The Politics    Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Is it really worth it?

By Rachel Withers

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews at a press conference this morning. Image via ABC News

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews at a press conference this morning. Image via ABC News

A government tough on crime… and children

Prime Minister Scott Morrison might have hoped that today’s press conference announcing a “tough on crime” global police operation – the threateningly named “Operation Ironside” – would provide a welcome distraction from some of his problems. A distraction from the confirmation of yet another leak from hotel quarantine (in Melbourne this time, solving the mystery of where the Delta outbreak came from), as states continue to call for dedicated federal quarantine facilities. A distraction from the fact that approval rates are dropping for both the PM and his government, amid doubts over his competency, following a week of damning revelations about aged care. A distraction from reports that a little girl in his government’s “care” has developed sepsis due to untreated pneumonia, with questions raised over the time it took for authorities to take her illness seriously. Standing beside AFP Commissioner Reece Kershaw and Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews, in front of a backdrop made specially to promote Operation Ironside, Morrison may have got his wish, with the drug bust taking top spot on a number of news sites this afternoon. But nothing could absolve him, morally, from the fact that Tharnicaa Murugappan, the youngest daughter of the so-called Bileola family, is now fighting a life-threatening blood infection, after being denied proper medical treatment in the expensive island prison where Morrison’s government needlessly detains her, all so that he can appear to be tough on borders.

Once Morrison was done talking about the global sting he had little to do with, along with a call for increased police powers, questions soon turned to Tharnicaa and her family’s case. When asked about when a government decision will be made on their future, Morrison referred to the ongoing legal process, with the family still fighting in the courts for the right to stay, but he claimed that “they will continue to receive every medical care” (just not proper treatment for pneumonia, apparently). Andrews – who, regardless of any court process, has the discretionary power to allow the family back into the community right now – went on to say that “a range of resettlement options” was being considered. It was the first mention of any such considerations for the family. “I can’t make public commentary on that at the moment because I don’t want to disrupt those negotiations,” she added. When asked why she wouldn’t just make the call to bring them home, Andrews also referred to the “matter before the court”. The Department of Home Affairs later issued a press release, stating that Australian Border Force “strongly denies any allegations of inaction or mistreatment of individuals in its care”.

Morrison was keen to present his government as tough on crime in this morning’s press conference, and it’s clear he remains as committed as ever to appearing tough on borders, even at the expense of the wellbeing of two Australian-born children – and even when one of them is in hospital. The Morrison government has continued to make an example of this poor family, something Nationals senator Matt Canavan made explicit when asked about the situation on ABC Radio. Asked whether the exorbitant cost of keeping the family detained on Christmas Island was “worth it”, Canavan responded that yes, it was. “I think what is ‘worth it’ is that we do have strong border protections in this country,” he said, “that has made sure that we don’t have the atrocious and tragic trade of people that we saw around 10 years ago.” As if detaining a toddler raised in Australia is the only thing keeping people smugglers at bay.

The government has so far remained firm in its resistance to granting asylum to the Biloela family – even as the Opposition attempts to portray the Coalition as heartless – confident in its bet that the community at large supports its hardline immigration policies. But could a three year old with a pneumonia-induced blood infection be the thing that finally forces a shift? The latest comments from the new home affairs minister – a self-described “compassionate person by nature” – are the strongest indication yet that the government may cave on this one. There are still concerns, though, that “resettlement options” might not mean they are resettled in Australia, or more specifically the Biloela community that loves them and wants them home. 

Even if the federal government does ultimately allow the family to stay in Australia, it has put them through hell in the process, no doubt causing major trauma to two small children, solely to prove its toughness. Just as it was happy to almost starve Victorians if it meant not incentivising lockdowns, it has been content to let the Biloela family’s situation reach the point of “three-year-old suffering sepsis due to lack of medical treatment” if it means not incentivising people seeking asylum in this country. Was it really worth it?

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“This is nonsense. We know it’s nonsense. It’s QAnon craziness peddled around the community to create an atmosphere of uncertainty.”

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas says the Victorian Liberals should publicly apologise to Daniel Andrews, after Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien this morning joined in the “questioning” about the premier’s sick leave.

“Many senior people at The Australian know well the work, the habits and the hubris of Sally Neighbour and Louise Milligan.”

The newspaper continues its all-out assault on the ABC, with today’s editorial taking a vicious swipe at the award-winning Four Corners journalists.

What’s next for Christian Porter
Christian Porter’s decision to settle his defamation suit against the ABC is the end of one battle. But the former attorney-general, accused of a historic rape he strenuously denies, is still fighting on at least two other fronts.

The proportion of voters who believe the Morrison government is doing a “very poor” or “quite poor” job of managing COVID-19, with approval at its lowest since the pandemic began.

“The Morrison government will mount a fresh push to introduce greenfield agreements for mining and other large infrastructure projects as part of rebuilding its electoral fortunes in Western Australia and countering a campaign by Labor to woo the mining vote.”


Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash says the government will again attempt to introduce long-term workplace agreements, which formed part of its abandoned IR omnibus bill.

The list

“The [2014 legislation] consigned 30,500 people to the strange, punishing and interminable legal twilight that prohibits family reunion, leaving the country, home and student loans, access to the National Disability Insurance Scheme and, effectively, permanent residency … To this day, not one of those 30,500 people has secured permanent residency.”

“Between the 1860s and the 1920s, around 2000 cameleers and 20,000 camels arrived from Afghanistan and British India; if ‘without trucks Australia stops’, without camels it would’ve stalled. The introduction to the desert of the truck and the train (named after the ‘Ghans’) – and the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 – sent the majority of cameleers home, but some settled, mostly with Aboriginal women, in remote towns such as Marree.”

“The thing that struck me most … was the concept of climate justice. The people who have done the least to cause the climate crisis, largely those in developing countries, will be worst affected by it, and will be the least equipped to deal with it. This includes my family in India, along with all people of colour across the world and First Nations communities.”

Rachel Withers

Rachel Withers is the contributing editor of The Politics.


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