On December 2 2001 The Herald
Sun reported the knighting of the captain of the Norwegian freighter Tampa.
The quote below from this article sums up the startlingly different attitudes of
Norway and Australia, and shows how far we have come in our loss of compassion.
Captain Arne Rinnan was honoured for rescuing 438 boat people off the coast
of Australia in August. The Norwegian captain has become a hero in Norway.
"It was for his seamanship in connection with him saving 438 people in distress at sea who would have died without him," a Norwegian government
"He has become a hero because of the way he handled the situation. It was highly appreciated by the Norwegian people."
The Order of St Olaf was presented to Captain Rinnan by Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen last week on behalf of Norway's King Harald.
Captain Rinnan rescued the asylum seekers and then tried to land them at Christmas Island.
But the Federal Government sent Special Air Service troops to board the ship to stop the asylum seekers landing on Australian soil.
as at 19/1/2002
Australia's attitude in this
event stank from the beginning. Our coast watch reported the ship carrying
refugees was in distress and Australia asked for nearby ships to help rescue
people. Yet, as reported by Juan-Carlo Tomas in the Sydney
Morning Herald (link live at 19/1/2002) the alert document was suddenly
The telefax, sent by the Canberra-based Rescue Coordination Centre has been
classified in the interests of national security, said centre spokesman Ben
"It's in the hands of the National Security Committee," he said. "I imagine
that's happened because of the events of the past few days."
The telefax - which on Tuesday was described by a spokesman for Immigration
Minister Philip Ruddock as a public document - was broadcast to ships around
Christmas Island on Sunday at around 12.40pm following a request from
Indonesian search and rescue authorities, he said.
What on earth were we trying to
hide in this game of politics to avoid our human responsibilities? Was it
simply the recognition that what we were doing was simply morally wrong?
Wee we trying to cover up the fact that these people were pawns in the
Australian election build up? Also on August 30 Mark Forbes in The
Age (link live at 19/1/2001, appears to be dead July 2003) reported Jean Pierre Fonteyne (from Australian National University's Centre for
International and Public Law) as saying the Federal Government's legal arguments
against the asylum seekers and the Tampa were "extremely weak and
Fonteyne, an expert in the law of the sea and international refugee
conventions, John Howard's claim that Norway was
responsible for the ship was wrong. He said the situation in international law was not as clear-cut as
Mr Howard claimed. Indonesia was not obliged to accept those found in its international search
and rescue zone.
"The 1979 International Search and
Rescue Convention doesn't say anything at all about who has responsibility for persons
rescued..... The flag state (of the rescuing ship) doesn't have responsibility to
provide asylum....The least responsible state is Norway. Otherwise it would be a major
disincentive to rescues at sea."
Fonteyne indicated international law did not have precise principles to identify which nation
was responsible in a situation such as the Tampa's.
"The widest practice is: the captain is entitled to disembark those rescued
at the next convenient port of call. This captain decided to set sail for Christmas Island, so it can be argued we have the primary responsibility to
let them disembark..... The island was only two hours' sailing from the rescue site, and Indonesia
Today's interview with Arn Rinnan is revealing. (Link
live at 19/1/2002.)
On August 25 Australian Authorities requested Tampa's assistance.
They sent a plane to direct us to the sinking boat. When we arrived it was
obvious to us that it was coming apart. Several of the refugees were obviously in a bad state and collapsed when they came on deck to us. 10 to
12 of them were unconscious, several had dysenteria and a pregnant woman suffered abdominal
First we were told to bring them to Christmas Island, then they changed
their minds and said that the refugees were not allowed to disembark at any account. I got mad.
Rinnan has been a sailor since
1958, and a captain for 23 years.
I have seen most of what there is to see in this profession, but what I
experienced on this trip is the worst. When we asked for food and medicine for the refugees, the Australians sent commando troops onboard. This created
a very high tension among the refugees. After an hour of checking the refugees, the troops agreed to give medical
assistance to some of them.... - The soldiers obviously didn't like their
Was it the case that the decent
Australian search and rescue people, and the soldiers, simply did their jobs,
but the government interfered for political gain? It certainly looked that
way to the rest of the world, according to Hamish Fitzsimmons and John Schauble
from the Sydney
Morning Herald. (Link live at 19/1/2002) They reported on August
30 that while the predictable talk back radio paranoia and xenophobia was
supporting Howard the overseas views were "not so kind."
"Foreign media reports have been highly critical of the Government's actions,
even suggesting a possible return to the White Australia policy. "
They report Reuters as saying
Australia's reputation as a fortress against the Asian hordes has
been reclaimed this week with the rejection of a teeming migrant ship and [a] hardening stand against
Reports from countries with a higher level of illegal immigration than
Australia's, particularly Germany and Britain, have been scathing. Britain's
Daily Telegraph said people-smugglers receive lenient treatment while genuine refugees may face time in "concentration camps". "The refugees
themselves face a double dose of suffering; first risking their lives in
leaky, rusting boats on the promise of a job and a new life, only to find themselves locked up in austere outback
The Guardian said sending in
the troops was about John Howard's political future. In researching this
article I found comparisons on the BBC
(link live at 19/1/2001) website with Margaret Thatcher sending troops to
the Falklands to ensure her own re-election.
The Federal Government's
behaviour over the Tampa and it's use of refugees as an election lever is
disgraceful. This disgrace is shared by the Opposition Labour Party who supported
them. And by Australia, who re-elected the Howard Government. Perhaps the
final word on our ethical BO belongs to The
Rocket, a satirical Australia Website. Read this article in full
there, but I give you some preview of the tone below:
support for the Australian Government response to the asylum seekers stranded
aboard MS Tampa off Christmas Island has begun to flow in.
President, Robert Mugabe was the first to offer John Howard support.
cannot stress too highly my delight at the firm action you have taken in
relation to this invasion. Having tried to cope with our own problem with
illegal white squatters on big white farms, I can honestly say, the only way
to protect your sovereignty is through forced removal," said Mr Mugabe in
a statement delivered to John Howard by the Zimbabwe High Commissioner.
Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher also offered support in a communiqué
delivered to John Howard.
should have had the courage to do this long ago. It is time to take off the
velvet gloves and show them the iron fist of democracy at work. The
Commonwealth cannot stand by and be held hostage by a bunch of heathen land
grabbers," she said in a statement.
Hanson is so thrilled with the Governments response to the latest boat load of
illegal immigrants she is reportedly thinking of changing One Nation's tactics
and giving preferences to the Howard Government.
all along most Australians want our immigration policy radically reviewed and
multiculturalism abolished. I believe we are in danger of being swamped by
Asians," she repeated. "Let them go back to their own culture, their
idolatrous religion and their pathetic homes. They will only form ghettos and
do not assimilate."
Put simply, we stink.