Father Aloysious Mowe SJ, director of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia
Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the rescue by the Norwegian cargo ship Tampa of 433 asylum seekers from a sinking vessel in the Indian Ocean, and the refusal of the Howard Government to allow them entry into Australia, reports the Catholic Weekly.
The key consequence of the crisis was that Australia made a "fundamental shift" in the way refugees were regarded in relation to its society, says Father Aloysious Mowe SJ, director of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia.
Fr Aloysious said that before Tampa, refugees had been seen as part of the general migrant population coming to Australia.
"Most of the time, certainly before Malcolm Fraser's government opened Australia's borders to the Vietnamese boat people, refugees were admitted not out of any humanitarian instinct that they were in need of protection, but rather because they added value to Australia, the 'migration gain' in other words," he said.
"Refugees under this policy were not stigmatised: they were regarded as part of the larger cohort of migrants who would make a contribution to Australian life.
"The problem with this policy, however, was that often people with the greatest need for protection, those with mental or physical disabilities as a result of conflict, for example, were not taken in by the government because their presence in Australia was not seen as contributing to the good of Australia.
"Even when a more distinct and specific refugee policy was introduced ... there was nevertheless still a culture in government that regarded the refugee population as part of the general migrant flow into Australia: people coming to this country who would boost the population and add value to Australia."
Fr Aloysious said John Howard had been able to "manipulate public fears" that had first been planted in the minds of the electorate by the likes of Pauline Hanson and to "give those fears a legitimacy that they did not merit".
Refugees: Tampa rescue took away welcome mat (The Catholic Weekly)
Image from a report previously on catholicreligiousaustralia.com