Family faces deportation due to daughter's mystery illness

The Tippett family from Lennox Head are facing deportation from Australia due to Sienna's illness. From left to right ...
The Tippett family from Lennox Head are facing deportation from Australia due to Sienna's illness. From left to right Charley, Sienna, Kai, Hayley and Abbi Tippett.  Photo: Natalie Grono

A six-year-old girl is facing deportation to the UK as the only member of her family to be denied Australian residency based on an unnamed medical condition.

British-born Sienna Tippett has lived in Lennox Head in Northern NSW since she was 10 months old. But when she and her family applied for permanent residency in April 2015, a Commonwealth-appointed doctor deemed Sienna "a burden to the Australian community" and denied her request for a visa.

Sienna's parents, Kai and Hayley Tippett, are fighting to have the ruling overturned so that the family of five, including their two older children Charley, 16, and Abbi, 13, who have all been granted visas, can remain in Australia.

"Sienna doesn't cost any more than our 16-year-old and our 13-year-old," says father Kai Tippett.
"Sienna doesn't cost any more than our 16-year-old and our 13-year-old," says father Kai Tippett. Photo: Natalie Grono

"One fail, all fail," Mr Tippet said.

"As a parent you teach your children that everybody is equal and not to discriminate against anyone," he said. "Then the Australian immigration undoes everything you have taught your children - in our case labelling our little girl as a burden."

The Tippetts, however, strongly dispute this claim.

Sienna's condition, they say, only affects her balance and speech – and not her cognitive ability. Their little girl, who loves horse riding and going to the beach, attends an existing support unit within a mainstream school. In addition, the family is not eligible for a carer's allowance or pension as they are over the asset threshold.

"Sienna doesn't cost any more than our 16-year-old and our 13-year-old," Mr Tippett said.

It's been a long journey for the Tippets, beginning in 2012 when Sienna was 16 months old. As she learnt to walk, Mr Tippett described that his daughter experienced some issues with her balance – something her parents thought would resolve with time. As they soon discovered however, Sienna's speech development was also delayed.

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Over the past few years, the six-year-old has undergone extensive testing including MRIs, a lumbar puncture and a muscle biopsy to determine the cause of her symptoms.

"To date," Mr Tippett said, "every test carried out has come back clear."

Sienna still has no official diagnosis. And yet the symptoms of her unnamed condition have little impact on her ability to lead a full and active life.

"She has a knee brace to stop her hyperextending on her left leg," Mr Tippett said, "which is really helping her." And, while Sienna is unable to talk, she can say a few words and is learning sign language.

"Sienna is such a beautiful little girl," her father said. "She makes everybody smile."

Sienna's school teacher agreed, describing the six-year-old as a "polite, friendly and sociable" student who is making progress in all areas. Her condition is not degenerative and, by all accounts, Sienna is improving every day.

Unless Immigration Minister Peter Dutton intervenes, however, the family will be forced to leave their support system and home in Australia – something Mr Tippett feared could cause his daughter to regress.

"She is learning Auslan," he says, "which is only used in Australia." If they are returned to the UK, Mr Tippet said Sienna would be unable to communicate with others until she learnt a completely new sign language.

The family lost their appeal in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal court on July 19 – a process that cost them $1700. "Apparently they cannot go against a Commonwealth doctor's decision," Mr Tippett said.

Of the doctor who assessed Sienna, Mr Tippett said that he only did a general health check and conducted no investigations into her medical background.

"The only chance for us now is for Peter Dutton to review our case and to overturn this decision."

With their bridging visas set to expire on August 17, the Tippetts are using a change.org petition to send an impassioned plea to the Immigration Minister: "Please don't deport our six-year-old daughter."

A spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection refused to comment on the issue, other than to confirm that "the family has an ongoing request for ministerial intervention which is currently being assessed by the Department."

Under similar circumstances in 2015, Mr Dutton overturned a decision to deny 10-year-old Tyrone Sevilla permanent Australian residency, on the basis of his autism.

The Immigration Minister used his discretion in granting the visa, after the 10-year-old's friend, Ethan Egart, raised the issue during an episode of the ABC program Q&A.

Mr Dutton's intervention followed extensive campaigning by Tyrone's mother, Maria, and widespread public condemnation surrounding the government's original decision to deport the pair.

"This has been a very difficult case for the family and it's been a protracted issue," Mr Dutton said at the time.

"I looked at the case and I have determined that we will provide these people with a permanent arrangement and a permanent outcome in Australia," he said, noting that his subsequent intervention reflected "Australian values".

The Tippett family is hoping for a similar result and is urging members of the public to sign their petition. To date, it has garnered over 26,000 signatures from all around the world.

"If the Hon Peter Dutton grants our visa," Mr Tippett says, "this would be the best feeling ever…I don't think that words could do it justice."

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