After more than a thousand days in detention, the Tamil family from Biloela may be able to move more freely around Christmas Island. Yay?



Priya and Nades Murugappan and their two Australian-born daughters are detained on Christmas Island awaiting the outcome of a lengthy battle with the Australian Government over their right to stay here. As it stands, the family has been in detention for over a thousand days.

In December, the Department of Home Affairs said that the family has access to health and welfare services and their detention placement was regularly reviewed. What’s more, the “Australian Border Force (ABF) has deemed the current placement suitable for the family,” the statement said.

However, the family may soon be released, albeit with a heavy caveat. This morning, Peter Dutton’s replacement, Karen Andrews, told ABC radio that they will be able to move around Christmas Island in the “not-too-distant future”.

As The Guardian noted, “Andrews has inherited one of the government’s most unpopular decisions, and while she has been reluctant to support a prime ministerial captains call to allow the Tamil family to come home, she has hinted at the potential for a more relaxed form of detention for the family while their claims for protection go through the courts.”

Here’s her quote in full: “The welfare of that family on Christmas Island is clearly an issue that I have turned my mind to …I am seeking advice on that at the moment and I will continue to seek advice…in terms of other accommodation that may be available to them on Christmas Island, that’s an ongoing discussion that I am having with our officials…I will make a response in the not-too-distant future.


Priya’s need for medical treatment

In July, Mother Priya had to be flown to Perth after suffering severe abdominal pain.

Medevac laws were repealed in December last year. So now, when refugees are sick in offshore detention, they are not necessarily guaranteed a transfer to Australia for treatment.

The repeal of Medevac laws means that powers of refusal for medical transfers have been fully restored to home affairs minister Peter Dutton.


Dutton’s response

Only days after Priya’s transfer to Perth for diagnosis, the Home Affairs Minister participated in an interview on 2GB radio during which he bemoaned the fact that the Government had provided a chartered flight for her, claiming that Priya’s medical tests had revealed no real medical issues.

He also suggested the family were taking advantage of the system, saying “…This is a situation that is of their own making – it is ridiculous, it is unfair on their children – and it sends a very bad message to other people who think they can rort the system as well.”

Mr Dutton said the family was “playing funny games” through the courts to prevent their deportation to Sri Lanka.


The exorbitant cost of the ongoing battle

Keeping the family in detention on Christmas Island has been estimated to cost about $20,000 a day, and the legal costs as the Government battles the family through the courts continue to mount. A cost that will be incurred by the Australian taxpayers, many of whom think the family should simply be allowed to return to Biloela.

In April, a Federal Court ruled their deportation must remain on hold after determining the youngest daughter, who was born in Australia, was denied procedural fairness in her bid to apply for protection. The court also ordered the Government to pay the family more than $200,000 in legal fees.

Per The Guardian, “as of October 2019, the department said it had spent $4.5m keeping the family in detention, including $2.5m in detention costs, $1.1m in travel and $300,000 in legal costs.”

In the same interview, Peter Dutton said he wanted the battle to end. “I want them to get on with their lives back in Sri Lanka, and we are determined to make sure that is the case.”





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