John Howard warned of influx of boat arrivals weeks before Tampa affair, cabinet files reveal
Several cabinet documents relating to the period, including those dealing with the costs of a lawsuit over potential unauthorized arrivals to the Tampa, remain classified.
The documents set out a series of measures to ensure an “efficient logistical response” in the event of a sustained increase in arrivals or a large one-off peak in numbers.
The minutes of the meeting indicate that the cabinet agreed that a group, chaired by the Prime Minister’s Department and Cabinet Secretary Max Moore-Wilton, should explore Australia’s legal capacity to “do half-way.” tour and escort them to the embarkation point in Indonesia ”.
Intelligence agencies had also indicated that trafficking groups targeting Australia were considering using large ships to travel from Southeast Asia, including an unsubstantiated report of the transport of 3,000 boat people.
“The image of the arrival of a large ship containing even 1,000 unauthorized boat arrivals will put Australia in the international spotlight and further focus national and international scrutiny on Australian immigration policies, including the compulsory detention of illegal non-nationals, ”the submission reads.
He also warned that the boat arrivals were straining the resources of Australia’s Federal Police and intelligence agencies which would have to be diverted to security arrangements for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Brisbane, which would then be called off. following the September 11 attacks on New York. World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington.
The report details plans for an expanded facility in Darwin to accommodate new arrivals as well as the use of tents at the El Alamein site between Wyalla and Port Augusta. He said preparedness would remain under wraps as “sensitivities of contingency plans are being made public.”
He also identifies Defense facilities at Singleton in northern NSW and Portsea in Victoria as potential temporary accommodation sites, but warned there would be a cost if people were housed in tents for too long.
“Holding back arrivals of unauthorized boats in tents beyond a week or two would cause very serious safety, security and health problems for detainees and those responsible for their care,” the documents say.
“The use of tents for purposes other than emergencies would attract strong criticism from opponents of Australia’s mandatory detention regime. “
Strict new border measures and the Tampa crisis have deepened the Howard government’s backlog in polls, with a poll conducted by The Sydney Morning Herald found that 77 percent of Australians were in favor of Howard’s handling of the situation.
John Howard continued to defend his approach before the documents were released.
“It was a very tough policy, but I thought it was the right policy,” he said.
Although Howard acknowledges the measures were controversial, he said the easing of his border security measures by his successor Kevin Rudd proved lives were saved as a result.
“It’s not something you can have both ways,” he said. “If you have an optimistic view of the capacity of this country to continue to welcome large numbers of migrants and also our important humanitarian program, you must always remember that sustaining these two things crucially depends on accepting the Australian audience. on immigration.
The handling of the Tampa case and the subsequent implementation of the Pacific solution drew international criticism, but in the six years from 2002 only 23 boats arrived in Australia, compared with 43 carrying more. 5,000 asylum seekers in 2001 alone.