//
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 )

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 15,358 other followers

An archive of all my old posts

Follow me on Twitter

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

China’s new aircraft carrier Fujian: Hit or miss 

China’s new aircraft carrier Fujian: Hit or miss 

While the United States was wrapping up its Valiant Shield 2022 exercise on 17 June, China launched its third aircraft carrier with all the fanfare. The launch was postponed twice due to logistical and technical issues. The aircraft carrier has been named Fujian with the hull number 18. It has been under construction at the world’s largest […]

In Beijing’s BRICS summit, Putin is back on the world stage

In Beijing’s BRICS summit, Putin is back on the world stage

When Russian President Vladimir Putin dials into the virtual BRICS summit hosted by Beijing on Thursday, it will be his first time attending a forum with the heads of major economies since launching an invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. For Putin, this could offer a welcome picture: his face beamed onscreen alongside other leaders […]

U.S. not seeking to create “Asian NATO,” defense secretary says

U.S. not seeking to create “Asian NATO,” defense secretary says

The U.S. Defense Secretary emphasized partnership as the main priority for the American security strategy in the Indo-Pacific during a keynote speech on Saturday. However, Lloyd Austin stressed that the U.S. does not seek to create “an Asian NATO.” Austin spoke for half an hour at the First Plenary Session of the Shangri-La Dialogue 2022 […]

Why Chinese warplanes are ‘playing chicken’ with US allies

Why Chinese warplanes are ‘playing chicken’ with US allies

Chinese warplanes are targeting US allies in a high-stakes “game of chicken” over the Asia-Pacific that risks spiraling out of control — raising the risk of an incident that could spark war. That is the view of analysts who warn increasingly aggressive maneuvers by Chinese fighter jets — accused of endangering both Canadian and Australian […]

Has China lost Europe?

Has China lost Europe?

In April and May, as Russia’s war in Ukraine entered its third month, China sent a special envoy to meet with officials in eight central and eastern European countries. The timing was not coincidental: in the two months since Russia had launched its invasion, China’s standing in Europe had sunk to new lows. European governments […]

Xi’s re-election: Opportunity for the world, curse for China

Xi’s re-election: Opportunity for the world, curse for China

China is gearing up for the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party to be held later this year. According to the consensus view, President Xi Jinping’s historic bid for a third term as the party’s General Secretary is assured. The Chinese President and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi Jinping, doesn’t have much […]

China: A political view

China: A political view

I read Dr Mohamad Zreik[2] interesting and comprehensive article on the growth of China’s economy. It has come a long way since the days of Mao Tse Tung and the days of his communist experiment, the Long March, when millions died. The years that followed Mao set the path from which the economy took off […]

Math books outrage China with ‘ugly, sexually suggestive, pro-American’ images

Math books outrage China with ‘ugly, sexually suggestive, pro-American’ images

China has ordered a nationwide review of school textbooks after illustrations deemed ugly, sexually suggestive and secretly pro-American caused public uproar. The news has alarmed some experts and parents who fear the campaign is turning into a political witch hunt and represents an unnecessary tightening of the country’s already stringent censorship of cultural publications. The […]

Why Biden didn’t mean what he said about Taiwan

Why Biden didn’t mean what he said about Taiwan

The White House has been left scrambling a little after President Joe Biden suggested on May 23, 2022, that the US would intervene militarily should China attempt an invasion of Taiwan. The comment, which Biden made during a trip to Japan, was taken by some observers as a deviation from the official US line on […]

United States outmanoeuvres Russia once again? 

United States outmanoeuvres Russia once again? 

In a recent briefing, the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Avril Haines warned, “I would characterize it as the Russians aren’t winning, and the Ukrainians aren’t winning, and we’re at a bit of a stalemate here.” So, where is the Russia-Ukraine war heading? What is Russian President Putin planning next? Is Europe ready for […]

%d bloggers like this: