The Abbott Government response to Islamic State and Ebola: a moral panic?

Mr Matthew Box1
1Federation University Australia, Keilor, Australia

It is a long tradition of the Hobbesian realist view of politics that the most important duty of a government is the ‘protection of their citizens’. Since 2001 a dominant mantra in Australian federal politics has been protection of the community from ‘threats to national security’. However, is the response proportionate and necessary to the risk posed or is it a moral panic?

During 2014 two global events emerged which were potential threats to international peace and security: the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East and the Ebola pandemic in East Africa. Both would see an international military coalition assembled in response. Australia would become the second largest contributor to the former and belatedly subcontract a response in the latter.

Based upon the theory of moral panics and the nationalism perspectives of imagined communities and ethnic moralizers this research explores the manner in which the Abbott Government (2013-2015) portrayed these issues. A discourse analysis model adapted from James Gee’s ‘Discourse analysis toolkit’ is utalised.   It is suggested that despite there being a significant threat, some of the characteristics of a moral panic eventuated.

The importance of this research rests in the almost universal agreement of terrorism scholars that one of the aims of terrorism is to cause a government to overreact and hence undermine its legitimacy. Descending into a moral panic based policy response would achieve such an aim resulting in ‘policy blowback’ consequently weakening rather than strengthening national security.


Matthew is a higher degree by research (PhD) candidate and sessional academic at Federation University with an academic background in the areas of politics, international relations, national security, criminology and law with a particular interest in terrorism and human rights. His PhD thesis ‘Terrorism and Border Security 2001-2015: a fourteen year moral panic in Australia?’ is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Fee-Offset Scholarship.  Furthermore, Matthew has a professional background of over twenty years experience with a range of national security, law enforcement and emergency services agencies at federal and state level. This includes as a senior national security policy officer with the Australian Federal Police and as a principle security advisor with the Defence Security Authority. This blend of academic and professional experience brings a unique insight and depth to his research.

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