Turnbull softens on laws

CANBERRA – The Turnbull Government has quietly backed down on unpopular laws that threatened doctors and nurses with prison if they spoke out about abuses in offshore detention centres.

On Friday, the Immigration Department posted an amendment to the Border Force Act, signed by the department secretary Michael Pezzullo on September 30, which removed restrictions on health professionals speaking out. Doctors welcomed the move, predicting it would lead to a flood of disclosures from health professionals who had worked with asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus Island.

The Fitzroy Legal Centre and Doctors for Refugees had taken the government to the High Court to challenge the legitimacy of the laws, which were passed last June with the support of Labor.

The Government was due to file its defence against the High Court case shortly.

Doctors for Refugees president Barri Phatarfod said the timing of the amendment was interesting.

It’s a blanket exemption for health professionals, she said. It’s a huge win for doctors.

But the threat of jail has not silenced former detention centre workers.

Doctors and other health professionals have repeatedly flouted the ban on them speaking out, as have Save the Children staff.

In August, 103 and former staff members from the Nauru and Manus Island centres signed an open letter calling for an end to offshore detention, and warned that the only way to ensure the safety of asylum seekers and refugees was to bring them to Australia.

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