Reports in the media today that the Australian Border Force (ABF) Act will inhibit people from speaking out about conditions in immigration detention or immigration processing centres are incorrect.
The ABF Act ensures that secrecy provisions in the Department are in line with partner and like agencies, such as the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Defence Force. Under existing laws, such as section 70 of the Crimes Act, there is already an offence provision with the same penalty that extends to the unauthorised disclosure of information by a Commonwealth officer, the definition of which extends to those performing services of behalf of the Commonwealth.
Part 6 of the Act will protect sensitive operational information from unauthorised disclosure; it will not restrict anyone’s ability to raise genuine concerns about conditions in detention should they wish to do so through appropriate channels.
The Australian Government also has in place world leading whistle-blower protections in the form of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID Act). The PID Act provides protections for officials, including contractors, who wish to make disclosures in the public interest. Any person who makes a public interest disclosure, as defined within the PID Act, will not be subject to any criminal prosecution under the ABF Act.
To be clear, I am aware of claims by certain groups and industry bodies that the Government is aiming to prevent people with legitimate concerns from speaking out about conditions in immigration facilities.
These claims are not accurate.
While the Government will take action to protect operationally sensitive information, such as personal information or information which compromises the operational effectiveness or response of our officers, the airing of general claims about conditions in immigration facilities will not breach the ABF Act.
From today, the ABF will be a world-class organisation committed to keeping Australia as safe, secure, and economically competitive as possible. It will seek to investigate leaks of operationally sensitive information, however the public can be assured that it will not prevent people from speaking out about conditions in immigration detention facilities.