Last Saturday morning, doctors, nurses, health care workers and teachers from the northern rivers gathered at Belongil Beach and joined their voices in the protest against the Border Force Act, in support of health professionals working in detention centres, and to support and advocate for those seeking asylum.
The Australian Border Force Act came into effect on 1 July 2015, and threatens to prosecute those who speak out against abuse and mistreatment of asylum seekers with up to two years in jail.
Dr Rachel Heap, Intensive Care Specialist from Lismore Base Hospital, said the Border Force Act makes it an offence for an entrusted person to make a record of, or disclose, protected information, which includes anything involving asylum seekers in either on-shore or off-shore detention centres run by the Australian government.
Dr Heap said this means that while health professionals and teachers have a mandatory legal, ethical, and professional obligation to report abuse or mistreatment of those in their care, this Act stipulates that if those being abused are in Australian detention, the same action of reporting suspected abuse could result in prosecution and punishment of up to two years in jail of the reporter.
Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’.
Professional bodies, including Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists have demanded amendment of the Act to protect professionals caring for those seeking asylum, and to enable them to advocate and act in the best interests of their patients.
Dr Rachel Heap, specialist in intensive care medicine, Lismore Base Hospital