The Federal Government’s new Border Force Act Section 42 forbids teachers who work in Australia’s immigration detention centres at Nauru, Manus Island and Villawood to speak up about any information they come across in the course of their work. The IEU strongly opposes this Act. The IEU’s position is outlined in a policy from the Federal Council, IEU Organiser Dave Towson writes.
Former Integrity Commissioner Phillip Moss headed up an inquiry that found evidence of sexual and physical assault against children and women in Nauru. The inquiry had passed their findings to the relevant ministers. The Minister had been aware of these sexual abuse allegations against children for 17 months before any action was taken.
The Moss Enquiry noted Nauru had no compulsory Working with Children Checks for staff and no mandatory requirement for reporting abuse. Still the Australian Government sends children to Nauru without the proper regulatory safeguards.
In fact, instead of addressing this legal deficiency new Australian legislation takes us in another direction. The Australian Border Force Act 2015 came into force on 1 July. Under the Act (Section 42) entitled Secrecy, it is a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment of up to two years, for any person working directly or indirectly for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to reveal to the media or any other person or organisation anything that happens in detention centres like Nauru and Manus Island.
Teachers, doctors, nurses, lawyers, social workers and other professionals could face prosecution and up to two years imprisonment for speaking up for people in their care.
NSW ACT IEU General Secretary John Quessy said: “The sinister Border Force Act Section 42 makes it an offence for an ‘entrusted person’ to ‘make a record of, or disclose’ protected information’”.
“Would the Prime Minister be happy to accept that those caring for his children were fearful of speaking out about suspected abuse? A consequence of these laws, perhaps unintended, is that abusers will be protected and not exposed,” Mr Quessy said.
“Basically what the Federal Government is doing with the introduction of this law is punishing teachers for standing up for their students, whose classrooms happen to be in detention centres.”
Culture of secrecy
This law came into effect while the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is giving voice to victims whose assailants were protected by a culture of secrecy and cover up.
The IEU condemns the Border Force Act along with the continuing practice of keeping children in detention centres, the denial of rights to asylum as provided for under international covenants and attempts to silence the Human Rights Commission.
Those people not moved by humanitarian arguments might consider the economic cost of mandatory detention and offshore processing.
Detaining a single asylum seeker on Manus Island or Nauru costs $400,000 per year. Detention in Australia costs $239,000 per asylum seeker per year.
Allowing asylum seekers to live in the community while their claims are being processed costs the taxpayer $12,000 per year and even less if they are allowed the right to work.
For the privilege of sending people to Cambodia, we are paying the Cambodian government $40,000,000. The first four refugees to be sent to Cambodia from Nauru have been transferred to Darwin awaiting transportation to Cambodia. One Iranian couple, one single Iranian man and another single Roghinga refugee from Burma out of a population of nearly 700 detainees on Nauru are the only people so far to have accepted an offer of $15,000 to uproot their lives again and move to Cambodia.