Keeping Biloela family locked up on Christmas Island cost Australia $1.4m last year

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Detention of Tamil family denounced as ‘morally disgraceful and obscenely expensive’ as visa case for Australian-born daughter remains locked in federal court

Supporters of Tamil asylum seekers Nadesalingam, Priya and their Australian-born children Kopika and Tharunicaa are seen at a rally in Melbourne in September 2019.
Supporters of Tamil asylum seekers Nades, Priya and their Australian-born children Kopika and Tharunicaa at a rally in Melbourne in September 2019. The family were removed from the Queensland town of Biloela into detention more than 1,000 days ago. Photograph: Ellen Smith/AAP
Supporters of Tamil asylum seekers Nades, Priya and their Australian-born children Kopika and Tharunicaa at a rally in Melbourne in September 2019. The family were removed from the Queensland town of Biloela into detention more than 1,000 days ago. Photograph: Ellen Smith/AAP

Last modified on Wed 6 Jan 2021 23.54 EST

Keeping the Tamil family from Biloela in detention on Christmas Island has cost $1.4m in the last year alone, with the total cost to the government of attempting to deport the parents and their two children surpassing $6m.

Priya, Nades, and their daughters, Kopika and Tharunicaa were taken from the regional Queensland town of Biloela, into detention in Melbourne more than 1,000 days ago. The family was moved to Christmas Island in August 2019 after lawyers for the family commenced legal action that prevented their removal from Australia while the youngest daughter’s immigration case is ongoing.

In figures provided in response to Senate estimates questions on notice from Greens senator and immigration spokesman Nick McKim, the Department of Home Affairs confirmed the cost of detaining the family on Christmas Island between 30 August 2019 and 31 October 2020 was $3.9m.

The department said in October 2019 the total cost for detention for the family in Melbourne and Christmas Island was $2.5m, meaning the last year on Christmas Island has cost $1.4m.

The legal costs incurred by the federal government increased by $100,000 in the past year to $402,100. In total, it puts the costs incurred at over $6m.

The family remains in detention on Christmas Island awaiting the outcome of a complex federal court case over whether Tharunicaa was denied procedural fairness over her application for a visa.

The rest of the family have exhausted their appeals.

In April last year, Justice Mark Moshinsky ruled that Tharunicaa had been denied procedural fairness, but the federal government has appealed.

Until the outcome of the appeal is determined the family will remain in detention indefinitely, barring ministerial intervention.

The family can only leave their accommodation to take Kopika to school on the island, or to go to the recreation centre, and those trips must be authorised by Australian Border Force at least two days in advance.

They cannot visit friends on Christmas Island, and they are escorted by security guards at all times.

“When [Kopika] goes to school, she is very happy but when she comes home, she’s really unhappy,” Priya told Hlcarpenter.com Australia in December.

McKim told Hlcarpenter.com Australia the ongoing detention of the family was reprehensible.

“It is morally disgraceful and obscenely expensive. This is a family who were building a life in Biloela and contributing to their community. They were much loved and should be allowed to return home immediately,” he said.

“It just shows that nothing will stop this government in its pursuit of arbitrary cruelty.”

The family had been the only detainees on Christmas Island for more than a year, before the government began using the centre to house migrants who have had their visas revoked for committing crimes. Some 225 people awaiting deportation were housed in a separate part of the centre at the end of November.

On Tuesday evening, detainees set fire to buildings and rioted over conditions at the centre.