In May 2016 refugees were, once again, brought to the forefront of an Australian federal
election campaign. This has been a regular occurrence since 2001, when Prime Minister
John Howard’s allegations that asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard helped to justify his government’s increasingly restrictive border protection measures. In 2016, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton raised a different set of concerns about humanitarian arrivals to Australia in response to the Australian Greens’ proposal that the annual refugee intake be increased to 50 000 people. Dutton’s assertions were two-pronged. First, many refugees are not ‘numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English’, and would ‘languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare ... there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario’ (Bourke 2016). Second, Dutton warned, ‘These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that’ (Bourke 2016). The fact that the two prongs of Dutton’s argument (unemployment and job stealing) directly contradicted each other is perhaps neither here nor there-both sought to emphasise (in the minister’s own words) the ‘huge cost’ of resettling refugees (Bourke 2016). As the media seized on these comments, The Guardian’s Ben Doherty and Helen Davidson decided to run a fact check. They brought a voice of reason into the
debate-it was the voice of geographer Graeme Hugo AO.