The Guardian September 5, 2001

Federal Parliament: Tearing up Australian and international law

The Senate debate on the Government's "Border Protection Bill"  A Bill 
for an Act to provide for the removal of ships from the territorial sea of 
Australia and related purposes  is remarkable in that it put on record 
the real position of Howard and Beazley and the political parties 
represented in the Senate.

Here are some extracts from that debate.

John Howard: (PM)

"Those who enter our territorial waters contrary to an express direction 
from the government should not be rewarded by being allowed to stay in our 
waters or, even worse, by having the opportunity to enter our land 

"One of the difficulties facing Australian officers in dealing with vessels 
involved in people-smuggling is that people on board often seek to avoid 
preventive action by jumping overboard.

"This Bill will confirm our ability to remove to the high seas those 
vessels and persons on board that have entered the territorial waters under 
Australian sovereignty contrary to our wishes.

"Officers, and those assisting them, taking actions authorised by the Bill 
will be protected from civil or criminal proceedings in respect of those 

"It is in the national interest that this vessel [the "Tampa"] not be 
allowed to remain in Australian waters. It is in our national interest that 
this vessel be returned to international waters. It is in the national 
interest that we have the power to prevent beyond any argument people 
infringing the sovereignty of this country..."

Kim Beazley (ALP leader):

This means that the appropriate destination of the "Tampa" was Indonesia 
and not Australia.

This Bill means "that, no matter what the circumstances, it will be a 
reasonable and authoritative thing for an Australian officer to take a boat 
that is sinking and in which there are life threatening situations 
involving the people on board, and order it out ... drag the boat out, sink 
it, people die. It does not matter what you think ought to happen, that is 
what this bill permits.

This [bill] overrides all law...

"...we are prepared to consider the circumstances that you might put 
forward that would deal with the "Tampa" situation specifically ... also in 
regard to all other areas of immigration policy and in dealing with 
illegals, we are prepared to give consideration to the legislation you put 
forward, as we are doing now in a number of other areas."

Senator Faulkner (ALP):

"We have supported refusing MV "Tampa" entry into Australian waters. We 
have supported the government's efforts to return these people to 
Indonesia. We have supported the government's action to board the ship when 
it moved into Australian waters off Christmas Island..."

"Had the government seriously wanted the support of the whole parliament 
consultation ... we were not extended that courtesy..."

Mr Howard is "attempting to drive a wedge between the two major political 
parties on the most significant political issue of the moment..."

Senator Boswell (National Party):

"We have 7000 illegal refugees in Australia. We are at the breaking point. 
We are building centres in four or five different places now...

I have tried to get some people in from the Balkans who are genuine 

Senator Stott Despoja (Australian Democrats):

"What about the legal, moral, technical, constitutional humane reasons for 
opposing the legislation before us."

The first reason for opposing the bill is that "it attempts to grant 
arbitrary power to turn away vessels from Australian territory. The second 
is that it purports to prevent any person from applying for refugee status 
or attempting to access the courts to ensure that they have been dealt with 
in accordance with due process of law....

"It is tantamount to an unrestricted arbitrary power on the part of the 
Prime Minister to order the departure of any vessel, including vessels 
exercising the right of innocent passage, on any grounds whatsoever...

"Under article 233 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 
there is a prohibition in international law on states expelling genuine 
refugees from their territories.

"Not only is this government unprepared to comply with our international 
obligations but, through this legislation, it is also signalling that it is 
not even prepared to comply with our own domestic laws. 

"We are willing to act inhumanely against those who may be fleeing 

"Commonsense has gone out of the window and the government has decided to 
look for simple solutions and, in this case, extreme solutions: send in the 

"Actually, it is a simple solution: asylum seekers  tow 'em out to sea! 
They are a problem; they are different; they were not born here."

Senator Bob Brown (Greens)

Extracts from press releases:

"Mr Howard's actions, for self-seeking electoral purposes, are creating 
more damage to Australia's reputation around the world than any other event 
for many decades.

"The Bill aimed to remove access to the courts, including the High Court, 
by anyone challenging the powers of Commonwealth officers to force ships 
and people into international waters. 

"But legal advice is that section 75 of the Constitution guarantees access 
to the High Court to challenge or seek injunctions against the actions of 
officers of the Commonwealth.

"That the Government suggests the asylum seekers go to East Timor, is a 
huge embarrassment for Australia."

"Today, the tide is turning. Our flood of emails is flowing warm after the 
cold anti-asylum seeker calls of the last days. The humanity of Australian 
is coming out. 

"The Prime Minister has let our smaller South Seas siblings, Nauru and New 
Zealand, shame Australia with their maturity and humanity.

"This decision, backed by Labor, will leave a legacy of shame. It is 
shattering Australia's reputation as a welcoming, mature country. Little 
Nauru, population 11,845 and New Zealand, population 3.8 million, are 
shouldering Australia's responsibility."

Back to index page