The Government’s belated decision to accommodate the Murugappan family was not an easy or straight forward one. But it was the right one. Making the decision earlier would have saved taxpayers millions of dollars and avoided lots of heartache for the young Biloela family and their supporters.
It was not an easy decision because the family has never been able to convince the authorities or the courts that they face persecution if returned to their homeland. This the most basic requirement for successfully claiming asylum protection. Nades Murugappan has returned home more than once since seeking protection here.
Many say that because the two children were born here, they are automatically entitled to Australian citizenship and therefore have a right to stay. This is not true. Imagine the vulnerability of our visa system if everyone who arrived on a holiday or work visa was entitled to stay forever if they give birth to a child while on our soil.
Others say they pose no risk and that is true, but that is not the test. Remember, there are tens of thousands of people in refugee camps around the world. Each of them is in a queue, hoping that a country like Australia might take them. Australia only takes 20,000 refugees each year (for our size that’s more than most), so every person who secures a visa after arriving here unlawfully does so at the expense of someone else in the queue.
Why can’t we send them to the United States, New Zealand, or some other country with which we have a settlement arrangement? Because again, they don’t qualify, they have not been deemed to be refugees.
The Morrison Government’s main argument for denying the family a return to Biloela has been the risk it may trigger a new wave of boat people. While the argument has some legitimacy, I don’t buy it. The people smugglers do well when they can convince desperate people it will be worthwhile to pay a lot of money to take a risky journey from South East Asia to Australia. This is easier for the people smugglers when they can convince their potential clients that if they make it, the Australian Government will accommodate them.
I don’t believe the accommodation of the Murugappan family gives the people smugglers that opportunity.
People thinking about paying a people smuggler may be desperate, but they are not fools. Indeed, many of them are highly educated and qualified. In this 21st Century where news and information are so easy to access, it’s easy to check the Murugappan family story. I don’t believe that story and the decision to let them stay in Australia provides the people smugglers with the evidence they need to make their case.
The Murugappan story is a unique one in many ways. The Murugappans were well liked members of the Biloela community. They’d displayed a good work ethic and were respected. They enjoyed enormous support not just in their chosen town, but right round Australia. They have suffered the hardship of Christmas Island rather than take their kids to Sri Lanka. This is an unusual story and not one likely to cause a flood of unlawful arrivals.
Our laws give Ministers discretion for good reason. Sometimes circumstances require flexibility and I think the Murugappan case justified just that. The fate of the Murugappan family remains unknown but hopefully last week’s decision puts us on a path to a sensible and humane outcome.