After more than 1000 days in immigration detention, a Tamil family who lived in central Queensland has won another legal battle in its fight against attempts by the government to deport the father, mother and two young daughters to Sri Lanka.
The full bench of the Federal Court ruled this morning that Tharunicaa Murugappan, the younger Australian-born daughter of Priya and Nades, had been denied procedural fairness by the government when assessing her visa application in 2019.
The judgment upheld Justice Mark Moshinsky’s decision in April last year in which he held that Immigration Minister David Coleman had denied Tharunicaa procedural fairness by failing to consider a brief prepared by the Home Affairs Department directing him to “lift the bar” and consider her visa application.
Despite being born in Australia, Tharunicaa has the same visa status as her parents — who arrived by boat and are therefore barred from obtaining a visa. However, the immigration minister has the power to “lift the bar” and approve her visa.
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Lawyers for the Murugappan family say they are assessing whether an injunction or stay of orders will be required to stop further deportation attempts by the government.
“We will be reviewing the decision and considering appealing to the High Court, and unless the minister provides an undertaking not to remove, we will apply for an injunction,” lawyer Carina Ford said.
“We also think this justifies the release of the family from detention.”
Today’s reprieve means the Murugappans are likely to remain in Australia, despite increasingly desperate attempts to deport them. In 2019 they won a last-minute injunction while on the plane, allowing them to remain in Australia while court cases over Tharunicaa’s visa application continued. Since then they’ve been housed on Christmas Island, costing taxpayers $3.9 million.
Today’s judgment is just the latest episode in a saga that has highlighted the Kafkaesque legalism and theatrical cruelty of Australia’s immigration detention system.
Priya and Nades both separately fled Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war and met in 2014 while on bridging visas in Australia. They had two girls, Kopika and Tharunicaa, while living in the central Queensland town of Biloela. After their visas expired, they were taken from their home in a dawn raid in 2018 and placed in immigration detention in Melbourne.
They have been in detention ever since, while their lawyers have fought a string of legal battles to keep them in Australia.
It is a case that has rallied the town of Biloela behind the family, and even won them unexpected supporters, including shock jock Alan Jones, who described their potential deportation as “a shameful chapter”.
The Murugappans could be living freely in the community if not for adamant opposition from the Morrison government. In 2019, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton referred to the children as “anchor babies” who were costing Australians millions of dollars.
“There are several ministers who have always had the discretion within the immigration portfolio to release this family into the community while their legal matters are resolved,” Ford said.
“That was the case in 2018, 2019 and 2020. It remains the case now too.”