Sydney, Australia

When Quade Cooper singlehandedly won the first Rugby Championship game against the Springboks earlier this month, my social media filled with commentary about what an Aussie hero he is. The outrage that we’ve denied him Australian citizenship was passionate and loud. The rhetoric circled around how un-Australian it is to exclude a sporting legend. 

Recently, Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke granted the Murugappan family, of Biloela, Queensland, a three-month reprieve with another bridging visa. Both Cooper and the Murugappans’ cases expose some absurd bureaucratic red tape and cruelty at the heart of our immigration laws.

Australia Parliament House coat of arms

Australia's coat-of-arms on Parliament House, Canberra. PICTURE: Josh Withers/Unsplash

While it’s a relief that Border Force agents won’t be whisking away the Tamil Australian family on a ‘secret’ flight to Sri Lanka, this is really the mildest relief possible. It’s a gasp for air in a turbulent and unrelenting sea. The truth is a bridging visa is hope deferred and it makes the heart sick (as Proverbs 13:12 says). And Nades, Priya and their daughters still cannot return to their home in Biloela. 

Of course, the ‘system’ hasn’t treated Quade Cooper fairly either. Having lived in Australia since he was 13, Cooper has played over 70 games for the Wallabies, and he’s been denied citizenship four times. This is primarily because his sporting career took him out of the country more than the citizenship rules allow. It would be disappointing and frankly strange to play, and win, for a country that won’t let you call it home. As Rugby Australia chief executive Hamish McLennan said of Cooper, "[he is] thoroughly deserving."

"I’m not sure what I find more confounding – the double standards of our politicians and policies, or the strange exposure of Australian values in cases like these. The message is clear – some lives are more valuable to Australia than others."

But don’t let the truth of his situation blind you to the double standard on display here. 

Australia also granted protection to 50 Afghan athletes last month. There were a few prominent voices advocating for the athletes and their families who were seeking safety from the Taliban. Again, this is certainly the right thing for Australia to do and there was praise for the government’s "swift response" to the desperate need of these families.

The "tweaking of visa eligibility rules for some visa holders" will benefit those who Alex Hawke referred to as the "most talented prospective Australians". He also celebrated the outcome for Scottish born Angus Young, of AC/DC fame. "[He is] probably one of the greatest Australians, when you think about it," Hawke said.

While I won’t argue about Young’s greatness, I am still bewildered. I’m not sure what I find more confounding – the double standards of our politicians and policies, or the strange exposure of Australian values in cases like these. The message is clear – some lives are more valuable to Australia than others. 

And the double standard we walk by is the double standard we accept. 

I’ve written about this before and spent time shoulder to shoulder with others at vigils and protests seeking justice for the Murugappan family, and other refugees. Hoping every time will be the last. And I confess I’m weary, though more than a little ashamed to admit it. 

But I recently spent some time studying the Biblical story of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 21. Their story presented a fresh challenge to anyone weary of bearing with the suffering and injustice in our world. 

Like Hagar in this story, our distress can overwhelm us. We can feel powerless whenever we see vulnerable people suffer. But for those who profess a Judeo-Christian faith – as many in this country claim to – the God of the Bible speaks to His people as He did to Hagar and reminds them He is a God who sees the distress of people suffering, and cares deeply about their wellbeing. If we are willing to play our part, this same God will provide through His followers, just as He opened Hagar’s eyes to a lifesaving well in the desert (Genesis 21:19).

So, as a Christian, I’m left asking – does God have a plan for the Murugappan family? I believe His heart is surely the same for them as it is for all His children. His desire is for them to flourish – to be safe. But Hagar’s story reminds me that it is up to me, as it is up to all his people to work towards, and fight for the flourishing of vulnerable people. It is absolutely certain that sending this family back to Sri Lanka will be dangerous if not deadly as news outlets continue to report cases of abuse and torture of Tamil people. So, what are we doing here? 

If the rules can be ‘tweaked’ to welcome athletes, what is holding back our government from signing the exemption needed for the Murugappans to return to their home and loving community in Bilo? 

Real winning for this sports-loving nation would be fair and equal compassion, treating all human lives as if they have the same innate value – not a system of cruelty for some and favour for others. 

meredith wright

Meredith Wright is a writer at Baptist World Aid Australia.