Border Force chief plays down detention centre disclosure fears

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, July 1, 2015. (AAP/Lukas Coch) Source: AAP

Australia's new border force chief has played down fears doctors and teachers who blow the whistle on abuse at detention centres could face prosecution for speaking out.

Laws to back up the newly launched Australian Border Force contain a provision that says "an entrusted person" must not disclose protected information or they could be jailed for two years.

A group of more than 40 health workers, teachers and social workers who have worked at the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres have dared authorities to prosecute them in an open letter to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.

They have vowed to continue to advocate for those to whom they have a duty of care, despite what they say is a real prospect of imprisonment.

"Standing by and watching sub-standard and harmful care, child abuse and gross violations of human rights is not ethically justifiable," they say.

The group said the royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse had taken evidence about the effects of "institutional self-protection and blindness to child abuse".

"We are determined not to collude with a system that repeats these same mistakes," the group said.

They challenged the government to prosecute them "so that these issues may be discussed in open court and in the full view of the Australian public".

But Roman Quaedvlieg, who was sworn in to the ABF commissioner role on Wednesday, said those fears might be overblown.

"I think those provisions have been over interpreted somewhat," he told reporters in Canberra, adding that they are no different from provisions that are currently in place at many security and enforcement agencies.

"This is about the leaking of classified information that could compromise operational security or our sovereignty."

Mr Quaedvlieg said the provisions weren't about "people having the right to be outspoken in the community about a range of things".

However, he said if classified information is leaked, his agency would be investigating and would prosecute anyone who breached the laws.

He "sincerely doubted" authorities would be going after the signatories to the open letter.

His agency was yet to make any referrals to the Australian Federal Police. Whether the immigration department had made any such referrals was a matter for the department secretary, he said.

 

Source AAP

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