(Non-white) asylum seekers arriving by boat from war torn countries (eg., Afghanistan) are meet with hostility by conservative Australians in Adelaide and elsewhere. They want the boats turned back (“Stop the boats!” is the rhetoric), or the asylum seekers locked up in offshore mandatory detention, or forcibly returned to the country of origin. In contrast, asylum seekers arriving by plane are readily accepted.
The populist conservative's basically deny that the global movement of people and aslyum seekers is a humanitiarian one, which in Australia's case is in part caused by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that Australia has been, and is, involved in. The conservative's idea of Australia is that of Fortress Australia and One Nation, and they talk in terms of Australia opening a sea lane for asylum seekers or building a bridge to Indonesia.
Theirs is the politics of fear that exploits the insularity of Australians and the lack of an informed historical perspective in our public discourse and it is one that makes national sovereignty an absolute. In John Howard’s words “We have the right to decide who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come.”He implied that his government was in control of events and that Australians were entitled to feel relaxed and comfortable.
The tabloid media are engaged in a campaign that reduces asylum seekers to invaders about to flood working class suburbs, take their jobs, and form ghettos of ethnic difference. The tabloid media exploit feelings of fear and insecurity to scapegoat foreigners, to try to force the adoption of restrictive policies and they hold that Australia should abandon the 1951 Refugee Convention.
This populist conservatism is a long way from, and a deep reaction to, the social liberalism of 1970's Adelaide: that of Don Dunstan, social democracy and extravagent pink shorts. The Dunstan Decade put Adelaide on the map in terms of political reform and the quality of urban life and it ruptured Adelaide as a dreary, conservative and genteel cultural backwater with rigid sexual and dress codes.
What populist conservatism does not accept is that asylum seekers are not terrorists, a threat to national security, to suburban lifestyles or national identity. The majority of asylum seekers are refugees trying to flee persecution in Country A by knocking on the door of country B, and they are entitled to seek asylum under international law. Instead of locking them up in mandatory detention and punishing them, they should be able to live in the local community whilst their asylum claims are being assessed.