Doctors high court challenge to secrecy regime in immigration centres

NSWCCL wholeheartedly supports the High Court challenge brought by Doctors for Refugees against the Commonwealth and the Minister for immigration and Border Protection in relation to the secrecy provisions of Border Force Act 2015.

 The Act contains provisions which allow for the imprisonment for up to 2 years of doctors, social workers and others who disclose ‘protected’ information regarding conditions in immigration detention centres.

 As a result these  people may be liable to imprisonment for complying with their professional standards and ethical obligation to report abuse, because such abuse occurs in an immigration detention centre. Reporting abuse outside immigration centres is required by legislation, but is criminalized in the context of immigration centres.

 There is no convincing justification for the introduction of such draconian provisions. We believe the only reason for these provisions is to silence those working in detention centres. This is contrary to the principles of transparency and open debate, which are fundamental in a democracy. How can people support government policy when they have no idea what is being done in their name?

 NSWCCL strongly opposed the introduction of the secrecy provisions of the Border Force Act, which were introduced with bipartisan support. These toxic and undemocratic provisions should be repealed immediately. 

We have long supported the need to provide stronger protection for whistle blowers in Australia.  Contrary to the claims of Government, the current laws do not provide adequate protection to those who wish to make public interest disclosures in relation to the operation of our immigration detention centres.  There are extremely limited provisions in the Border Force Act allowing for disclosure in some circumstances, but they are inadequate and we understand very difficult to apply in practice.

 The case relies on the freedom of political communication implied by the Constitution.. The legal question comes down to whether the secrecy provisions in the Border Force Act serve a legitimate purpose and are proportionate to that purpose. We will watch progress with interest.

 The medical profession is providing a splendid and courageous example of principled opposition to both unjust government laws and actions and the imposition of a veil of secrecy to hide these actions from the community.   


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