3 Jul 2015

World Medical Assoc condemns Australian secrecy laws

1:52 pm on 3 July 2015

The World Medical Association has spoken out against new Australian laws which prevent medical staff from speaking out about the healthcare of asylum seekers in detention.

The Australian Border Force Act came into effect on Wednesday and provides for up to two years in jail if workers disclose information about conditions at detention centres.

Former health and social workers have already rallied against the new law, challenging the government to silence them.

In a letter to Australia's prime minister, Tony Abbott, the WMA's president, Dr Xavier Deau and chair Dr Ardis Hoven, say the new law effectively silences physicians who address the health conditions of asylum seekers.

They say it is a striking conflict with the basic principles of medical ethics, as physicians have to raise their voice when the health conditions of patients are unacceptable.*

Dr Deau says the law is effectively an attempt by the Australian Government to gag physicians by making their advocacy for the healthcare of people in detention a criminal offence.

Australian detention centre on Manus Island, PNG

Australian detention centre on Manus Island. Photo: REFUGEE ACTION COALITION / AFP

The letter to Tony Abbott

"This is in striking conflict with basic principles of medical ethics. Physicians have to raise their voice, if necessary publicly, when health conditions of their patients, be those free or in detention, are unacceptable. From the incoming reports we must assume that this is the case in the detention centres under responsibility of the Australian Government. We applaud and support those colleagues who advocate for their patients and speak out," the letter read.

'We do support the motion by Australian Medical Association National Conference calling on the Australian Government to amend the legislation to provide an exemption for public interest disclosure. Nothing less would be appropriate for a democratic state.'

Commenting on the letter, Dr. Deau said: 'This is effectively an attempt by the Australian government to gag physicians by making their advocacy for the health care of asylum seekers in Australian detention camps a criminal offence. Such a procedure is not acceptable'.