Doctors have used a prestigious medical journal to protest Australia's 'repressive' laws on asylum seekers

Manus Island Detention Centre. Photo: Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship via Getty.

Two doctors, writing in the British journal the BMJ, have criticised Australia for a new law which could be used to silence health workers treating asylum seekers.

From July, contracted workers including doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals face a prison sentence of up to two years for blowing the whistle on substandard medical care given to asylum seekers in detention centres.

David Berger, at Broome Hospital, says the only reason to suppress doctors “is to avoid embarrassing revelations about how Australia is flouting its international humanitarian obligations towards refugees and is subjecting them to treatment that violates the United Nations Convention Against Torture”.

He says the Border Force Act 2015 “places doctors in direct opposition to our professional duty to promote the best interests of our patients at all times”.

Berger is an employee of Western Australia Country Health Service (WACHS) and says his opinions are his own and do not in any way represent the views of WACHS.

In a second article, Professor David Isaacs, a children’s doctor in NSW, believes this is the first time in Australian history that doctors have faced imprisonment for telling the truth about serious harms being inflicted on patients.

He says he was “utterly appalled” by the spartan living conditions on Nauru and by the treatment of detainees.

He calls on Australian and foreign doctors to boycott working in detention centres.

And he urges colleagues worldwide “to protest against repressive legislation which tries to silence doctors from telling the truth about conditions harming their patients, and which is a serious blow to the democratic process”.

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