ALP speaks out against the plight of the Biloela family

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Anthony Albanese, along with the nation, has shown support for the Tamil family facing deportation (Screenshot via YouTube)

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has spoken out against deportation of the struggling Biloela family, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

WE ARE A COUNTRY that has embraced the savage falsehood that terrorising others is the only way we can keep our borders secure. The question must be asked: if it is necessary to engage in violence and State-sponsored brutality in order to secure our sovereignty, how can that sovereignty be worthy of preservation?

Our immorality is exacerbated when we acknowledge that those terrorised by our Government have legally sought asylum in Australia and the method of their arrival makes no difference at all to their legal right to seek sanctuary. Every time any media outlet describes boat arrivals as “illegal”, its reporters are lying. Every time a politician describes boat arrivals as “illegal”, he or she is lying. This myth of illegality is the foundation on which our ill-treatment and persecution of asylum seekers are justified by the State. An “illegal” arrival is condemned to punishments far more severe and long-lasting than the worst of our murderers and with fewer rights than any of our worst criminals.

This is what we do to those seeking sanctuary because our politicians are incapable of protecting our borders without destroying innocent lives. Even the lives of children. This is an appalling failure on the part of our politicians. It’s not any kind of failure on the part of those legally seeking refuge.

It makes no difference how many of us stridently declare, “this isn’t us”. As torment through neglect, isolation and denial of all hope is the ongoing policy of both major parties, it clearly is “us”, no matter how much some of “us” wish to deny that reality.

We are very specific about which others we need to brutalise in order to protect our borders. We apparently don’t fear the incursion into our sovereignty perpetrated by asylum seekers who arrive by plane, only those who travel here by boat. In the past four years, 64,362 protection visa applications have been made by unvetted individuals who have arrived by plane. This is an increase of some 20,000 applications since the previous five years. Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton were the relevant ministers during this period.

Public sympathy has quite rightly been captured by the plight of the family from Biloela, the parents of whom fled Sri Lanka and arrived here by boat in 2012 and 2013. Priya, Nadesalingam and their small, Australian-born daughters Kopika and Tharunicaa were the subjects last week of a furtive attempt by Home Affairs Minister Dutton to remove them from immigration detention where they’ve languished for months and refoul them to Sri Lanka. A last-minute injunction halted their Skytraders flight in Darwin and the family are now in the Christmas Island Detention Centre, thoughtfully re-opened prior to the May Election to give Prime Minister Scott Morrison a costly photo opportunity.  

Astonishingly, the ALP has come out fighting against the Government’s publicly funded cruelty as Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese described this latest in a long list of atrocities perpetrated against waterborne asylum seekers by both major parties.

Sadly, the Labor Party’s current outrage does not appear to extend to the plight of the refugees and asylum seekers who’ve spent some six years slowly rotting physically, emotionally and psychologically on Manus Island and Nauru. The ALP continues to declare that not one of these boat arrivals will ever be settled in Australia, making the Opposition as culpable in their violent persecution as is the Morrison Government.

The “publicly funded cruelty” of which Mr Albanese speaks has long been evident in the treatment of boat arrivals in every detention facility that has housed them, under the auspices of both major parties. It is remarkable that the ALP should single out the Biloela family as objects of its sympathies and a cynic might speculate that there are votes in standing up for those little girls, given the strength of the public outcry at their callous treatment.

However, the ALP’s belated interest in the fate of one family only reminds us that there is ongoing bipartisanship in the torment of waterborne refugees, just as there was some 20 years ago when then opposition leader Kim Beazley failed to adequately oppose John Howard’s disgraceful action against the Tampa survivors and, prior to that, when Paul Keating introduced indefinite mandatory detention in 1992. In the context of the ALP’s consistent hostility and aggression towards those who arrive here by boat, their current support for the Biloela family smacks more of self-interest than genuine concern for all those condemned to the misery of hopelessness and despair.

It is chilling that politicians from both major parties continue to cite “stopping deaths at sea” as justification for subjecting people to torture and neglect instead of them drowning. And what exactly does happen to those asylum seekers on the boats Dutton and Morrison claim to have stopped but apparently have not, as they keep needing to turn them back?

Obviously, boats have not been stopped and people smugglers are still in business both on water and in the air. Stopping the boats arriving in Australia is not actually stopping the boats — people are still trying to flee deadly circumstances through any means available and Australia is still sending them back, but to what?

On the matter of the Biloela family, the question is not if they are refugees. The question is if their situation is one that qualifies for ministerial discretion, given their contribution to their community and their community’s obvious concern and affection for them. Given the very low bar set for ministerial discretion – as in the matter of the French au pair Peter Dutton personally organised to have released from an immigration detention in a matter of a couple of hours on a Sunday – it would appear to be a no-brainer. The family are productive, contributing members of their community, happily settled in a regional area where they are both needed and wanted.

However, should ministerial discretion grant them a reprieve, we will, according to the Government, be inundated with boatloads of people seeking the same result, because Morrison hasn’t and can’t stop the boats despite his bragging to the contrary.

We will likely never know the fate of this family if they are refouled. The very fact that they escaped Sri Lanka by boat will likely see them incarcerated. They will become yet another unit of collateral damage, caused by successive governments who have no idea how to secure our borders without destroying the lives of those who legally seek asylum. Our politicians are abject failures, as is any group or individual that resorts to terror and violence to achieve its goals.

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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