After accusations of ministerial interference in an approved trip to Christmas Island, prominent Labor senator Kristina Keneally has decided to go to visit a Tamil family detained in immigration detention anyway.
Denied the use of official special purpose aircraft, Labor's spokeswoman for home affairs will fly Thursday night by commercial means to visit Priya and Nades Murugappan and their two young Australian-born daughters, Kopika and Tharunicaa, who have been held in immigration detention since August 2019
In a statement, the senator said she was "relieved" to be able to resume her travel plans for Christmas Island.
"I am disappointed that my fellow parliamentarians can no longer join me on this trip," Senator Keneally wrote.
"While I can't do everything that the parliamentary delegation planned to do during this visit, I will do as much as I can, including meeting with the Biloela family and assure them of the broad support in Australia for their return home."
Senator Keneally is a member of the bipartisan National Capital and External Territories committee which was due to fly out for both the Christmas and Cocos Keeling Islands this weekend. Permission to visit the Christmas Island detention centre, as part of the trip, had been given by Australian Border Force.
She is planning on bringing gifts for the two children who have spent the bulk of their lives in detention.
Keneally late Wednesday accused the Defence Minister, Peter Dutton, of cancelling the approved trip just 22 minutes after Australian Border Force had confirmed she could visit the family.
She claims she received an email at 5.12pm Wednesday saying the Minister had "determined that the Special Purpose Aircraft can no longer be made available" for the trip.
"Peter Dutton did the one thing he could as Defence Minister and cancelled the committee's flight on a Government Special Purpose Aircraft," Senator Keneally said.
A spokeswoman for the Defence Minister has confirmed that there was no RAAF aircraft available to facilitate the requested travel to Cocos Island and Christmas Island on the dates requested.
The office of the Home Affairs Minister, Karen Andrews, has also been sought for comment.
Labor MP for Bean David Smith, a member of the National Capital and External Territories committee, has also questioned the timing of the cancelled trip.
"It's pretty pathetic," he told The Canberra Times.
"It's been organised from before (the former Defence Minister) Linda Reynolds went on leave, so it's been organised well in advance - we were looking at 12 people going on that flight."
He said it was not possible to replace with commercial charter flights due to the schedules of government MPs on the committee. "The timeframes were too tight."
The Biloela family have spent more than three years in detention.
Community members have long campaigned for them to be returned to their adopted home in central Queensland.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: