Sunday Explainer: what is a border force, and why does Australia need one?

Illustration: Andrew Dyson.

Illustration: Andrew Dyson.

What are the changes that came in last week?

The Australian Border Force Act took effect on Thursday, creating a new body that merges the frontline operations of the Immigration Department and Customs. In the words of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, it will “ensure the legitimate passage of people and goods through our borders while preventing all illegal passage”.

Illustration: Andrew Dyson.

Illustration: Andrew Dyson.

Perhaps most controversially, the Australian Border Force Act includes new guidelines for how its staff must conduct themselves – with a heavy focus on secrecy. It says those “entrusted” within the Border Force regime – including doctors, teachers and social workers employed in detention centres – could face two years’ jail if they disclose confidential information.

Under the changes, which were supported by the Labor opposition, a professional who works in an immigration facility can speak out only if they have been given departmental approval.

What has been the response?

Doctors, nurses, teachers and contractors who work in immigration facilities expressed their outrage. In an open letter to Mr Abbott, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, more than 40 former detention centre workers challenged authorities to prosecute them for publicly discussing conditions in centres.

Mr Dutton responded that their claims were inaccurate, and that contractors would still be able to speak out about the conditions under the Public Interest Disclosure Act. That act says a public interest disclosure can be made only if a person believes that there is “substantial and imminent danger to health, safety or the environment”.

Mr Dutton says the controversial bit of the new border force act will protect “sensitive operational information from unauthorised disclosure”, but that it will not restrict anyone’s ability to raise genuine concerns about conditions in detention should they wish to do so through “appropriate channels”.

There has been no mention of what these appropriate channels could be, but the media is unlikely to make the cut.

via Sunday Explainer: what is a border force, and why does Australia need one?.


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