This week, Brittany Higgins – a former Liberal party staffer – made headlines after she alleged she had been raped in the office of then-defence industry minister Linda Reynolds by a colleague in 2019, and that the Liberal party mishandled her report of the incident.
In his response to the news, prime minister Scott Morrison noted that his wife Jenni, who “has a way of clarifying things”, had helped him realise Ms Higgins was not supported the way she should have been. “[Jenni] said to me, ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?’”
Men humanising the experiences of women only when considered in the context of women important to them – wives, daughters, mothers – is a problem as old as time. It’s frustrating to see it happening again – how we just give a shit about Brittany Higgins because she is a human being who was mistreated – but there is something even more pressing we need to discuss right now.
If we’re talking about the mistreatment of “daughters”, how would you like it if yours were stranded in a detention centre for years, Scott Morrison?
That’s exactly what has been happening since 2018 to Kopika and Tharnicaa, aged five and three. They are the daughters of Priya and Nades Murugappan, a Sri Lankan couple who arrived in Australia by boat in 2012 and 2013 respectively, before meeting, marrying and settling down in the regional Queensland town of Biloela. In March 2o18, they were placed in detention in Melbourne and put on a flight back to Sri Lanka. However, mid-way through the flight an interim injunction was granted by a judge, preventing the family from leaving the country.
Since then the family has resided in detention on Christmas Island as lengthy and complicated court proceedings have ensued based around daughter Tharunicaa’s visa eligibility. The latest update has come literally today, the same day Scott Morrison discussed his new-found empathy for Brittany Higgins’ experience. The family will remain on Christmas Island, and the legal process is ongoing.
It has now been almost three years since the family was placed in detention on Christmas Island. They are only allowed to leave their residence to take Kopika to school or to visit the recreation centre, and even then their trips must be approved by the Australian Border Force two days in advance. They are always escorted by security guards. Speaking to The Guardian, Priya said “When [Kopika] goes to school, she is very happy but when she comes home, she’s really unhappy.” She also said the lack of privacy and monotonous existence was taking its toll. “We spend our day, either in the bedroom or the dining room. It’s really boring … For us, it’s very depressing and lonely,” she says. “There is no privacy, when me and my husband are trying to spend time together. We have no privacy.”
According to the SMH, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would not intervene and allow the family to return to Biloela while the court proceedings continue. Unless there is ministerial intervention, the family will remain on Christmas Island indefinitely.
It is, frankly, disgusting that a family has been left in such restrictive conditions for years, with little to no government interest in their wellbeing. But you won’t hear Scott Morrison discussing Tharunicaa and Kopika’s experiences in relation to how he would want his daughters treated.
I am glad the Morrison government is being held accountable for its treatment of Brittany Higgins, and I hope they take decisive steps to rectify internal processes so in future, Brittany’s experience isn’t repeated. But I’d really love to see the same level of revelatory compassion Scott Morrison has apparently had regarding Brittany’s experience, for the Murugappan family of Biloela.