Scott Morrison has warned showing mercy to a Queensland Tamil family fighting deportation to Sri Lanka with their two children would “send the wrong message”.
The parents, mother Priya and her husband Nadesalingam, arrived by boat separately as asylum seekers in 2012 and 2013. They have two Australian-born children Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2.
But the Prime Minister said their claims had been rejected by every court in the land and it was the worst possible time to make exceptions as boat arrivals from Sri Lanka were rising.
“In this case, their claims were found to be invalid. They were never told they could settle in Australia; they were aware of that the entire time and while I understand the deep human issues around this, you have got to think about the implications for this,” Mr Morrison said.
“At a time when there are increasing push factors coming out of Sri Lanka, the worst possible thing you can do is to … send a message which said ‘you know what – if you come illegally to Australia and the courts say you don’t have a claim and the government say you don’t have a claim, then the government just might make an exception because there’s been a public reaction’. Now, that’s not how you run strong borders.”
Mr Morrison urged the family to return home and apply for residency.
“It’s not about the public mood, it’s about what is the right decision in Australia’s national interests to ensure the integrity of our border protection.”
Accusing the Morrison government of “publicly funded cruelty”, Labor leader Anthony Albanese has joined an unlikely coalition of refugee activists, Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones and Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce in arguing for mercy for the family.
On Sunday, Mr Albanese revealed he had personally contacted the Prime Minister.
“I’ve raised directly with Prime Minister Morrison the need for the Immigration Minister to intervene in this case,” he said.
“This would not undermine Australia’s borders. It would simply be the very reason why there is ministerial discretion in the act; to show compassion, to show that there are specific needs for this family.”
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton warned he was not about to “cop a lecture” from Labor on border protection.
“The mother and father arrived illegally by boat in 2012 and 2013, respectively. They were part of the 50000 people who arrived on 800 boats under Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard,” Mr Dutton said.
“They have gone on to appeal to the federal Magistrates Court, the Federal Court and the High Court, costing the Australian taxpayer millions of dollars. That is that they are not refugees.”
Mr Dutton said he had not had “one death at sea on my watch and I don’t intend to let that happen now”.
“The ministers in that period would still live with the images and briefings of children half-eaten by sharks and others placed in detention,” he said.
“We won’t take a moral lecture when the reality is we have a compassionate approach that is helping thousands each year, but where somebody has been told consistently all the way through to the High Court that they are not refugees, then those people have to return back to their country of origin.
“This family had been told long before they had children that there was never a prospect of them remaining in Australia.”