Australian political leaders keep finding new and innovative ways to position themselves as ‘national defenders’ in the face of regional challenges and threats, according to new research by the University of Melbourne.
Political communication analyst Dr Stephanie Brookes has reviewed nearly a thousand political speeches, interviews, debates and press conferences from election campaigns dating back to Federation.
“Political leaders have long invited Australians to worry about potential threats from the region and then offered to manage those threats,” Dr Brookes said.
“While specific language has evolved over time, the key messages have remained remarkably consistent over 110 years.
“Political leaders evoke collective anxiety about the threats posed by the proximity of the region.”
The study indicates that Prime Ministers and Opposition Leaders have shifted from telling voters that Australia had a role to play in ‘civilising’ Asia in the early 1900s to ‘managing’ regional instability post WW2 to, more recently, ’engaging’ with the opportunities presented by rapid development.
“This language can be seen in the early days where Australians were asked to worry about the ‘Yellow Peril’ and over recent years in discourse surrounding ‘border security’ and now ‘regional processing’,” Dr Brookes said.
The research — published in this month’s Australian Journal of Politics and History — argues the concept of Australian “identity security” plays a central role.
“Political leaders have evoked regional threat as endangering not only the nation’s sovereignty or prosperity but also its fundamental identity,” Dr Brookes explains.
“First, they construct a familiar ‘national identity’ or ‘imagined community’ that connects with voters and then they establish themselves as its defender.”