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Border force a legal minefield: nurses need to think carefully before taking a job in Australia's immigration detention centres.


"IF YOU ARE GOING TO WORK ON NAURU as a permanent member of staff you need to really think about your registration," RN Alanna Maycock told The Lamp.

"You are going to see and witness things with children and adults that you are not going to be allowed to report and you have to weigh up whether you think that is something that you can do in your profession and in your daily work. I couldn't.

"Abuse is something that requires on-the-spot reporting. And, not just daily but minute-by-minute in Nauru, you are witnessing things that would be reportable."

Alanna and others in her situation are unsure how the new Australian Border Force Act, passed by the Coalition government with the support of the ALP, will affect them, given that they spoke out before the Act became law on July 1.

According to human rights lawyer and refugee advocate Julian Burnside: "It is not clear from the Act whether disclosure is prohibited of facts learned before the Act came into force but disclosed after the Act came into force. The normal principle against retrospective criminal laws tends to the result that the Act would not apply in those circumstances, but it is not clear."

The federal government and the Labor opposition deny claims the Border Force Act will criminalise whistleblowers, including nurses. But many lawyers and refugee advocates disagree.

Labor's Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Richard Marles, says whistleblowers will be protected by the Public Interest Disclosure Act while Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg has said it is "unlikely" medical staff will be prosecuted.

But Peter Roberts, Adjunct Senior Lecturer at the Australian Graduate School of Policing and Security at Charles Sturt University, and a former senior executive with the Federal Attorney General and National Crime Authority, said disclosures must first be made internally. He cautions anyone considering internal disclosure to get independent legal advice first and keep detailed written records of the circumstances surrounding the disclosure.

Evidence to the Senate inquiry of Dr Peter Young, psychiatrist and former director of mental health services at detention centre service provider, International Health and Mental Services (IHMS), and others, indicated that internal reporting had not been welcomed nor acted upon.

Dr Young, who had responsibility for the mental health of asylum seekers in all Australian-run detention centres from 2011 to 2014, told the Senate inquiry: "We were repeatedly told ... it was unacceptable to put in reports to the department that people's mental health had been harmed by being in detention in Nauru."

In an Open Letter to the Australian People, released in April this year, 24 former and current employees of the Nauru detention centre said that as far back as November 2013 the government was aware of written reports detailing sexual and physical abuse of women and children, yet ministers were proclaiming an attitude of "zero tolerance" while the abuse continued.

Inquiries condemn immigration detention.

On August 31 the Senate Select Committee on Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru, reported that it was "particularly disturbed by the evidence it has received about abuse of children, traumatisation and mental illness among children, and the impact of the persistent, indefinite detention of children in the poor conditions which prevail at the RPC.

"The incidents and complaints recorded by Transfield [the principal government contracted service provider] since 2012 included some 45 allegations of child abuse and sexual assault."

The Select Committee inquired into the 2014 Forgotten Children Report by government-appointed president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, into conditions in immigration detention under both Labor and Coalition governments.

That report recommended the release of all children and families in immigration detention as quickly as possible. Professor Triggs faced accusations of bias from the Coalition government as a result of the report.

In March, the Moss Report, conducted by former integrity commissioner Philip Moss, was released.

Mr Moss found no evidence to support federal government accusations that Save the Children staff had coached detainees who had complained of physical and sexual abuse of adults and children in Nauru. The government had denounced staff members for raising the alarm and ordered them off the island.

Mr Moss recommended better training and supervision of Nauruan staff employed by Wilson Security and Transfield Services, and suggested that Nauruan police force take on a higher profile at the centre and adopt a "community policing" role.

"It's hard to think of any nationality treating people the way they do in Nauru," RN Alanna Maycock said.

"When you mention incidents, people often think you mean a Nauruan guard is involved. But bad experiences I had there were with Australians, Irish, English and Kiwis."

HESTA divests from detention

Health industry super fund HESTA is to divest its $23 million stake in detention centre operator Transfield.

The August announcement prompted a flurry of comment in the financial media about the trend towards ethical investment.

Sydney Morning Herald finance writer Sally Rose reported that First State Super had also sold down its Transfield shares, Christian Super had prohibited future investment and many others had their Transfield investments under review.

The Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwives' Federation and a web-based "HESTA divest" campaign have been calling for divestment on ethical grounds.

HESTA chief executive Debby Blakey said divesting from Transfield was based on financial considerations.

"Our review of this investment involved a prescribed and well-established environmental, social and governance escalation process.

"We engaged with the company for over 18 months, first through the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors and later through our investment managers and directly,"

Ms Blakey said.

According to research by the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia (RIAA), responsible investment funds in Australia are producing returns that outperform over the short, medium and long term.

RIAA says this is "adding evidence to the mounting global consensus that those who believe investing with your values means lower returns, have their heads in the sand."

The Senate Select Committee report of August 31, the dissenting minority report from Coalition members and transcripts of hearings and submissions are accessible at reports
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Title Annotation:PROFESSIONAL
Publication:The Lamp
Geographic Code:8NAUR
Date:Nov 1, 2015
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