Immigration Minister makes rare intervention to save rural childcare worker from deportation

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Rebecca Ellison has lived the past two years in a state of limbo, but with the stroke of a minister’s pen it has finally come to an end. 

Key points:

  • Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has intervened to stop the deportation of Rebecca Ellison
  • Ms Ellison, 31, is the only childcare worker in Mungindi, on the NSW-Qld border
  • Parents say her deportation would likely have forced them to give up work, amid a widespread regional childcare shortage

The 31-year-old is the only childcare worker in the Queensland-New South Wales border town of Mungindi, but she faced the threat of deportation to the UK when her application for permanent residency was rejected.

With a two-year waiting list of desperate parents, Ms Ellison had strong support from the community to stay when she applied for a permanent visa in 2018. 

But it was rejected on a technicality because she was self-employed, instead of being sponsored by a childcare company. 

Her first appeal for ministerial intervention was declined as it was not considered in the “public interest”.

Now, after a two-year wait, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has intervened.

“It’s just been a big emotional roller coaster for [parents] as well. It has been for me, so I think they’ll all be happy and stoked for me.”

a man standing

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke made the rare intervention in late March.(AAP: Mick Tsikas)

Extended family

Ms Ellison arrived in Australia in 2014 as a British backpacker and fell in love with the tiny community.  

After working as a nanny for a local family, she saw a need for childcare in the small border community and set up her own childcare service.

A woman wearing white holding her son

Mungindi mother Holly Orchin says she would not be able to work as a teacher without daycare.(ABC Southern Queensland: David Chen)

It has been vital for parents in Mungindi like teacher Holly Orchin, whose son attends the centre.

Ms Orchin said without it, she would likely be forced to quit her job at the local school.

“I would have to find other care elsewhere … more expensive care for [my son] George,” she said.

“It would probably mean that I wouldn’t be able to work.”

Ms Orchin said the federal government had kept Ms Ellison and the community waiting too long.

A woman and a child playing with some blocks

There is a two-year wait list for a place at Rebecca Ellison’s daycare.(ABC Southern Queensland: David Chen)

‘Honourable case’

The Immigration Minister approved Ms Ellison’s application last week, a week after the ABC contacted the department about the case. 

The Nationals Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, defended the time frame.

“There’s a lot of cases come across the minister’s desk and not every case that wants to stay here permanently is as honourable as what Rebecca’s case is,” he said.

Mr Coulton helped lobby Mr Hawke and said it was a rare intervention.

“So when Alex Hawke rang me and said to pass on the news, I was very pleased to be able to do that.”

Coulton is outdoors, mid speech, right arm raised, wearing dark blue suit and glasses.

Nationals MP Mark Coulton says ministerial interventions do not happen often.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

He said the timing had nothing to do with the coming federal election.

“I don’t think the minister counts one vote at a time,” Mr Coulton said.

Security for families

Ms Ellison said both parents and their children would be “pretty happy” with the resolution.

“It’s a bit more security for them — most of them have been on this whole journey for the last seven years,” she said.

Aerial photograph of the Mungindi township.

The regional town of Mungindi shares its name, services and postcode on both sides of the NSW-Qld border.(ABC Southern Queensland: Jon Daly)

Ms Ellison is now free to do things like taking out a loan and traveling.

“The biggest thing for me [is it] means I can go back home for a visit to the UK, which I’ve not been able to do on a bridging visa,” she said.

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