Opinion Michael Pascoe: The government treatment of the Biloela family is stepped in blood
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Michael Pascoe: The government treatment of the Biloela family is stepped in blood

Government treatment of the Biloela family
It's painful to think this family could still only be locked up, to save the embarrassment of some politicians, Michael Pascoe writes. Photo: TND
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I am in blood

Stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more,

Returning were as tedious as go o’er

There’s a touch of Macbeth in the Morrison government’s treatment of the Biloela family.

This far into the tragedy, into the waste and inhumanity of pursuing those two little girls and their parents, you might as well keep sticking it to them as to try to undo your wrong.

Having raided and terrorised the family, having incarcerated them for three years and three months, having blown scores of millions of dollars in the process, having earned the disgust of anyone who cares about such things, what’s to be gained by letting them go home to Bilo now

The damage has been done. May as well keep doing it.

tamil family biloela
The family: Nades with Tharnicaa, Priya with Kopika.

Besides, it would humiliating for Karen Andrews’ colleagues if the new minister were to effectively indicate all that money and the theft of three years and three months of four people’s lives had been an unnecessary mistake, a monumental stuff up.

And whatever else happens, however much pain and suffering might be inflicted on Kopika and Tharnicaa, Priya and Nades, you don’t want to embarrass powerful, more-senior colleagues.

You can embarrass the whole nation with this treatment of people who have done nothing illegal, but don’t embarrass your tough-talking predecessor who spread falsehoods about the family

Priorities sorted.

Biloela family
Minister Karen Andrews says she’s not investigating specific options for the Biloela Tamil family.

At any one of many moments, a little simple humanity and common sense by one of several ministers using their discretion could have stopped this tragedy gaining Shakespearean proportions. It still could.

The sort of discretion that within hours can bail out an au pair who has the right connections. The sort of discretion routinely used in immigration matters.

But not for Kopika and Tharnicaa. The initial mess-up – the big 5am raid in a Queensland country town – had used too many resources, had attracted too much attention to be dropped. It would be embarrassing.

So stepped in blood …

Now Home Affairs Minister Andrews is left to embarrass herself, flip-flopping on any suggestion of showing compassion.

The vindictiveness of locking the family up on Christmas Island has been highlighted by the medical evacuation of Tharnicaa to Perth and her apparent lack of treatment on Christmas Island.

A little perspective: Christmas Island is 2600 kilometres from Perth, a flight of more than three-and-a-half hours.

Interning the family in the middle of nowhere has been about persecution, about isolating them from their supporters, about making their lives even harder. It has been inhumane.

And inevitably lurking in the wings of this production is the question of a little racism.

I’ll repeat a hypothetical I’ve posed before: If they were Katie and Tessa instead of Kopika and Tharnicaa, if they were the blonde and blue-eyed Australian-born children of, say, white former South African farmers who had legally sought refuge here, can you imagine the relevant Coalition ministers would have treated them like this, hounded them, persecuted them, spread falsehoods about them?

Somehow, I can’t imagine it.

But right now, today, a savvy minister could announce that while the government has been totally in the right all the way along, due to the particular circumstances of this case and a child’s health issues and especially the community’s support, the Commonwealth as an act of grace would let the family go home to Bilo.

And we’d all be better off, even the odd colleague and bureaucrat who might be briefly embarrassed.

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