No issue would have been easier to exploit than this.
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As part of its involvement, the government promised Malaysia and Indonesia that it would take a generous quota of refugees from their holding camps.
From the political point of view the planned admission of ten thousand Indochinese refugees each year was far less sensitive than the spontaneous arrival of a considerably smaller number in boats.
In 1985 the High Court had decided that the question of refugee determination was not exclusively a matter for decision by government but could be reviewed by the courts.
Between 19 the Cambodians were shunted around the country and, in 1991, placed inside Australia’s first special-purpose asylum seeker detention centre at Port Hedland in the remote north-west.
One reason for this was to make it more difficult for lawyers to contact them.
In May 1992 the detention of asylum seekers was found, in the Federal Court, to be unlawful.
There was at this time in our history no thought of mandatory detention.
Indeed, if the Vietnamese had been locked up there would have been a conservative revolt.
The road that led to Nauru began, then, not in 1976 but in November 1989 when a boat carrying twenty-three asylum seekers from Cambodia arrived at Pender Bay in Western Australia.
In March and June 1990 two further asylum seeker boats from Cambodia arrived.