Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
The death of seven-year-old Aishwarya Aswath was a tragedy. A Malayalam-speaking member of the Indian community, Aishwarya had come down with a fever after participating in the Holi festival, the Indian festival of colours, at school, according to SBS Malayalam.
The next day, April 3, Aishwarya’s parents took her to the Emergency Department at Perth Children’s Hospital. She died from sepsis later that night due to contracting an infection related to group A Streptococcus.
Since then, the WA Government has announced increases in staff at the PCH Emergency Department and the Chair of the Child and Adolescent Health Service has resigned.
NIT mourns the loss of Aishwarya and sympathises with her parents. As an Indigenous media platform, we are fully aware that the loss of a child is pain and hurt that will never go away. This is especially so in relation to Indigenous children who were stolen and died while in institutional care.
We are concerned, however, that a senior government minister in the Western Australian Government, Roger Cook, is being told by Aishwarya’s parents and the Australian Medical Association (WA) President Andrew Miller to stand down. We strongly urge him not to.
Minister Roger Cook has been a great friend and ally to Indigenous peoples in Western Australia, and he has handled himself with composure as Health Minister before and during this COVID-19 crisis.
Being married to an Indigenous woman gives him a unique perspective as to how Indigenous people are treated in WA, and he has fought tirelessly for decades to try and make a positive difference to the lives of Western Australian Indigenous Peoples.
Just recently, when the Federal Government’s National Indigenous Australians Agency chose not to extend funding for an Indigenous suicide prevention hotline, Minister Cook stepped in and ensured that funding continued for this critically important service. There is absolutely no doubt this funding has saved a number of Indigenous lives that otherwise would have been lost.
Minister Cook has also continued to support a number of Aboriginal Medical Services that have had difficulties that needed to be worked through. He quietly went about ensuring they had the necessary resources and support required to address communities’ primary health and COVID-19 needs as required and necessary.
In a State Parliament full of big talkers and small walkers, Cook has always lent a sympathetic ear and practiced what he preached.
He has always made himself readily available to talk through issues affecting the Indigenous community — a rare commodity in a State known for its draconian laws in relation to Indigenous Peoples, reflected by its record incarceration rates.
Minister Cook has called for an independent inquiry into the Child and Adolescent Health Service in relation to Aishwarya’s passing. That process should be allowed to take its course before people start publicly stating that one of WA’s best ministers resigns from the Health Portfolio.
Aside from the respectful way Minister Cook deals with all people who engage with him, it would be foolhardy to remove him when he has done such a fantastic job in helping ensure COVID-19 has not decimated WA, and all the pain and misery that goes if a serious outbreak occurs.
The Department of Health is in some ways very similar to the Department of Indigenous Affairs. There are so many complex issues that need to be addressed; it is almost impossible to ensure the best outcome is secured on a continual basis.
Getting rid of ministers or forcing them to resign is not the answer when they are doing their absolute best. Minister Cook has said he will do everything in his power to make sure this sort of tragedy doesn’t happen again. Give him that chance.
A ministerial resignation won’t fix much, but keeping the same Minister accountable to the incident recommendations made on his watch will.