Priya and Nades Murugappan, the Tamil couple from Biloela in Queensland, and their unfortunate children must wish they had not allowed themselves to be drawn into the storm of controversy over asylum seekersthat has now reached up to the highest point of the opposition, with Anthony Albanese taking a stand on the issue.
While we can all feel some sympathy for the family many, equally, understand the government stand on policy – and principle. The Murugappans, spurred on by their supporters, pushed their case up to the highest court in Australia and were found not to be refugees. It was also unfortunate that Labor, in the form of a whiney-voiced Kristina Keneally brought religion into the mix by citing the prime minister’s Christian faith, imploring a different outcome on the grounds that the family had begun to put down roots in Australia.
But wait. Go back some years to when it was open slather on boat arrivals.
The Tamil lobby in Australia (yes, there is one, and one equally vocal and active in the United States, Canada and various European cities,) pushed hard on the idea that their brethren were in grave danger and needed protection as refugees to the host countries where they arrived illegally.
The ten-year war waged on Sri Lanka, a tiny island with little to support its national accounts except tea and tourism, devastated the economy. The country, had, under a succession of colonial rulers, Portuguese, Dutch and British, gained an understanding of how nation-states, even small ones, should be run, a civil polity, a national government that tried to govern fairly for its majority Buddhist Singhalese, Christian and Hindu Tamils, Christian Burghers, descendants of those former colonial rulers, and Muslims, many descendants of Malays brought to the island by Dutch administrators.
It was not easy, but things worked generally well until the early-mid eighties.
The real disruptions came when Tamil insurgency in the north flared into open warfare, fuelled by a violent brand of Marxist-anarchist ideology, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. These terrorists produced the world’s first suicide bombers, usually female, and the carnage continued for nearly three decades, only ending when the Sri Lankan military fought the Tigers to a last stand at the end of the last decade, ending the war in the north.
The Tamil diaspora was already well underway but it was, as in the current Syrian and Salvadorean cases, as much an economic as a refugee exodus, people who realised that using the excuse of war and persecution they could gain to a new life overseas.
Tamils, well-educated, hard working and excellent networkers, took full advantage of host countries, by relying on their supposed-refugee status, as Nades and Priya did. When this was found to be unsubstantiated, they fell back on the ‘children born in Australia’ excuse and links to host communities, as did Nades and Priya in Biloela.
Their real problem – and the problem now for Labour – is that they have become the faces of a confected campaign, the Greta Thunbergs of the asylum. The activists pushing the campaign to keep them in Australia are as much, or more, keen on wrongfooting the government as assisting the Murugappans.
Yes, there will be an enormous economic difference between Biloela and say, Bambalapitiya, a Colombo suburb, for any Tamil returning to Sri Lanka. But it will be economic. No one can blame the Murugappans for wanting to seize every last chance available. But their past history makes it clear: they took a gamble in coming to Australia and took and gamble in attempting to stay – and lost.
This week may decide the outcome but as Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has stuck to his guns on his policy it may be that their best bet is to return to Sri Lanka and start their paperwork.
As for Keneally – and other senior Labour figures who to eagerly leapt into controversy thinking they could win political points for virtue-signalling compassion and force the government’s hand – they have taken a gamble, too.
Like the Murugappans, they’re likely to lose.
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