In 2015, in the name of 'border control', the Australian Government passed legislation banning all practitioners from speaking publically about anything they see or hear in immigration detention. As a result, if any practitioners speak out, they can be charged with a criminal offence and face two years imprisonment. ASeTTS has provided torture and trauma counselling in immigration detention since 2010. Working within this legal framework, practioners could be forced to breach their profesional ethics. The new law limits freedom of speech and government accountability, and sets a dangerous precedent for the treatment of asylum seekers in developed countries.
Prior to the introduction of the Australia Border Force Act 2015, ASeTTS staff regularly advocated for asylum seekers on an individual and systemic level. Counsellors advocated for the needs of their clients inside the facility and to the immigration department for their global health and wellbeing. On a systemic level, ASeTTS partnered with university researchers to analyse and publish clinical data collected in immigration detention, contributed to inquiries and consultations on asylum seeker wellbeing in detention, publically participated in events to support asylum seeker rights and maintained a presence on social media advocating support of asylum seekers. Since the introduction of the new law, staff can continue to advocate for their clients inside immigration facilities but cannot speak publically if their clients’ needs are not met. If a client discloses abuse or staff witness human rights abuses, the staff member risks imprisonment if they speak out publicly. ASeTTS can no longer publish research from clinical data or draw on experiences as evidence in advocacy work.
For practitioners, who already work in a challenging environment, the new law forces them to re-assess their ability to behave ethically under these conditions. For the agency, without the capacity to publicise mistreatment the question remains should counselling services continue to be delivered under these circumstances? The new law allows for further human rights abuses to occur without public awareness or consequence. Laws such as this create black spots in transparency and accountability in the name of border control. These secrecy provisions also beg the question how different is the Australian government from those which refugees are escaping? The Australian example sets a dangerous precedent for secrecy to increase in other countries’ asylum seeker policies. While practitioners bear witness but are silenced, they cannot fully support their clients and further human rights abuses could occur.
Funding & No Conflicts Declaration
The authors are funded through various government funding sources. The authors declare no conflict of interest.