It’s not popular but it’s right to send them back

IT IS easy to be compassionate and it is easier being popular and the good guy. It is harder to maintain a tough policy, to say, "no", even when loud voices are against you.

The right thing to do is not always obvious or popular. It's not about showing "Christian leadership" as declared by some in Labor who should know better.

But the Tamil family who have galvanised large numbers of supporters in Australia - especially in the Queensland regional town of Biloela - need to return home to Sri Lanka.

And good on the community in Biloela who are rallying around the family. Their hearts are in the right place and this flies in the face of some politicians across the political divide, and activists, who decry Queensland as a state of red necks.

But in this policy space, politicians must be dispassionate. They must be scientific-like because Operation Sovereign Borders is ruthlessly efficient. It has worked because it is uncompromising.

As a nation we can have one of two choices - not both. One is we have hordes of people beaching themselves in Australia because they are genuine refugees and don't want to wait in United Nations' camps, or they are economic refugees who want to live in Australia because of the opportunity it offers.

The second option is we have an orderly and costed migration system. With advice from the UN, the government of the day determines how many people are resettled and who they are. In the past financial year Australia allocated 18,750 placements under its refugee and humanitarian program.

The Coalition and the overwhelming majority of Australians have chosen the latter.

But some Australians have forgotten the trauma and the cost to the taxpayer when people smugglers loaded up asylum seeker boats and sent them to Australia.

Priya and Nadesalingam with their Australian-born children Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2. Picture: AAP Image/
Priya and Nadesalingam with their Australian-born children Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2. Picture: AAP Image/

This is how Priya and Nadesalingam arrived - separately by boat in 2013 and 2012. They married and had two children in Australia.

It does not matter that they had kids here. It does not matter that they are good, hard-working migrants who have established themselves in the community.

What does matter is that they arrived to Australia by boat, and that the highest court in the land has found they are not refugees and have to return home. Every judge from the Federal Magistrates Court, the Federal Court to the High Court has found that they are not owed protection.

It is a matter of legal principal.

That is the umpire's decision. Part of being an Australian is accepting the umpire's decision.

They should go home and in good faith to the Australian people they can reapply for a visa if they wish.

Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2. Picture: AAP Image/
Kopika, 4, and Tharunicaa, 2. Picture: AAP Image/

Some have argued - including Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese - that letting the family stay won't undo the country's tough border security policies if an exception is made. But that is naive. It does. Because there are many like Priya and Nadesalingam on bridging visas who arrived by boat and have found not to be refugees. Because activists will not stop at just one family and families in similar situations will ask, "but what about me - my situation is the same as Priya's and Nadesalingam's"?

It is believed there are about 2000 individuals broadly in similar circumstances. At the end of August, there were about 14,000 illegal maritime arrivals in the community on bridging visas.

And why don't we just let those people stay?

Well it just means there's a new benefit to hopping on a boat to get to Australia, and that is the unravelling of the only border policy that has stopped people getting on to unsafe boats to get to Australia.

Activism should not determine national security. Not every politician has the political stamina like Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Dutton does not take joy in denying asylum seekers protection. He is maintaining a policy that Labor never had the stomach to do and when it gets tough, they buckle.

This shows Labor is not in lock-step with the government on border protection. There is a reason why many politicians on both sides admit they could never be the Home Affairs Minister. It is tough, unpopular and complex.

Being compassionate is not always in the national interest.