This week we have seen the Government tie itself in knots, as it tries to find a balance between torturing children, and on the other hand, not torturing them. The situation has become so grave that the Government has called on one of its own, a former paediatrician no less, to say that being a little bit cruel to small children and their parents is possibly all right, as long as it serves the greater good, and does not raise the expectations of the “thousands of other families” in a similar situation.
At least that is what I took from Katie Allen’s interview with Fran Kelly on the radio this morning. She was very careful not to overstep the mark, but she was at least a moderating voice, when compared to the macho posturing of most of the Ministry. She did concede that her electorate cares about this family, and so her exposure here might be clever reading of the wind’s direction.
She further believes that the eight weeks sanctuary, provided under duress by the Minister, is somehow heaven sent. That is the time required for four-year-old Tharunicaa to recover. But what to do with them after the eight weeks? Dr Allen did not know. And neither does the Government. Perhaps when Scott finishes embarrassing us all and returns to home shores he will provide us with a win-win solution.
This dilemma is entirely an own goal from the Government. Did they think that we had all gone to sleep, that we did not remember the tale of the ‘Biloela Family’? This standoff could have been easily defused years ago, but Morrison, or Dutton, the ghostly Coleman or even Tudge (all Immigration Ministers) could all have had a go at doing the right thing, and choosing not to use a couple of helpless children as pawns in a tasteless form of messaging to the dreaded people smugglers. It is also a handy ‘wedge’ for the hapless ALP.
Mr Littleproud distinguished himself by referring to those who disagreed with the Government’s hard line position. In his opinion they were little more than a ‘mob’. Mr Littleproud represents a very different electorate. Not the quiet tree-lined streets of Melbourne’s Higgins, but the safest Nationals seat in the country, Maranoa in Queensland. He has a 22% margin to gamble with, so he can afford to be a little abrasive. Or can he? This non-decision is superficially popular, but miserable and mean. Save the family for eight weeks, and then send them away, to who knows what …
Of course the right wing is up in arms. The parents were not genuine refugees, and so they should not have had the children. Were the children examples of “anchor babies” so feared by former Minister, Peter Dutton? He used the term to describe these very children. It seems his influence is long lasting, and as ever, corrosive.
What does Mr Hawke offer in the way of guidance? On Tuesday the government announced the rest of the family would be moved to Perth, where they will be held in community detention while legal matters are ongoing. Presumably they will be shipped out of the country if their last legal bids fail.
The situation for the Murugappan family is that they have so far lost eight court cases, and that there are two more pending. These cases will decide the fate of the family.
The Department of Home Affairs relies heavily on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s country information report on Sri Lanka to decide whether to give permanent protection to Tamil asylum seekers.
The current (2019) report says: Sri Lankans face a low risk of torture on a day-to-day basis. In the case of individuals detained by the authorities, DFAT assesses the risk of torture to be moderate. Where it occurs, some mistreatment may amount to torture. DFAT assesses that Sri Lankans face a low risk of torture overall.
So there is a good chance they will be mistreated, with occasional lapses into outright torture. This will probably NOT be on a day to day basis, however. Will Australia intervene if the “mistreatment” extends to the children, or will we lose interest, because they are outside our narrow view?
The British Government, through the Upper Tribunal, has now stopped relying on this report, because of its shoddy research and unfounded conclusions. So Australia continues to use a discredited report, to justify its ‘sort of sunny’ judgement on Sri Lankan conditions for Tamil refugees, which even the U.K. Government believes is unreliable.
What century do these people live in? The adults arrived in 2012 and 2013, met and married in Australia, and have had two children here. Their local community in Biloela, a country town in Queensland, supports their staying, as do many Australian voters. The Government, and the Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke, maintain the line that allowing this family to stay in Australia will immediately unleash the people smugglers to lay siege to Australia’s borders.
How far can we go in degrading people who arrived by boat? Some unkind souls might even think that the lack of timely medical treatment is indicative of a studied attitude of indifference, even malevolence, to the family, and indeed all the other unlawful maritime arrivals (UMAs) in our ‘care’.
Just another case of the Government playing to the lowest common denominator in Australians’ minds. Fear of the unknown, and a too easy acceptance of what was a patently fabricated lie, which suggests if you feel, or show compassion to asylum-seekers, you not only accept drownings at sea, but you encourage them. Please save us from these people.