Detention centre child abuse secrecy law alarm grows

TEACHERS, doctors and social workers have joined a growing chorus of criticism about new laws that put offshore detention centre staff at risk of two years in jail if they speak up about child abuse.

The federal laws, which came into effect on Wednesday, could be applied to Commonwealth government staff and subcontractors who publicly reveal details about conditions inside detention centres.

The Abbott government had previously rejected an Australian Human Rights Commission call for a Royal Commission into child abuse in Nauru.

The Australian Education Union, Australian Medical Students' Association and Australian Medical Association all expressed concerns about the effect of the new laws on whistleblowers.

AEU national president Correna Haythorpe said children's welfare must take priority over secrecy, and teachers in the detention network needed to be free to report their suspicions of abuse without facing the threat of a jail term.

More than 40 social workers, nurses and humanitarian staff who have worked with asylum seekers have signed a letter calling for the government to prosecute them. The letter, published by the Guardian Australia, included details from 10 of the signatories about their specific experiences working inside the detention centre network.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the laws would "not restrict anyone's ability to raise genuine concerns ... should they wish to do so through appropriate channels".

One of the regulations for the laws makes it an offence to disclose "documents and information about the provision of services to persons who are not Australian citizens".

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