By Brianna Kerr

“About 21 million people in the world today are considered to be refugees – a number that’s not far short of the collected population of Australia.”  The Age (2016)


The representation of refugees in Australia has been dichotomous in regards to social attitudes, political approaches but most importantly the media for an elongated time. Two contrasting characterisations are commonly employed in the Australian media realm: defenceless people fleeing unimaginable situations or illegal immigrants seeking a ‘free ride to a better life.’

It is an issue that is rarely reported on objectively, with numerous fallacies found in articles that identify slanted perspectives largely contributed to the sensitive nature of the crises. It is divisive and this has always been observable in the way the media represents them. Until now.

With topical developments in the national arena about the abhorrent state of offshore detention centres and the perilous conditions that refugees are subjected to, the media has shifted in its focus. On 10th August 2016, The Guardian Australia disseminated a database labelled ‘The Nauru Files’ that contained over 2000 leaked incident reports from the detention centre that exposed the facility to be rife with disease, depression and destitution. Within a month, Amnesty International also released a report entitled ‘Island of Despair’ that further uncovered Australian offshore processing facilities as places of severe abuse and exploitation.

The culmination of the two publications initiated a tempest of articles that condemned the government and victimised asylum seekers, instantly shifting from a division of perspectives to a unified attitude of disgust. This paper will analyse a set of seven articles that were all published after the release of both the evocative internet database and the Amnesty International Report. Both events were highlighted wildly in the media and depicted a shift away from representing asylum seekers as illegal immigrants and toward portraying them solely as victims of the state.

It is interesting to note before analysing the seven articles that they were all published in October 2016 to epitomise the climate of the media at the time. Thorough research uncovered no articles that favoured the government in this time period but an overwhelming amount that privileged refugees. The articles below will be discussed in order to depict how the media characterises people dependant on context:

ABC: Nauru detention centre concerns downplayed by Department of Immigration – Steph Anderson  

The Sydney Morning Herald: Australia intentionally torturing refugees – Michael Koziol  

The Huffington Post: Our PM Still Has So Much To Do On Human Rights – Claire Mallinson

The Age: Australia’s refugee policy fails the fairness test – The Age Editorial Board

The Independent: Australian secrecy laws must be reviewed – Rod McGuirk  

VICE: Wait, Isn’t it Illegal to Ban Refugees? – Katherine Gillespie

The New York Times: Australia’s Stranded Refugee Prisoners – Editorial Board

The first notable observation that connects all of the above headlines is the use of emotive attitudinal language, reflective of the media climate at the time. All words coloured in bold are explicit authorial associations with the content, where journalists have not refrained from indicating their opinion on the matter.

Now, let us discuss the seven articles more in depth with concentration to the communicative workings that journalists employ to represent refugees in the media.


The ABC article is a hard-news piece that utilises factual claims, statistics and descriptive language to represent refugees as defenceless and damaged. Throughout the article, Anderson employs a number of explicit attitudinal remarks, positioning the reader to have a negative opinion of the government and conversely, a favourable view of asylum seekers:

“The Department of Immigration and Border protection has downplayed allegations of abuse, including assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm between 2013-2015.”

The use of the word ‘downplay’ is an overt accusation, positioning the reader to have a negative attitude toward the government department. The following clause remarking about ‘assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm’ induces an emotional imagery for the audience and causes support for the refugees. This aids in the characterisation of asylum seekers as subjugated by the Australian political regime.

The article develops with sources from both refugees and the government, showing a seemingly even distribution of perspectives however the textual arrangement appears to be in favour of the detainees as will be explained below:

 “Some people have gone to the extent of self-harming and people have self-immolated in an effort to get to Australia. Certainly some have made false allegations.”

At first, this quote appears to position the reader to negatively perceive refugees with the phrase ‘false allegations’ however the sentences that follow position the reader to question the source.

“In May, a 23-year-old Iranian died in Brisbane in a hospital after self-immolating on Nauru.”

“A second refugee, a 21-year-old Somali woman, set herself alight the following day.”

The human harm described in the above quotes from the journalist counteract the external source, deeming it stylistically personal.


The Sydney Morning Herald article written by Michael Koziol is a more subjective opinions piece so clear authorial affiliation is present throughout. The use of emphatic language coupled with graphic imagery creates an article that is explicitly attitudinal and aligned with characterising refugees as subjects of suffering. The article opens with fervently emphatic language:

 “The Australian government is responsible for the deliberate and systematic torture of refugees on Nauru and should be held accountable under international law.”

The adjectival use of ‘deliberate’ and ‘systematic’ preceding the word ‘torture’ creates an immediate victimisation of the refugees and a negative connotation of the government. This positions the audience from the outset to perceive the refugees as helpless.

The extreme close-up images of severe self-harm utilised in the article again victimise the refugees. The below image is a graphic representation of the refugee experience and adds to the media representation of refugees as abandoned persons. Several cuts and evidence of blood trigger a shocked response from the audience and position them to feel sympathy and horror.


Furthermore, data from the Amnesty International report is cited throughout as an appeal to a reputable source.

The cache of evidence details allegations of recurrent self-harm and attempted suicide, children being hit by teachers and threatened with machetes by peers, deficient medical care and persecution akin to that which refugees had fled in their homelands.”

The inclusion of negatively laden language like ‘recurrent’, ‘hit’, ‘threatened’, ‘deficient’ and ‘persecution’ add to the plea of detainees and further characterise them as targets of violence.

The use of personal stories also shows an inscribed journalistic attachment to the sourced content:

“Among the asylum seekers was a Pakistani man who tried to kill himself twice in 10 weeks by dousing himself in petrol and drinking dishwashing liquid, an Iranian man who found his pregnant wife in the bathroom with rope marks on her neck, and a 13-year-old Afghan boy who attempted suicide multiple times using a knife, petrol and by drowning.” 

Vivid referral to suicide, self-malice and self-immolation in the above passage again positions the audience to feel sorrow for the refugees, assisting in the media construction of disadvantaged asylum seekers.


Written by Claire Mallinson, the National Director of Amnesty International Australia, the Huffington Post article is notably slanted. Entitled ‘Our PM Still Has So Much To Do On Human Rights’, the article neglects to include a duality of sources, only providing information from the Amnesty International Report, inciting its support of the refugees from the outset.

Ironically, the article opens with the below image of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, posed in a triumphant and stoic manner, shadowed by two Australian flags denoting patriotism and national identity. The sardonicism of the image is that the content of the article characterises Turnbull as far from a positive leader but rather the agent of innumerable suffering. The image is thus included to position the reader to question his leadership and to perceive it a façade when the details of refugee suffering are unravelled in the text.


“Our report Island of Despair based on detailed research — made difficult because of Australia’s wall of secrecy around Nauru — found a litany of abuses, including conditions resulting in high rates of self-harm and mental illness, targeted attacks and harassment of refugees and asylum seekers in the community, including children.”

In the above quote, the collective pronoun ‘our’ immediately denotes the journalists association with the source she alludes to. Again, the reiteration of refugees as neglected and harmed people through emotional imagery of self-harm and mental illness as well as harassment and abuse, adds to their shifting characterisation.

Furthermore, Mallinson mentions Turnbull and his Cabinet to reinforce their failing role:

“Prime Minister Turnbull and his Cabinet must now unite the Parliament behind an unfailing commitment to defend the rights of everyone — especially the most vulnerable and most marginalised — and not just the rights of the few.”

This strengthens her positive positioning of detainees by characterising the government as ‘agents’ of suffering, and refugees as the ‘affected’. The emotive words ‘vulnerable’ and ‘marginalised’ add to this notion of affectedness and comply with the present media culture that supports the safety of asylum seekers.


The Age Article aligns itself with the issue and defiantly typifies asylum seekers as destitute individuals. Opening with a harrowing figure that denotes the extent of the refugee crisis, The Age immediately associates itself with the refugees through the use of fact.

“About 21 million people in the world today are considered to be refugees – a number that’s not far short of the collected population of Australia.”

Making a direct correlation between the population of Australia and the population of refugees throughout the world creates an emotional distinction and increases the nation’s proximity to the issue. As well as creating a relationship between Australia and the refugees, The Age also incorporates descriptively attitudinal language to create clear imagery:

“Many refugees live in squalid camps, yet most choose to make the best of a life displaced, hoping to someday return to a lost home.”

The word ‘squalid’ depicting filth and revulsion paired with the idea of displacement conjures a harsh image of the refugee experience. In addition to referencing the incidents endured by asylum seekers, The Age also constructs a gap between their opinion and the attitude of radically right wing politicians to ensure they align with the majority of opinions in the current contextual environment.

 “And before the shrill warnings of the Pauline Hanson’s or Donald Trumps of the world start to ring in your ears, not every refugee is about to get on a boat.”

This quote denies the traditional political characterisation of refugees in various Australian political parties by stating that their claims are incorrect, again reflecting the shift to supporting refugees in the media after the disquieting exposure of Nauru.

Finally, the use of a common idiom also creates a relatability for the audience, showing no refrain from personal perspective:

“The bipartisan embrace of offshore processing has shoved more than 1000 people to camps in the Pacific, seemingly out of sight, out of mind, as far as their welfare is concerned.”

The idiom, ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ is commonly used to criticise the ways in which people actively forget things by distancing themselves from the problem. The Age’s use of this is highly evaluative as it indicts the government of abandoning asylum seekers, again pedestalising their helpless status.


Posed as an objective hard-news story, The Independent article written by Rod McGuirk is generally informative but there is indeed evidence of both source descriptors and emotive language that aim to position the audience to favour the quandary of the refugees.

“Australian doctors have initiated a court challenge to the Border Force Act, which they argue gags them from speaking publicly about child abuse and other threats to asylum seekers and refugees held in the Pacific atoll nation of Nauru.”

By using the source descriptor ‘argue’, it creates an association with the source, positioning the audience to favour the Australian doctor’s claims. The word ‘gags’ is also an emotive term, suggesting vehement secrecy.

Similarly to the other aforementioned articles, The Independent so too mentions the Amnesty International report to heighten its sense of authority.

“Amnesty International on Monday released a report on Nauru, which it described as an open-air prison where conditions endured by asylum seekers and refugees amounted to torture.”

There is a level of objectivity present by quoting the Amnesty International report with the neutral source descriptor ‘described’ however the subsequent imagery of an open-air prison detracts from the impartiality of the source.

Another notable element of McGuirk’s article is the inclusion of the below image:


This is a photograph that was taken at a rally in Melbourne, depicting a range of citizens protesting for the closure of the detention centres on Manus and Nauru islands. The image shows a vast demographic of people, all wide-mouthed, assumedly avowing their identification with the cause. Even though it cannot be assumed that these protesters are reacting to the way the media has shifted in its characterisation of refugees, it is fair to say that the media does play a huge role in civil action and thus perhaps this societal shift could be attributed to the media furore.


The sixth article that will be explored is a piece written by journalist Katherine Gillespie for online publication VICE. It poses the question ‘Wait, Isn’t It Illegal To Ban Refugees?’ immediately, aiming to entice the reader’s respect of the law if not their reverence for human rights.

Gillespie immediately introduces Mr Dutton’s recent announcement that asylum seekers will never gain access to Australia if they arrive by boat to incite negativity toward the government instantly:

“On Sunday, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced the government will impose an outright ban on all “queue jumping” asylum seekers from ever setting foot here.”

The use of aggressive language ‘impose’ and ‘ban’ coupled with the term ‘queue jumping’ places an unfavourable inscribed attitude toward the government. The following phrase, ‘ever setting foot here’ conveys asylum seekers as inferior, corresponding with the media coverage that is focusing on oppression.

Gillespie also acknowledges the dichotomy of attitudes that exist within Australia by making reference to those that may encourage the existing refugee policies:

“But regardless of whether the majority of Australians support this kind of ban, there’s another question worth asking. That is, is it even legal to ban people from seeking asylum in your country? A short answer is no.”

Gillespie’s contrast of public attitude and the rule of law positions the reader to question what is ethically correct. Furthermore by answering the original question about the legality of banning refugees with, ‘A short answer is no’, Gillespie highlights the government’s insolence and pedestalises the refugee plight.

To further enhance the characterisation of refugees as in need of help, Gillespie references the United Nations’ 1951 ‘Convention relating to the Status of Refugees’ to appeal to a source of authority.

“Earlier this month, it was determined by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that 652 out of 1,015 asylum seekers on Manus Island were “positive” in their refugee status. On Nauru, 942 out of 1,196 people were also deemed “positive.”

The use of this numerical information combined with source descriptors such as ‘determined’ and ‘deemed’ heightens the journalistic characterisation of refugees are deprived. The emphasis on the statistics above also reflects the pervasive suffering of refugees, indicating the severity of the crises. Moreover, the confirmation of asylum seeker identify as ‘positive’ adds a sense of legitimacy to their suffering and characterises them as ‘real’ people in need, shifting away from the previous characterisation of refugees as dubious criminals. 


The final article is a story written by the New York Times however, it is not the objective news that traditionally characterises these type of ‘high-brow’ publications. The New York Times takes a heavily attitudinal approach to reporting about the situation of asylum seekers in the Pacific. Aligned with the local publications in Australia, The New York Times also characterises the refugees as defenceless and forlorn through the tactical use of emotional language. 

“While the number of refugees held on Nauru and Manus Island is small compared with refugee numbers in the Middle East and Europe, Australia’s inhumane imprisonment of desperate people is a disgrace.” 

The phonetically harsh words ‘inhumane’ and ‘disgrace’ are dense with explicit authorial judgement and inscribe compassion for the powerless asylum seekers.

In alliance with the Vice article, The New York Times also references the ‘United Nations Refugee Convention’ to characterise refugees as valid and entitled to innocuous asylum.

“Australia’s policy is at odds with its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which forbids transferring refugees to a place where they are likely to face harm and protects the right of people fleeing persecution to seek a safe haven.”

The imagery of people ‘fleeing persecution’ is a moving representation of refugees and is congruent with how they have been overwhelmingly characterised after the intense media fracas. Referencing refugee detainment as ‘cruel and indefinite’ also evokes emotion and attachment. The article also makes special allusions to the number of children ‘trapped’ on the island, characterising an extra element of vulnerability and weakness.

 Concluding in a recommendation to the Australian government, the article affirms its support of the refugees and its unequivocal desire for their plight.

“The government should end its offshore processing of refugees and stop treating anyone who approaches its borders without a visa as automatically inadmissible.”

 The demand to ‘end’ and ‘stop’ offshore processing is reflective of every article that has been analysed thus far, again reiterating the dynamic shift to a unified attitude toward asylum seekers in the media.

As can be observed from the investigation of the seven articles noted in this analysis, all align with a common attitude toward refugees and hence characterise them similarly.

But this it is not coincidental.

The immense amount of disturbing information currently available about asylum seekers due to the release of evidence from various sources has definitely influenced the recently reformed characterisation of refugees in the media. Hence, it is important to note the political or social climate of a particular context to truly understand why a grouping of people has been characterised in a specific way.

WORDS: 2330 (excluding quotes)


Anderson, S. (2016) Nauru detention centre concerns downplayed by Department of Immigration, ABC News. 17 October 2016, available at‘largely-minor’,-department-says/7940522 (accessed 18 October 2016)

Gillespie, K (2016) Wait, Isn’t it Illegal to Ban Refugees? VICE. 1 October 2016, available at (accessed 20 October 2016)

Koziol, M. (2016) Australia intentionally torturing refugees, Sydney Morning Herald. 18 October 2016, available at (accessed 20 October 2016)

Mallinson, C. (2016) Our PM Still Has So Much To Do On Human Rights, The Huffington Post. 27 October 2016, available at (accessed 28 October 2016)

McGuirk, R. (2016) Australian secrecy laws must be reviewed, says UN investigator, The Independent. 19 October 2016, available at (accessed 20 October 2016)

The Age Editorial Board (2016) Australia’s refugee policy fails the fairness test, The Age. 24 October 2016, available at (accessed 24 October 2016)

The New York Times Editorial Board (2016) Australia’s Stranded Refugee Prisoners, The New York Times. 20 October 2016, available at (accessed 21 October 2016)



Step 1 – Assessment Task 4


Brianna Kerr – 5015548

The subject area I will be analysing is refugees seeking asylum in Australia and how this particular grouping of people are represented, portrayed and positioned to the reader. Recently, a report was released by Amnesty International exposing the horrendous conditions of Australian detention centres and the media has in turn reacted to this. The way the refugees are being presented is as victims and the government positioned as the perpetrators of their suffering. It is an interesting media phenomena to observe so I thought it would be a timely topic to investigate for the final assessment. I have selected four articles from major publications like The Age, ABC and Sydney Morning Herald as well as one article from an independent newspaper, New Matilda. All of the journalistic items I have chosen to analyse provide essentially the same perspective given the current media climate so I predict my findings to be in support of reprimanding the government and supporting the refugees.

Below are my article selections:


Saving or Endangering Refugees: The ‘Stop the Boats’ Debate

By Brianna Kerr (5015548)

Operation Sovereign Borders or the ‘Stop the Boats’ policy is a contentious government strategy aimed at stopping the maritime arrivals of asylum seekers on Australian shores. It is an operation that has divided both the Australian public and several political parties. One side of the argument is in support of accepting asylum seekers to ensure their safety, provide opportunity and abide by international human rights expectations. The opposing argument is against receiving refugees who travel via boat because it breaches sovereignty and security as well as impacts on the local economy.  To exemplify how this divisive nationwide perspective transcends into the media, this paper will scrutinise and compare two opinion pieces about the issue and explore the argumentative tools they respectively utilise to capture their intended audiences.

The two articles that will be analysed are:

“Stopping boats doesn’t save lives – it puts them in danger” Anna Shea

“Policy to stop the boats is working to save lives” The Australian

Both articles provide well-founded perspectives about the asylum seeker debate and as their titles elude, they emit oppositional stances. It is initially interesting to note who composed the articles to make the reader aware of some potential bias. The first article is by-lined as an opinions piece by Anna Shea who is a refugee researcher at Amnesty International. The second has not been authored by one journalist but rather, has been by-lined as an opinions piece by The Australian, suggesting its content is representative of the publication itself. Shea’s vested interest in refugee rights and The Australian’s classically conservative perspective have inarguably coloured the two articles and this was clear upon further analysis.  To introduce the core of the articles, let’s first identify their primary claims:

Anna Shea

Primary Claim:

The government’s decision to stop asylum seeker vessels from reaching Australian shores is wrong.

The Australian

Primary Claim:

Tony Abbot’s decision to stop the boats was a positive choice.

Shea’s claim is adverse to the government and believes the policy is, in its entirety, negative. Whereas The Australian supports the prime minister and overwhelmingly sees the policy’s merit. However, irrespective of their difference, they are similar in their style. Both claims subjectively assess the policy, the actors involved in its creation and the people that are affected by it. Obviously, however their stances are justified through different stances.

Shea has arranged her argument to introduce the claim instantly, causing an immediate resonance with the reader.  She continues this argumentative sequence throughout, constantly reiterating her claim to ensure a compelling case. It can be argued that Shea’s article is inclusive of evaluative, recommendatory and causal elements.

It is evaluative because it passes judgement about the asylum seeker situation and is both coloured by personal perspectives and experience.

“Rich nations are simply not doing enough to share the responsibility for hosting the world’s refugees, with poor countries doing most of the heavy lifting.”

The claim can also be classified as recommendatory because it attempts to evoke a change of behaviour from the audience and the government in how they approach refugees and the way politicians interact with the nation about the issue.

“This is why Amnesty International is calling on the Australian government to launch a Royal Commission – an independent public inquiry with the power to compel witnesses – to investigate and report on allegations of criminal and unlawful acts committed by Australian officials, including allegations of payments made to crew and ill-treatment at sea.”

The recommendatory tone of this extract, with active verbs like ‘calling on’, ‘to investigate and report’, is intended to conjure a response from those who are being targeted.

And finally, the claim is partially causal because Shea threatens that if the Australian government does not change their attitude, worse outcomes will follow.

“Mr Abbott is urging Europe to become more like Australia. The type of world this would lead to is frightening to contemplate.”

The use of emotive language, ‘urging’ and ‘frightening’ is intended to evoke an empathetic reaction and reiterate the causal possibilities of the policy.

The combination of evaluation, recommendation, and causal elements in the type of argument that Shea presents contributes to its success.

Alternately, the argument The Australian presents is more factual and evaluative. The Australian’s factual argument is justified by appeals to authority through incorporation of sources that are accepted as widely credible.

As Immigration Minister Scott Morrison noted yesterday, 419 asylum-seekers had arrived in the same period last year. The government should continue to take a strong approach to vessels from Indonesia.

The use of authoritative sources like Scott Morrison acts to supply validity to the argument and, when combined with numeric statistics, it increases the level of validity. The issue that arises from relying on facts, especially evidence from a political source that has defined predispositions, is that it can alternately lessen the legitimacy of one’s argument. A liberal supporter reading the above quote would agree but perhaps not someone that is in favour of the Labor party. Using factual argument that comes from a contentious source means that it relies heavily on the evaluative presumption of the reader as to whether or not they will be convinced.

As such, elements of evaluation are also present, with content that passes judgement on counter-arguments as well as evaluation of the issue from a pro-stance. The way The Australian has arranged their case is central to its argumentative poignancy. By providing counter-arguments initially, it makes opportune the ability to build up on the argument rather than exercising the most important point first. In the opening paragraph of the article, The Australian presents a number of counter positions:

“Labor denounced these policies as unworkable, but ended up adopting offshore processing as its signature policy. The Greens were emphatic that turning back boats would never work. And their barrackers at the ABC and Fairfax often chimed in, arguing that offshore processing and turning back boats was a policy destined to fail.”

The article then precedes to dismantle these counter arguments with strong justification, concreting their evaluative claim.

“But, as this newspaper reported yesterday, up to five asylum-seeker vessels have been successfully turned or towed back to Indonesia by Australian officials in the past month with the knowledge of Indonesian authorities.”

The transition from explaining counter-points to debating their accuracy was an effective way to cement their stance. The combination of fact and evaluation incites a well-balanced argument that appeals to two types of audiences; those that respond to fact and those that respond to emotion.

Both The Australian and Shea provide arguments that are explicitly subjective, with each one conveying their own arguments convincingly. However, the conclusive nature of their arguments is dependent on the article’s claims being substantiated through varying justifications.

Claims and justifications accordingly rely on an underlying warrant or widely accepted worldview to ensure their argumentative success. Sometimes however, the combination of a claim, supported by justification and a strong warrant can be refuted if an informal fallacy is present. Thus below, justifications, warrants and informal fallacies are explored in regards to the two articles.

When analysing the justifications in both Shea and The Australian’s article, it is interesting to note the trend of oppositional claims causing contradictory justifications. This is exemplified in the table below:



Anna Shea: The government’s decision to stop asylum seeker vessels from reaching Australian shores is wrong because… It puts refugees in inherent danger It is causing illegal activity It characterises us as less ethically and socially capable than other countries
The Australian: Tony Abbott’s decision to stop the boats was a positive choice because… It is saving people’s lives


It is stopping illegal activity It exemplifies our strong stance on national security and sovereignty

The above will now be explained in greater detail:


The government’s decision to stop asylum seeker vessels from reaching Australian shores is wrong because it puts refugees in inherent danger.

In one incident, asylum seekers and the crew from a boat turned back in late May 2015 told me that Australian officials transferred them from their large, well-provisioned vessel into two inferior and overcrowded boats, containing insufficient fuel, and told the crew to take them to Indonesia. When one of the boats ran out of fuel, half the passengers and crew then had to do a risky transfer to the other vessel while at sea.

The above extract also appeals to ethical norms of human safety, protective rights, as well as the right to seek asylum. It also appeals to emotions through analogies and adjectival language like ‘inferior’, ‘overcrowded’, and ‘risky’. This justification relies on the warrant that putting refugees in a compromising situation is inhumane. Yet, the issue that arises here is the presentation of an almost post hoc argument because, to assume that the action of turning the boats away directly correlates with or causes immediate danger, is not entirely verifiable.

JUSTIFICATION 1 – The Australian

Tony Abbott’s decision to stop the boats was a positive choice because it is saving people’s lives.

“Up to five asylum-seeker vessels have been turned or towed back to Indonesia by Australian officials in the past month…”

“No boats have arrived in Australia in the past three weeks because the policy of boat turn-backs, or tow backs, is working.”

This appeals to the ethical norm that the preservation of life is of the utmost importance, a value that is assumed to be widely held. The claim and justification rely on the warrant that any policy that focuses on saving lives is inherently positive. However, it could be argued that the informal fallacy present here is a non sequitur claim because it is illogical to say that it is better to stop people from coming here to save lives because refugees are commonly fleeing to escape dire circumstances.


The government’s decision to stop asylum seeker vessels from reaching Australian shores is wrong because it breaks international law and human rights clauses.

“In our report By Hook Or By Crook: Australia’s Abuse Of Asylum Seekers At Sea, we provide compelling evidence that boat “turn backs” (or “push backs”) not only violate international law, but put people in danger, are accompanied by human rights abuses such as unlawful detention and denial of medical care, and – in at least one apparent case – involve the payment of money to boat crews, which would qualify as a crime under Australian and international law.”

Unlike The Australian who framed illegal activity as pertaining to the action of the refugees, Shea targets the misconduct of international authorities in upholding the law. Whilst utilising the same justification as The Australian – an appeal to authority – Shea manipulates it to align with her argument. As quoted above, the utilisation of inductive reasoning, based on a report by Amnesty International, is effective in appealing authoritative means. The warrant that this relies on is that human rights laws are paramount to any other laws. The fallacy present with this entire argument however, is regarding facts and reliability. Shea’s argument is based around the aforementioned Amnesty International report and, as noted at the end of the article, she is employed by the organisation. This could be interpreted as a vested interest and thus puts into question her stance and the validity of her argument.

JUSTIFICATION 2 – The Australian:

Tony Abbott’s decision to stop the boats was a positive choice because it is stopping illegal activity.

“This is an evil trade facilitated by criminals. If Australians were engaged in this illegal activity, Indonesia would not tolerate it.”

This argument appeals to the counter of negative consequences and also employs an appeal to comparison by situating the Australian attitude alongside the Indonesian perspective. The justification relies on the warrant that illegal activity is inherently bad and should be stopped at all costs. The issue with this is the potential for it to be a slippery slope or hasty over generalisation of the complex issue of asylum seekers. It is a slippery slope because labelling people fleeing from warzones or adverse situations as ‘criminals’ is stipulative. It can be classified as a stipulative definition because there is debate and confusion about the status of refugees in terms of the law. This justification also relies on the evaluative presumption that it is more important to stop illegal activity than it is to be humanitarian.


The government’s decision to stop asylum seeker vessels from reaching Australian shores is wrong because it characterises us as less ethically and socially capable than other countries.

“What Mr Abbott has unwittingly demonstrated to the world is just how far out of line Australia’s approach to refugees has become.”

“Part of the reason that Australia’s approach to refugees has drifted so far from the rest of the international community’s is the government’s success at shielding border control matters from public scrutiny.”

“Mr Abbott is urging Europe to become more like Australia. The type of world this would lead to is frightening to contemplate.”

The comparison of Australia’s policies to other countries that are presented as doing the correct thing, appeals to a sense of customary practice and precedent of behaviour exemplified in developed nations. It relies on the warrant that Australia is not as ethical or accepting as other countries of similar standing. In relation to the above quote, Shea offers an Ad hominem argument by adding an irrelevant judgement of Abbott when attempting to evaluate the asylum seeker issue. By implicating a person without reason, it detracts from her point. Value laden language like unwittingly detracts from the overall message of the Australian government failing holistically and also adds an element of a straw person argument that attempts to attack the oppositional perspective through badgering or slandering.

JUSTIFICATION 3 – The Australian: Tony Abbott’s decision to stop the boats was a positive choice because it exemplifies Australia’s strong stance on national security and sovereignty.

“Tony Abbott’s promise to ‘stop the boats’ was iron-clad; it did not come with any wriggle room.”

“Mr Natalegawa [Indonesian Foreign Minister] says he will not allow Indonesia’s sovereignty to be violated. But nor should Australia allow its sovereignty to be compromised by boats coming from Indonesia.”

This appeals to governmental authority and also to positive consequences. This relies on the warrant that refusing refugees and sending them to their home country is positive for economic growth. This is an evaluative presumption that economic growth is more important than the refugee crisis.

Above are six explanations of the justifications, warrants and informal fallacies present in the articles. Three represent an affirmative stance and three depict an anti-attitude. However, with all of the contradiction, conjecture and disagreement, the two articles do agree on one point. Both Shea and The Australian agree that the government needs to enhance communication with its voters about the issue to ensure they make informed decisions.

Shea claims:

“Australians have very little idea of what happens when government boats intercept asylum seeker vessels, and government officials continuously invoke the phrase “on water matters” to avoid providing any information about what happens during these turn back operations.”

“The Australian public has no real way to verify whether Australian officials are actually saving people’s lives at sea, or putting them at risk.”

The Australian argues:

“Mr Morrison, however, can do much better to keep the public informed of progress in stemming the flow of boats.”

“The government must do better to communicate with voters.”

Both arguments appeal to popular opinion that the government is not transparent enough with their policies and both rely on the warrant that democratic governments should be brazen with their strategies and citizens should be made aware of all facets. It is thought-provoking that two arguments that are so contradictory agree on one of their most fundamental points.

Throughout the analysis of the two articles it is clear that they present a dichotomy of perspectives but one of the most interesting things about analysing argumentation is the way even the most cohesive arguments sometimes fail to change ones perspective. When comparing the two articles and their argumentative techniques, it is clear to me that The Australian presents a more substantiated and well-balanced claim; it is both factual and evaluative whilst maintaining low levels of informal fallacy. However, it did not convince me that turning away refugees is a positive thing, irrespective of its argumentative perfection. My difficulty to agree comes from a moral differentiation with what The Australian presents and thus I think it is important to note that what we identify with about a topic relies on our preconceptions as much as the quality of the argument.




Stefanie Blanch, Helena Ladomatos, Caitlin Hely, Grace Parsons, Brianna Kerr

Pollies Need Wake-Up on Torture – Ian McPhedran

What is the nature of the text’s central argumentative point? Is it a claim of fact, causality, evaluation, interpretation or recommendation, or some combination of two or more of these – or something entirely different?

The texts central argumentative point is both evaluative and recommendatory. It evaluates the use of sleep deprivation and whether it constitutes as torture as well as evaluating the role politicians play in making decisions about integration tactics. Furthermore, it is recommendatory in the sense that it uses first-hand accounts of sleep deprivation and facts to entice or endorse a change of behaviour from the government. There is also an employment of fact with the use of medical information and UN statistics.

How much simple opinion is there in the text? Would you classify the text as being more opinion or more argumentation?

There is minimal simple opinion in the text as it is more argument focused, however elements of subjectivity are still present. McPhedran makes comment on Ruddock’s behaviour (“he has presumably enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep, many of them at taxpayer expense”… “the Government’s self-appointed hard man in the war against terrorism.”) which indicates a lack of objectivity and thus opinion. However, the majority of his assessment is well founded and supported by justification which makes the majority of the article classifiably argumentative.

Does the author offer an explicitly asserted statement of the text’s principal argumentative point?

The texts principle argumentative point – that sleep deprivation is torture and it should not be used as an interrogation technique by the government – is explicitly stated throughout the article. McPhedran does not assume that the reader is attuned to his standpoint and thus he constantly and overtly reiterates his central claim.

Are there any contentious terms in the text and, if so, does the author offer any stipulative definitions of these? To what extent are any such definitions supported with their own justification? 

There are clearly contentious terms within the article, with the author stipulatively defining the concept of ‘torture’ to include ‘sleep deprivation’.  To support his stipulative definition, McPhedran employs a supportive justification; a fact from the United Nations. This appeal to authority indicates McPhedran’s recognition that the term is contentious and that the intended audience may need to be persuaded to align with his argument.

What types of justificatory support (secondary claims) does the author employ and does he seem to favour one type of these? Also see if you can classify each of the justifications as involving one or more of the following justification types.

New lows in political cant and hypocrisy have been reached in the debate over sleep deprivation and whether it qualifies as torture. Appeal to ethical, legal or other social norms (torture and human rights issues)


Appeal to precedent, customary practice

(NEW lows have been reached)

Ruddock is incompetent and his opinion should not respected because he has never experienced sleep deprivation. “He has presumably enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep, many of them at taxpayer expense, most nights for the past 33 years.” Appeal to popular opinion (politicians and taxpayers money – common phrase that initiates reaction)
According to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, extended sleep deprivation is constituted as torture. Appeal to authority (the UNCAT ruling)
War veterans – people that have experienced forced sleep deprivation – believe it is torture. “You don’t know whether you are coming or going. You don’t know whether you are going forwards or backwards”, Mr Gilbert said. Appeal to emotion (detail of extenuating circumstances)

Take the list you have just presented as to the text’s justifications, and then state the warrant by which each justification supports or lead to the primary claim of the article. Indicate if any of these are explicitly stated. Also indicate if any of the warrants are supplied with their own argumentative support. 

New lows in political cant and hypocrisy have been reached in the debate over sleep deprivation and whether it qualifies as torture. Appeal to ethical, legal or other social norms (torture and human rights issues)


Appeal to precedent, customary practice

(NEW lows have been reached)

Sleep deprivation is harmful and should be constituted as torture

(explicitly stated)

Ruddock is incompetent and his opinion should not respected because he has never experienced sleep deprivation. “He has presumably enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep, many of them at taxpayer expense, most nights for the past 33 years.” Appeal to popular opinion (politicians and taxpayers money – common phrase that initiates reaction) People without primary experience should not make comment on serious issues

(implicitly stated)

According to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, extended sleep deprivation is constituted as torture. Appeal to authority (the UNCAT ruling) The United Nations is trustworthy

(implicitly stated)

War veterans – people that have experienced forced sleep deprivation – believe it is torture. “You don’t know whether you are coming or going. You don’t know whether you are going forwards or backwards”, Mr Gilbert said. Appeal to emotion (detail of extenuating circumstances) People that have experienced sleep deprivation should be allowed to make comment (explicitly stated)

Does the text contain any informal fallacies? If so, list these and present your justification for negatively characterising them in this way.

McPhedran uses an ad homien argument when he attacks the provided views of Ruddock. He says “he has presumably enjoyed a comfortable night’s sleep, many of them at taxpayer expense, most nights for the past 33 years.” This makes the assumption that Ruddock is not qualified to comment on this issue.