Reprieve for Bilo family amid legal battle

A Tamil family has been granted a small reprieve in their fight to remain in Australia with the granting of another bridging visa enabling them to stay in the country until just before Christmas.

© PR HANDOUT The Murugappan family has been granted another three-month reprieve from being deported.

Lawyers for the Murugappan family headed to the Federal Circuit Court on Thursday, to challenge a decision to prevent parents Nades and Priya, and daughter Kopik from re-applying for bridging visas.

With their current bridging visas set to expire on Wednesday, the court heard Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had agreed to provide new three-month bridging visas.

These will expire on December 23.

If the current legal action fails and the family do not obtain further visas, the Muruguppan family could be sent back to immigration detention or community detention, or removed from Australia.

The meaning of ‘close of business’ was central to Thursday’s court action, with the deadline for the family to make submissions to the minister being the subject of contention.

Barrister Angel Aleksov said lawyers for the family were invited in June “to give submissions on the minister’s proposed course … in respect of bridging visa applications”.

The department is arguing the submissions were required by close of business, but solicitor Carina Ford’s email with the submission was sent at 5.45pm Australian Eastern time, which would have been 3.45pm in Western Australia, where the family was based.

“The communication to them (the family) left it fairly unclear as to precisely when the deadline was, and also perhaps more importantly, where to send the correspondence with the submissions,” Mr Aleksov told Judge Heather Riley.

“There was correspondence earlier in the week that my clients were given and they indicated a response would be made.”

The court heard the minister was briefed at 6.58pm the same day and a decision made at 7.20pm.

Mr Aleksov said there was a “measure of unreasonableness in the way that the department rushed into a decision without checking to see whether there was in fact a submission put to them”.

This was concerning given the long history of engagement between the parties and their representatives.

“We submit that was both unfair and unreasonable,” he added.

The hearing will continue on October 4.

The circuit court bid comes after the High Court last month refused to hear an appeal on behalf of the Murugappan family’s youngest member, four-year-old Tharnicaa, who was born in Australia along with her older sister.

The family hopes to return to their home in the small country town of Biloela in Queensland.

They have been living in Perth after being released from years of detention – the last stint on Christmas Island – after Tharnicaa was medically evacuated from the island this year with a blood infection that left her gravely ill.

Family friend Simone Cameron, of the Home to Bilo group, said she’s relieved about the temporary reprieve.

“We welcome the surprise decision from Minister Hawke … but today’s outcome means the family’s situation has largely unchanged,” she said. 

“They are still essentially trapped in Perth, in community detention along with little Tharni.”

Another friend, Angela Fredericks, said the family was terrified of being forced to leave Australia.

“We know this family is safe in Biloela,” she added.

“No one can guarantee their safety if they are forced to Sri Lanka.”

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