Advocates celebrate secrecy rule shake-up

Refugee advocates are celebrating a federal government move to remove the prospect of jail time for detention centre staff who speak out about mistreatment.

The Greens have joined refugee advocates and lawyers celebrating the abolition of controversial secrecy rules preventing workers speaking out about mistreatment in Australia's immigration detention centres.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has moved to amend the Australian Border Force Act to strip out the prospect of two years jail for teachers, lawyers, social workers and others who divulge information about detainee neglect or abuse.

Greens senator Nick McKim said the backdown meant a "Draconian veil of secrecy" over Australia's immigration network would be lifted.

"These secrecy provisions had an absolutely chilling effect on political speech in this country," he told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

"(The rules) forced people, including medical professionals, not to report publicly what they had seen and the horrors they had experienced on Manus Island, on Nauru, and in our onshore detention network."

Senator McKim said the changes were not made out of compassion or humanity, but to save the humiliation of having the laws removed in the High Court.

Doctors for Refugees and the Fitzroy Legal Centre brought a constitutional challenge against the laws last year, claiming they breached freedom of political communication.

The government made exemptions for health professionals but the groups pressed on with the case, arguing that doctors couldn't properly treat detainees if non-health professionals couldn't share information.

"Doctors for Refugees regularly receives harrowing stories of abuse of refugee children form teachers, security guards and others, and we are currently advocating for patients on the basis of potentially life-saving disclosures from detention centre workers," the group's president Dr Barri Phatarfod said.

"These brave whistleblowers do not deserve to be prosecuted for telling the truth."

Mr Dutton says the changes will clarify the laws to "reflect the original policy intent" so as to prevent unauthorised disclosures harmful to the national or public interest.

He says the original 2015 provisions were valid at the time but the "model has not kept pace with the developments in the modern border environment".

Once passed, the latest changes will apply retrospectively.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch