Keeping the ‘Biloela family’ locked up on Christmas Island is costing Australian taxpayers millions of dollars every year.
Priya and Nades Murugappan, and their daughters, Kopika, 6, and Tharunicaa, 3, have been held in immigration detention ever since police raided their home on March 5, 2018, in the regional Queensland town of Biloela.
Estimates for the exact costs of their detention on the island vary widely.
That figure includes:
- $2.3 million in detention, food, cleaning and school costs
- $1.2 million for travel costs
- $100,000 for medical costs
- $1 million for legal and translation costs, and
- $2.1 million in staffing costs.
Labor’s Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally, who recently travelled to Christmas Island, claims the total bill is even higher.
Her office says the true cost is closer to $50 million.
Senator Keneally’s calculations take into account legal fees, operating costs of the detention centre, as well as the actual cost of reopening the Christmas Island facility in 2019.
It must be noted the decision to reopen the detention centre was not just because of the Biloela family, but they have been the only people detained there for some time.
The centre was reopened by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in February 2019, and the family was relocated in August of that year.
“This sad sorry, saga, this expensive saga, can end today,” Senator Keneally told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.
“It can end today with the Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews taking the humane, respectful common sense decision to allow this family to go home to Biloela, to the community in regional Queensland that loves them.”
Ms Andrews, who has the power to intervene at any point and allow the family to return to Australia, has so far refused to comment on the family’s future.
Asked on Tuesday if she was prepared to use her powers to improve their situation, she indicated resettlement options were on the table.
“We are going through the process now of investigating a range of resettlement options in relation to a number of different circumstances here in Australia,” Ms Andrews said.
“I can’t make public commentary on that at the moment because I don’t want to disrupt those negotiations.”
Meanwhile, the youngest girl Tharnicaa, 3, and her mother Priya, will remain at Perth children’s hospital.
The pair was flown there on Monday after Tharnicaa had been unwell for 10 days with a fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and dizziness.
Perth doctors diagnosed her with a blood infection caused by “untreated” pneumonia on Tuesday.
Tharnicaa is now in a stable condition and receiving antibiotics, but the blood infection remains a concern.
Priya released a video message from the hospital on Tuesday night, saying: “I want to thank everybody for their love and good wishes. I hope that Tharnicaa can get the help she needs now. Please, help us to get her out of detention and home to Biloela.”
The evacuation has prompted renewed calls for the family to be resettled in Australia, with more than 365,000 people signing a petition by Tuesday morning.
The family of four has been held on Christmas Island since August 2019 while the Morrison government tries to deport them to Sri Lanka.
Priya and her husband, also known as Nades, came to Australia separately by boat in 2012 and 2013.
Both Tharnicaa and her six-year-old sister Kopika were born in Australia.
The family made a home in the Central Queensland town of Biloela before their house was raided in 2018 and they were sent to immigration detention.
The family was moved to Christmas Island after lawyers for the family started legal action that prevented their removal from Australia while the youngest daughter’s immigration case was ongoing.
The rest of the family have exhausted their appeals.
In the meantime, the family has been held in a two-bedroom unit inside the detention centre, under constant guard.
They can only leave to take Kopika to school or to go to the recreation centre, and those trips must be authorised by Australian Border Force two days in advance.