Union stands up for right of teachers to speak out

John Dixon
General Secretary

Teachers and other professionals working with children in immigration detention now face up to two years in gaol if they speak publicly about the conditions endured by their students.

Since July 1, the Border Force Act makes it an offence for employees of the Australian Border Force to make “unauthorised disclosures of information”. Previously, employees have publicly voiced their concerns about conditions in immigration detention centres.

I sometimes watch the news and grieve for this country, and we have to stand up. Annual Conference passed a motion stating Federation’s serious concern about Federal Government policies that “impinge on civil liberties and human rights and indeed, the rule of law itself”.

"These policies include:

  • that teachers working in detention centres face up to two years in jail in speaking up for the students in their care
  • the continuing detention of children in detention centres
  • the denial of rights to asylum as provided for under international covenants
  • attempts to silence the Human Rights Commission and the national broadcaster
  • Royal Commissions which appear politically motivated.”

Federation is to campaign against these laws.

Teachers who have worked in immigration detention centres are among the signatories to an open letter, dated the day the new Border Force Act came into effect, declaring:

“We have advocated, and will continue to advocate, for the health of those for whom we have a duty of care, despite the threats of imprisonment, because standing by and watching sub-standard and harmful care, child abuse and gross violations of human rights is not ethically justifiable. If we witness child abuse in Australia we are legally obliged to report it to child protection authorities. If we witness child abuse in detention centres, we can go to prison for attempting to advocate for them effectively. Internal reporting mechanisms such as they are have failed to remove children from detention; a situation that is itself recognised as a form of systematic child abuse … We are aware that in publishing this letter we may be prosecuted under the Border Force Act and we challenge the department to prosecute so that these issues may be discussed in open court and in the full view of the Australian public.”