This last week I’ve seen something I never thought to see, enacted into law in Australia.
In the last few years, the two major political parties in Australia have, in subsequent governments, increasingly penalised asylum seekers and refugees who arrive on boats. They’ve sent them to Nauru, Manus Island, and placed them in long term detention in Australia. Conditions in some of those places have been reported as dreadful, and in some cases abusive. There are significant issues with long term detention, particularly for children.
On the 1st of July, the new Borderforce Act came into force, and as a result, doctors and other workers at detention face up to two years imprisonment, should they speak out against conditions in the detention centres, or speak to journalists about what they might have seen or experienced in the detention centres.
I’m a physiotherapist. Like all other registered health professionals in Australia, I subscribe to my profession’s code of conduct, must fulfil the requirements of the registration board, and in addition, mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect is legislated in all states and territories in Australia.
This means that if, in the course of my professional client/patient contact, I believe that a child is being neglected or abused, I must report it to the relevant authorities.
The new Borderforce Act puts into doubt the legality of doing just that. A group of Australian Doctors has protested against this, vowing that they will not be silenced should they see human rights abuses occurring to this in detention.
Today I’m feeling disheartened about the increasingly harsh measures enacted by our government. Australia is meant to be the place that gives the underdog, the battler, and those escaping from oppression a fair go, not the place that imprisons them, and sends them into further peril.
Where is the justice? What drives the issues? How can our government choose to treat people that way? How can they enact legislation – the legislation had bipartisan support, so it was the two major parties, not just the current government – that sends children and babies into inadequate conditions, and then muzzles health professionals from speaking out against abuse?
All I can think is that they hope to gain some political points from it. But at what cost? The sanity and lives of those escaping persecution? The moral and ethical dilemmas now to be faced by health professionals and other detention centre workers? The possible imprisonment of those same people, who are only doing their jobs to the best of their ability?
I really don’t understand how they can sleep at night. And I call them to account. I, too, choose to stand with those doctors and other professionals who will not be bullied by the fear of imprisonment. I may never work in a detention centre, but I am at least with them in spirit. I’m looking forward to hearing from my local federal member’s reply to my recent email on the subject. I sent it about a week ago. Perhaps he doesn’t think it’s important.