On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the ‘Tampa’ and ‘Children Overboard’ affairs, ABC1 will screen the controversial documentary Leaky Boat which, for the first time, talks to all the people directly involved in the events as they unfolded.
The program fully documents for the first time the flow of information about the ‘Tampa’ and ‘Children Overboard’ incidents and the reactions and responses to that information.
Leaky Boat viewers also hear from the people most intimately involved – asylum seekers and Australian Defence Forces.
For the first time Navy Admirals, sailors and SAS commandoes as well as Afghan farm boys and Iraqi school girls reveal what really happened during some of the most controversial days in recent Australian history.
Former Prime Minister John Howard on the arrival of the Tampa said: “The Tampa was the beginning of the turning point. The only thing to do was to take a stand.”
And then on the refugee debate John Howard said:”I was never afraid to have this debate. People want governments to represent them occasionally and to actually express how they feel and providing their feelings are honourable governments should try and express community feelings.”
The Government’s refusal to allow the Tampa, a Norwegian flag ship, to enter Australian territory waters, after responding to an Australian issued SOS, labelled the asylum seekers potential threats and the SAS was directed to intercept and board the freighter.
On the Government’s swift military action to stop the Tampa entering Australian waters, Carmen Lawrence, Labor MP from 1994-2007 said: “It was the most calculated move by the Government to scare the pants off Australians.”
On the SAS being sent out by John Howard as a first response to board, command and stop the Tampa, Peter Tinley, the second in command of the SAS Counter Terrorism Squad said: “I can’t help but feel that the Prime Minister, John Howard, viewed the SAS as something that would resonate politically to the message of border security. You can’t amp it up more in the public’s mind than saying, ‘we’re going to send in the SAS, we’ll show you how tough we are on border security’.”
Vice Admiral Chris Ritchie, Commander, Australian Theatre said: “It seemed to me to be a funny way to get to Australia if you were a terrorist. I mean, there are easier ways to get into Australia than spend six months in Nauru or somewhere like that, having travelled in a leaky boat.”
Talking on the control of information about the refugees to the public, Jenny McKenry, the Head of Public Affairs for the Department of Defence in 2001 said: “The Australian public knew very little about it. What the Government was doing was trying to control very much what people saw, what they heard, what they were told.”
“We were told quite clearly that all information was to come out of the Minister’s office, that there were to be no comments issued through Public Relations or through the Defence Department. And we were told that there was to be nothing in the public forum which would humanise these people. We were quite stunned. We had perceived that the line was going to be hard, but we didn’t realize that it was going to be that hard.”
HMAS Adelaide Abel Seaman Bec Lynd on the rescue of the refugees from the sinking of Siev 4 – the ‘Children Overboard’ boat:
“We thought that when we returned to Australia, we’d be getting a pat on the back for a job well done. But the captain told us that some photos had been sent from the ship that had been misinterpreted, and from that came a story that the people we had rescued had thrown some of their children overboard. He said that it was absolutely not true, but we were distinctly told not to talk to the media.”
“We were told to filter what we were to say to our families. It was a kick in the guts. It sort of made us feel like we’d just rescued a pack of dogs.”
The documentary Leaky Boat, screens Thursday, July 7 at 8.30pm on ABC1, and will be followed by a special Q&A debate – ‘Stopping the Boats’ – moderated by Tony Jones