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AASW joins call for amendment of Australian Border Force Act

Published: 22 June 2015

The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) has united with 11 peak health organisations in a joint statement that calls for urgent amendments to the Australian Border Force Act 2015.

AASW National President, Professor Karen Healy, says that the secrecy provisions in the Act which threaten jail for professionals who disclose information about the conditions and treatment of asylum seekers in immigration detention, are appalling and unacceptable in a modern western democracy.

‘Social workers are professionally, ethically and morally committed to advocating for the human rights of the people with whom they work. This legislation not only undermines this ability but it is also in direct breach of their duty of care,’ said Professor Healy.

She says the AASW has joined the call with the other health organisations that are demanding the Federal Government change the Act in order to ensure that social workers are able to speak out about the conditions in detention and how they affect the health of children and adults.

‘Social workers have played a central role in raising awareness of the abuse and neglect of children at the Regional Processing Centre on Nauru, something that under this legislation could lead to jail,’ Professor Healy said.

‘These measures are further evidence of the lack of transparency and oppressive conditions of immigration detention centres. Threatening workers with persecution for speaking out is a breach of ethical responsibilities.

‘There are people in detention suffering because of the appalling conditions and this law is a direct attack on the ability of social workers to provide support.’

Professor Healy added that social workers like other health professionals are ethically, and in some states legally required to report child abuse and neglect.

‘How should the Australian community consider the paradox of professionals being prosecuted if they do not report child abuse, and being prosecuted if they do report abuse such as that observed in Nauru?’ said Professor Healy.

‘Gagging professionals will only worsen this country’s already poor image in the international community and lead to further suffering and persecution of asylum seekers.

The AASW reiterates its call for the closure of offshore detention centres.

The AASW represents 8500 professional social work members, many of whom work directly with refugees and asylum seekers. As such they experience firsthand the incredible distress and harm mandatory immigration detention is causing.

To arrange an interview with Professor Karen Healy, please contact:

Emma Pegrum
Media and Marketing Manager
Phone 02 6199 5011 Mobile 0408 200 191

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers