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21 April 2021




SUBJECTS: Biloela Family; Border Security.

PAUL CULLIVER, HOST: So as you know, Priya, Nades, Kopika and Tharunicaa, the Tamil family from Biloela have been in immigration detention for over three years now. Kristina Keneally is a senator, and also the Shadow Home Affairs Minister.  You may remember, earlier in the week, late last week we learned that, indeed, a planned trip that included a visit to Christmas Island was in doubt because the Defence aircraft that would have been used was notified to be not available. However, she did manage to find a commercial flight. She has just come back. Senator, good morning to you. 


CULLIVER: Well take me through it, what was your visit to Christmas Island like?

KENEALLY: Well Christmas Island is an extraordinary place, with a strong community and an amazing environment. But, of course, the purpose of my visit, was to visit with the Biloela family - Nades, Priya and their two little Australian-born girls. And, you know I mentioned the Christmas Island community first up because they have been so supportive of the Biloela family, and it was great to see that there. 

But, you know, and your listeners know, Biloela community and right across Australia there's strong support through the Home to Bilo campaign, and the first thing I'd like to just convey to everyone is that Nades and Priya are very aware of the campaign, they're very aware of the broad, and indeed, bipartisan support that they enjoy, and it's the thing that gives them hope. It is the thing that gives them hope in an incredibly stressful and difficult circumstances, where it's sometimes very hard for them to have hope, there will be a resolution to this situation. Knowing that there's so many people who support them, is quite, is quite a comfort to them. 

CULLIVER: How are they?

KENEALLY: Well, it's incredibly hard for them. Incredibly hard. Priya is, my impression is, she's incredibly lonely and distressed living in immigration detention. She's an extrovert - I can tell that even sitting in a sterile waiting room, visiting room, in the immigration detention centre. She loves being around people and she spoke often about wanting to come home to her community in Bilo, you know, where she volunteered, was part of the church groups in the local community. Nades - he's the quieter of the two, but I just heard a very profound, deep sadness within him. He clearly fears deportation to Sri Lanka, and he is worried that it will mean his arrest and quite likely his death. And I think it's fair to say that his concern there is not so much for himself but for his two little daughters - Priya and his daughters are at the centre of his life and he does not want to see his daughters made orphans.

And, you know I think any parent can relate to the desire to want to be there for your children, ensure that they are safe and happy. I will say the little girls are, Kopika and Tharunicaa, just adorable. They are like any other kid I've met in any other setting in Australia. I did have a chance to meet with the family, both at church, as well as at the local recreation centre, in the, in the creche there, and they're just adorable little girls. They drew me, they drew some pictures for me, they gave me a little beaded necklace, their gorgeous little Australian accents that they speak in and you know I think I can say this because we haven't had much of a chance in Australia to see or hear from this family, in person, you know, to get a sense of what they are like. And, you know, I hope that through this visit, I'm able to convey a bit of that to the Australian community - what this family is like - they're an incredibly loving, close family under incredible stress, incredibly difficult circumstances.

CULLIVER: You're hearing from Senator Kristina Keneally she's just come back from Christmas Island she has met with the Biloela Tamil family, of course, who are there in detention and have been in detention for three years. Senator, how do we reckon with the fact that anytime we reach out to the Government and we seldom are given any of the Ministers to speak to on this issue, but we're always told the Government's policy is clear: no one who attempts illegal maritime travel to Australia will be settled here. How does Labor reckon with that policy stance?

KENEALLY: Yeah and look, there's a couple key points to make here. One, that this is not a conversation about how to manage borders in the future, how to manage them today. This is, this is a settled position - one supported by both Labor and the Government, Labor and the Coalition, that none of us want to see people smugglers restart their evil trade, and therefore things like boat turn-backs when safe to do so, offshore processing, regional resettlement is fundamental to ensuring that we have secure borders, and that people smugglers are not able to operate freely.

The question about the Biloela family is not a question about managing borders in the future, it’s a question about what do we do about people who have been living in Australia now for more than a decade. Nades was working two jobs in Biloela. Priya was involved in the local community. Nades volunteered for Vinnies. Their two little girls were born here, they had established a family, they were working, they were paying taxes, they were part of a community there in Biloela that clearly loves them and wants them back. And, you know, when we think about what are we going to do with this family that clearly fears deportation, that has long, ongoing and costly legal battles and recently the youngest daughter was found by the Federal Court to have been denied procedural fairness. You know, we spent as taxpayers $50 million attempting to deport or detain this family. And I have to say to your listeners Paul, the Ministers for Immigration and Home Affairs, have incredibly broad discretionary powers under the Migration Act, and they have had those powers for a reason because you often have cases like this, and indeed, they make thousands of discretionary decisions every year.

So, when it comes to the Biloela family, and the question of what we do about this, using ministerial discretion is often the best thing to do in these circumstances. It signals no change in policy. It recognizes a unique circumstance, and it sends no message to people smugglers. Now I hope that Minister Karen Andrews, the new Minister for Home Affairs, is able to look at this case with fresh eyes. I would say to her that on the cost to the taxpayer alone, $50 million, is enough of a justification to bring this expensive exercise to an end.

CULLIVER: On that, it was mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend it was reported that the Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has requested a full brief on exactly this topic, so does that give you confidence or hope that perhaps she is reconsidering?

KENEALLY: It does give me hope and I understand that our offices are attempting to organize meetings between the two of us to discuss a range of matters, including this one and I would welcome that opportunity. I don't think this needs to be a partisan issue. I think this is a human issue. And I would also encourage the Minister to go to Biloela and talk to the Home to Bilo community -  that campaign there. And, possibly even go to Christmas Island. I mean, she's going to make a decision at some point, that will have a profound impact on this family's lives and I would encourage her to get as much information as possible.

I have to say the hardest part about my visit was saying goodbye because as I hugged those two little girls goodbye, and I have to say they give great hugs, they're incredibly engaging, bright children. All I could think is: ‘I don't know what their lives will be like, I don't know if their lives will be ones where they're safe and happy and able to grow up and get educated and work, contribute to the community, or if they're ones that are going to be fraught with danger’. And that question sits on the Minister’s desk.

CULLIVER: Senator, thanks for your time today.

KENEALLY: Thank you Paul.