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The arrival of the VT838
The Darwin landing of the VT838 - On October 5, 1981, the VT838 with 6 crew and 140 passengers sailed into Darwin harbour - the very last of the 'first wave' of Vietnamese boats. Malcolm Fraser and his Immigration Minister Ian Macphee, in collaboration with the Immigration Department, Customs and aided by two Hong Kong police officers flown in for the occasion, swiftly deported all passengers while the media outrage built from Immigration Department informants and statements by Macphee, claiming they were 'economic migrants' and 'bogus refugees', 'too healthy looking' while carrying 'too much money'. To achieve the deportation, Australia's Governor-General hurriedly proclaimed Fraser's "people-smuggling laws", while the Fraser government claimed the organisers were "traffickers". The laws were first proposed by the Immigration Department in 1979.

Malcolm Fraser's response to 'commercial' refugee voyages

A published academic paper about Malcolm Fraser and refugee boats

by Jack H Smit

Journal of International Relations
Volume 8, Number 2, 2010 (pp. 76-103)
December 2010
University of Dhaka
Dhaka-1000, Bangladesh

"Australia's former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was not the great humanitarian of Australian refugee policy many people have claimed in recent years. Such claims are held especially when painting a contrast with the hardline policies implemented by Prime Minister John Howard from 2001 onwards."

Download paper from here:

Related documentation

  • Moss Cass and Queue Jumping Boat People - ALP spokesman on Immigration during the 3rd Fraser Government, Dr Moss Cass, is widely, but incorrectly claimed to have been the first politician in Australia to publicly use the term "queue jumpers" in a column in The Australian in 1978, just two years after the first refugee boat landed on our shores. Here's the article. (PDF File 256 Kb)
  • Sydney Morning Herald: arrival and deportation of the VT838 - Sydney Morning Herald News clippings from October 6 to December 26, 1981, showing the developing saga of the arrival, subsequent charging of the crew and the deportation of all 140 passengers and 6 crew 'because they were a people smuggling vessel. (PDF File 736Kb)
  • Northern Territory News: arrival and deportation of the VT838 - Northern Territory News clippings from October 5 to December 30, 1981, showing the developing saga of the arrival, subsequent charging of the crew and the deportation of all 140 passengers and 6 crew 'because they were a people smuggling vessel. (PDF File 2.27Mb)
  • Canberra Times: arrival and deportation of the VT838 - Canberra Times News clippings from October 6 to December 26, 1981, showing the developing saga of the arrival, subsequent charging of the crew and the deportation of all 140 passengers and 6 crew 'because they were a people smuggling vessel. (PDF File 832Kb)

Abstract

Australia's former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was not the great humanitarian of Australian refugee policy many people have claimed in recent years. Such claims are held especially when painting a contrast with the hardline policies implemented by Prime Minister John Howard from 2001 onwards.

Although Fraser achieved many things around the intake of Indo-Chinese refugees following the fall of Saigon, the combination of his "boat-holding policy", his deterrent international broadcast messages about "queue jumpers" and his refusal to deal with five huge vessels sailing from Vietnam show that in relation to "boat arrivals" Fraser was similar to all Prime Ministers that came after him, hoping that "the boats would stop".

Fraser not only refused to deal with these five huge vessels, even after the UN stated that the passengers should be treated as refugees, he held them up as examples of "trafficking" when his "people smuggling laws" were presented, debated and passed in Parliament during 1980. Moreover, the policy patterns and directions set in place from 1978 to 1980, although they may well have been drafted by Australian immigration officials, confirmed the directions firmly maintained under successive governments from Fraser onwards.

If Fraser would have employed a different response around immigration department initiatives, Australians may now well react very differently every time an asylum seeker boat arrives on their horizon.

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