Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Challenging Australia's anti-refugee gag-law

Australia has a problem: it tortures refugees in its Pacific concentration camps. But that's not the problem - the problem is that people talk about that torture - and by exposing the regular and consistent abuse and mistreatment of refugees, expose the Australian government to public criticism (not to mention crimes against humanity charges under the Rome Statute). So last year, they solved this problem by criminalising revealing any information from the gulags, on pain of going to prison. But now, that law is being challenged:

Australian doctors will launch a High Court challenge to controversial laws they say gag them from speaking out over child abuse and other threats to asylum seekers in detention centres.

Lawyers for the doctors in the case, due to be filed on Wednesday, will argue that the court should declare invalid laws that threaten detention centre staff with two years' jail for disclosing information about conditions they observe behind the wire.

Doctors for Refugees, represented by the Fitzroy Legal Service, said the case will question if the secrecy provisions breach health professionals' constitutional freedom to engage in political communication – in this instance, highlighting and debating the effects of the detention regime on their patients.

Under a law, if a doctor (or anybody else) reports a rape or child sex abuse happening in a concentration camp - something that happens with disturbing regularity - they can go to prison. If they report on risks to their patients' health, they can go to prison. If they report on substandard camp conditions which endanger patient safety, they can go to prison. This makes it impossible to fulfil their professional duties, not to mention being a contravention of the right to freedom of expression. And it is very obviously utterly self-serving, designed solely to prevent criticism of the government or information which might cause the public to reject its cruel and vicious policies.

However, that doesn't mean the case will be successful. Australia is virtually alone among modern democracies in lacking any legislated human rights protection. It has no Bill of Rights Act, and the only protection for freedom of speech is an implied right read into the Australian constitution from its clause requiring representative democracy. And the consequences of that can be seen in the authoritarian nature of Australian politics and the regular attacks on human rights that occur there.

No matter which way this case goes, Australia needs modern human rights protection. Australia needs a Bill of Rights Act.