//
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 15,050 other followers

An archive of all my old posts

Follow me on Twitter

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

Cadence Column: Asia, January 17, 2022

Cadence Column: Asia, January 17, 2022

China is illegal. The US Department of State even says so. France even reports as such. This won’t exactly improve friendly relations across the Pacific. It’s actually a much larger step to an all out conflict. Just over a year ago, November 2020, Western allies declared that China’s 1984 treaty with Britain, the basis for […]

India’s offensive against China should be in the grey zone 

India’s offensive against China should be in the grey zone 

Grey zone is not a fixed concept but a hypothetical place between peace and war. While I was writing this article, a never heard of development was taking place in the Indian state of Punjab. The Indian Prime Minister was stuck on a bridge for 20 minutes since the highway was blocked by the protesters. […]

Cadence Column: Asia, January 10, 2022

Cadence Column: Asia, January 10, 2022

Lithuania has become the “Taiwan of Europe”. Since WWII, Americans never again struggled with the concept that a problem abroad is a problem at home. This is how we Americans can vote to interfere around the world that we know so little about. We think every squeal from another continent indicates a personal assault on […]

Is China ready to host the Winter Olympics?

Is China ready to host the Winter Olympics?

Chinese officials have promised that the 2022 Winter Olympics — to be held Feb. 4 to 20 and followed by the Paralympics March 4-13 — will be a “safe, streamlined and splendid” global event. But that won’t be easy. With less than four weeks to go, China is struggling to enforce its strict zero-covid policy […]

Crystal Gazing 2022: India and The World 

Crystal Gazing 2022: India and The World 

If we thought 2019 and 2020 presented uncertainties then 2022 is here to surprise all of us. It could be remembered as one of the most complex, unpredictable, and potentially dangerous years in the recent past. COVID-19, oil crossing $100/barrel, Iran-US nuclear talks, Iran-Israel tension, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, cryptocurrency, and militarization of outer […]

Japan looks west to guard against a rising China

Japan looks west to guard against a rising China

Japan signed on Thursday a new security treaty with Australia, a fellow middle power that is similarly aligning against an increasingly assertive China. The blandly-branded Reciprocal Access Agreement, which was signed virtually by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, marks the conclusion of a process that started in 2014, when […]

Cadence Column: Asia, January 3, 2022

Cadence Column: Asia, January 3, 2022

Taiwan is on the rise. With chip shortages, stock is booming. You know how graphics cards are astronomically high? A lot of that money is going into Taiwan. Meanwhile, China found an excuse to order a real estate developer to demolish 39 freshly, new-built “luxury apartments”—something about the building permit being illegal and violated zoning. […]

Cadence Column: Asia, December 27, 2021

Cadence Column: Asia, December 27, 2021

Japan is on the scene in the Pacific. While Japanese athletes will attend the Olympics, Japanese officials will not. China doesn’t want Japan to “politicize” the games. But, consider 2008, the one-hour opening ceremony about nothing but China’s history, with President Xi marching in to a one-world dream at the end. For Beijing, hosting the […]

Cadence Column: Asia, December 20, 2021

Cadence Column: Asia, December 20, 2021

The US is hitting China hard over treatment of Uyghurs. Nearly all imports from Xinjiang will be banned. At the same time, the US bolsters the call to bolster Taiwan’s military defense. However, Taiwan has the seeds of the same tyranny; it just doesn’t materialize into anything alarming because Taiwan remains small. The most obvious […]

When India goes to war with China 

When India goes to war with China 

It is an open secret that China challenges everything India sets its eyes on, be it cooperation with Quad partners (the United States, Australia, Japan), international organizations like United Nations, WHO, or designating a terrorist organization. India, a Quad member and a close ally of the United States, has become the biggest eyesore for China. […]

%d bloggers like this: