Our response to the Nadesalingam family proves humanity, not fear lies at the heart of Australia's national identity

Our response to the Nadesalingam family proves humanity, not fear lies at the heart of Australia’s national identity

Biloela

In just a matter of hours the Nadesalingam family will be back in their beloved home of Biloela surrounded by the community which loves them and has fought for them– tooth and nail– over recent years.

A diversity festival has been organised, with locals gathering to welcome back the Nadesalingam family who are as much a part of the tapestry of the town as anyone, or anything, else. A crowdfunding appeal has raised $200,000 for them to get back on their feet. There will be music, celebrations and hundreds of warm embraces– a long time coming for a family devastated in the dead of night four years ago.

Indeed, the previous government’s management of Tamil couple Priya and Nades and their two daughters Kopikaa and Tharnicaa couldn’t reasonably be described as anything short of horrific.

Since March 2018, the family of four were forced to live in brutal limbo after Australian Border Force officials — accompanied by police and Serco private security guards — arrived at their home in Biloela Queensland and removed them due to Priya’s visa expiring. They were relocated to Christmas Island detention, remaining there for two years despite multiple appeals.

In 2021, they were shifted to Perth when their youngest daughter Tharnicaa contracted a serious infection. The three year old had been seriously ill for two weeks, yet left untreated. Still, they were left without any sense of closure to their situation or circumstance.

It was the ultimate flex from a government consumed by a merciless “tough guy” agenda. Scott Morrison coldly bet on the fact that Australians would applaud his response, despite the inflexibility and senselessness of it all.

Even the day before the federal election three weeks ago, Morrison was holding firm to his decision.

He claimed that if he were to allow the Tamil family from Sri Lanka to stay in Australia it would open the door for people smugglers to recommence their “carnage at sea.”

“They have not been afforded the status of refugees. So they’re not refugees. That is what the courts have found,” he said.

“If you grant visas to people who have illegally entered Australia, you may as well start writing the prospectus for people smugglers.”

“The most empathetic thing when it comes to border protection, (is to) keep our borders secure.” 

But Morrison’s stubbornness, witnessed so many times during his leadership, ultimately backfired. Australians overwhelmingly backed the Home to Bilo campaign with nearly 600,000 people signing a Change.org petition, and more than 53,000 phone calls and emails made to lobby Australian politicians to bring justice to the family.

Because, ultimately, Priya, Nades and their girls (both born in Australia) were never a threat, they were an asset. They made their community in rural Queensland stronger. They brought love and joy to the people around them. They were building lives– free from persecution– in a country they were more than happy to contribute meaningfully to.

Australians saw that, and supported it wholeheartedly.

And that’s why, in my mind, the tiny town of Biloela has come to epitomise hope. It’s a critical reminder that at the heart of our national consciousness and identity lies humanity, not fear.

“I’m very proud we’ve brought this family home,” new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said this week, adding the family were “loved and wanted” by their community.

It’s a welcome change in sentiment from the division we’ve all grown accustomed to over the past ten years. And it’s the relief sorely needed and deserved by the Nadesalingams.

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