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Political Debates on Asylum Seekers during the Fraser Government, 1977–1982



Between 1977 and 1982, the Australian Government resettled over 54,000 Vietnamese refugees. It also admitted 2,059 Vietnamese asylum seekers who arrived by boat without state authorisation. Although the number of Vietnamese asylum seekers was significantly smaller than the number of Vietnamese refugees processed offshore in refugee camps, the unexpected arrival of these boat people stimulated debate in Parliament and in the press about an appropriate response. This article examines the language politicians used to describe Vietnamese asylum seekers and the arguments used to justify their inclusion or exclusion. The evidence demonstrates that the political rhetoric used in this period in Australia's immigration history cannot be solely categorised as inclusive or humane. Rather, the overall impression is one of resistance and pragmatism.