Sir Gerard Brennan, former High Court chief justice has chosen to weigh in on the on-going and unending saga of Biloela family – the Sri Lankan asylum seeker family’s fight to stay in Australia. Apart from the fact that both parents Priya and Nadesalingam Murugappan (Nades) came to Australia by boat, their girls Kopika and Tharnicaa– who were born in Australia and the parents have done nothing wrong.
The town of Biloela in Queensland, where they were living before being thrown in detention, has been long appealing the federal government to let the nice and well behaved, well intentioned Tamil family stay. Despite these real people who dealt with the family on daily basis and were ready to vouch for them appealing on their behalf, the government has been totally unmoved and seems to be determined to deport them to Sri Lanka.
In the process, the girls are being continuously subjected to the rough end of the stick. One of the girls has had all her three birthdays in detention centres.
But when Tharnicaa had to be evacuated from Christmas Island being seriously ill and was diagnosed with severe pneumonia and blood infection, it was too much Sri Gerard Brennan to keep quiet.
Sir Brennan slammed the “deliberate cruelty” inflicted on Kopika and Tharnicaa Murugappan of this Biloela Tamil family detained on Christmas Island and warned that Australia must not harm the two young girls to punish their parents, Priya and Nades.
In a dramatic intervention in a growing row, Sir Gerard Brennan says he is ashamed of the treatment of the family, The Age reported.
“Tharnicaa has committed no offence; she presents no danger. Cruelty is being inflicted upon her to punish her parents who came by boat without a visa and thus to discourage others from breaching one of our immigration policies,” Sir gerard says writing in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age letters pages.
Priya, her husband Nades, and their two Australian-born children, Kopika and Tharnicaa, were taken from the regional Queensland town of Biloela and put into detention more than 1,000 days ago, and have been held on Christmas Island since late 2019 while they challenged the government’s attempt to send them to Sri Lanka.
The Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan also accused the federal government of causing “international embarrassment” to Australia and called upon Canberra to fix its mistake by letting the family settle permanently in Australia.
“If that means they need to use one of their exemption powers under the act, just do it, and resolve the issue,” he said.
But Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews pushed back on Thursday against calls on her to use her discretion to give refugee status to the family.
“It’s not a case of being mean,” Ms Andrews told the Seven Network.
“I am not going to have people dying trying to come to Australia by sea on my watch. I’m not going to open the gates to the people smugglers” Ms Andrews said, almost following the script of past predecessor and now Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Appointed to the High Court by a Liberal government in 1981 and elevated to chief justice by a Labor government in 1995, Sir Gerard Brennan says the case is testing basic Australian values because of the treatment of the children.
“The cruelty suffered by Tharnicaa – Australian-born and now in a Perth hospital – is not an unintended consequence of a general policy; it is cruelty inflicted on a child deliberately as a warning to others not to come to Australia by boat without a visa,” he says.
“If we want to enforce a policy to stop people smuggling, we must do so by action taken against the people smugglers or the people being smuggled.
“It is a hard policy to implement, but if action is ineffective to prevent potential parents from settling in Australia, and the parents do settle and have children here, it is unconscionable to impose deliberate cruelty on those children to rectify the earlier failure to exclude the parents.”
Sir Gerard says it would be a “cruelty obnoxious to Australian values” to deprive the children of their parents or isolate them with their parents to discourage future people smugglers.
“Basic and important Australian values are at stake. They must not be discarded by a show of heartlessness towards Australian children,” he writes.
Sir Gerard stepped down from the High Court in 1998 and was chancellor of the University of Technology, Sydney, from 1999 to 2005.
The Murugappan parents lost their attempts in the courts to gain refugee status in Australia in May 2019 when the High Court refused them leave to appeal against a Federal Court decision that they should be deported to Sri Lanka.
But the Federal Court decided in February that Tharnicaa had been denied procedural fairness, continuing the legal process over the family’s fate while they ask the government to let them stay.
While Ms Andrews spoke about “a range of resettlement options” such as New Zealand and the United States at a press conference on Tuesday, she clarified on Thursday that she was referring to refugees in general and not the Murugappan family.
Mr McGowan said the government should use its powers to let the Biloela family settle in Australia.
“We actually need workers in Australia at the moment and to get this very unfortunate and somewhat internationally embarrassing issue behind us.”
It has also been reported that Tony Abbott in his last few months in parliament had also written to David Coleman, the then Immigration minister to consider granting the Biloela family permanent residency as they had integrated well within the local community.