SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY
DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE
SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS
SHADOW MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND CITIZENSHIP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY
SENATOR FOR NEW SOUTH WALES
2SM MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
WEDNESDAY, 21 APRIL 2021
SUBJECTS: Biloela Family; Border Security.
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Shadow Minister Kristina Keneally has given a grim insight into the lives of this Tamil family living in detention on Christmas Island. Millions and millions of taxpayer dollars spent in keeping four people in detention to prove a stupid political point. We are better than this, I think, as Australians.
The Sri Lankan family are living in a box. It's no bigger really than two rooms. After being forcibly removed from their home and Biloela, Queensland. After establishing themselves, having children in this country. Before being whisked away to an immigration detention centre with Peter Dutton smiling behind them. Ridiculous.
Kristina Keneally. Good morning.
SENATOR KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE & SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY: Good morning Marcus, good morning to your listeners too.
PAUL: Now you went to Biloela. And we were supposed to talk to you on your way there. But I understand the time difference. But I've been following your social media and the reports of your trip. How was it?
KENEALLY: The trip to Christmas Island was extraordinary. And I first want to thank both the Australian Border Force and the local Christmas Island community for being so helpful in facilitating my visit and supporting it.
Visiting Nades, Priya and their two little girls was, well, it was quite eye opening. They live, as you describe, in in two little rooms, they are behind fences and gates and lock and key. They have guards who are with them 24 hours a day, wherever they go, including when the little girls go to school, they are taken by security guards. Indeed, the youngest daughter, Tharunicaa was eight months old and she was taken into immigration detention and she has known nothing else her whole life, except being guarded and living in, what the girls described as jail. One of the most heartbreaking things I heard was the father Nades told me that Kopika, who is five years old, she's bright, she loves school, but at the end of the day, she, you know, doesn't understand why the other children get to go home and she has to go back to jail, as she calls it.
KENEALLY: Yeah, and when that when I spoke to her, you know, she said to me, you know, ‘all I really want to do is go back to Biloela, like get in my dad's car and go to the shops and see my friends.’ And I thought that's just what any little girl wants to do. Any child. She just wants to live a normal life. A normal life is what the parents want.
PAUL: Well they had a normal life in Biloela. They had been a part of the community. He was working, his wife was volunteering locally, the children were going to a local school. And I don't understand the political mileage and the political point of this whole exercise. It's cost 10s of millions of Australian taxpayer dollars to open – reopen – Christmas Island and to keep these people in, you know, in detention.
KENEALLY: That is spot on. And I would say to the new Minister, Karen Andrews, the new Minister of Home Affairs, that cost to the taxpayer alone of the government's stubbornness, and I would say that. I understand how governments work. Sometimes bureaucracies and governments take decisions based on precedent or stubbornness. And suddenly, years later find themselves trying to justify a costly and irrational position. And I would say that having four or five staff members constantly at an immigration detention centre to guard these four people to go to the lengths that have been gone to to keep this family in detention – not to even let them live in the community while their legal appeals are being heard – is one that it is a decision that I would encourage the minister to reconsider because the cost of the taxpayer alone is extraordinary.
But the cost - human costs - to this family, who have lived here now for a decade, who have been able to take up jobs, pay taxes, volunteer in the community, they're clearly wanted and loved by their regional Queensland community in Biloela. They enjoy bipartisan support, including from people like Barnaby Joyce, and Michael McCormack, and Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott. And I would say to your listeners who may not be as familiar with the Migration Act, as as I might be, that ministers have incredibly broad discretionary powers, they make thousands of discretionary decisions every year. And it's in cases like these that they do that. To help resolve situations that are not otherwise easily resolved.
PAUL: Obviously, you know, as well as I do that quite often, decisions are political. Maybe Peter Dutton or others may feel they'll lose a little bit face if they do want about turn on this. But I think the time is right. I mean, they should never have been detained in the first place in my – that’s an opinion, off course. Considering one of the children was born here in Australia…
KENEALLY: They both were…
PAUL: They both were, of course they were. And by the same token, these, in my opinion are the sort of people we want living in our communities, from Sri Lanka and elsewhere. People who are not a burden on the taxpayer. Who are working, volunteering their children going to school, etc. These are exactly the type of people we want in regional areas like Biloela, it's not like it's the centre of Brisbane, for goodness sake.
KENEALLY: All well-made points there, Marcus. I think it's probably useful for me to make a few points in response.
One, this is a family that was persecuted in Sri Lanka and Nades has told me about some of the torture he experienced there. They clearly fear being deported back to Sri Lanka and I think from Nades’ perspective he has particularly fears he will be arrested and killed if he is returned. And his fear there is not so much for what would happen to him, but in the fact that he would make his daughters orphans. He would not be able to care for his wife and his daughters. And it's clear to me that Nades is a deeply faithful man to his wife and his daughters, and they are clearly at the centre of his life. And so he wants what any father would want, which is his children to be able to grow up safely, and to be able to get an education and to contribute back into the community.
Priya is clearly lonely and depressed. And she's a person, she's an extrovert, but she got involved in church groups, because she's a volunteer, got involved in volunteer work. She…I would say to the minister, who has sought a detailed briefing on the family, I'm hoping to have the opportunity to speak with the minister, I don't think this needs to be a partisan issue, it's a human issue. But I would say to the minister as an interim step, until she's had that detailed briefing, until we've had a chance to speak, maybe she wants to go to Biloela and talk to the community there. Maybe she wants to go to Christmas Island herself. But what I would say to the Minister is, is an interim step, if the family could be allowed to leave in, in the community on Christmas Island. There are Commonwealth owned immigration houses, all empty on Christmas Island. The family could move into them and live in the community. And that would just give as an interim measure, a bit of normality, and a bit more freedom for these two little girls in particular, who are the only two children left in immigration detention in Australia.
PAUL: Yep, well, let’s hope so. Really appreciate you coming on Kristina, we'll talk again in a week or so’s time. Good luck with it. I know that there are many people, in fact, I would imagine now most Australians, behind the hashtag Home to Bilo. We need to get this family, as you say, at least interimly, out of that so called jail. I mean, I can't imagine that a little child thinks that they're in jail when they've simply done nothing wrong themselves.
KENEALLY: It's incredibly, one of the hardest things was hugging those two little girls goodbye, and not knowing what their lives will turn out like and knowing that decision sits on a minister's desk. So let's hope and let's pray that there is a positive outcome for the family.
PAUL: Thank you, Kristina. We'll talk soon, appreciate it.
KENEALLY: Thank you.