The lawyer for a Tamil family fighting deportation has hit back at Peter Dutton after he said they had wasted $10million of taxpayer cash.
Priya and Nades Murugappan and their two young daughters are the only people being detained on Christmas Island at an estimated cost of $20,000 a day.
The Home Affairs Minister wants them to go back to Sri Lanka – where they fear persecution – and has said the parents are being ‘unfair on their children’ for fighting deportation.
In an interview with Daily Mail Australia, the family’s lawyer, Carina Ford, said it was actually Mr Dutton who was costing the taxpayer by refusing to let the family come back to the mainland while their case is pending.
‘The same argument applies that he’s being unfair by detaining them, it’s as simple as that,’ she said.
‘I feel that trying to flip it around and blame the parents like that hasn’t worked for Minister Dutton.
‘I think people can see that it doesn’t make sense for the person detaining the children to blame the parents.’
She added: ‘We are using taxpayer dollars to detain them but they could be in the community while their case is pending, actually contributing, because Nades used to work in the local meatworks, and costing the taxpayer no money.
‘Can you justify spending this amount of money on keeping a detention centre open that no-one else is using? I don’t think you can. Maybe that’s something the government can re-consider.’
Priya and Nades came to Australia by boat separately in 2012 and 2013, alleging they were escaping the Sri Lankan civil war.
They met in Sydney before getting married and settling in Biloela, Queensland where they had two children, Kopika, four, and Tharunicaa, two.
The family rented a small house, paid for with money Nades earned by working at an abattoir.
While her husband put food on the table, Priya looked after the children and attended Biloela Baptist Church craft group where she made dozens of friends.
But they were kicked out in March 2018 when their home was raided by police at 5am, the day after Priya’s bridging visa expired.
Locals started a petition for the family to be allowed to stay and it has been signed by 350,000 people across the country.
The United Nations has also requested the family be let off Christmas Island but the government has ignored those calls.
Minister Dutton does not believe the family are legitimate refugees and wants to deport them – but the courts have ruled they cannot be sent home until their legal proceedings are over.
A Federal Court judge in April ruled their deportation must remain on hold after determining the youngest daughter had been denied procedural fairness in her bid to apply for a protection visa.
The government was also ordered to pay the family more than $200,000 in legal fees.
The family now faces a long wait for their next hearing, which could be late this year or early next year.
Meanwhile, Priya, who has underlying health conditions, was last Saturday airlifted to hospital in Perth with severe abdominal pain and is still receiving treatment there.
Speaking on Sydney radio 2GB last week, Mr Dutton said the family should stop fighting deportation.
‘This case has gone on since 2012 I think, and it must have cost now… probably over $10 million,’ he said.
‘That’s money that should be going into… communities and helping Australian citizens.
‘They are not refugees and they have used every trick in the book to make sure they can stay.
‘This is a situation of their own making, it is ridiculous, it’s unfair on their children, and it sends a very bad message to other people who think that they can rort the system as well.’
Ms Ford said if Mr Dutton wanted to save taxpayer money he could grant a protection visa and allow the family to stay in Australia.
‘That’s always been our position in this case. It’s open to the minister to not have this go on and spend more money on it. The choice is his.’
Ms Ford says she believes there is a ‘good prospect’ of her winning the case, which centres on two-year-old Tharunicaa, whose visa claim was never assessed.
She will also be arguing that Nades should have his application re-assessed because new evidence has emerged proving he will be in danger if he is sent home.
Nades has claimed he will be persecuted in Sri Lanka because he was forced to join the militant group Tamil Tigers in 2001 and was harassed by the Sri Lankan military.
The Immigration Assessment Authority rejected the claims on the basis he frequently travelled between Sri Lanka, Kuwait and Qatar for work between 2004 and 2010 during the civil war, something that a Tamil Tigers member would not be allowed to do.
Priya has claimed she watched her former fiance get burned alive and was raped during the Sri Lankan civil war which lasted from 1983 to 2009.
Family friend Angela Fredericks says the mother had suffered severe abdominal pain and had been vomiting for two weeks before she was airlifted to Fiona Stanley Hospital on 18 July.
‘She’s quite overwhelmed at the moment,’ Ms Fredericks said on Monday.
‘When I spoke to her this morning, she was very groggy. She’d been experiencing quite severe pain overnight again so she was on some strong painkillers.
‘The doctors say there’s definite issues with her uterus and bladder but they said that wouldn’t be causing the pain. So they’re still just awaiting the results of the CT scan which was done yesterday.’
Ms Fredericks said the immigration health service on Christmas Island had given Priya painkillers but had not investigated her complaints further.
Priya’s transfer to Perth only came when a doctor at the hospital saw her for a fourth time and refused to discharge her.
‘We are actually quite concerned because now that she’s had the CT scan, technically they could actually send her back to Christmas Island,’ Ms Fredericks said.
”We’re incredibly grateful to the doctor on Christmas Island who has stood up for a very vulnerable woman and I really hope that medical staff will continue to do so.’
Groups including the Tamil Refugee Council and National Union of Students gathered outside Fiona Stanley Hospital on Monday to protest the family’s continued detention.
Ms Fredericks said Priya’s hospitalisation in Perth had been particularly distressing for two-year-old Tharunicaa.
‘She really doesn’t understand where her Mum is and why she can’t see her,’ she said.
‘It’s very distressing for all of them.’
Labor leader Anthony Albanese has descried the family’s detention as ‘publicly funded torture’ and said they should be allowed to stay.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has also said the family’s Biloela community, who want them to stay, should be listened to.