As Tony Abbott’s immigration minister, Scott Morrison had one job: stop the boats.
Stop the boats he did. He made our borders sovereign again.
Now it appears that Morrison, as Prime Minister, wants to undo his own hard work.
The Morrison government has released the Murugappans, the Tamil family detained on Christmas Island after resisting deportation and taking their case to the Federal Court, to live in the Perth community.
Or rather, it has caved in to activists and advocates purporting to be acting on the family’s behalf, whose real agenda is to overturn Australia’s entire sovereign border underpinnings, especially offshore detention. It has caved in to activists who not only sought every legal loophole they could find to keep this family from being deported, but ran a highly effective and unceasing PR campaign – with the willing support of most mainstream media – that has run rings around a reactive, flat-footed Coalition government.
The government has only itself to blame. Once the family was ensconced on Christmas Island, it should have ensured there was no avenue for activists to accuse it of mishandling or mistreating the family, and should have done everything it could to expedite the legal proceedings it didn’t want.
Unfortunately for the Morrison government, the youngest child became seriously ill and had to be transferred to a Perth hospital. Somehow, the family’s supporters got out powerful pictures of the child, and her sister, in a state of distress. Sweeping activist assertions were made about the tardy treatment of the sick child on Christmas Island that were reported as fact, yet the government failed to challenge them.
Nobody likes the idea of any children being in detention. But the law is the law. The parents’ claims for refugee status rejected, and the children having no citizenship status although Australian born, the family could have been advised by its supporters to leave and apply for sponsored migration. Politically, that would have been difficult for the government to reject. But for activists and the likes of change.org it was all or nothing.
These activists, not the government, therefore ensured the family’s indefinite detention on Christmas Island by throwing every legal obstacle they could in the way of deportation. It is they who now should bear the true moral responsibility for the prolonged ordeal of this family.
But the government has had enough, and given in. The Perth restrictions prevent any return ‘home to Biloela’ in triumph, metaphorically borne on the shoulders of the activists, advocates and political opportunists who will claim a major victory for their cause – of which the Tamil family is just a small part — but that one element of theatre is all that is lacking.
At the very least, the Tamil family should remain in detention until every last legal avenue is exhausted. For the government to tap the mat now sends a dangerous message to people smugglers, visa violators and potential overstayers that the key to getting around Australia’s tough border regime is to simply stay put if they get here. As for deportees refusing to leave Australia because they now have Australian-born but non-citizen children, activists successfully sold the fiction the two Tamil family girls are Australian when they are not. That will be noted by future exploiters of the system too.
Any residence visas granted to this family must come with specific conditions. The family must not apply for ex gratia payments or welfare, whether social security or public housing. Its support instead must be guaranteed by the well-heeled activists asserting they advocate on its behalf. It must not speak to the media, let alone accept payment for doing so. If the government won’t hold the line on their going, it must be tough in the conditions it now imposes for their staying.
But that won’t happen. Consequently, today is the day when the prime minister who made our borders sovereign surrenders absolute sovereignty to a relentless and well-orchestrated political and media campaign – and voluntarily risks starting the boats again.
Terry Barnes edits our daily newsletter, the Morning Double Shot. You can sign up for your Morning Double Shot of news and comment here.
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