Silencing Medical Dissent: Doctors Oppose New Power for Regulators to Manage ‘Risks to Public Safety’

Alternative union groups—formed in opposition to vaccine mandates—are resisting a new amendment that sharpens the powers of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, which was used during the pandemic to penalise medical practitioners for opposing government-backed lockdowns or mandates.

In a submission to the Queensland Parliament, the Australian Medical Professionals Society (AMPS) and the Nurses’ Professional Association of Australia say the new amendment includes terminology that is too broad and will silence the “voices of expertise that wish to correct health authorities.”

Both unions were formed under the umbrella Red Union group, which was founded in 2020 in response to the widespread acceptance of vaccine mandates by Australia’s traditional union groups.

Membership has steadily grown to around 17,000, with the largest portion in the state of Queensland.

The amendment to the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law—which will be replicated across all states in Australia—will give regulators additional powers to respond to “risks to public safety” and to take action against people who contravene public protection laws, according to the Bill’s explanatory notes (pdf).

Further, employers will be compelled (by duty) to notify their relevant governing health body of any practitioner that has engaged in conduct deemed to “pose a risk to patients or the public” and if the individual has been penalised.

These penalties include “withdrawing or restricting the practitioner’s clinical privileges at a hospital because the employer reasonably believes the public is at risk of harm because the practitioner has significantly departed from accepted professional standards.”

Does Not Improve Confidence in Public Health System: Red Union

In response, the Red Union-affiliated groups said the “broad and discretionary nature” of terminology such as “public safety and confidence” is already a tool being used to force health professionals to comply with government directives.

“The idea that non-compliance with government decrees poses an immediate risk to patient safety is dangerous to evidence-based patient care. We do not feel the explanatory notes provide any clarity regarding the risk-based approach to be used to interpret ‘public health, safety and confidence,'” according to the submission (pdf) from AMPS and the Nurses’ Professional Association.

“Further, AMPS cannot support the extension in law to publicly name and shame practitioners who ‘pose a risk to public safety’ without defining how risk is to be interpreted,” it continued, noting that health professionals could suffer financial and reputational damage as a result of scrutiny.

Scrutiny of COVID-19 Management Slowly Gaining Traction

All Australian health practitioners are governed by 15 national boards—managing individual disciplines like dentistry to midwifery—that work with the peak accreditation body, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA).

AHPRA and the individual medical boards made headlines during the pandemic years for suspending several health professionals for speaking out and questioning government-backed restrictions, vaccine mandates, and even the efficacy of the jab.

One example of enforcement includes the suspension of anaesthetist Dr. Paul Oosterhuis in September 2021 after two “anonymous complaints” were lodged regarding his social media activity.

Oosterhuis, a medical practitioner of 30 years, revealed in an online petition that he had posted content regarding early treatments against COVID-19 while questioning the efficacy of lockdowns and PCR tests.

Human rights lawyer Peter Fam says he has spoken with “hundreds” of doctors who have expressed concerns about the silencing of different opinions, noting that many are unwilling to speak publicly.

In recent months, there have been signs that the previous consensus on COVID-19 management is beginning to crack, with criticism of lockdowns and mandates gaining mainstream traction.

In June, the Supreme Court of New South Wales overturned disciplinary action against a Western Sydney University student who was sceptical of the COVID-19 vaccination.

While a major report in October was scathing of the state governments’ frequent deployment of lockdowns and school closures—compelling Australian leaders to defend the decisions they made over 2020-21.

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Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at
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