Documents from 2000 reveal Howard Government toughening up on refugees culminating in ‘Tampa crisis’ a year later

Back in 2000, Australia didn’t have a policy for offshore processing of asylum seekers, but as more boats reached Australian waters the coalition government’s attitude began to harden.

Arrivals were on the increase and there had been a number of incidents of unrest among asylum seekers including mass escapes from three mainland detention facilities in June.

Documents from 2000 – released by the National Archives of Australia – show that in November, cabinet agreed to measures proposed by Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock for increased penalties including a maximum five years – up from two years – in jail for escaping a detention centre.

There was also to be a new power allowing officials to strip-search detainees for weapons and to frisk-search visitors.

The Australian Army patrols the waters near the Norwegian ship Tampa in 2001. Credit: DITA ALANGKARA/AP

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