Government concession sees gag removed from doctors working in detention

Doctors will no longer face jail terms for speaking out about the abuse and neglect in detention centres, on and offshore, after a major concession by the Australian government.

In a move welcomed by the Fitzroy Legal Service, the Secretary to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection has issued a determination that means the Australian Border Force Act 2015 will no longer apply to health professionals at all. This includes doctors, nurses, counsellors, psychiatrists, midwives, surgeons, specialists. The same professionals that have faced surveillance, and the threat of criminal charges and imprisonment, for disclosures of ‘protected information’ under the Act.

However, while nurses, midwives, psychologists and doctors can now speak out about conditions for asylum seekers and refugees, workers with similar ethical duties are still gagged, such as teachers, social workers, and humanitarian aid workers.

Fitzroy Legal Service lawyer Meghan Fitzgerald says, ‘While any move to transparency is welcomed, and there is no rational reason why a nurse or counsellor can (as of this month) report fears for the safety and wellbeing of children, however a teacher, humanitarian worker, a guard providing protection, still may face two years imprisonment. Representative government requires transparency and communication on issues of political importance. A wall of secrecy currently hides terrible and often irreversible harms to women, children, the elderly, without justification. Media are unable to report, those detained live in fear, and workers are subject to laws that criminalise their concerns.’

‘The right to dignity, health, life, freedom, are the most fundamental of human rights - no government has the right to override the people’s right to know about what is done in our name. Approximately 90% of people detained in our detention centres are found to be genuine refugees. We need to deeply consider our moral obligations to those who seek safety and protection from the Australian Government.’ Ms Fitzgerald added.

For further comment:

Meghan Fitzgerald (Solicitor, Fitzroy Legal Service)

T: 0450 977 447 E: mfitzgerald@fitzroy-legal.org.au