20 Years since Tampa

This Resource Kit has been compiled by the Australian Refugee Action Network (ARAN) to provide a range of accessible material and resources to support community groups to mark the 20th anniversary of the events which culminated in the ‘Tampa election’ in 2001. In the 3 months from 26 August to the federal election in November the Howard Government made decisions, passed legislation and engaged in propaganda which set the direction of refugee policy and resulted in 20 years of suffering for people seeking asylum, and 20 years of shame for Australians. 

What’s in the Kit?

See below a sample of what’s in the Kit  – download here to see all the material 

  • Articles about these events with links to various reports and articles providing comprehensive background information  
  • Video clips of people speaking about the impact of these events
  • Memes you can use on social media  
  • Political cartoons and photographs from protest actions 
  • Actions you can take – sample letter to local MPs and Senators 

Suggested actions

Use the information provided here to raise awareness in your community about the Tampa Affair, the Children Overboard scandal, and the SIEVX tragedy 20 years ago, and the ongoing consequences for refugees and people who have sought asylum in Australia.  

Here are a few suggestions for marking 20 years of suffering . 20 years of shame, and to show how it could all have been so different – if our politicians then and since had stood up for just and compassionate policies.   

  • Host an information night/ conversation session about the Tampa Election and how this event set the direction for 20 years of punitive treatment and the scapegoating of refugees and people seeking asylum.   
  • Hold a discussion about the UN Refugee Convention and the obligation to provide protection to people who seek asylum – regardless of how they arrive in our country.   
  • Hold a mock debate exploring the pros and cons of the decisions taken to demonise and exile people seeking asylum in the lead up to the Tampa election 
  • Send a letter to your local MP and state Senators – see sample email/letter in the Kit  
  • Focus on 20 Years Since Tampa – 20 Years of Suffering, 20 Years of Shame at your regular information stalls and regular vigils – through your signs and stall material
  • Find out what is happening elsewhere to mark this event – share and participate in online events 
  • Send out emails to your local community support base and via your social media platforms to raise awareness of what occurred in 2001 and the damaging consequences – promote more compassionate and just treatment of refugees.  

Read about what happened, and how it shaped our current refugee policies.

See links to a number of articles including:

  • What was the Tampa Affair and how did it influence Australia’s treatment of refugees?
  • Australian politics explainer: the MV Tampa and the transformation of asylum-seeker policy (published in The Conversation) Live 
  • Let them land: remembering Tampa – how the people on Christmas Island responded    
  • Go to the Additional Articles and Research for other commentary and reflections 
  • See book reviews:  Dark Victory (David Marr and Marian Wilkinson), After Tampa (Abbas Nazari – survivor from the Tampa ) and Reluctant Rescuers (Tony Kevin

Video Clips 

View the short clips below and/or the compiled YouTube program   (28 minutes) 

Lateline 2001 –  ABC Program

This Lateline report (dropbox) from the lead-up to the 2001 Federal election analyses the electoral impact of the Tampa crisis. It provides a short history of Australia’s response to asylum seekers and refugees.  

Thiet Huynh – Arrived in Australia from Vietnam as a refugee

Thiet is a Vietnamese refugee who settled in Australia in 1979 describing how he got to Australia and the support he and his family received in this video (dropbox)

David Looker – Reflections on the Tampa ‘moment’

David Looker is a former Vice President Operations USA for the Norwegian shipping company, Wallenius Wilhelmsen, and he shares his memory of the Tampa Incident (dropbox) and his company’s attitude to always save lives as sea.

Louise Redmond – Rural Australians for Refugees

Louise gives a brief overview (dropbox) of the activities for RAR and its aims to assist refugees.

RAR web page is here

Julian Burnside – OA QC – The Tampa ‘moment’ as a turning point

Julian gives brief description of the Tampa incident (dropbox) and the impact on refugees since. He mentions the financial cost of indefinite detention and suggests that it would have been cheaper for the government to give each detained refugee $1 million. A absurd situation.

Ali Corke – Rural Australians for Refugees – How fear drives our refugee policy

Ali Corke, founder of Rural Australians for Refugees in Apollo Bay, Victoria, speaks about the Tampa as a key moment (dropbox) when our government chose the politics of fear. Ali is the author of Take Shelter, and the Power of Good People, both drawing on her experiences of getting to know refugees and becoming part of their journeys to safety and security in Australia. Ali can be contacted on email

The Very Rev’d Dr Peter Catt – Dean of St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane

The Very Rev’d Dr Peter Catt is Dean of St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane. Dr Catt holds a Bachelor of Divinity and a PhD in Evolutionary Microbiology. He is Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce and President of A Progressive Christian Voice. He also serves on Anglican and Ecumenical Social Justice Committees at a Diocesan and national level.

Peter has long been a voice in support of refugees and comments in the impact of the Tampa Incident on the Australian community. Watch him speak here (dropbox)

Memes for Social Media

The Kit contains lots of great memes you can post on social media to raise awareness of the significance of the Tampa election, and to call for welcoming refugee policies.   

Also feel free to use any of the clips above on your social media and/or use either or both of these short clips: 

Video Memes

Ali Corke – Fear

A short extract of Ali reading a poem by her daughter on fear (dropbox). It is ideal for Social Media being 27 seconds long.

Ali Corke – How we can once again be proud to be Australian

Another short extract (dropbox), 49 seconds, on the fear we should reject to again be proud of our treatment of the vulnerable.

Other Memes

Take Action – write to your local MP and your local media

See below a sample letter/email to send to your local MP and the Senators in your state. It’s important that our local politicians and senators who vote on all legislation, are reminded that many Australians disapprove of the current policies of deterrence, and want to see Australia treating refugees and people who seek asylum with compassion, and respect their right to seek protection here.

Find electorate postal and email addresses for your local MP on the Australian Parliament website

Find the email addresses for the Senators in your state in the Word Document below:

Sample Letter:

Suggested Subject line / title:     Time for change on refugee policy

Dear (name of MP)   or Dear Senators

Did you know that August 2021 marks 20 years since the Tampa election. As we all know, the decisions taken back in 2001 set the course for 20 years of unnecessary suffering for people who sought safety here is Australia. 

Thousands of people feeling war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and persecution in Sri Lanka and Myanmar have exercised their right to seek asylum since 2001. Instead of recognising this right by processing their claims for protection in a timely and orderly way, we have punished them – in offshore detention centres where conditions were reported to be worse than refugee camps in impoverished countries, in long term detention in Australia, keeping them separated from loved ones for decades, and allowing them to languish in limbo with no resolution of their claims.

Australia is now recognised internationally as having one of the harshest detention regimes for refugees, and incredibly just recently further cemented in our domestic law the right to arbitrarily and indefinitely detain people including refugees. This legislation is truly shameful, and in absolute contravention of international law, our international treaty obligations, and our espoused commitment to freedom and fairness.

It is time for change. We cannot continue on this path of calculated cruelty – it harms refugees and people seeking asylum, and our international reputation has been badly tarnished by this wilful abuse of human rights. Quite rightly the UN Human Rights Commission has consistently criticised Australia’s unlawful treatment of people who seek our protection.

We can no longer tolerate this cruelty, and the erosion of our commitment to a fair go for all.

It’s time to speak up for justice and compassion for refugees. Australia can easily welcome many more refugees, and embrace them as citizens together with us.

Yours sincerely



Letter to editors

Once you have written your letter, it’s a good idea to review it and send a short version to your local news outlet.

And…. Don’t forget to post one of your key messages on your social media.

Images, Cartoons and Photographs

There are several cartoons from the time of the Tampa incident, and also photographs from various protests – these can be used on your social media also.