The Therapeutic Goods Administration has issued a warning that impersonating a government official is a crime after an incident in Melbourne where it appears a person walked into a medical centre and demanded a legally authorised “vaccination poster” be taken down.
“We advise individuals who may be encouraged to impersonate an officer of the TGA that this is a serious criminal offence that may lead to prosecution,” the TGA said in a statement.
It seems reasonable to guess the person was part of the anti-vaccination movement, and at first it might seem strange that such a person would think it would help their cause to pose as a representative of the pro-vaccination federal health authorities, but the TGA’s statement contains a clue.
The Therapeutic Goods Act imposes heavy restrictions on advertising of prescription medicine products in clinical settings, as part of the regime of separation between those who prescribe treatments and those who sell them, unless they are “authorised or required by a government authority”.
“Posters relating to vaccines and vaccination sanctioned by the Australian Government Department of Health under the National Immunisation Program are permitted.
“As part of an important public health campaign, this material is appropriate and legal, and provides important health information to consumers. If clinics and health professionals produce their own public information materials, we advise focusing on services, rather than specific products to avoid a breach of the advertising requirements.
“The TGA encourages members of the community to report non-compliant advertising of therapeutic products that raise concerns, in order for the TGA to investigate through proper formal channels.”
Last year, federal parliamentarians passed controversial new legislation criminalising impersonation of a federal government organisation, after a brief Senate inquiry, which received no submissions supporting the new law.
The government-dominated committee ignored a series of clear and well-argued concerns that the law was so ill-conceived and badly drafted that it would infringe freedom of communication, and put people like comedians and academics at risk of prosecution; the defence available to scholars and satirists refers to acts committed “solely” for these purposes and also seems to require their work be “genuine” in its socially beneficial intent.
Previously it was only a crime for an individual to impersonate a Commonwealth official, as the TGA alleges in this case.