Politics Analysis

The Morrison Government's three big furphies on the Biloela family

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The Murugappan family has endured years of detention at the hands of the Australian Government (image via YouTube)

On 19 June 2021, rallies were held around the country in support of the Biloela family. Below is the speech IA columnist Dr Abul Rizvi gave at a Canberra rally.

AS THE FORMER public servants in the audience will know, an important part of our role is to brief the minister whenever he or she makes a public statement that may have been misleading.

That is designed to enable the public record to be corrected.

It is against that background that I find it surprising the Minister has not corrected the public record on three – let me call them furphies – the Government has put on the public record in respect of the Biloela family.

The first of those furphies is that the Minister cannot intervene in this case until all the relevant legal processes are complete.

That is nonsense.

Successive immigration ministers have been able to use their intervention powers to grant the Biloela family visas ever since the very first refusal decision was made many years ago.

There is nothing in the law or good public policy that has prevented that.

Indeed, during my time in the Department of Immigration, ministers regularly made such interventions whenever it was is in the public interest to do so.

That is how the Migration Act is designed.

Such interventions do not set any precedent as these decisions can only be made by the Minister acting personally. Intervention decisions are non-reviewable, non-delegable and non-compellable.

Wise and judicious use of intervention powers is designed to deliver a better public interest outcome, save suffering and save the taxpayer very large amounts of money.

The Minister could today make such an intervention in respect of the Biloela family.

The second furphy is that if the Government does intervene to grant the Biloela family a visa, that would restart the boats.

That is a furphy on the Government’s own evidence.

Australia has had a turn-back policy in place for two phases in our history. From 2001 to 2007 and from 2014 to today.

During the first phase, John Howard repatriated thousands of refugees who had been held on Manus and Nauru within two to three years after the turnback policy was implemented.

Despite Howard "blinking" thousands of times, there were no new boat arrivals until the turnback policy was abandoned in 2007.

Since 2014, there have been very large numbers of refugees resettled in the USA but no surge in boat arrivals. Many hundreds of refugees have been brought to Australia following Court decisions — still no boats.

And after the Medevac Bill was passed, the Government told us there would be a surge of boats.

The Government even re-opened the Christmas Island Detention Centre at a massive cost to cater for the boats it said would come.

But still no boats and the detention centre was soon closed, having only been used for some Prime Ministerial photo opportunities. The Government well knows there will be no boats while the turnback policy is in place.

People smugglers simply won’t risk it.

The Government could today bring back all the refugees on Manus and Nauru and not restart the boats, just as John Howard did.

Finally, the Government says it would be unfair to intervene in this case given so many Sri Lankan asylum seekers have previously been sent back to Sri Lanka.

Yet the Government makes no mention of the 27,000 unsuccessful asylum seekers currently living in the shadows in the Australian community, having arrived under the watch of that "great border protector", Peter Dutton.

If we are talking about fair treatment, why haven’t these 27,000 unsuccessful asylum seekers, who are legally in the same position as the Biloela family was when it was living in Biloela, been rounded up and put into detention just as the Biloela family was?

That would of course draw attention to Peter Dutton’s utter failure to clamp down on the biggest labour trafficking scam and abuse of Australia’s asylum system in our history.

Let’s be very clear: the treatment of the Biloela has nothing to do with good border protection policy. It was initially about Peter Dutton trying to show he is strong on borders — which he was not.

It’s now just about saving face for the Government at the cost of human suffering and taxpayer money. The Morrison Government is not good at border protection nor good at managing the visa system.

It is good at gratuitous cruelty and wasting taxpayer money.

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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