On 17 January 2019 an Australian won the Blueprint for Free Speech prize for Whistleblowing for 2019. Dr Nick Martin was recognized this year alongside an anonymous whistle-blower at Barclays Bank (who blew the whistle on recruitment procedures initiated by the CEO Jes Staley), the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (an Australian-based organization that helps refugees), Larysa Holnyk (a Judge that works against corruption in Ukraine), Maria Efimova (who blew the whistle on money laundering and corruption in Malta), and Reality Winner (who leaked information about Russian interference in the 2016 USA presidential election and because of this was handed the most heavy sentence under one count against the Espionage Act in history).
Previous honourees include Chelsea Manning (for her leaks regarding the Iraq and Afghan wars), John Kiriakou (who released information about USA torture programs) and Witness K (an ex-ASIS agent that refused to bug the negotiation rooms regarding an oil/gas treaty between Australia and Timor-Leste that ended up being another grab at the resources of Timor-Leste).
Nick Martin won the award based upon his blowing the whistle on the Australian migration regime, specifically in relation to the medical treatment being offered to the asylum seekers on Nauru. In October 2018, Martin wrote a piece for the Guardian in which he described that he came to view his role as a senior medical officer for International Health and Medical Services on Nauru as “antithetical to medical ethics”.
The piece describes a gruelling situation in which children are self-harming in the belief that this will allow their family to re-settle, patients with serious health issues are forced to undergo treatment at the Nauru hospital (that is understaffed, under-resourced and generally substandard), families are forced to choose between medical treatment and separation, and psychiatric patients are “doped up” on anti-psychotics to inhibit protesting behaviour.
Off-shore detention in Australia has been rightfully plagued by controversy since its enactment in 2001. Off-shore processing is an illegal process under UN law, The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees stipulates that it is against international law to penalise or discriminate based upon an asylum seeker’s means of arrival. This is aside from the litany of human rights violations that have been levelled against the Australian government (and its contractors) since the practice’s inception in the country.
The declarations of Nick Martin have helped the situation on Nauru achieve some of the attention it deserves. His words have helped to bring sick children to Australia. When he spoke out there were several hundred children present on the island detention centre, now there are less than 10. Whistle-blowers like Dr Nick Martin have helped to make the world a more transparent and just place. His recognition through this award is well justified…I wonder why the major media outlets are reluctant to give him the spotlight.
By Nathan Booth