HOME Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has condemned Labor for dragging the prime minister’s religion into the public debate about a Tamil family fighting to stay in Australia.
Mr Dutton has savaged senior Labor party figures who have suggested Scott Morrison’s refusal to help the family stay is incompatible with his Christian beliefs.
“There have been some cheap shots against the prime minister, which I think reflect more poorly on members of the Labor Party than they do anybody else,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
He said Australians would “condemn” Labor after Opposition frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon said the government’s stance was “not particularly Christian”.
Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman, Senator Kristina Keneally, has also brought religion into the debate.
The Catholic senator said Mr Morrison put his beliefs front and centre during the election campaign, and he should explain his stance on the family through the lens of those beliefs.
“I’m calling on him to reflect upon the parable of the Good Samaritan, which invited us as Christians to take care of the stranger in our land,” she told the ABC on Tuesday.
Mr Dutton has spent another day defending the government’s refusal to use intervention powers to let Priya, her husband Nadesalingam and their Australian-born children Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2, remain in Australia.
He told Sky News: “We’re just not going to allow people to game the system, to not accept the courts’ decision.”
A succession of government decision makers and courts, including the High Court, have found Priya, Nades and their oldest child are not refugees.
A Federal Court hearing in Melbourne on Wednesday will test the youngest child’s case for Australia’s protection. The family remains on Christmas Island awaiting the outcome.
Mr Dutton and Mr Morrison have warned of a return to the dark days of mass drownings at sea if they make an exception for a family deemed ineligible of protection.
They say people smugglers will kick their trade back into high gear if there’s a perception Australia is showing leniency towards illegal boat arrivals like Priya and Nades.
Nades has said his links to Tamil Tigers insurgents who battled Sri Lanka’s government during the country’s civil war mean he’s in danger of persecution if he goes home.
But Mr Dutton says he travelled back to Sri Lanka on a number of occasions and he had been unable to convince a succession of courts that he would be in danger.
Nades and Priya came separately to Australia by boat after the war ended. They met here and had two children before settling in the Queensland town of Biloela.
The town has waged a spirited campaign to get the family back since they were put in immigration detention last year.
Since then the family’s plight has gained national attention, with a series of support rallies staged in capital cities on the weekend.