CENSORSHIP is real and being imposed by the Australian government against workers, whistleblowers, journalists and members of non-government organisations involved with the Manus Island detention centre.
The Australian Border Force Act, recently passed by the Australian parliament supported by the ALP and opposed only by the Greens, effectively turns the Department of Immigration into a secret security organisation with police powers.
Although the Act seems to be directed at Customs operations, it also seeks to regulate and control access to information about asylum seekers in immigration detention.
Under the Act, it is a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment of up to two years, for any person working directly or indirectly for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to reveal to the media or any other person or organisation anything that happens in detention centres like the one on Manus Island.
Section 24 of the Act requires that any departmental workers or contractors to the department subscribe to an oath. There is no detail about the contents of the oath, and it is possible that the oath will prevent individuals such as doctors and nurses, as well as organisations such as the Salvation Army, Red Cross, United Nations and Amnesty International, from fulfilling their ethical and professional obligations to report physical and mental harm.
Section 26 of the Border Force Act allows the Australian Border Force Commissioner to direct people who work for the department even if they are not employees, people like contractors, consultants and staff of foreign governments (say Papua New Guinea) or international organisations.
These directions must be followed.
This will inhibit contractors from abiding by their professional obligations or from following generally accepted standards required to fulfil their roles.
The Commissioner could, for example, direct that medical staff on Nauru ensure they seek permission from him before accepting a request to provide a briefing on their work to a medical organisation such as the Australian Medical Association.
The Australian government is making professional and ethical practice a subject of its own whim.
It is hardly surprising that Australia’s neighbouring countries, including PNG, are looking upon their southern companion with such dislike and are increasingly willing to take actions to irritate it, like banning Australian access to Bougainville – a ban which despite much Aussie sweet talk has still not been lifted.