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Canberra doctor banned after sending offensive email to Indigenous peer

Dechlan Brennan -

A Canberra doctor has been banned from practising medicine for 12 months after he was found to have breached the Doctors in Australia Code of Conduct for sending an offensive email to an Indigenous doctor.

The doctor, who is now retired and has had his name suppressed by the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT), sent an email to Yuggera, Warangoo and Wiradjuri man Dr Kristopher Rallah-Baker, an Indigenous specialist.

In it, the doctor questioned Dr Rallah-Baker's Indigenous identity as well as criticising pharmaceutical benefits and policies designed to aid Indigenous people.

Dr Rallah-Baker initially had his name suppressed before his counsel advised he wished for it to be made public.

In the hearing, the doctor admitted his conduct towards Dr Rallah-Baker was "culturally unsafe, insulting and offensive", and admitted through counsel that it constituted "professional misconduct" as it fell below what was expected of a medical practitioner.

He also conceded his behaviour was "inconsistent with being a fit and proper person to hold registration in the profession".

However, the doctor denied his conduct was discriminatory on racial grounds as stated in clause 5.4 of the Medical Board of Australia's code of Conduct.

He argued Dr Rallah-Baker was not a colleague and the clear intention of the clause is to "prohibit discriminatory conduct in the workplace", something the email was not generated in.

However, the tribunal did not accept this, arguing Dr Rallah-Baker was a fellow Australian medical practitioner, with clause 5.4.2 of the code stating doctors must not discriminate against "others."

"...the recipient of the email was/is a peer of the respondent and, in any event, the clause prohibits discrimination against all persons, not just colleagues or peers," the Tribunal found.

"We find that the respondent's comments in the email he forwarded to Dr Rallah-Baker treated Dr Rallah-Baker less favourably than other persons because of his racial background."

In the email to Dr Rallah-Baker - who the doctor had never met - he criticised the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS) subsidy for Indigenous Australians.

He claimed it wasn't "means tested" which meant "…rich dudes like you and Twiggy could get your Panadol Osteo for absolutely NO CHARGE ... but my struggling old-age pensioners with their osteoarthritis have to buy it at full cost".

He stated this explained the "25% hike in 'Aborignals' in the last census."

The offensive email also was critical of Dr Rallah-Baker's background.

"...I see you claim to be indigenous - so does Australia's richest man - Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest of Fortesque Mining - worth about 37 billion dollars…because he once befriended an aboriginal (see Wikipedia)," it said.

"You seem to have a bit more aboriginal in you than him, but you are not full blood are you? Half? Quarter? One eight?

"Like a watered down bottle of Grange. Not the real thing."

The Tribunal found that the doctor engaged in further misconduct in breach of the code when he interacted with the Australian Health Practitioners' Regulatory Authority (AHPRA).

He made "disrespectful, offensive and culturally insensitive comments about Dr Rallah-Baker" as well as "offensive comments about Australians who identify as indigenous and have mixed indigenous and non-indigenous heritage, the members of the Medical Board of Australia and employees of AHPRA".

The doctor apologised to Dr Rallah-Baker and the AHPRA Regulatory Advisor, accepting that the comments he made were "culturally unsafe".

However, the tribunal said they were not satisfied that the doctor had "gained good insight into his conduct nor that he has shown genuine contrition for it".

"Apart from the two apologies…no evidence has been presented to the Tribunal by the respondent supporting that he has taken any steps to gain insight into his conduct or expressing any remorse or contrition for his actions."

Dr Rallah-Baker told the ABC he chose to be identified in order for the outcome to not be "faceless".

"For people to see they won't be brought down if they complain about racism, and if they need to reach out, they can," he said.

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