Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours


Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Peter Van Onselen

Second Advisor

Quentin Beresford


Australia's acceptance of refugees has a long and controversial history. As a nation, we have at times accommodated and accepted multitudes of various individuals of differing faiths, ethnicity and cultures into our society. Australia is indeed a cosmopolitan community of indigenous and immigrant Australian citizens that have displayed periods of welcoming refugees from war-torn states as under Malcolm Fraser's leadership in the late 1970s. Concurrently, we have actively discriminated, sometimes implicitly, although not always, against certain immigrants, including refugees from China and Papua and New Guinea during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The community's perception of refugees has often curtailed the more liberal accommodation of foreigners in need of refuge. The refugee policy and its wholesale delivery by the government of the day has the ability to change and influence the zeitgeist through government leadership, or can alternatively appeal to the popular interest and continue to be voter orientated. This thesis compares and contrasts the periods of the Bob Hawke and Paul Keating administrations (1983-1996) and the John Howard administration (1996-2007). It investigates this epoch to analyse similarities and differences between the Labor and Coalition governments with respect to rhetoric and policy associated with refugees. Case study examples are utilised to compare how Hawke and Keating as well as Howard issued rhetoric and applied policy. This study tested three main similarities between the Labor and Coalition governments. First, within policy, both governments continued to uphold Australia's refugee intake quotas to a ten per cent margin of the overall per annum immigration intake. In spite of this accomplishment, more serious problems of resettlement issues were poorly administered by both parties. Secondly, foreign policy and economic policy were major considerations for conservative and centre-left governments during their respective periods of incumbency. These policies often had a direct affect on refugee issues concerning who and how many refugees may be admitted into Australia. Thirdly, the rhetoric employed by both party governments generally appealed to their respective constituents although actual affects on policy implementation were marginal. These findings illustrate research outcomes worthy of attention. Although Australia has a good record in comparison to other net-receiving refugee countries, scope remains to increase the nation's quota for future refugee admittance (on or offshore), in line with Australia's economic prosperity. There has been, at select times, a window of opportunity for political leaders to show strong leadership on this front. However, pragmatism driven by a following of public opinion has tended to outweigh leaders interest in following such a course. Both, Hawke and Howard had times in which they could have demonstrated elite moral fortitude and taken the step of accepting wider and more numerous refugee quotas. Foreign policy implications and domestic constituent considerations have lent their respective weight on the leaderships' decisions. Hawke and Howard have become more pragmatic and less convictional as their terms in office progressed.