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Thursday, 30 August 2001
Page: 30663


Mr BEAZLEY (2:00 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, given that it was Australian authorities who advised the captain of the MV Tampa to rescue more than 430 people from their sinking ship, what advice is Australia now giving to the captain? In particular, beyond asking him to leave Australian waters, what are you advising him to do with his ship and the people on board if he complies with this direction?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I think that it is worth while just recapitulating the sequence of events which occurred, because with an issue like this some of the facts in the sequence in which events unfolded can be lost sight of. On Sunday, 26 August a Norwegian registered vessel, Tampa, which was travelling from Fremantle to Singapore, responded to a broadcast issued by Australian Search and Rescue alerting of a vessel in distress. The Tampa diverted its course and rescued 434 prospective unauthorised arrivals in international waters from a fishing boat that had set off from Indonesia and was crewed by Indonesians.

After picking them up—I stress, at the direction of the Indonesian search and rescue authorities—the MV Tampa then proceeded towards the Indonesian port of Merak where the ship had been granted approval—I repeat: the ship had been granted approval—to dock and for the group to disembark. However, under a form of duress, with some people threatening to jump overboard, the master turned the ship around and headed for Christmas Island. The Tampa stood off Christmas Island outside Australian territorial waters.

The current situation is that the Tampa is still lying within Australian territorial waters. It is our view that it should return to international waters. We are in the process of providing all the necessary medical help that is needed. I take the opportunity of again reminding the House that, contrary to the advice received from the ship's master and also from the Norwegian company owning the vessel, the finding of the Australian Defence Force doctor was that there were four people suffering dehydration, some eight to 10 people with sprained ankles, and one person described as having a mild or soft fracture. The doctor said that none of them were in need of medical evacuation. He also indicated that there were adequate medical supplies on board to deal with those situations.

Clearly, the requests that we give to the master of the vessel, the behaviour that we will expect of him and the action that the Australian authorities may take to bring about a certain course of action will be consistent with our legal obligations, our legal rights and, also of course, our humanitarian obligations. Beyond that, I do not propose to say anything further in answer to the question.