The Cabinet papers of 2002 are framed by two events in the previous year. The first took place in August 2001 when Australian troops boarded a Norwegian vessel, MV Tampa, to stop it landing rescued asylum seekers on Australian soil. The second was the terrorist attacks in the United States in September (‘9/11’)1. The ‘Tampa Crisis’ and the terrorist attacks in the United States were key contributors to the unexpectedly decisive victory of the coalition parties in the General Election on 10 November 20012.
Buoyed by this third electoral victory, the Howard Government continued to develop and implement its election-winning strategy for dealing with unauthorised arrivals. This strategy included disruption of people-smugglers in transit countries, Operation Relex, the name given to the Australian Defence Force’s border protection operations in Australia’s northern approaches, and processing asylum seekers offshore3.
2002 was also a year in which the Howard Government was involved with a range of national security and foreign policy issues, many of which were associated with the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001 and Australia’s earlier intervention in East Timor. Cabinet’s focus on President George W. Bush’s ‘war on terror’ was accentuated by the Bali Bombings that took place on 12 October 2002. The government also paid particular attention to trouble spots in the region, the Solomon Islands and Bougainville and East Timor, with which it negotiated a resource-sharing agreement in the Timor Sea. Defence policy-makers, moreover, started to move away from the local defence strategy (the Defence of Australia strategy) that had been pursued by Australian governments since at least the 1980s.
Domestically, although it could not see it then, the government was on the cusp of enjoying the benefits of one of the biggest economic booms in Australian history, the China-inspired resources boom that would last for at least a decade after 20024. As well as managing this coming prosperity, the Howard Government addressed a range of domestic issues.
These are addressed in this paper under the categories of transport, infrastructure and communication; rural and regional issues; welfare reform, economic and health policy; and indigenous policy. In managing issues such as Telstra privatisation and policy toward rural and regional Australia, the Howard Government alleviated tensions between the coalition parties and continued to build a political ascendancy that positioned it for a fourth election victory in 20045.