Controversy over the sacking of Australia's expert health panel renewed

February 19, 2014
Australia's news
The department of immigration had dismissed an expert health panel. And, it had its fears that the members of this health panel might leak the information available to them pertaining to ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, which was conducted most recently, to the media.

And, during the month of December, last year, the Health Advisory Group was replaced by Paul Alexander, a military surgeon and he was assigned the role of the ‘sole adviser’.

And yet, it is also true that since 2006, the panel had been providing its own free and independent advice to the federal government on matters referred to it.

Martin Bowles, immigration department’s secretary was all along worried about the issue of ‘conflict of interest’ by the panel members, according to the Australian Associated Press.

According to some news reports, in the ‘Ministerial Minutes‘ records, Martin Bowles, had remarked that it is clear that ‘conflicts of interest’ resulting from divergent or opposing professional obligations of the members of the earlier panel caused and resulted in difficulties to a few members in  proffering or recommending advice, which was entirely unbiased.

Mr. Bowles said that the real and hidden conflicts also brought about challenges in providing the information on operational as well as policy activities that were causing big or bigger problems.

Due to measures such as the creation of the Joint Agency Taskforce, introducing the fast transfer arrangements and laying importance on extending offshore processing, it was found suitable to visit the department's approach again to seek health advice from the experts.

Mr. Bowles accepted that it is probable that certain critics might opinionate or be of the strong view, that the department was not concerned in providing impartial and frank advice.

 However, Mr. Bowles argued that this was not really the case, referring to the appointment of General Alexander, who had available to him service, opinions, etc. of the chief medical officer and International Health and Medical Services, from where the detention centres receive their services.

The Abbott government defended its decision and had argued that earlier, the panel, had faced the problem of not getting timely advice, because of its large membership in an environment where policies were changing and new developments occurring at a high speed.

And, the official spokeswoman of the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison defended Mr. Bowles' decision to dismiss the group.

She said that Dr Alexander had an impeccable medical background in private practice as well as while serving in the Australian Defense Force.
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