Australia is a country that will not be intimidated by its own decency. On 28 August 2001, as a detail of Special Air Services soldiers was dispatched to MV Tampa, Prime Minister John Howard spoke about the 438 people – mostly Afghan Hazaras – who languished aboard the freighter. ‘We are humane people,’ he told Mike Munro. ‘[B]ut on the other hand, I have to worry and my colleagues have to worry about the flow of people coming into this country. Now we have decided in relation to this particular vessel to take a stand.’ There is a blunt art to Canberra’s politics on immigration: it consists of assuring voters that asylum seekers’ detention and removal from our shores are the exception to the ‘national character’ – unfortunate, yes, invidious even – but essential in preserving this lone island as our own.
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