3 July, 2015 - New detention secrecy laws failing to protect children: Plan

New laws that will make staff working at Australia’s offshore detention centres think twice about speaking out about potential child abuse are out of step with the crucial need to protect some of the most vulnerable children in Australia’s care, says child rights organisation Plan International Australia.

The Border Force Act, which came into force this week, could see some Government-contracted staff risking up to two years in jail for speaking out publically about potential abuse of children in offshore detention centres like those in the Pacific island of Nauru.

“It’s already tough enough to speak out about potential abuses of children in places like Nauru. These new laws clearly make it even tougher. This is not in the best interests of children held in Australia’s offshore detention facilities,” says Susanne Legena, acting CEO of Plan International Australia.

“These new laws clearly put yet another obstacle in the way of anyone who witnesses or suspects potential abuse and wants to shine a light on what is being done to children in Australia’s name in offshore detention centres. Any law that seems designed to make someone think twice about speaking up when they suspect abuse of a child is obviously deplorable,” Legena says.

“Offshore detention centres are no place for a child. Australia is locking up children, some of whom are not even accompanied by their parents or families, and that’s something we as a nation ought to be ashamed of,” she says.

“Changing the laws to discourage workers at our offshore detention centres from speaking up does nothing more than add to our shame. Instead of changing the laws to make it more difficult for good people from speaking out in the defence of children, we ought to be releasing all children from detention – and we ought to be doing that immediately.”

Earlier this year, an independent review by former integrity commissioner Philip Moss found that some cases of sexual and physical assault in Nauru were going unreported. More recently, former child protection workers on Nauru have alleged sexual and physical abuse of asylum seeker children, as well as significant ongoing harm to children there.

“We know that children in Nauru are clearly at risk of daily harm. This is completely unacceptable, especially to a country like Australia which rightly takes pride in placing the protection of its own children above all else. We simply would not accept this kind of treatment for our own children, so it’s impossible to see why we should tolerate it for any children in our care,” Legena says.

She also renewed Plan International Australia’s call for an independent monitor for children in immigration detention.

Editors’ notes: Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 77 years ago, working in 51 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 21 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.

Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International Australia, Media Relations Manager, 0488 202 945