"Even Barnaby Joyce is fed up, accusing the government of playing the racist game and arguing there'd be no question if the daughters were white girls called Jane and Sally," writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.  

WHAT happened to compassion in Australia? It is no wonder that there is a split within the Coalition government over the Tamil family from Biloela. Is it still about refugees and stopping the boats or is there something deeper?

Michael Moore.

This saga is filled with lack of compassion – and it turns out that some of the government MPs simply find it too much. From the time Peter Dutton was Minister for Immigration, the politics of toughness have won the day. No compromise! Stand firm! No shades of grey.

Incoming Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has long been considered amongst the most conservative of politicians within the government ranks. Even he's fed up, accusing the government of playing the racist game. He argued there would be no question if the daughters were white girls with the names “Jane and Sally”. 

Mr Joyce told the "Sunrise" TV program: “Tharunicaa and Kopika were born in Australia. Maybe if their names were Jane and Sally and they were playing on the local netball side, we'd think twice about sending them back to another country which they're not from.”

The lack of compassion reached a peak when Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews told Nine Radio that reporting around the illness of the child Tharunicaa was inaccurate. The clear implication was that the reported sepsis was not serious and was some kind of ruse. She went further: “The illness that the child is suffering, and is in hospital for, has been well and truly treated in the advice that I have been given”.

Meanwhile, WA director-general of Health David Russell-Weisz said Tharunicaa's treatment, in the wake of her sepsis infection, would continue. At a time when governments have been constantly congratulated for listening to health advice over COVID-19, the Minister for Home Affairs sets herself above medical staff on the issue of treatment of a four-year-old.

The Minister is (appropriately) proud of her qualifications as a mechanical engineer as she outlined in her inaugural speech to Parliament in 2010. Additionally, she holds a Graduate Diploma in Industrial Relations. However, as qualified as a mechanical engineer might be, it does not provide the wherewithal to challenge the medical profession on diagnosis and treatment.

Her words took the lack of compassion for a four-year-old and her family to a new level. Shadow Minister for Multiculturalism, Andrew Giles, called for Ms Andrews to apologise. He tweeted, “It's appalling that Minister Andrews speaks so carelessly and callously about a sick four-year-old girl”.

The seeds of lack of compassion might be found in her inaugural speech where she stated: “There are three things that I wish to speak about because they are important to McPherson [her electorate] and they define who I am and what I stand for: infrastructure, business and veterans”.

The sad part is that the minister seems to have forgotten the other part of her speech: “As a parent, I understand the importance of health and education to our future generations and the need to nurture and encourage our children. I want our children to have the opportunity to reach their full potential, whatever that may be.” 

Perhaps she ought to have qualified the statement with… “if the children were named Jane and Sally”.

Even after announcing that the family would be able to remain in Australia on a restricted basis – it seems the government still cannot find enough compassion to allow the Murugappan family to return to Biloela after Tharunicaa is well enough to travel. 

The greatest concern is not just for these two girls, who spent the majority of their life in detention – effectively jail – but for the attitude that allows such a hard line. At what point does someone say: “These people have suffered enough”? At what point will the electorate react to say enough is enough?

Karen Andrews might just be trying to make a political name framed around lack of compassion. Or she might just be trying to out-tough her Queensland LNP colleague and former Border Force Minister, Peter Dutton.

Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.


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