HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [7.59 pm]: I rise to make a few comments about an incident that occurred over the winter recess. Members would be aware of the case of Priya and Nades, a couple, who certainly want to be Australians, who were in Sri Lanka and arrived in Australia seeking asylum. They ended up being detained in March 2018 and are currently being detained on Christmas Island. Priya became very unwell while she was on Christmas Island. After many days—in fact, weeks—of being critically unwell, she was finally sent to Perth to receive urgent medical attention. When she came to Perth, she was not allowed to come with her husband and, of course, her children were left behind in detention on Christmas Island. I am very concerned about the events surrounding what happened while Priya was here, particularly the way in which Priya was subsequently forcibly removed back to Christmas Island. I think that what has happened to Priya and her family has been an absolute failure of public policy at every single level.
I will quickly recap. Priya was prevented from applying for refugee status for years and years after her arrival in Australia, for no good reason. Her bridging visa renewal application was in process when she and her family were forcibly removed from their home in Biloela in Queensland, where they were living as valued members of the community. Undue pressure was applied to force them to sign the voluntary removal documents. They were threatened with being sent back to Sri Lanka individually. All these circumstances are an absolute disgrace!

We know that Christmas Island has been reopened at what is, frankly, an insane cost to the public to hold this family for months on end when they could have remained at home in Biloela, working and contributing to their community instead of being subjected to, and having their beautiful young daughters subjected to, the anguish of being detained. I really worry for those young girls. I worry about what we are doing to them, how we are traumatising them and what that will mean for them as they grow older. International organisations have repeatedly stated that families who are in Priya and Nades’ situation will face persecution, injustice and incredible danger if they are forced to return to Sri Lanka. Many people who are living on safe haven enterprise or bridging visas have been and continue to be much-loved members of their communities. They are hardworking people, who are keen to be part of Australia’s future, as this family was. The way that they have been treated by the Australian government is absolutely shameful.

As I said, Priya was in Perth for serious medical attention only a matter of a few weeks ago because she was incredibly unwell. Then she was suddenly transferred back to the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre. I understand that the way she was returned was quite horrifying. At the time, she was not told what was happening, and was transferred by around 10 guards. Her phone was confiscated and she was not able to contact her husband, her lawyer or any other support people. I think that is an extraordinary thing to do to a very sick woman. It must have been absolutely terrifying for her. The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs has the power to simply grant this family their visas. We have already seen interventions undertaken on behalf of backpackers who have overstayed their visas. The obvious question is: why not this family and why not now? Priya, her husband and their daughters were happy, productive and much-loved members of the Biloela community and they want to go home. Their community in Biloela wants them home. Their home is Australia. There is no reason at all to keep them in detention or to send them away to catastrophe in Sri Lanka. It will be too dangerous. We want them and need them back in Biloela now!

Portfolio Category: 
Parliamentary Type: