For the past twenty years one group has dominated the Australian music scene like no other.  Forget INXS, John Farnham, AC/DC, Kylie or even the Wiggles the group everyone wants to know about is Mandatory Detention. Founded in Canberra in 1992 by then Prime Minister Paul ‘Recalcitrant’ Keating the group has gone through many line up changes, survived fads and styles yet always remained true to itself.  In 1996 many predicted the demise of Mandatory Detention after its charismatic founder departed, however critics could not have been further from the truth, with replacement front man ‘Rockin’ John Howard going on to define the group and with Phillip ‘Stoneheart’ Ruddock and Peter ‘Defender’ Reith, produce many of its greatest hits.  Since Howard’s replacement in 2007 by Kevin ‘Tintin’ Rudd and then Julia ‘Red-hot’ Gillard in 2010 the group has struggled to produce the quality and style of earlier hits however they have nevertheless been able to maintain the rage.  Many experts predict that when Tony ‘Mad Monk’ Abbott assumes the mantle of leader in 2013 Australia will see the Mandatory Detention of old dominating once again.

With Mandatory Detention celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2012 we take a look back at some the group’s biggest hits over the last two decades and see how and why this group has come to define Australia in the 21st century.

Mandatory Detention’s 2001 breakthrough album ‘Children Overboard’


After toiling away for years, in the backrooms of Canberra’s Parliament House and Sydney’s Kirribilli, Mandatory Detention finally came into their own in the late 90’s and early ‘00’s.  Their breakthrough album, 2001’s Children Overboard was a hailed as a modern masterpiece and featured the bestselling hits ‘Children Overboard’, ‘Woomera Riots’, ‘Exclusion Zone’, ‘Tampa’ and the reworked Bob Geldof cover ‘Do they know it’s Christmas (Island?)’

Children Overboard – The title track, Children Overboard made a huge splash and remains one of Mandatory Detention’s biggest hits, capturing the imagination of a nation.  Sadly for the group the adulation was short lived and mirroring the overnight success of Milli Vanilli some ten years earlier John Howard, Philip Ruddock and Peter Reith were forced to concede that Children Overboard was in fact a fake.  Despite this embarrassing admission the song remained immensely popular and its impact it still felt today.

Woomera Riots – Mandatory Detention set the music world alight with the release of the high energy ‘Woomera Riots’ in late 2001.  The fiery aggression of the group chorus ‘What do we want?  Woomera closed!  When do we want it?  NOW!’ still packs a punch after all these years.

Exclusion Zone – Mandatory Detention strayed from their rock roots for Exclusion Zone, collaborating with hip hop stars MC Manus, DJ Nauru and Poppa Nue Guinea.  Nevertheless Exclusion Zone proved a hit and showcased the versatility of Mandatory Detention’s talents.

TampaWho could forget the international hit, Tampa – another outstanding track from Children Overboard, with the unforgettable line ‘We decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come,’ – always a crowd pleaser.  Tampa was also Children Overboard’s first entry to the Triple J Hottest 100, reaching number 14.

Do they know it’s Christmas (Island?) – The closing number on Mandatory Detention’s debut album, the reworked cover of Bob Geldof’s 1984 classic Live Aid track.  With the all-white Qantas Choir as back up it was an audacious move by the group, yet like everything else they did in the early ‘00’s it turned to gold.

Mandatory Detention’s 2005 release ‘National Security’


After the runaway success of 2001’s Children Overboard Australians wondered just how Mandatory Detention would follow up.  Album no.2, 2005’s National Security, picked up right where Children Overboard left off four years earlier.

Cornelia Rau – Cornelia Rau was the first of two ‘accidental’ hits in 2005 for from National Security.  Never intended as a single, the track was leaked through the internet and with fans waiting four long years for new material it was picked up by radio stations across the country and dominated the airwaves for months.

Vivien Solon – Mandatory Detention were hoping that Cornelia Rau would be the only leak of 2005, however not long after, Vivien Solon found it’s way out too.  Vivien Solon was not as big a hit as Cornelia Rau in Australia, although it did reach no.1 in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Q Jumpazz – Q Jumpazz saw Mandatory Detention again branch out and collaborate with hip hop talent, this time Australian rappers Redd Kneck, Whyte Pryde and F.U. Mussies.  Yet another masterstroke.

Boat people – An instant classic, Boat People was a no nonsense, stripped back rock song and had the Australian public mesmerised.

Illegal immigrants– The final single from National Security and Mandatory Detention’s first real venture into rock ballad territory, yet again it proved successful, despite the 7:51 time limit the Australian public could not get enough of Illegal Immigrants.

2010’s highly criticised ‘The Malaysia Solution’


Mandatory Detention’s most recent release and the first since long time front man John Howard departed.  In the years between Howard’s departure and the release of The Malaysia Solution, Mandatory Detention went through many line-up changes before settling on the Julia Gillard – Chris Bowen combination..  Fans are still warming to them and Howard’s presence is clearly missed on the Malaysia Solution, with many of the tracks not having the same punch as before.  Nevertheless, while critics and fans have picked apart many facets of the album The Malaysia Solution is still a solid release.

The Malaysia Solution – The title track has perhaps come in for the most criticism, with fans and critics accusing Gillard and Bowen of rehashing Mandatory Detention’s 2001 sound, when it should be looking for a new direction.

Mental Breakdown – A poignant reminder of how powerful Mandatory Detention can be, Mental Breakdown is a dark, brooding rock song that cuts deep.

Afghan Tamil Freeze – A Dylan inspired track, an almost spoken word, story telling, narrative recounting the decision to freeze Afghan and Sri Lankan visa processing – moving and haunting.


Mandatory Detention has announced their next album will be released mid 2013 and has the working title Stop the Boats!  Fans are salivating at the thought of ‘Rockin’ John Howard protégé Tony ‘Mad Monk’ Abbott taking the reigns and bringing back the tough edge many see as missing from 2010’s The Malaysia Solution.

Only time will tell if Abbott is the man to reignite Mandatory Detention.

Until then…

Tony ‘Mad Monk’ Abbott – the next front man of Mandatory Detention..?