Sick of stereotypes, Chalmers says Biloela ready to embrace detained family

Queenslander Jim Chalmers says he has made substantial progress in Labor’s pledge to allow a Sri Lankan asylum-seeker family home to their adopted town of Biloela, using the opportunity before the nation’s media to debunk an irksome stereotype about the northern state.

Australia’s new Treasurer, who is also acting as the Home Affairs minister, said he would speak to Anthony Albanese about what was to happen next once the prime minister returned from meetings with international leaders in Tokyo.

Obviously, there are a series of steps that I would need to appropriately take in order to give effect to our long-held view that the family get home to Biloela to the warm embrace of one of the most wonderful Queensland towns, Chalmers said, adding he expected to make an announcement very, very soon.

The Murugappan family is in community detention in Perth following stints of harder confinement on Christmas Island and the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre.

Supporters and friends in Biloela, who built a grassroots campaign into a national movement to free the family from indefinite detention, hope a flight from the west can be arranged before the Flourish in Biloela Multicultural Festival set down for June 11.

If you will forgive me a moment of parochialism as a Queenslander born and bred, I am so sick and tired of Queensland being caricatured as a certain way when it comes to some of these issues, Chalmers said.

It warms the heart to see the way that the town of Biloela has gotten around this beautiful family and campaigned long and hard for this family to be returned … where they are making such a terrific contribution to the local community.

Father Nades, mother Priya and their Australian-born daughters, Tharnicaa and Kopika, were taken from their home in Biloela by Border Force agents in March 2018 and have since been living in fear of deportation to Sri Lanka, and subsequent persecution.

The outgoing Coalition government tried in 2019, but was blocked by a dramatic last-minute court injunction. Labor instead promised to allow the family to return to Queensland.

Another Queenslander, Peter Dutton, who was minister of Home Affairs when the Murugappans were first detained, has repeatedly pushed back against efforts to keep the family in Australia, pointing out the courts had not found them to be refugees and, therefore, the nation owed them no protection.

Dutton was expected to be voted in by colleagues as the next opposition leader.

In the days before Saturday’s election, then-prime minister Scott Morrison warned softening Australia’s stance on boat arrivals could reopen the teeming people smuggling trade of the 2000s.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has supported letting the Murugappans return to Biloela, while David Littleproud, the man tipped to run against him to lead the party, has called for a compassionate solution.

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