In 2015, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) worked with Australian Progress’ Expert-In-Residence Anat Shenker-Osorio and Australian researchers to complete extraordinary new research into the words that work for talking about people seeking asylum. Despite many Australians from all walks of life arguing for more humane treatment of people seeking asylum, bipartisan policy has moved in the other direction and broader community attitudes continue to harden. It is clear that humane and lasting policy change will require changing how we make the case for it. This new research includes tested messages that could could reach much more of the community, and our political leaders, to kickstart a new, more hopeful national discussion.
Background: the research
Over a six-month period in 2015, the research project involved:
- Analysis of over 1000 data points from the current language used in Australia when communicating about the issue
- One-on-one interviews with 54 advocates to explore underlying reasoning of involvement
- Focus groups in Victoria, NSW and QLD to delve into public perception
- Online survey of 1500 Australian voters across the political spectrum
- Separate samples of 2186 advocates from six organisations.
Based on the response to messages, three clear opinion groups emerged:
- Support base — those who already agree with our message
- Steadfast opponents — those opposed to our message and who will never change their minds
- Persuadables — the bulk of the population whose minds can be changed.
The job of a good message is not to say what is popular. It is to make popular what needs to be said. Changing the minds of the bulk of Australians, that is, the ‘middle ground’ or persuadables relies on championing the following principles:
- Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right
- All people have the right to live in peace.The research shows what language is most effective in persuading the bulk of Australians to shift their ideas on people seeking asylum.
- Lead with values like family, freedom, fairness and treating others as you’d want to be treated.
- Provide aspirational calls to create something good: effective messages are two parts solution to one part problem.
- Name the cause of harms — ‘government decided’ or ‘leaders chose’, avoid skirting blame — ‘conditions worsened’ ‘harms were caused’. To believe a problem can be fixed through human action, people must believe human action caused it.
- Use verbs like choose, create and decide to imply current conditions deliberately constructed.
- Name what people come for more than what people leave from.
- Seize the moral high ground by talking about what’s right, not about pragmatics or cost savings.
- People readily reject unpleasant facts that don’t match their worldview and then doubt the credibility of the messenger.
- Get comfortable alienating your opposition — energise your base and persuade the middle.
- Calling to mind the nation or nationality damages our case, better to reinforce the audience as people.
Words that work
Messages to avoid
As part of the research, the current messages we are using as refugee and asylum–seeker advocates were also tested. As you can see from the results, our current ‘status quo’ message does not appeal to those whose hearts and minds we are trying to persuade.
Status quo message
It is not illegal for refugees to come here and Australia must fulfil its humanitarian and legal obligations to asylum seekers and refugees under international law and the Refugee Convention. Seeking asylum is a humanitarian issue rather than an issue of border security or defence, and people fleeing persecution, violence and torture must be treated with compassion and dignity. Mandatory detention in offshore facilities is cruel and inhumane. As signatory to the Refugee Convention Australia must fairly and efficiently assess the applications of all asylum seekers who arrive in Australian territory, including territorial waters, irrespective of their mode of arrival.
What works — best leading arguments
Dial testing led by Troy Burton and focus groups directed by John Armitage provided critical insights into messages that unequivocally moved the persuadables toward our solutions.
Unity/citizens of the world message
No matter our differences, most of us believe that all people deserve to live in peace. Our policies for people seeking asylum should respect human dignity and take place in full public view. Doing what’s right means upholding people’s basic rights to safety and fairness. We cannot turn issue of human rights into political bickering. We all have a stake in making the world a safer place, so we need to fairly examine each person’s asylum case in a safe space and quickly integrate the people requiring asylum into our communities. This isn’t a matter of right or left, but quite simply a matter of right and wrong.
Most of us strive to treat others the way we’d want to be treated. If anyone of us feared for our life or for our family we’d like to know that others would help us to safety. Throughout history, people have risked everything for the hope of a better life. We must ensure people’s basic right to live free from danger. By creating a fair and efficient asylum process we can show that, when people are in harm’s way, we’ll do the right thing. When we treat people seeking asylum with compassion and dignity, they can get on with rebuilding their lives in our communities.
Golden rule message
To find out more about the work of the ASRC, go to www.asrc.org.au or about our research and to and stay involved, email [email protected]
To download resource click on PDF link below.
© Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Inc. 2017
- Asylum seekers and refugees
- Communication - Messaging
- Movements_Campaigns - Asylum seekers_Refugees
- Story_Narrative - Guides_Manuals