The fate of a Tamil family being held in immigration detention on Christmas Island will be decided within days. The Murugappan family have been detained for almost three years as they fight deportation to Sri Lanka.
Their plight is back in the spotlight after the youngest daughter, Tharnicaa, was evacuated to Perth for medical treatment. The four-year-old needs months of specialist treatment for pneumonia and sepsis, a life-threatening blood infection, and the West Australian health department has advised the family be reunited in Perth.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was considering its options and would take advice from medical experts at the Department of Home Affairs. "Those issues are always carefully considered in all of these sensitive cases and indeed will be on this occasion," Mr Morrison said.
Pressure is mounting on the prime minister to let the family stay in Australia, with politicians from across the spectrum calling for them to be allowed to return to their adopted home of Biloela in central Queensland. Mr Morrison has signalled his government could finally back away from its hardline stance and allow the family to stay in Australia, at least on a temporary basis.
"There are options that are being considered that are consistent with both health advice and the humanitarian need and the government's policy," he said. However, the prime minister said permanent resettlement was out of the question.
"That wouldn't be government policy for a pathway to permanent settlement - that is not the government's policy." With the decision pending, nine health organisations representing tens of thousands of medical professionals across Australia have signed an open letter calling for the family's release.
Paediatrician Jacqueline Small from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians said the children must be allowed to develop and grow in the community. "We feel very strongly keeping these children in held detention, particularly offshore detention, represents an extreme and unacceptable risk to the children's health, development and mental wellbeing," she told ABC radio.
"Given both children were in held detention from their toddlerhood, the risks are even higher." Immigration Minister Alex Hawke could allow the family to stay in Australia by granting visas not reserved for refugees, such as skilled migrant or work permits.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said Mr Hawke would make an announcement this week. Priya and Nades Murugappan met after fleeing Sri Lanka's civil war by boat in 2012 and 2013.
Tharnicaa and her older sister Kopika were both born in Australia after the couple established themselves in Biloela. Their deportation from Australia is being fought in the courts.
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce has supported calls for the family to stay in Australia for more than two years. "Tharnicaa and Kopika were born in Australia," he told Network Seven. "Now, maybe if their names were Jane and Sally and they were playing in their local netball side, we'd think twice about sending them back to another country which they're not from."
Mr Joyce also argued Mr and Mrs Murugappan had jobs and were valued members of their local community. "In regional Australia, we need people who have jobs. These people should be staying here."
Labor leader Anthony Albanese rejected the argument showing the family compassion and exercising discretion would somehow restart the people-smuggling trade. "This is about a family who are here, this is not a threat to our national sovereignty," he said.
"This will not restart the people-smuggling trade any more than when ministers have intervened for nannies and for people who have connections with the Liberal and National parties. That didn't start the trade either."
Daniel McCulloch – APP