An edict from the Motherland

Martin B Van Der Weyden
Med J Aust 2007; 186 (11): 553. || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2007.tb01049.x
Published online: 4 June 2007

From the first days of European settlement, our colonies were bombarded with bureaucratic edicts from the Motherland, until Federation and Australia’s emergence as a proud and independent nation put an end to our dependency.

* Australia: the politics of fear and neglect [editorial]. Lancet 2007; 369: 1320.

But the Motherland’s long-lost role was recently revived in an editorial in The Lancet entitled Australia: the politics of fear and neglect.* Short, simplistic and sensational, it proclaimed that Australia’s progressive and inclusive culture was burdened by a dark underbelly of political conservatism.

It further asserted that the Australian Government had effectively silenced dissent in the scientific community, and propagated a political view “that those who spoke up for indigenous health were simply ‘establishing politically and morally correct credentials’”. To top it off, the Prime Minister was portrayed as ruthlessly exploiting Australia’s strong undercurrent of political conservatism.

And The Lancet’s solution? Gratuitous advice to oust the conservatives at this year’s federal election and usher in a new era of “enlightenment” for Australian health and medical science!

Significantly, the editorial was silent on the concerted efforts of dedicated Australian researchers and doctors working to improve Indigenous health, and the fearless advocacy of this goal by various professional bodies and this Journal. Despite The Lancet’s assertion of “silenced” scientists, its editorial was strangely silent on the conservative government’s unprecedented investment in health and medical research.

† Cook M. Keep petty politics out of science. The Australian 2007; 1 May: 12.

Following The Lancet’s edict, a commentary in The Australian warned scientific and medical journals not to engage in politics and put their public standing, independence and integrity at risk. As long as there remain unresolved issues in the delivery of health care to all Australians, requiring political attention and action, the MJA will never heed this injunction.

But, in pursuit of this goal, the recent edict from London is hardly an example to emulate.


  • Martin B Van Der Weyden



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