//
you're reading...
Australian History

On This Day In Australia: In 2001, the Tampa crisis began when a boatload of refugees, mainly from Afghanistan, sent out a distress call


Refugees on the MV Tampa

At dawn on 24 August 2001, a 20-metre wooden fishing boat, the Palapa 1, with 438 (369 men, 26 women and 43 children) mainly Hazara from Afghanistan, became stranded in international waters about 140 km north of Christmas Island.

On 26 August, Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) Australia, which had been aware of the vessel’s distress, possibly through Coastwatch surveillance, requested all ships in the area to respond.

Of the ships that acknowledged the request, the Tampa was closest to the site and began to proceed towards the distressed Palapa 1.

Later in August 2001 Australian troops boarded the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa off Christmas Island.

The commander of the vessel, Captain Arne Rinnan, had rescued hundreds of asylum-seekers from a stranded Indonesian fishing boat in the Indian Ocean and was attempting to bring them to Australia.

The ‘Tampa Crisis’ became the catalyst for Australia’s new ‘border protection’ policy. It also became a pivotal issue in the 2001 federal election campaign.

Eight days of drama

The asylum-seekers were rescued by the Norwegian container ship, the MV Tampa, under direction by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

The Tampa’s captain, Arne Rinnan, then set course for the Indonesian city of Merak, the closest port with facilities to dock such a large vessel. However, some of those rescued threatened to commit suicide if they were returned to Indonesia. Others entered the ship’s bridge, and told Rinnan to take them to Christmas Island.

However, the Australian Government refused to allow the Tampa to land any of the asylum-seekers. Prime Minister John Howard said, ‘I believe it is in Australia’s national interest that we draw a line on what is increasingly becoming an uncontrollable number of illegal arrivals in this country.’

Many of the asylum-seekers on board the ship were in poor health. Over 48 hours Rinnan made repeated requests to Australian authorities for assistance. These requests were acknowledged but not acted on, so Rinnan decided to enter Australian waters.

The ship crossed the Australian maritime boundary on 29 August, shortly before midday. Australian authorities advised Rinnan that he was in ‘flagrant breach’ of the law, and the Government dispatched 45 Special Air Service (SAS) troops to board the ship and prevent it from sailing any closer to Christmas Island.

Government’s response

On the same day Prime Minister Howard tabled the Border Protection Bill 2001 in parliament.

If passed, the Bill would have provided the government with the power to remove any foreign ship in Australian territorial waters.

It was backdated to give retrospective authority for the boarding of the Tampa, and ensured that no Australian court could review the actions or directions of an Australian military officer.

The Bill was criticised for the breadth of powers it would confer and on 30 August it was voted down in the Opposition-dominated Senate.

By 2 September the government had hastily secured agreements with Nauru and New Zealand. The Royal Australian Navy then took the Tampa’s asylum-seekers to Nauru from where 131 of them were sent to New Zealand. The remaining 302 were processed on Nauru over coming months (though a handful remained there for three years).

In the aftermath of the ‘Tampa Crisis’ the government passed a series of laws that created a new legislative framework for handling asylum-seekers known as the ‘Pacific Solution’. This included the excision of many of Australia’s offshore islands, including Christmas Island, from Australia’s migration zone.

This meant that asylum-seekers had no automatic right to apply for refugee status if they arrived on these islands.

The Pacific Solution also meant that asylum-seekers could be processed offshore, in places like Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. The Labor Opposition did not oppose these measures.

The Australian Government’s handling of the Tampa affair and implementation of the Pacific Solution attracted international criticism. However, in the six years from 2002, only 23 boats arrived in Australia compared to 43 carrying more than 5000 asylum-seekers in 2001 alone.

The government stated that the implementation of its immigration policy was saving lives by discouraging people from setting sail for Australia in unseaworthy boats.

Political impact of the Tampa affair

Only eight days elapsed from the first sighting of the Palapa to finalisation of the Government’s arrangement with neighbouring countries, yet the ‘Tampa Affair’ had an enduring impact on Australian politics.

On 11 September 2001 terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City, killing 2996 people of whom 11 were Australian. Prime Minister Howard was in Washington DC at the time and immediately committed Australia to assisting America. This led to Australia’s involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The federal election campaign started less than a month later on 8 October and was dominated by questions of border protection and national security. It was during this campaign that Howard made the statement: ‘…we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’.

For most of 2001 the Howard government had lagged behind Labor in the opinion polls and few thought they could retain government in the upcoming election. However, because of his actions during and after the Tampa affair and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Howard came to be seen by many as a strong leader.

On 10 November his Liberal/National coalition was returned to power with a three per cent increase in votes.

Source: National Museum of Australia

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

Discussion

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you liked what you just read, click "Subscribe" to become a follower of the Craig Hill site. You will receive an email each time a new post is published.

Join 14,947 other followers

An archive of all my old posts

Follow me on Twitter

Most Recent Posts Post on My Blog About China: China News

The vanishing allure of doing business in China

The vanishing allure of doing business in China

It is nothing new for foreign firms to endure shakedowns by the Chinese Communist Party. As far back as revolutionary times, Chairman Mao’s victorious troops did not directly confiscate foreign-owned assets as their Bolshevik forerunners had done in Russia. Instead, they wore them down with higher taxes and fines so big that eventually companies gave […]

Wikipedia blames pro-China infiltration for bans

Wikipedia blames pro-China infiltration for bans

Wikipedia has suffered an “infiltration” that sought to advance the aims of China, the US non-profit organisation that owns the volunteer-edited encyclopaedia has said. The Wikimedia Foundation told BBC News the infiltration had threatened the “very foundations of Wikipedia”. The foundation banned seven editors linked to a mainland China group. Wikimedians of Mainland China accused […]

Diaries of former Mao aide spark custody battle over unofficial history of China

Diaries of former Mao aide spark custody battle over unofficial history of China

Today, “Li materials” are the subject of a legal battle between Stanford University and Mr. Li’s widow in Beijing. This is a battle for custody of an unofficial history of China. In millions of handwritten Chinese characters, Mr. Li documents his early days in the party, the revolution that brought him to power and his […]

World’s dirtiest cities list raises issue: Why don’t politicians call out China?

World’s dirtiest cities list raises issue: Why don’t politicians call out China?

Ponder this: A new tally of global cities’ emissions finds that the top 25 are responsible for 52% of the planet’s urban greenhouse gas emissions. Twenty-three of those are in China. New York City is the first American city to appear, at No. 26. Out of the top 75, just four other American cities are listed […]

Cadence Column: Asia, September 13, 2021

Cadence Column: Asia, September 13, 2021

The easiest solution to China’s escalating situation in the South Sea is to enforce China’s own formal statements at face value. China says they respect other countries and do not want to militarize the South Sea. Leave it at that. Any disrespect toward other countries is not at the behest of Xijinping. Any militarization of […]

Why is Iran so keen on joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation?

Why is Iran so keen on joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation?

What Happened: Iran became an observer in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – originally comprised of China, Russia, and 4 Central Asian republics – back in 2005. In the 16 years since, Tehran has consistently pushed for an upgrade to full membership, particularly after the SCO underwent its first expansion, adding India and Pakistan, in 2017. […]

How China hijacked the war on terror to commit genocide in Xinjiang

How China hijacked the war on terror to commit genocide in Xinjiang

Two decades after the 9/11 attacks spawned the U.S. government’s self-declared “Global War on Terrorism,” the nation that responded to it with the most aggressive regulatory, policing and social policies is thousands of miles from Ground Zero. China’s ruling Chinese Communist Party exploited the international revulsion toward terrorism sparked by the 9/11 attacks to reframe […]

China extends a fast helping hand to the Taliban

China extends a fast helping hand to the Taliban

China has reassured the Taliban that it is ready to begin development activities in Afghanistan via its ambitious multi-trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative (BRI), as the war-torn country drifts toward an economic meltdown. In what some see as Beijing’s tacit approval of the Afghan militant group’s interim government, China announced on Wednesday (September 8) US$31 […]

China’s population enters ‘deep aging’ in many major cities

China’s population enters ‘deep aging’ in many major cities

China is facing a population crisis of increasing urgency, with 149 cities shown in recent census figures to have 14 percent of their residents over the age of 65. A recent analysis by the state-run China Business News (CBN) found that 149 cities in China have now entered “deep aging,” the middle state on a […]

China weighing occupation of former U.S. air base at Bagram in Afghanistan

China weighing occupation of former U.S. air base at Bagram in Afghanistan

China is considering deploying military personnel and economic development officials to Bagram airfield, perhaps the single-most prominent symbol of the 20-year U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.  The Chinese military is currently conducting a feasibility study about the effect of sending workers, soldiers and other staff related to its foreign economic investment program known as the […]

%d bloggers like this: