Biloela family wins case in Federal Circuit Court

The Court ruled a decision by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to “lower the bar” and prevent three of the family members from reapplying for bridging visas was procedurally unfair.

The Muruguppan family.

The Murugappan family. Source: Supplied

The Murugappan family has won its case in the Federal Circuit Court after it ruled Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to prevent three members of the family from applying for further bridging visas was procedurally unfair.

Three of the family members now have the option to reapply for a bridging visa, according to their lawyer Carina Ford.

She said the decision also means any decision to revoke the family's bridging visas will need to be reconsidered.

The Department of Home Affairs had written to the family last June advising them Mr Hawke proposed to “lower the bar” in immigration law, which would then prevent three of the members of the family – Nades, Priya and Kopika – from reapplying for bridging visas.

A week later, Mr Hawke granted 12-month bridging visas to parents Priya and Nades and their six-year-old daughter Kopika, but no visa was granted to four-year-old Tharnicaa.

'Ongoing saga'

The case before the Federal Circuit Court did not apply to Tharnicaa as she currently has a brief of her case before Mr Hawke. 

Ms Ford said it's now up to the government to decide what the next move will be. 

"They can choose to appeal or they can choose to leave it as it is, which means then it's open to the family to renew a bridging visa later down the track," she told SBS News.

"It's also open for the government to consider whether it's in the interest of both parties to just continue the ongoing saga of this case."

With the family's visas set to expire in September, their future remains uncertain - even despite Monday's court win.

Ms Ford hopes the decision will put more pressure on the government to "resolve the issue once and for all" and grant the family visas so they can return to their hometown of Biloela in Queensland. 

"There's over 600,000 who've signed a petition request the family to be returned to Biloela," she said.

"I think the overwhelming consensus in the Australian community is that the family should be returned."

Tamil Biloela family
The Murugappan couple Priya and Nadesalingam with their Australian-born children Kopika and Tharunicaa. Source: Supplied

The family's friend Simone Cameron is also urging the immigration minister to exercise his power of ministerial discretion to give the family a more permanent solution. 

She said because the Minister chose not to grant a visa to four-year-old Tharnicaa, she remains in community detention and so the family is unable to leave Western Australia.

“This is not the first time that the courts have found that a decision by one of Scott Morrison’s ministers was made in an unfair way," Ms Cameron said.

“But the reality is that Australia’s immigration laws have given Mr Morrison’s ministers almost unlimited power to intervene in people’s lives, by giving or taking away the right to stay in Australia.

“After everything Mr Morrison’s ministers have put this family through, holding Tharni in ‘community detention’ when her mum, dad and sister are technically free to travel to Biloela is a strange way to exercise those powers.”

Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, Kristina Keneally said Labor welcomed the Court's ruling.

"As has always been the case, the Immigration Minister could bring this whole sorry saga to an end with the stroke of a pen and allow the family to return #hometobilo," she tweeted on Monday.

Greens Senator Nick McKim called on the Federal Government to allow the Murugappan family to return home to Biloela.

“Today’s Federal Circuit Court win is obviously welcome, but the family should not have needed to go to court in the first place,”  Senator Nick McKim said in a statement.

“This Government has spent a fortune to pursue and detain the family, instead of simply allowing them to return to the community that made them so welcome.”

“It has cost the Muruguppans years of their lives and caused extreme anguish.

“...Minister Hawke.... should immediately grant them permanent protection in Australia, including a pathway to become citizens.”

In a statement to SBS News, a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said it was "aware of the Federal Circuit and Family Court’s decision."

"The Department is considering the implications of the decision,' a spokesperson said.

"It would be inappropriate to comment further during the appeal period."

What's the story of the Murugappan family?

The Tamil asylum seeker family has been living in community detention in Perth since they were released from Christmas Island last year.

Priya and Nades married in Australia after fleeing Sri Lanka’s civil war and arriving separately on people smuggler boats in 2012 and 2013.

The family had been living in Biloela since 2014 until they were taken from their home in a dawn raid in March 2018 and detained.

Their time in the detention facility was brought to an end after Tharnicaa was medically evacuated with a blood infection that left her gravely ill.

The couple said they face persecution if deported to Sri Lanka but the government has claimed the family will never be permanently resettled in Australia.

SBS News has contacted Mr Hawke for comment. 

5 min read
Published 24 January 2022 at 11:20am
By Eden Gillespie
Source: SBS News