Doctors, nurses and their supporters protested on July 11 and 12 around Australia against the Border Force Act.
The protests, organised by the Medical Association for the Prevention of War and Doctors Against the Border Force Act, were held in Darwin, Broome, Coffs Harbour, Adelaide, Bendigo, Melbourne and Sydney.
Earlier in the week an open letter from 40 current detention centre workers said they would defy the Border Force Act was published.
Dr Phillipa Sleigh, who organised the protest in Darwin, said doctors in the public health system frequently end up caring for immigration detainees who need emergency or specialist medical care.
“Our responsibility as doctors is to both care for patients and to advocate for them,” she said. "Gagging doctors from speaking about the asylum seekers we treat diminishes our ability to care for a particularly vulnerable group."
In Sydney, Professor Maria Fiatarone Singh asked the 300 protesters present: "How does reporting that a child has been raped by a guard or exchanged sexual favours for food endanger national security?"
"Imagine we were talking about the child of a federal MP enrolled in a private school in the suburbs of Sydney instead of an unseen, unwanted, voiceless child behind barbed wire", she said.
More than 100 independent doctors rallied at Parliament House in Adelaide. A statement after the rally said: “Asylum seekers are vulnerable people seeking protection, that is the very nature of their situation. The secrecy laws in the Border Force Act are creating a barrier to protecting these vulnerable people.
“Intimidating detention centre staff — doctors, nurses, teachers ... all mandatory reporters — with the threat of jail time for doing their job is oppressive policy.
“The Government and the Opposition has defended the legislation this week, suggesting that they will accept reporting within the appropriate government channels. However, reporting within a system with an inherent conflict of interest is demonstrably inadequate.”
Dr David Berger, a spokesperson for the Coffs Harbour protest, said: "The Border Force Act imposes penalties of up to two years imprisonment for doctors and other professionals who disclose medical and other health details relating to asylum seekers or refugees in indefinite Australian government detention. This places professionals in direct conflict with their ethical and professional obligations to their patients.
“As health professionals and those working with children, we protest in the strongest terms and call for amendments to this repressive Act to safeguard our right to advocate for these most vulnerable of patients without fear of sanction."
About 50 doctors and nurses in Broome joined together to speak out against the Border Force Act. In a statement they said: “As doctors and nurses who care for our patients regardless of creed, colour or situation, we are very concerned about the impact the Border Force Act will have on the welfare of refugees held in mandatory detention.
“We are also concerned about its overall effect on the standing of our professional ethical responsibilities, not to mention the principles of freedom of speech and democracy in our country.
“These laws aim not only to prevent us from performing our professional obligations but also to silence our voices and thereby further dehumanise people in detention.
“We are here to echo the opinions already expressed by peak professional bodies such as the Australian Medical Association and the World Medical Association that this legislation should be urgently amended so that ‘entrusted persons’ are no longer contained within the Act."
Medical staff protest in Adelaide,
In Coffs Harbour
and in Melbourne's western suburbs