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Australia’s law to gag doctors with concerns about asylum seekers is a failure of democracy

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 17 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3256
  1. David Berger, district medical officer, emergency medicine, Broome Hospital, Robinson Street, Broome WA 6725, Australia
  1. daveberger{at}

David Berger criticises Australia for legislating to stop doctors blowing the whistle on substandard medical care given to innocent people seeking protection

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” So runs the mantra of Western governments when they want us to accept mass surveillance of phones, email, and messaging.1 The script changes, however, when the boot is on the other foot. At the slightest chance of embarrassment or an awkward question to a minister governments do their utmost to control the flow of information to prevent disclosure, irrespective of any real implications for national security.

Recently we saw a typical manifestation of this dark art when Australia passed, with bipartisan support, the Border Force Act 2015.2 3 This regressive legislation will have the effect of gagging doctors working in Australia’s notoriously harsh onshore and offshore detention centres for people seeking asylum. Contravening the act, even by revealing the absence of basic sanitary conditions, may result in a two year prison sentence.4 5 6

Only because of disclosures to the press was the broken arm of a boy detained on Nauru properly reduced and internally fixed, after more than a …

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