This doctoral thesis examines how contemporary sovereignty works in Australia in the field of refugee law. I claim that in Australia, authorities decide how a refugee should be treated through legal performance. We see decisions being made outside the normal legal processes in a processing centre or security organisation determining the legal status of a refugee, the excision of Australian territory and the delimitation of Australia’s territorial border.
My thesis considers the relationship between law and sovereignty. Through performance, those with sovereign power can commit legal violence by legitimating the control of a body through language. In this thesis, I show that one of the ways performance can happen is through the language of security and crisis. Through performative language, the sovereign can construct a racialised refugee body, which can be controlled by legal violence towards the refugee body. Language can justify the bypassing of legal standards, processes and rights.
My original contribution connects performativity and sovereignty to address the problem of how sovereignty controls the refugee body. By reference to philosophers Giorgio Agamben and Judith Butler I explore the performance of sovereignty. Sovereign power is a spectacle rather than an abstract concept where there are clear decision makers who are performing.
We see decision makers such as ministers, judges, tribunal members but also airline personnel, doctors, civil servants and privately hired security guards deciding how refugees should be treated. These decision makers perform sovereignty since they are given legal powers to decide how refugees should be treated.
I bring a contemporary view of sovereignty, exceptional laws and performativity into the practical sphere through in-depth legal analysis. The analysis of legal sources, encapsulate migration laws, case law, tribunal decisions, policy documents and discourse from the political landscape.