The abuse of the Biloela family sinks to a new low

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Kopika and Tharnicaa Murugappan have spent far too long in detention at the hands of the Government (image via YouTube)

Despite mass public support for the Murugappan family to return to Biloela, the Morrison Government persists in its inhumane ways, writes Patrick Lukins.

THE HIPPOCRATIC OATH, historically taken by physicians, remains at the core of everything health practitioners do. One of its key principles is to do no harm.

If elected leaders took the same oath, we wouldn’t have seen a four-year-old girl under Australia’s care being medically evacuated to hospital in a life-threatening condition.

Tharnicaa Murugappan spent her fourth birthday in Perth’s Children’s Hospital, separated from half of her family while being treated for septic pneumonia.

Tharnicaa's last three birthdays have all been "celebrated" in a detention facility. Her diagnosis of septic pneumonia was not only serious, but completely avoidable — infections in children are easily treated if not left to fester.

We only have to look at the tragic case of seven-year-old Aishwarya Aswath, who this year died from an infection in the same Perth Children’s Hospital where Tharnicaa is currently being treated. A report handed down outlined how failures to act on her parent’s concerns ultimately led to her death.

Aishwarya's family were made to wait hours in the waiting room with a deteriorating child. Similarly, according to reports, Tharnicaa’s parents' concerns were ignored for days until she became so unwell that an urgent evacuation to a specialist hospital was required.

It’s not unusual that, as a paramedic, I come across a patient with sepsis. It’s particularly common in the elderly. What’s far more unusual is to see is a child with sepsis. Most parents pick up on an infection quite early on, so we usually get called for a persistent fever and cough.

I always take a sick child immediately to hospital, as an infection in a child can go from mild to wild in no time; they can deteriorate quickly. 

If any parents had ignored infective symptoms for a week, and their child developed septic pneumonia, I’d be considering filing a child at risk report to Family and Community Services (FACS) for neglect.

In Tharnicaa’s case, it wasn’t her parents who were negligent: they were desperately trying to get help for days. The negligence ultimately rests with the Government, which has very deliberately chosen to punish a child to score political points.

Morrison Government Minister Michaela Cash’s tasteless interjection into the debate, where she warned that the consequence of "blinking" would be the boats returning, only highlights this point.

The consequence is that Tharnicaa is now laying in a hospital bed, having antibiotics pumped through her tiny veins.

It’s beyond outrageous, yet typical, that Minister Cash, the "have a curry for your country" embodiment of white Australian privilege, could see a distressing image of a gravely ill child and still consider her nothing more than a deterrent to people smugglers.

Let’s not forget we are talking about a family which has experienced profound trauma and continued to be traumatised by their treatment at the hands of the Federal Government. Priya and Nades, both part of a persecuted ethnic minority in Sri Lanka, applied for Australia’s assistance. 

They had two children, who Minister Peter Dutton disparagingly labelled "anchor babies".

They moved into a regional town and integrated into the community. They got jobs, volunteered in the community and made friends. They are beloved members of the Biloela community. Despite passing the "pub test", they were ripped from their home in a dawn raid and sent to Christmas Island.

They’ve been punished, mentally tormented and publicly shamed. These Australian-born girls have grown up in a government-run facility constantly flanked by guards with only their parents as company.

All along, the Government’s strategy has been to treat them so badly they just give up. That Tharnicaa ended up in hospital isn’t an accident.

When the Australian Government wields its mighty power against an average family to denigrate, humiliate and break them, this is the grim outcome. This isn’t your usual kind of neglect, this is malicious and cruel. This kind of neglect is criminal.

No longer can the Government hide behind a contentious court ruling. This is more serious than deterrents or saving face. 

This is life and death.

The people from the tiny town of Biloela have admirably dedicated the last three years of their lives rallying to get their friends back. These are real people with a real sense of community, because they live in one. The people that the Government are meant to represent are being ignored despite huge public support.

If Australia's Immigration Minister Alex Hawke or Prime Minister Scott Morrison had just a fraction of the conviction and community spirit these people have, they would immediately put an end to this sorry mess and bring the family home.

Scott Morrison may say he doesn’t hold the pen, but he could easily urge Minister Alex Hawke to wield his discretionary powers. He hides behind ministers to avoid showing compassion, while walking red carpets and bragging about doing "God’s work".

All preach and no practice, Morrison needs to stop the hypocrisy and take the Hippocratic Oath before any more harm is done to a family that has been through more than enough.

Patrick Lukins is a paramedic, freelance writer, domestic violence officer and volunteer for Doctors for Refugees.

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