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A government with a truly wicked dilemma

Tharnicaa Murugappan
Will Tharnicaa be bundled onto a plane and ejected from the country of her birth?


ADELAIDE - The Biloela family have now become icons for both the left and right of Australian politics.

For those on the right they represent some sort of existential threat from hordes of people of colour who want to flee to Australia to escape from repressive regimes in their countries of origin.

This xenophobic outlook permeates thinking on the right and is prevalent amongst the most reactionary and paranoid political conservatives, notably those who support the National Party.

For the left, the treatment of the family reflects what it sees as the xenophobic, callous and unjust nature of the conservative government's approach to the vexed issue of asylum seekers generally, not to mention the shameless hypocrisy reflected in their current anguish about the lack of foreign workers to toil in our agricultural industries.

It seems that, at long last, the great Australian public and the broader media has begun to question the logic, humanity and utility of locking the family away as the sole occupants of the detention centre on Christmas Island.

What, they ask, is the reason we need to spend an enormous sum each year on imprisoning this manifestly harmless and evidently well-loved little family?

The answer to this question, in so far as there is one, is that, if they are allowed to return to Biloela, this will be a signal to people smugglers that Australia has gone soft of illegal immigrants.

As John Menadue has rightly pointed out, this is egregious bullshit.

The real problem is that the government has now become the prisoner of its own rhetoric on this policy issue.

Basically, having succeeded in suppressing the people smuggling trade, the government cannot any longer pretend that those few boat people remaining in the country represent some sort of existential threat to our border security.

This problem is greatly compounded by the fact that the two little girls in this family were born in Australia and hence, in the eyes of most Australians, are therefore citizens, not illegals.

Even though this is not true in a legal sense, it is very hard for the government to persuade a sympathetic public that these two innocent victims of this policy dispute should be arbitrarily dispatched to a country which they have never seen.

When the Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, proclaimed to the assembled media that his decision to allow the family to be reunited in Perth was an act of "compassion", the deathly silence from the assembled journalists was mute testimony to their disbelief at this act of sheer effrontery.

The obvious question was why this outbreak of compassion had not occurred three years ago? To this question, the answer was silence.

The government now has a truly wicked dilemma on its hands. If it deports this family, there will be pathetic scenes of two little girls being bundled onto a plane and ejected from their country of birth.

The optics, as they say, will be ugly and the public reaction uglier still.

But if they now agree to let them go home to Biloela, then the xenophobes and racists in their ranks will be highly displeased and make their displeasure known in various discomforting ways.

Their only escape now is if the judiciary decide in favour of this family. Then the government can say that due process has occurred and that they will accept the decision of the court.

Phew! In one bound they are free of the trap that they have created for themselves.

Of course, the most honourable and honest course of action is to say that as the circumstances have now changed, with our navy and air force constantly patrolling our northern borders, and given that the two little girls were born in Australia, the most compassionate option is to give them permanent residency and return them to Biloela.

Painful as this course of action may seem, it is probably the least politically damaging way to get out of this mess.

The great Australian public will, as is their wont, soon forget about the issue and turn their minds to other more pressing problems.

Let us hope that the young geniuses who now infest the ranks of Ministerial Advisors see the inherent virtue of doing the bleeding obvious.


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William Dunlop

Ah Chris, the blind Leading the blind, viz, the great unwashed ministerial advisory corps.

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