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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21682

Mrs IRWIN (4:52 PM) —After seeing the television and print media this week, many of us were touched by the story of Ali Abbas, a 12-year-old Iraqi boy who was orphaned and who lost both arms in a US missile attack on Baghdad earlier this year. We were touched by the courage of Ali, who can now face life with the help of artificial arms—thanks to the work of Queen Mary's Hospital in London. This miracle of surgery and engineering will allow Ali to perform many tasks which will assist him to resume a normal life.

Ali Abbas can now look forward to returning to Iraq and hugging his surviving sisters. But, for many thousands of Iraqi children and adults who were severely injured in the attacks on their country, the future is not as bright. As we have learned from reports, Iraqi hospitals and medical facilities were unable to provide even basic care for civilian bombing victims. Today, many of those civilian casualties carry injuries sustained in the bombings and do not have access to modern, Western medical treatment. While I am informed that Australia and its allies, through direct and indirect assistance, have provided treatment in some cases, the standard of treatment falls well short of the miracle of new arms which were provided to Ali Abbas.

While the Australian newspaper this week described little Ali as a symbol of the West's compassion, this token treatment of one Iraqi child is definitely not typical of the compassion of the `coalition of the willing'. The Australian article said:

Ali was expected to die in an inadequate Baghdad hospital, until a Perth reader asked if he could help, after seeing a photograph by John Feder in TheAustralian. With translator Stewart Innes, The Australian eventually organised his evacuation by the US military to Kuwait and he was later sent to London for specialist treatment.

It certainly helps to have Rupert Murdoch on your side, but what of the fate of thousands of other Iraqi children and adults—victims of this war of liberation? Their fate has been of concern to the large Iraqi-Australian community in my electorate of Fowler.

In July this year, I was approached by Councillor Anwar Khoshaba of the Assyrian-Iraqi community, who requested my assistance in obtaining treatment in Australia for a 17-year-old Iraqi civilian, Romy Mekha. Romy was wounded in a bombing attack on Baghdad and suffers from injuries which may permanently cripple him if he does not receive advanced medical treatment. The Assyrian-Iraqi community indicated its willingness to pay for Romy's travel to Australia and to provide accommodation for him during his recovery. I wrote to the then Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Kay Patterson, asking if the Australian government could assist by providing medical treatment for Romy Mekha. I also placed a series of questions on the Notice Paper to the then Minister for Ageing, representing the Minister for Health and Ageing. I asked if the Australian government has offered medical treatment in Australia for Iraqi civilians injured during the war. The answer to that question was a flat `no'. In response to my letter, I was informed that the Australian government has no medical programs extending to the treatment of war victims because they are not covered by Medicare.

I have since informed the Iraqi-Australian community of my disappointment with the government's response. I thought that Australia would have taken greater responsibility for the treatment of civilian victims of the war. But, as this case shows, while the Prime Minister was prepared to make Australia part of the `coalition of the killing', our government will not accept any responsibility for the injuries inflicted on innocent Iraqi civilians. As our recent Bali experience has shown, Australia is a world leader in treating burns and other trauma injuries. But our compassion is limited to one token 12-year-old who was lucky enough to have had his picture printed in the Australian. If our involvement in the war in Iraq was not enough to bring shame on our nation, our failure to assist the civilian victims of our bombing surely is.