Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Australian Border Force Amendment (Protected Information) Bill 2017

Save this webpage as PDF

Proposed changes to the secrecy provisions for employees of the Australian Border Force would have a continued chilling effect on the disclosure of any information about immigration and border control, according to a Senate submission by members of the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law.

The Senate Standing Committee on Legal & Constitutional Affairs is reviewing the Border Force Amendment (Protected Information) Bill 2017.

The bill aims to narrow the definition what is ‘protected information’ for those working in immigration and border protection. The Australian Border Force Act (2015) made it an offence, punishable by two years in jail, for health workers, teachers, lawyers, social workers, security guards and others to disclose information about their work in Australia’s detention system. The rules drew criticism nationally and internationally, as well as legal action including an ongoing High Court challenge. The government has since made exemptions for health professionals.

The proposed amendments now before the committee “represent a lesser encroachment on free speech” than the Border Force Act in its current form, the Kaldor Centre submission says, and as such they are “a step in the right direction”.

However, the submission cites three overarching concerns: 

  1. The Bill goes beyond what is proportionate to achieving its stated goal of preventing harm to the national or public interest. 
  2. The operation of the changes proposed in the Bill lacks sufficient clarity. (
  3. Those two factors, combined with the fact that committing conduct constituting an offence under the Act carries a penalty of two years’ imprisonment, are likely to have a chilling effect on disclosure of information pertaining to immigration and border protection.

Also, constitutional questions about whether the provisions infringe the implied freedom of political communication would remain under the amended bill, the Centre’s submission notes.

Read the full submission.