THE ARRIVAL OF the MV Tampa in Australian waters in 2001 was misrepresented to the public as a threat to national sovereignty. The people on the Tampa were rescued at the request of the Australian government. They comprised for the most part terrified Hazaras from Afghanistan, fleeing the Taliban. The Taliban’s regime was universally recognised as one of the most brutal and repressive in recent times. The notion that a handful of terrified, persecuted men, women and children fleeing such a regime could constitute a threat to our national sovereignty is so bizarre that it defies discussion.
I was shocked to see Australia’s response. The government denied the Tampa’s request to land its bedraggled cargo in Australia; it sent the SAS onto the ship, and 438 men, women and children were held on the deck in the tropical sun, day after day. I knew nothing about our refugee policy, but I knew it was wrong to treat human beings that way.
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