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Voices of acceptance: understanding the acceptance of ‘boat people’ by young Australians

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posted on 03.03.2017, 00:43 by Laughland-Booy, Jacqueline Margaret
In Australia, the issue of asylum seekers arriving by boat is a contentious topic that has divided both political and public opinion. Some Australians believe that all steps necessary should be taken to ensure that these asylum seekers are stopped, whereas others believe that Australia should be more accepting. In the past, the attitudes of Australians towards asylum seekers have been the focus of numerous studies with most focusing on explaining negative perceptions of asylum seekers held by adult Australians. In contrast, relatively little research has been undertaken to theorise the inclusionary viewpoint and to explore the views of younger Australians. The purpose of this study is to redress this research bias. Using interview data collected from a group of young people participating in the ongoing longitudinal project titled ‘Social Futures and Life Pathways of Young People in Queensland’, the thesis explores how young Australians who have accepting attitudes towards ‘boat people’, express these beliefs. First, I isolate narratives that exemplify the accepting perspective. Next, I consider how young people who possess such a viewpoint, describe the Australian identity and their attachment to it. I then explore the correlation between holding inclusionary views on the ‘boat people’ issue and the voting behaviour of these participants in the 2013 Australian federal election. The analysis of data suggests that those participants who argue for the acceptance of ‘boat people’ refer to principles consistent with a cosmopolitan viewpoint which include themes relating to responsibility, openness, and compassion. The findings also show many of the accepting participants not only expressed a strong sense of ‘being Australian’, they also referred to characteristics traditionally considered to be inherent to the Australian identity in order to support their cosmopolitan views. However, while the accepting young people clearly articulate an inclusionary stance, the data suggest accepting attitudes do not necessarily translate into action consistent with accepting views. By drawing on these findings I present an analytical model by which the acceptance of asylum seekers by members of an established population can be operationalised in empirical research. This proposed model of cosmopolitan acceptance comprises four analytical dimensions: (1) an acknowledgement that the responsibility of the individual (or their nation) extends beyond national boundaries and into the global sphere; (2) openness, whereby a person demonstrates attitudes of inclusiveness towards asylum seekers; (3) compassion for the problems experienced by asylum seekers, and; (4) a commitment to act in support of asylum seekers. Finally, I discuss how the knowledge gained from this research contributes to a theoretical and practical understanding of the mechanisms that encourage attitudes of acceptance by members of settled populations towards asylum seekers and other displaced persons.


Principal supervisor

Zlatko Skrbis

Additional supervisor 1

Bruce Tranter

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

School of Social Sciences (Monash Australia)

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts