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An investigation of the influences of attitudes and opinions toward asylum seekers and refugees in Australia

posted on 12.06.2019, 02:53 by McKay, Fiona Helen
Issues of asylum seeking have received significant public and media attention in Australia since mid-2001. In the decade since, these issues have maintained prominence in the public consciousness thanks to ongoing disputes over asylum policies, international and non-governmental criticism of the policies and disorder at Australians detention facilities. Research investigating community responses to asylum seekers have discovered that many in Australia hold an underlying fear of asylum seekers. This thesis explores how asylum seekers and refugees are represented by two groups, the media and politicians, and how these representations are understood by the community. While issues relating to refugees and asylum seekers have been well researched in Australia in the past decade, there has been little work directly investigating how politicians, policy and media influence community attitudes and opinions. This lack of detailed investigation has resulted in an insufficient understanding of how media and political rhetoric and comment affect community attitudes. This thesis incorporates five studies. The first is an investigation of Australia’s policy for HIV positive refugees, and how this policy leads to stigma. The second study is based on interviews with eight politicians directly involved, or heavily interested, in asylum and refugee issues. The third and fourth studies are studies of how the media represent issues of asylum seeking and refuge. The final study is the results of a community survey on attitudes of asylum seeking. Using a mixed methods approach, these five studies, and are guided by theories of ‘moral panic’, ‘labelling’ and ‘stigma’. This research has identified three key findings. The first is that both refugees and asylum seekers face stigma from politicians, the media and the community. This stigma can lead to the characterisation of refugees and asylum seekers as ‘deviant individuals’. The second finding is that the community’s attitudes toward asylum seekers are influenced by the media and politicians as well as by individual experiences and circumstances. The third finding is that the media and politicians will be required to change the language they use regarding refugee and asylum seekers if the community are to ever change opinion. This thesis extends the current body of knowledge about the role of the media, the role of politicians, and the impact of these two groups on community perceptions, attitudes and opinions of asylum seekers and refugees. These findings have significant implications for researchers working in the area of asylum seeking, and more generally, in helping to find effective ways to inform the community of issues concerning refugees and asylum seekers.


Principal supervisor

Samantha Thomas

Additional supervisor 1

Susan Kneebone

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Primary Health Care

Campus location



Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences