You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Govt lifts asylum gag on doctors, nurses

AAP logoAAP 19/10/2016 Belinda Merhab

Doctors will now be able to freely speak out about concerns for the welfare of asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus Island after a federal government backdown.

Secrecy provisions in the Border Force Act that came into force last year stated "an entrusted person" could not disclose protected information, with breaches punishable by two years' jail.

But immigration department boss Michael Pezzullo has quietly backed down, making an amendment to exempt doctors and nurses.

Doctors lodged a High Court challenge against the secrecy clauses in July and insist it's not over yet.

While doctors can speak out, the laws still prevent other groups such as teachers or social workers from publicly raising concerns, says Fitzroy Legal Service solicitor Meghan Fitzgerald who has been pursuing the legal challenge on behalf of Doctors for Refugees.

"There's no rational reason for one group of professionals to be exempted," she told AAP on Thursday.

"It's a huge win for the medical profession who've been highly courageous in engaging in civil disobedience and refusing to have their ethics compromised by the legislation.

"There's been strong opposition from the medical profession but I expect other groups will begin to build that pressure."

Ms Fitzgerald says they were only told of the backdown on Monday, more than two weeks after the determination was signed off by Mr Pezzullo.

It was put online on October 14, despite coming into effect on October 1.

And there's nothing to stop it being changed back at any time.

"If we didn't know, I'm absolutely certain no one else knew," Ms Fitzgerald said.

"These changes can happen and people just wouldn't know whether they were breaking the law or not."

Comment has been sought from the immigration department.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has previously insisted the provision does not restrict anyone's ability to raise genuine concerns about conditions in detention through appropriate channels.

Doctors for Refugees says the overwhelming majority of cases it receives are from non-health workers.

"Until these individuals are free to report instances of abuse and neglect they witness in these centres, this law is still an anti-democratic law designed to maintain unreasonable secrecy around the treatment experienced by those in detention."

The group's president, Dr Barri Phatarfod, said the amendment allowed doctors to speak out but would not change the "appalling lack of care they often seem to receive".

The group has 160 active cases of concern.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon