Doctors to challenge Border Force laws in High Court

Issue 

Advocacy group Doctors for Refugees has launched a High Court challenge to the controversial Border Force Act that prevents them from speaking out about child abuse and other threats to asylum seekers in detention centres.

Lawyers for the doctors will argue that the court should declare invalid laws that threaten detention centre staff with two years' jail for disclosing information about conditions they observe behind the wire.

Fitzroy Legal Service, representing Doctors for Refugees, said the case will question if the secrecy provisions breach health professionals' constitutional freedom to engage in political communication by preventing them from shining a light on and debating the effects of the asylum seeker policy on their patients.

Dr Barri Phatarfod, the group's convenor, said: "If doctors stand by and allow people to walk through raw sewage, just to get to the meal area, they're failing their patients and their profession. If doctors and nurses remain silent about women and young children having showers in view of male guards, they're not fulfilling their professional responsibilities."

Doctors working in offshore detention risk criminal charges for reporting children at risk of physical or psychological harm. The federal government enacted the laws in July last year as part of the contentious Border Force Act.

Phatarfod said doctors who feared legal or career repercussions were being "forced into silence about serious issues they witness".

Fitzroy Legal Service lawyer Meghan Fitzgerald said the case would "determine whether doctors and nurses are allowed to advocate in the interests of their patients".

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