The Tamil family from Biloela being held in detention on Christmas Island could soon be allowed back into community detention on the island, the home affairs minister Karen Andrews has flagged.
Priya and Nades Murugappan, and their two Australian-born children Kopika and Tharnicaa, were taken from the regional Queensland town of Biloela and put into detention over 1,000 days ago. They were moved to Christmas Island in late 2019 after a court injunction prevented the family being removed from Australia.
The family is being held in a two-bedroom unit inside the detention centre on Christmas Island under guard and can only leave to take Kopika to school or to go to the recreation centre, and those trips must be authorised by Australian Border Force two days in advance.
Guardian Australia reported in January that the detention and ongoing legal battle with the family has cost taxpayers over $6m so far, with $1.4m spent in the last year alone.
The former minister in the portfolio, Peter Dutton, has long argued the family should be sent to Sri Lanka because Priya and Nades arrived in Australia by boat and were unsuccessful in their own asylum claims. Since Andrews was appointed to the portfolio to replace Dutton in March, advocates for the family have hoped she might reconsider the government’s stance on the family’s case and allow them to return to Biloela.
At any time Andrews could intervene and use her ministerial powers to allow the family to stay in Australia.
Andrews told ABC radio she had turned her mind to the “welfare of that family on Christmas Island” and was seeking advice, with the potential for other accomodation on the island.
“In terms of other accommodation that may be available to them on Christmas Island, that’s an ongoing discussion that I am having with our officials,” she said.
“I will make a response in the not-too-distant future.”
On ABC News Breakfast, when Andrews was asked if she would return the family to Biloela, she said she could not say anything that would jeopardise the government’s position in court. When asked if she had compassion for the family, Andrews said compassion took many different forms.
The family won a full federal court appeal in February that the government’s handling of Tharnicaa’s visa application denied her procedural fairness. The court said it was “kafkaesque” that the government failed to inform the family that a decision had been reached on whether to consider her application.
The Department of Home Affairs told Guardian Australia it did not appeal the decision in that case, but it is understood the legal process is still ongoing, which means they will continue to seek an injunction from the court to prevent their removal from Australia.
The family has gained substantial support in the community as well as among a growing number of politicians. Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was in the top job when the family was removed from Biloela, said last month the family should be “back in Queensland” and he hoped Andrews would use her discretion to do that.
The shadow home affairs minister, Kristina Keneally, also recently visited the family on Christmas Island, and has called for them to be returned home, despite also stating ongoing support for the offshore processing and regional resettlement policies that would prevent anyone today who arrives in Australia by boat, like Priya and Nades did, from resettling in Australia.