Dr. Nick Martin is the recipient of the 2019 Blueprint International Whistleblowing Prize.
Royal Navy veteran Martin alerted the world to a healthcare crisis in Nauru, one of the bases of Australia’s offshore immigration detention system
Nick Martin was a senior medic contracted to look after refugees who had been sent to the Pacific island of Nauru under Australia’s offshore immigration detention policy. In 2017 Martin went public with his concern that lives would be lost due to extended delays in transporting patients off Nauru for medical diagnosis and treatment.
In interviews with ABC and Buzzfeed, Martin explained how Australia’s Border Force was preventing the transfer of patients with serious conditions, which could not be treated adequately at Nauru’s one hospital. Patients denied appropriate treatment and diagnostic tests included those with kidney stones and suspected cancer.
Supporting evidence published alongside those reports included an email from Martin’s supervisor admitting that, as a matter of policy, refugees were never intended to be able to access healthcare at Australian standards. Martin, a former surgeon in the British Royal Navy, told the media that conditions on Nauru were worse than those he had seen in Afghanistan.
Martin subsequently published his Nauru Diaries, which include further details about the shortcomings of local medical care, a presumption of disbelief towards refugees and the many attempts Martin and his colleagues made to raise concerns internally.
Martin describes an atmosphere in which medics’ ability to do their job was severely constrained:
It was seen as the greatest crime to be considered an advocate; it was to invite a swift cancellation of your visa and non-renewal of your contract. What was meant by ‘advocate’ was never explained. It seemed to me that our primary concern had to be the patient, and to push for the best appropriate treatment for them. If that was advocacy then surely it was what we did every day as doctors or nurses. I had signed an extensive non-disclosure agreement, and the draconian Border Force Act reminded us that speaking to people at home about what we had seen was punishable, possibly with imprisonment. Even when the rules were changed after appeals from pressure groups in Australia, this was never discussed, and to bring it up would have been seen as dangerously subversive.
Nick Martin is one of a number of medical professionals over the past four years who have risked their professional livelihood and possible criminal prosecution to speak out about conditions on Nauru and assist with legal interventions in individual cases. Amidst growing concern about a mental health emergency among young people, in late 2018 over a hundred children and their families were transferred to Australia. It is estimated that ten refugee children now remain on Nauru.
Changing Australia’s public debate on asylum has been a work of many hands. This year Blueprint for Free Speech is giving a Special Recognition Award to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), who have worked with whistleblowers to bring public attention to conditions on Nauru and Australia’s other offshore detention centres.