Analysis: Illegals and the erosion of empathy

Repetition of a simple phrase like illegal boats influences the way you think about a subject even if it’s wrong, former political advisor and author Don Watson¬†says.

Politicians from both Labor and the Coalition have referred to asylum seekers as illegals before.

Every time illegal is used in reference to asylum seekers, refugee advocates, lawyers, immigration experts and academics are quick to dispute it, pointing out that it is legal to seek asylum. Even the Refugee Council of Australia and the UN said it’s wrong to use the word illegal to describe asylum seekers.

The confusion centres around the interpretation — or misinterpretation — of Article 31 of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

However, once the discussion reaches the level of conventions, articles and legal nuances, the most simplistic message — illegals are coming to Australian shores — is already in the memory of the public.

According to Don Watson, former political speechwriter and advisor, and author of several books including Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language, politicians continue to use a word they know is incorrect — propelling much disinformation — to drill the message into people’s minds.

Mr Watson says repeated use of a simple message controls the way people think about a subject, he told SBS — via

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