Can it really be that long ago. Ten years. Tampa time … that shameful moment in Australian history when then Prime Minister John Howrd declared:
‘We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.’
It was August 26, 2001 … as this ABC Timeline (HERE) reveals:
The turning point came on 26 August 2001 with the arrival of the Tampa.
The Tampa went at Australia’s request to the aid of a struggling fishing boat. The Norwegians pulled not a handful of fishermen, but more than 400 refugees out of the little boat. The refugees promptly confronted their rescuers and demanded to be taken to Christmas Island, or they told the Captain, they would go crazy. When he changed course, the Australians radioed and threatened to seize his ship and throw him in prison. The order had come from the very top: this ship would not be allowed to land.
This began a long stand-off as the Tampa hovered off Christmas Island, and Australia continued to refuse entry.
When the medical condition of those on board deteriorated and no help or solution came, Tampa’s Captain Arne Rinnan, sent out a May Day signal. With still no help coming, Rinnan, in consultation with his shipping line defied the Australian Government’s orders and sailed into Australian Territorial Waters.
A couple of months later, I’m on a Philip Adams’ Late Night Live panel in Hobart with Christine Milne, Greg Barns, and Bruce Felmingham (HERE).
I remember it vividly because my own personal anger and sense of injustice was directed not so much at John Howard – for his premeditated response was utterly predictable – but at then Labor Opposition Leader Kim Beazley for his pathetic backing for misjudged pragmatic political reasons of Howard’s brutish response.
At that moment, I believed, the Labor Party lost whatever soul it still retained.
I still believe that.