A group of Australian health professionals has written an open letter to the Australian government about conditions on Nauru on the same day a law forbidding such discussions comes into effect.
The letter, signed by over 40 medical practitioners and teachers who have worked in the immigration detention system, is addressed to prime minister Tony Abbott, immigration minister Peter Dutton and opposition leader Bill Shorten.
The Australian Border Force Bill 2015 contains provisions for the prosecution of "entrusted people" who disclose "protected information." Anyone found to have violated the new rules could be jailed for up to two years.
In sending the open letter, the signatories acknowledged that they could be jailed for doing so and dared the government to charge them "so that these issues may be discussed in open court and in the full view of the Australian public."
"If we witness child abuse in Australia we are legally obliged to report it to child protection authorities," the letter states.
"If we witness child abuse in detention centres, we can go to prison for attempting to advocate for them effectively. Internal reporting mechanisms such as they are have failed to remove children from detention; a situation that is itself recognised as a form of systematic child abuse."
"There are currently many issues which constitute a serious threat to the health of those in detention for whom we have a duty of care. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection is aware of these problems and has for years failed to address them adequately."
The man who wrote the letter, Dr John-Paul Sanggaran, told BuzzFeed News he did it to raise awareness of the systemic abuses within Australia's immigration detention system.
Dr Sanggaran said he hopes his letter prompts a national conversation around what is happening in Australian detention centres.
"We've had 10 years of people speaking out about what's happening within immigration detention," he said. "We know there are ongoing human rights abuses. The system as it currently stands is recognised by multiple peak medical bodies as a form of child abuse."
Dr Sanggaran, who worked on Christmas Island in 2013, cited the Moss Review, which in March this year detailed horrific instances of rape, self-harm and child abuse on Nauru.
"It's well beyond question that there are problems within immigration detention healthcare and immigration detention full stop," he said.
Dr Sanggaran has also started a petition calling on the government to ratify the UN's Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
"It is much harder to torture and abuse people when you are being watched," he says.
The new head of the Border Force, Roman Quaedvlieg, today described concerns over the secrecy provisions as "over-interpreted."
However, Quaedvlieg stuck to the government's previous line about discussing "operational matters" in public.
"Operational security is paramount to conducting effective strategic and tactical operations... I don't intend to stray from the current position in relation to operational security in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders," he said at the launch of the Border Force on Wednesday.
The immigration minister also hit out at claims that speaking out about abuse on Nauru could land people in jail, saying the laws are no different to those which apply to the Australian Federal Police and and the Defence Force.
"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," Mr Dutton said today.
Prominent human rights lawyer Julian Burnside today said the government would be foolish to prosecute medical professionals for speaking up about abuse.
"At the centre of the case, will be evidence that made the person believe that there was a threat to the life or health of a person in detention," he told Lawyers Weekly.
"I take some solace in that," Dr Sanggaran told BuzzFeed News.
Rob Stott is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Rob Stott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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