[Australian] Government backs down on threat to sue campaigner for use of Medicare logo

The keep medicare universal banner on savemedicare.org_

Department of Human Services apologises for legal letter to Mark Rogers and asks him to add disclaimer to his website - The Department of Human Services has backed down from a threat to sue a public health campaigner for allegedly misleading use of the Medicare logo. The Australian government solicitor has written to Mark Rogers on behalf of the department saying it has no intention of suing but asking him to add a disclaimer stating that his savemedicare.org website is not affiliated with Medicare.


On 16 November the department demanded Rogers remove the Medicare logo and “deceptively similar branding” and cancel the domain name of the website.


The logo appears as part of a banner containing the name of the health service in messages such as “more Medicare not less”, “keep Medicare universal” and “keep Medicare public”.


After a campaign by political lobby group GetUp, including a petition with 37,000 signatures, the AGS wrote to Rogers on 13 December advising the department had “no intention of commencing legal proceedings against you in relation to your website in its current format”.


The department’s lawyers said there was a “strong public interest” in avoiding confusion between the campaign website and Medicare and maintained that the use of the Medicare logo “could create confusion or uncertainty in the minds of at least some members of the community”.


The letter asks Rogers to add a statement that the website is not authorised by Medicare or the department. “We apologise if the more formal, legal nature of our original letter caused you unnecessary concern,” it said.


The original letter gave Rogers just 48 hours to take the material down and warned that the department reserved its right to take legal action if he failed to do so.


Rogers said he would seek assurances from the department that “they won’t be using such heavy-handed legal tactics against others like me, and community organisations like Save Medicare Sydney, who are simply fighting to protect our public health system from vicious cuts and privatisation”.


He said although the government had backed down, “their attacks on Medicare still continue”, citing legal changes that will lead to GPs collecting less rent from large pathology companies.


“The community won’t stand by as Malcolm Turnbull dismantles and white ants the public healthcare system we value so dearly,” he said.


GetUp’s economic fairness campaigner, Daney Faddoul, said the backdown was a huge victory for Rogers and anyone concerned about the freedom of political speech in Australia and public-funded healthcare.


“The government’s petty intimidation tactics have failed,” he said. “While they tried to silence grandpa Mark, his brave response only made things louder, sending thousands of Australians flocking to his site in a given day.


“However, cuts to Medicare are still a big problem. We need more grandpa Marks prepared to stand up and fight for the future of our healthcare system.”


A University of Sydney intellectual property expert, Assoc Prof Kimberlee Weatherall, told Guardian Australia “copyright should not be a tool of censorship and governments and political actors should be really careful about wielding it that way”.


That was because “everyone uses copyright material in the course of political discussion, and it’s probably better to just allow that to happen in the interests of free speech”.


In an interim report released on Friday, the joint standing committee on electoral matters said “unauthorised use of commonwealth logos and symbols should not occur in an election campaign”, and it would revisit the issue in 2017.


The committee said it would consider creating an offence of impersonating a commonwealth entity in a move targeting Labor’s “Mediscare” text messages that could create further legal repercussions for campaigners using the Medicare name and logo.