"Doctors For Refugees undertake a large amount of lobbying and advocacy. The aim is to create a system that fairly and humanely processes asylum seekers and refugees. This may be at an individual refugee case level or involve challenging government systems that are seen to be in some way negatively effecting the humane treatment of asylum seekers and refugees.
The following is an example of this aspect of Doctors For Refugees' work in action.
"Border Force Act (BFA) Challenge
In July 2016, Doctors for Refugees launched a High Court challenge to the Australian federal government’s Border Force Act 2015 (ABFA 2015) that gags them from speaking out publicly about the welfare of refugees and asylum seekers in detention. Convenor Dr Barri Phatarfod said the current legislation potentially criminalised the actions of clinicians who are simply seeking to advance their patients’ interests. "Doctors are obliged to put their patient’s interests above all other interests, and to advocate for public health,” she said. The action was filed after 12 months of fruitless discussion with peak medical bodies including the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the government. ” Under the Act, doctors, nurses and other “entrusted persons” working in Australia’s detention camps (on and offshore) are faced with the threat of two years’ imprisonment if they speak out about treatment and conditions. In October 2016, just days before the federal government was due to respond to the High Court, it amended the ABFA 2015 to exempt health professionals including doctors, nurses, midwives, psychologists and others.
Dr Barri Phatarfod said the decision was a “huge win for doctors and recognition that our code of ethics is paramount”. However, she was concerned that the back down did not cover other workers. “Amnesty International this week released a report on the conditions on Nauru, and some of the strongest testimony comes from former workers who still fall under this law. Social workers, teachers and other guardians are not part of the Health Professionals exemption." Dr Phatarfod said the change also “only allows us to speak for our patients – it doesn’t change the appalling lack of care they often seem to receive”.
The doctors’ challenge to the Border Force Act was brought by Fitzroy Legal Centre, and solicitor Meghan Fitzgerald said the changes were “a welcome, if reluctant, move to transparency”. “The conditions in which asylum seekers and refugees live - including pregnant women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities - and the medical treatment they do or do not receive, are not matters of national security,” she said. “Operating detention centres without media access, and under laws where communications to the outside world are criminalised, not because of their content, but simply because they are made, is not symptomatic of a democratic culture.” “Whether there is active TB in the detention camps, or young children are being assaulted by guards are issues that we as Australians should know about. The government is elected by the people, and we are entitled to know what is done in our name, as opposed to being forced into complicity through laws that blind us.” Dr Phatarfod said: "This confirms the power of individuals to help change laws that are simply wrong. The mass protests by health professionals around the country in the last few years demonstrates the strong opposition to this anti-democratic legislation and must be credited with helping bring about this change of heart," she said.
Doctors for Refugees is continuing the High Court challenge to ensure all individuals who have or will speak out are protected from prosecution."
**We are also going to add a section on the current senate enquiry. Ai-Lene is going to send this through to me shortly.