Anthony Albanese has declared the deportation of a Tamil family found not to be refugees as “un-Australian”.
The Labor leader emerged on an unlikely unity ticket with Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones, who is campaigning for the family and their two Australian-born children to be allowed to settle in the tiny town of Biloela, Queensland.
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 Morrison government arrested and detained the family in March last year, giving them less than an hour to pack their belongings before planning deportation to Sri Lanka.
“This is just un-Australian in my view. What we have here is a family with two children – one aged four, one aged two – who are working with the community in Biloela,” Mr Albanese said.
“Priya volunteers at St Vincent de Paul, her husband works at the local meatworks. They’re contributing to the community. They’re supported by the community. We have a government that says that what we should have is growth of population in regional Australia. This is a relatively small regional town.”
Mr Albanese said he accepted the court ruling that the family had not fled persecution and were essentially economic refugees.
“I support strong borders. But … this particular family, in these circumstances, yes they’ve been found not to have been refugees. But people are settled here. So, essentially the courts have found that they’re economic migrants rather than refugees. But literally, millions of Australians have come as economic migrants here, or are descendants of people who’ve come in that fashion.”
Mr Albanese’s approach has been questioned by former Labor senator Stephen Conroy, who warned Labor needed to be careful about the precedent it was proposing to essentially allow a family who are not genuine refugees to stay.
Jones drew a link with the au pairs scandal, when Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton did intervene to allow foreign nannies for wealthy families into the country on temporary visas.
“They were allowed to stay, the au pairs, lest there be – I love this: ‘any disruption to the child care arrangements’, of financially comfortable families. They were basically nannies and they were needed for financially well-off people who obviously were well-connected with the government,” Mr Jones said.
“Presumably allowing a family of Sri Lankan Tamil parents and their Australian daughters to remain is not of similar value. Moving these kids, this is the bit – two little kids twice in the middle of the night, kids screaming – the detention facility hasn’t been used for years.”
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Albanese has directly raised the case with the Prime Minister. But the power to intervene, in a legal sense, lies with the Immigration Minister David Coleman.
“The truth is, that Scott Morrison can’t say he has no influence over what the Immigration Minister does. Were he to give a signal, it would be all over,” Mr Albanese said.