POLITICS

Turnbull Government Lifts Ban On Gag Laws For Doctors In Nauru

Border Force has remained quiet about it for weeks.

20/10/2016 3:12 PM AEDT | Updated 20/10/2016 5:25 PM AEDT
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Health professionals will now be able to speak about the welfare of detainees without the risk of prison time.

Doctors, nurses and health workers will now be able to speak out about asylum seekers' welfare on Nauru and Manus Island after the federal government lifted a ban on the established gag laws.

The Immigration Department quietly posted an amendment to Australia's Border Force Act on Friday, which removed health workers from the secrecy provisions in the act.

Previously health workers could be jailed for up to two years if they spoke publicly about the welfare of asylum seekers, extending from medical negligence to sexual abuse.

Immigration department boss Michael Pezzullo signed a document confirming the amendment on September 30. However, it was only posted online on Friday despite coming into effect on October 1.

In July doctors launched a High Court bid against the secrecy laws -- after the laws were put in place in June 2015 -- and it appears the immigration department has quietly backed down.

President of Doctors for Refugees Dr Barri Phatarfod welcomes the news but said the organisation was informed about the amendment late on Monday after it was "quietly posted on the Department's website the Friday 14 October."

Phatarfod said there is still more work to be done as the amendment does not lift the ban for social workers or teachers working on Nauru and Manus Island detention centres.

"While teachers, social workers, security guards and other guardians are still covered by this law, the Amendment cannot be seen as a real win for anyone in detention, who are the prime focus of of our advocacy," Phatarfod told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Doctors for Refugees gets much of our information regarding abuse, neglect and mismanagement from workers outside the health sphere.

"For the exemption to apply to Health Professionals... but not to teachers and social workers from whom much of the testimony comes, is rather an arbitrary exemption and comes in the middle of our High Court challenge regarding the constitutionality of this Act."

The lifting of the ban comes amid Amnesty International's report this week which said treatment of detainees on Nauru amounted to torture.

The report, which includes interviews with more than 100 people, described the offshore processing centres as an "open air prison designed to inflict as much suffering as necessary."

Phatarfod said the amendment is not retrospective so health professionals working between July 1 in 2015 and October 1 this year are not able to talk publicly about detainees welfare during that time.

The Department for Immigration and Border Force Protection maintains it has always allowed health practitioners to report concerns through "appropriate channels".

"The Department still expects that health practitioners will maintain their strict ethical, professional and contractual obligations of confidentiality and privacy," a spokesperson for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection told HuffPost Australia.

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