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