Whistleblowers un-gagged in Australia

Australia dropped secrecy rules which were unnecessary, undermined democratic accountability and were likely to have been unconstitutional, writes Kelsi Farrington

The Australian government has quietly dropped secrecy rules which would have seen employees of immigration detention centres – everyone from guards to lawyers and teachers – face two years in prison if they spoke out about the mistreatment of detainees.

In recent years, health professionals, lawyers and international rights groups have repeatedly condemned the Australian Border Force Act and the dire conditions inside the ‘offshore processing’ refugee camps on Nauru and Manus Island.

Laura Neil of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) said in a statement that the ALA ‘[welcomed] the removal of these draconian secrecy provisions’ on 14 August, arguing that they were ‘unnecessary, undermined democratic accountability and were likely to have been unconstitutional’.

In 2016, Doctors 4 Refugees and the Fitzroy Legal Centre challenged the Act in the Australian High Court on the grounds that its provisions ‘breached doctors’ implied constitutional freedom of political communication’.

The Act was altered to exclude internally hired health practitioners but campaigners pushed for the secrecy provisions to be scrapped completely.

‘Democracy relies on all of us being able to speak freely about what our government does,’ said Neil. ‘Imposing gag laws on those who might speak out to help people who have been mistreated in government-run detention centres was outrageous.’