IEU takes a stand against sinister Act

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.

Detaining a single asylum seeker on Manus Island or Nauru costs $400,000 per year. Allowing asylum seekers to live in the community costs the taxpayer $12,000 per year

Kids in detention

There are about 220 children in detention centres in Australia and Nauru today. There are another 863 children in community detention and a further 3,257 children on bridging visas which means their parents often have no work rights and limited access to government support.

The following statement was endorsed by the Federal Council of the IEUA on 29 April this year:

That the IEU deplores the current treatment of asylum-seekers by the Australian Government and condemns the Federal Government and the Opposition for failing to deal with the asylum seeker boat issue in open, fair and honest manner.

The IEU believes that the Government’s decision and legislation to resort to punishment for those fleeing persecution is wrong and misguided.

The IEU urges all political parties and members of parliament to stop using policies regarding asylum seekers to foster misunderstanding, social division and distrust, and instead use it as an opportunity to get on with the job of fulfilling Australia’s commitment under the Refugee Convention to treat people humanely, process applications for asylum onshore, and promote the better treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in our region.

The IEU calls on the Australian Government to abandon third country (off-shore processing) altogether and to reform Australia’s stance on asylum seekers in line with our international obligations.

The IEU condemns the placement of children in detention centres.

The IEU calls for:

All political parties to respect and acknowledge that neither indefinite detention nor sending asylum seekers to uncertainty in other countries can be presented as a just or credible response to the needs of people seeking refuge and protection in Australia.

All parliamentarians to exercise leadership and reframe the national debate about refugees and asylum seekers, explaining that the majority of people who have entered Australia by boat seeking asylum have been found to need protection from persecution, and therefore that the vulnerability of asylum seekers must be a primary consideration in any government response to people movement.

The Australian Government to immediately move to process all asylum seekers onshore. Following initial detention for preliminary health and security checks, a detention that should be capped at one month, after that, while their refugee status is being determined, they should be released into the community on conditions that will ensure that they remain available for processing and (if necessary) removal. They should be allowed to work and live in dignity. Detention beyond the initial processing should only occur in exceptional circumstances.

The Australian Government to enable Australia’s community sector to support and resettle people humanely and effectively, as an appropriate, sensitive and least expensive solution to Australia’s humanitarian responsibilities, instead of spending substantial funds deporting people overseas and building facilities offshore.

The Australian Government to immediately comply with the Convention of the Rights of the Child, where children as asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors are entitled to have their welfare and human rights protected and their right to an education upheld.

The rejection of the Temporary Protection Visa (TPV)/ Safe Have Enterprise Visa (SHEV) system and provide all refugees immediate access to a permanent Protection Visa (PV).