A leading Australian surgeon says he fears a gravely ill convicted murderer could start experiencing acute malnutrition within weeks or months if he is deported to Papua New Guinea.
- PNG national Mark Basa was convicted of murdering Zane McCready in 2005
- Zane McCready’s mother has long campaigned for clemency, saying Basa did not act alone
- A medical condition means Basa could starve to death if deported, unless he takes medication that is not widely available in PNG
Mark Basa has been in Sydney’s Villawood detention centre after being paroled in January 2018 for the murder of Zane McCready in Newcastle in 2005.
Basa was 16 at the time and was given a 22-year maximum jail sentence, one of the longest for a juvenile in Australian history.
He spent 12 years in jail before being paroled, after his sentence was reduced on appeal.
Since then he has been fighting the Immigration Department’s decision not to grant him a visa.
Basa’s fight against deportation has the backing of Mr McCready’s mother, Ros Lowe, who alleges that her son’s killer did not act alone and that there was a miscarriage of justice.
Basa left PNG in 2004 and has told the ABC that he has limited or no family ties and would risk living in a shanty town if he were sent back there.
“Basically I will just be starting off on the streets, with no money,” Basa said.
Ros Lowe has urged the Immigration Minister to halt the deportation of her son’s convicted killer. (ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky)
In June 2018, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal recommended that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection rethink its decision to not grant Basa a Protection (Class XA) visa, due to fears he would die prematurely from ill health or be killed if he were sent back.
The recommendation came after the tribunal heard evidence about Basa’s ill health and about tribal gangs that had previously hired hitmen to kill Basa’s father.
Sixteen months on and the department has responded and the decision has not gone Basa’s way.
“After careful consideration of your response and the matters listed, on 11 September 2019 the Minister decided to refuse to grant you a visa under s501(1) of the Act,” the department said.
Surgeon’s warning of premature death
Basa had a third of his pancreas removed while he was in jail in 2007 after sustaining a potentially life threatening injury in a football match organised by guards and inmates in a juvenile detention centre on the New South Wales central coast.
Professor Jaswinder Samra fears Mark Basa could starve within a year if deported to PNG. (Supplied: Australian Pancreatic Centre)
Basa has given approval for his surgeon, Professor Jaswinder Samra to speak exclusively to the ABC.
Professor Samra is one of Australia’s most experienced pancreatic surgeons and is Clinical Professor of Surgery at Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital as well as Clinical Professor Discipline of Surgery at the University of Sydney.
Professor Samra has told the ABC that Basa needed medication, known as Creon, to survive.
The drug’s own website describes it as a prescription medicine used to treat people who cannot digest food normally because their pancreas does not make enough enzymes.
Professor Samra said Basa needed regular medical check-ups and required three tablets for every main meal and one with every snack.
He is worried about the lack of availability of the drug in PNG and the potential cost, and expressed grave fears to the tribunal.
“If the applicant were unable to obtain this medication his quality of life would be poor and he would likely become malnourished within a year — with the same effect as starvation,” Professor Samra said.
“He would experience a wasting process, similar to a person with HIV infection.
“He would also become exposed and more vulnerable to other forms of infection.”
Deportation ‘a death sentence’
Mark Basa says deportation without access to his medicine would render him prone to infection and at risk of wastage within months.
“I wouldn’t last more than a year, it definitely is a death sentence, there is just no hope of getting anywhere close to the medical treatment and care that I would need to survive,” he said.
“I have had to rely solely on this medication and certain medical treatment and care that I can’t get over there.”
Professor Samra said his fears were heightened since learning of the latest development in Basa’s case.
“So even if he eats well, he has a healthy diet, he wouldn’t be able to absorb food properly and in the long and in the short-run I am concerned that his survival is likely to be shortened,” he said.
“Certainly he would get wasted within a year if he wasn’t taking appropriate medications and that would predispose him to a significant risk of infection.”
Professor Samra was keen to stress his comments were not politically motivated and he was only speaking out due to his fears for his patient.
“I am not politically aligned in any way or form, I am just commenting in this case purely as a doctor-patient relationship,” Professor Samra said.
Mark Basa relies on the drug Creon to survive after a third of his pancreas was removed. (AAP: Melanie Foster)
The ABC has spoken to pharmacists in Port Moresby who confirmed the availability of Creon in PNG was limited.
They said the drug was classed as a special order and sent on request from Australia.
As of October 2019, the cost for 1,000 milligram tablets for a 100 tablet bottle in PNG was around 230 kina, equating to around AU$100.
One pharmacist instead recommended probiotics that are off script and available on the shelf at local pharmacies.
The Department of Home Affairs said it was required to reconsider its decision, in line with the tribunal’s directions last year.
Now that it had, the department told Basa he was not entitled to have the decision reviewed again by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or any other merits review body.
The department would not comment on individual cases but issued a statement.
Zane McCready was an air force technician when he was stabbed to death in Newcastle in 2005. (Supplied: McCready family)
“When a decision is made to cancel or refuse a visa under section 501, all relevant information and circumstances are taken into account,” the department said.
It said that included the impact upon the individual and the individual’s family, and the safety of the Australian community.
“Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 enables the department to refuse or cancel a visa on the basis that a non-citizen does not pass the character test,” the department said.
“A non-citizen may not pass the character test on a number of grounds including, but not limited to, if they have a substantial criminal record, or they are suspected of associating with, or being a member of, a group involved in criminal conduct.”
Basa has told the ABC he would have one last tilt to stay in Australia, via action in the Federal Court.
“At this stage I will be trying to look to appeal to the Federal Court and challenge this decision,” he said.
“Essentially it would be on jurisdictional error and error in the decision-making process.”