Annie’s story: Escape from abuse
Our politicians are corrupt, say Australians

Biloela 4: immorality, cruelty, racism, scams


NOOSA - The Australian government has been in real disarray recently as it struggles with the case of asylum seekers Priya and Nades Murugappan and their two Australian-born daughters, Kopika and Tharnicaa, whose plight again became a matter of great public concern.

The latest drama involving this family occurred when four-year old Tharnicaa became seriously ill and, accompanied by her mother, was flown to Perth after pneumonia turned into sepsis and there were fears she might otherwise die.

I must remind my Papua New Guinean friends, although you already know this, that the Australian government that provides your country with K1.3 billion a year is the same country that maltreats people of colour within its own borders.

It is the same government that refuses to find a place in its Constitution for the people who occupied its soil for 60,000 years before the first colonisers arrived in 1788 to consign those people to a subservient and even despised place in society.

Australia is a country where, in many people, the racism lies not far beneath the skin. But you know that. You have most likely experienced it.

Until this week the Murugappan family had been held on Christmas Island since August 2019. They were suddenly brought together in community detention in Perth after a public outcry about their treatment.

The father and mother, Priya and Nades, arrived in Australia by boat in 2012 and 2013, and for some years lived and worked in the Queensland regional town of Biloela.

There the community warmed to them, then was proud of them and later was horrified when the family was callously removed in 2018 after all members of the family except baby Tharnicaa exhausted legal attempts to be granted refugee status.

They appealed against their expulsion and a court injunction prevented them being deported to Sri Lanka.

The Australian government has been spending K4 million a year keeping them under guard on Christmas Island.

They were transported to Christmas Island very much as those early convicts were transported from England to Australia – to get them as far away as possible and make their lives as harsh as possible so they might realise the full weight of their folly.

The Australian government’s actions are cruel and morally bankrupt.

But, as experts in immigration law, like John Menadue, former secretary of the Australian Immigration Department know, that law is built around exceptions.

“There are options to resolve this matter with justice and fairness,” Menadue wrote on his website Pearls & Irritations this week.

“Ministerial intervention powers are designed to deal with compassionate and exceptional circumstances otherwise not covered in legislation. I have personally seen those powers exercised.”

Menadue believes that in this case there other exceptional and compassionate circumstances that should be considered

These people are being deported because the parents arrived in Australia in small boats.

These boats provided the Liberal-National Coalition with a wonderful political scare campaign: these boats would flood Australia with ‘illegals’, as they were called, incorrectly but deliberately.

Eventually, the Coalition got smart, sent naval assets to the country’s north-west and began to implement its policy of ‘turn-backs’ remains, since which there have been few attempts to reach Australia by boat for many years.

The government did not tell the Australian people this, but the asylum seekers did not stop coming. Instead of arriving in boats, they arrive in aircraft.

With the help of people smugglers there has been a huge increase in asylum seekers coming by air

“Over the past six or seven years, the government has presided over the biggest labour trafficking scam and abuse of Australia’s asylum system in our history,” John Menadue writes.

“As a result of that scam, there are currently over 27,000 unsuccessful asylum seekers living in the community. This number will rise significantly as more of the huge backlog of applications is processed.”

Menadue writes that he expects that many boat arrivals have been resettled into the community already on temporary visas.

“Legally, these people are in the same position as the Biloela family,” he says, “yet these unsuccessful asylum seekers have not had a team of Border Force officers fly to a remote Queensland town to pick them up and put them into detention.

“In my public life I have not seen much to beat all this for cruelty and hypocrisy.”


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Philip Fitzpatrick

I think you've worked out Morrison and Hawke's 'plan', Chris, insofar as the Coalition ever plans anything. They're hoping the court will save them.

They are also probably sweating it out until the great Australian public "turn their minds to other more pressing problems" - like the Tokyo Olympics.

We mustn't forget that it was Mutton Dutton who started this whole fiasco with his dawn raid on the Murugappan family.

Chris Overland

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 3 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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