Cartographer). (2014a). Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit

Abbott, T. (Cartographer). (2014b). G20 volunteer launch

Abbott, T. (Cartographer). (2014c). Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda

Abbott, T. (Cartographer). (2014d). Joint Press Conference with Prime Minister Rutte, Parliament House

Abbott, T. (Cartographer). (2014e). Remarks at Federal Executive Meeting, Menzies House

Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. . London: Verso.

Brass, P. (1976). Ethnicity and Nationality Formation. Ethnicity, 3, 225-241.

Gee, J. P. (2011). How to do Discourse Analysis: A Toolkit. New York: Routledge.
Theoretical Perspectives

Alexander, D., & Klein, S. (2003). Bio-chemical Terrorism: Too Awful to Contemplate, Too serious to Ignore. British Journal of Psychiatry, 183, 491-497.

Cary, S. (2009). The Tipping Point: Biological Terrorism. Journal of Strategic Security, 2(3), 13-24.

Gearson, J. (2002). The Nature of Modern Terrorism. In L. Freedman (Ed.), Superterrorism: Policy Responses. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Hoffman, B. (2006). Inside terrorism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Manningham-Buller, E. (2003). Countering Terrorism: An international blueprint. Paper presented at the The Royal United Institute Conference: The Oversight of Intelligence and Security.

Pinto, S., & Wardlaw, G. (1989). Political Violence. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

Richardson, L. (2006). What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Terrorist Threat. London: John Murrary (Publishers).

Stern, J., & Berger, J. M. (2016). ISIS: The State of Terror. London: William Collins.

Tucker, J. (1999). Historical Trends Related to Bioterrorism: An Emerical Analysis. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 5(4), 498-504.

Weimann, G. (2006). New Terrorism, new Media Terror on the Internet: The New Arena The New Challenges. Washington: United States Institute of Peace Press.

White, J. (2009). Terrorism and Homeland Security (6th ed.). Belmont: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Wilkinson, P. (2011). Terrorism versus Democracy: The liberal state response (3rd ed.). London: Routledge.

Williams, C. (2004). Terrorism Explained: The facts about terrorism and terrorist groups. Sydney: New Holand.



Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. . London: Verso.

Brass, P. (1976). Ethnicity and Nationality Formation. Ethnicity, 3, 225-241.

Calhoun, C. (2017, 9 May 2017). Nation and Imagination How Benedict Anderson Revolutionized Political Theory. ABC Region and Ethics. Retrieved from

Connor, W. (1990). When is a nation? Ethnic and Racial Studies, 13(1), 92-103.

Hechter, M. (1977). Towards a Theory of  Ethnic Change. Politics and Society, Fall, 21-45.

McKay, J. (1982). An exploratory synthesis of primordial and mobilizationist approaches to ethnic phenomena. Ethnic and Radical Studies, 5(4), 395-420.

Silva, M. d. (1975). Modernization and Ethnic Conflict: The case of the Basques. Comparative Politics, 7(2), 227-251.

Smith, A. (1984). Ethnic Persistence and National Transformation. The British Journal of Sociology, 35(3), 452-461.

Smith, A. D. (1978). The Diffusion of Nationalism: Some historical and sociological perspectives. The British Journal of Sociology, 29(2), 234-248.


Moral Panics

Ben-Yehuda, N. (2009). Foreword: Moral Panics--36 Years On. British Journal of Criminology, 49(1), 1-3.

Burke, L. (2010). One punch can start a morial panic: an analysis of news items about fatal assaults in Queesland between 23 September 2006 and 28 February 2009. QUTLJJ, 10(1), 87-105.

Critcher, C. (2009). Widening The Focus: Moral Panics as Moral Regulation. British Journal of Criminology, 49(1), 17-34.

Dagistanli, S., & Milivojevic, S. (2013). Appropriating the rights of women: Moral panics, victims and exclusionary agendas in domestic and cross-borders sex crimes. Women's Studies International Forum, 40, 230-242.

David, M., Rohloff, A., Petley, J., & Hughes, J. (2011). The idea of moral panic: ten dimensions of dispute. Crime Media Culture, 7(3), 215-228.

Howarth, A. (2013). A ‘superstorm’: when moral panic and new risk discourses converge in the media. Health, Risk & Society, 15(8), 681-698.

Jenkins, P. (2009). Failure To Launch: Why Do Some Social Issues Fail to Detonate Moral Panics? British Journal of Criminology, 49(1), 35-47.

Katz, K. (2011). The Enemy Within: The Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Moral Panic. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 36(3), 231-249.

Morgan, G., Dagistanli, S., & Martin, G. (2010). Global Fears, Local Anxiety: Policing, Counterterrorism and Moral Panic Over ‘Bikie Gang Wars’ in New South Wales. The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 43(3), 580–599.

Morton, T., & Aroney, E. (2015). Journalism, Moral Panic and the Public Interest. Journalism Practice, 10(1), 18-34.

Pearce, J. M., & Charman, E. (2011). A social psychological approach to understanding moral panic. Crime, Media, Culture, 7(3), 293-311.

Rohloff, A. (2011). Extending the Concept of Moral Panic: Elias, Climate Change and Civilization. Sociology, 45(4), 634-649.

Rohloff, A., & Wright, S. (2010). Moral Panic and Social Theory. Current Sociology, 58(3), 403-419.

Roland, D. (2013). The Response of Mainline Protestant Clergy Members to the Moral Panic Regarding Harry Potter. Journal of Religious & Theological Information, 12(3-4), 90-113.

Schissel, B. (1997). Youth crime, moral panics and the news: The conspiracy against the marginalized in Canada. Social Justice, 24(2), 165-184.

Soothill, K. (1998). Crime and the Media: A Vicious Circle? AQ: Australian Quarterly, 70(2), 24-29.

Young, J. (2009). Moral Panic: Its Origins in Resistance, Resentment and the Translation of Fantasy into Reality. British Journal of Criminology, 49(1), 4-16.


Saturday, 23 June 2018

Stopping the boats: the media depiction of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’


Stopping the boats: the media depiction of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’


Box, M. (2018). Stopping the boats: the media depiction of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’. Paper presented at the 2018 Federation University HDR Conference Ballarat. Retrieved from


Moral panic theory holds that when there is a heightened campaign about a particular issue a crisis mentality develops where a scapegoat is identified to channel public anxiety.  ‘Moral entrepreneurs’ of which the popular media are prominent achieve this. Moral panics have been the hallmark of ‘law and order’ campaigns in state politics in Australia for many decades. The polarizing nature of the issue of asylum seekers, which has dominated federal politics in Australia since 2001, poses the question of whether a ‘moral panic’ phenomena has developed.

This poster explores that issue by examining the media depiction of the Abbott Government policy ‘Operational Sovereign Borders’ a military-led taskforce to interdict boats carrying asylum seekers.

The poster undertakes this examination through an analysis of cartoons in The Age (Fairfax Media) and The Australian (NewsCorp). Whilst the portrayals in both publications were satirical, The Age tended to be more critical whilst The Australian was supportive of the policy. The dominance of these players in the media landscape and the detrimental effects a sustained moral panic can have on political discourse makes this an important issue worthy of analysis.




Additional Information:




Neither Principles nor Pragmatic: Australia’s four betrayals of the East Timorese


Neither Principles nor Pragmatic: Australia’s four betrayals of the East Timorese.


Box, M. (1997). Neither Principles nor Pragmatic: Australia’s four betrayals of the East Timorese. Retrieved from


Bachelor of Arts with Honours. La Trobe University, 1997.


“They are killing indiscriminately. Women and Children are being shot in the streets. A lot of people have been killed. We are all going to be killed. I repeat we are all going to be killed ... This is an appeal for international help. We appeal to the Australian people. Please help us. Please.”[1] This was the first account Australians received of the Indonesian invasion of the East Timor capital, Dili, received in Darwin by a ham radio operator on 7 December 1975.

This thesis examines Australian foreign policy towards East Timor since 1975. It argues each of the four Governments since 1972 - the administrations of Gough Whitlam, Malcom Fraser, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating – have committed one major betrayal of the East Timorese people. In particular, the thesis examines Canberra’s argument that recognition of Indonesian control of East Timor was the only pragmatic response open, and the only way to preserve Australia's ‘national interest.’

The thesis has three chapters:

·         Chapter One charts events following Jakarta's invasion up to 1984. It argues that during these years there were three betrayals of the East Timorese people by the Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke Governments, the primary reason being strategic Cold War considerations.

·         Chapter Two explores the gains which Australia received from supporting Jakarta in East Timor. It is argued that Indonesia became increasingly central to the Government's attempt to re-focus Australia as an Asia-oriented country in such initiatives as the Cambodian Peace Process, APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

·         Chapter Three explores whether in foreign policy a decision has to be made between principle and pragmatism. With the examples of the Gulf War and Cambodian Peace Process it is argued that to further national interests a blend of both pragmatism and principle need to be utalised when formulating a successful response to a geopolitical issue.
It is concluded that Canberra's policy towards East Timor has been a failure because they have taken a narrow interpretation of what is pragmatic. As a result, East Timor has, and will continue to be, a constant irritant in the relationship with Jakarta.
This thesis is based on research from a wide range sources.

·         Primary sources included personal correspondences, newspapers government publications, speeches and audio visual material.
  • Secondary sources included journal articles, biographies, academic publications and foreign policy texts.

[1] Martin Daly. 'PM washes blood from other hands,’ Age, 18 September 1993, p3