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Asylum Seeker Workers to Ignore New Laws

2 July 2015 at 9:32 am
Xavier Smerdon
A group of more than 40 former and current detention centre workers have written to the Abbott Government saying they will ignore controversial new secrecy laws.

Xavier Smerdon | 2 July 2015 at 9:32 am


Asylum Seeker Workers to Ignore New Laws
2 July 2015 at 9:32 am

A group of more than 40 former and current detention centre workers have written to the Abbott Government saying they will ignore controversial new secrecy laws.

The Government’s much-touted Australian Border Force Act came into effect on July 1st opening the door for doctors, social workers, teachers and humanitarian workers to be jailed for up to two years if they criticise the conditions inside detention centres.

Last month human rights lawyer Julian Burnside questioned the motive for the new laws.

A choir of critics challenged Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to prosecute them under the new laws.

“[The Act] includes provision for a two year jail sentence for ‘entrusted persons’ such as ourselves if we continue to speak out about the deplorable state of human rights in immigration detention without the express permission of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection. This adds to the wall of secrecy which prevents proper public scrutiny,” the letter said.

“We have advocated, and will continue to advocate, for the health of those for whom we have a duty of care, despite the threats of imprisonment, because standing by and watching sub-standard and harmful care, child abuse and gross violations of human rights is not ethically justi?able.

“If we witness child abuse in Australia we are legally obliged to report it to child protection authorities. If we witness child abuse in detention centres, we can go to prison for attempting to advocate for them effectively.

“We are aware that in publishing this letter we may be prosecuted under the Australian Border Force Act and we challenge the Department to prosecute so that these issues may be discussed in open court and in the full view of the Australian public.”

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) also voiced its opposition to the new laws.

Dr Ai-Lene Chan, Dr Peter Young and Dr David Isaacs said the new laws placed doctors working in detention centres in an increasingly invidious position and calls by the AMA and other medical groups for an amendment to the law to protect health workers and allow them to advocate on behalf of their patients had so far fallen on deaf ears.

“The restrictions placed on doctors working in immigration detention results in health care that cannot be consistent with Australian codes and clinical standards,” the doctors said.

“The Australian Border Force Act directly challenges professional codes of ethical conduct, including the safeguard of clinical independence and professional integrity from demands of third parties and governments. The legislation aims to silence health professionals and others who advocate for their patients.”

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said late last month that the new provisions were necessary to “provide assurance to industry and our domestic and international law enforcement and intelligence partners that sensitive information provided to the Australian Border Force and my department…will be appropriately protected”.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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