The Department of Home Affairs has appointed a new chief medical officer responsible for the healthcare of asylum seekers in Australia’s immigration detention regime.
BuzzFeed News can reveal that Dr Parbodh Gogna has been appointed to the position of chief medical officer and surgeon general, a senior position within the department tasked with overseeing medical matters relating to people held in Australia’s detention centres.
The position has been vacant since the unexpected resignation in 2017 of Dr John Brayley, a widely respected medical officer who was formerly the South Australian Public Advocate.
A former senior medical officer on Nauru, Dr Nick Martin, has previously told BuzzFeed News that Brayley’s advice was “routinely ignored” by bureaucrats within the immigration department, potentially jeopardising the care of asylum seekers.
BuzzFeed News learnt Gogna was appointed to the position because his role is now listed on an organisation chart published this week by the department.
The secretary of the department, Michael Pezzullo, appeared to have been unaware that the document disclosed Gogna assuming the role. No public announcement on his appointment has been made.
Labor senator Louise Pratt had moved to question Pezzullo about who now occupied the role on Tuesday during a session involving offshore detention policy work, but he told the committee “We've announced it internally, but that's a corporate matter that perhaps should have best been dealt with under cross-portfolio corporate and general.” This is a different part of the department that is being questioned at a later date.
Born in Britain, Gogna was a GP in rural Western Australia for eight years, before leaving his practice to undertake a masters of business administration in Perth.
He was previously the medical director of International Health and Medical Services on Christmas Island, which is contracted to provide healthcare for people in immigration detention, from 2012 to 2014. He has been the medical superintendent of the Capricorn Coast Hospital and Health Service in Queensland since July 2014. He has previously served as a medical officer in the Australian Army.
Queensland Labor MP Brittany Lauga posted about Gogna's new appointment on Facebook, saying he would be "sorely missed" at Capricorn.
In a 2005 interview with Australian Rural Doctor magazine, Gogna was identified as a member of the Liberal party.
“Dr Gogna is keeping an open mind about what the future holds – he is a member of the Liberal Party and is interested in politics,” the article reads.
He told the magazine: “Basically I don’t know where I’m headed in the next couple of years. I’ve got to figure it out.”
It is unclear if he is still a current member of the party.
Gogna also has a number of business and commercial interests. He has an interest in a medical recruitment business in the UK, SPS Innovations Limited. The company facilitates the placement of clinicians globally, with a particular focus on Australia. His profile on the company website states that he “has a depth of experience in mass casualty health services, disaster management and infectious disease services”.
His company PC Gogna Pty Ltd has been contracted on several occasions by the Department of Finance to undertake “gateway reviews”, which are audits into the effectiveness of different government programs. He is a director of the International Anti-Poaching Foundation in Australia, and is also listed as a director of a rare timber company, Rare Timber Investments Pty Ltd.
The head of Australia’s immigration department Michael Pezzullo has previously indicated that the position now occupied by Gogna would help guide the department on medical decisions for asylum seekers.
“If the doctor is misadvised as to the level of medical support that is going to be available on Nauru, where they do not necessarily have the full visibility, I will ask Dr Brayley to engage with that clinician,” he told the Australian parliament in February 2016.
“So my job is to ensure – and I am not medically qualified – that I have people who work for me who directly understand the policy and the overall parameters in which we are operating, who can then advise me, clinically, to say, 'I have looked at this. On balance, the appropriate care can be provided on Nauru’.”
Gogna did not respond to calls from BuzzFeed News. He is due to start in July this year.
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