23 Sep 2016

Australia fails in UN co-operation report

3:42 pm on 23 September 2016

Secrecy surrounding Australia's off-shore immigration detention centres has sparked concern at the United Nations Human Rights Council as Australia bids for a Council seat.

A meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

A meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo: AFP

A Secretary-General's report on UN co-operation listed Australia as a country potentially intimidating people from speaking out about human rights abuses to UN workers.

Last year, a UN migrant expert cancelled a visit to Australia because of the Border Force Act.

Under the Act, releasing protected information about detention centres is punishable with up to two years in jail.

The Human Rights Law Centre's director of advocacy and research Emily Howie said the Border Force Act only contributed to covering up detention centre abuse.

"It is absolutely essential that these kind of abuses come to light. But the Border Force provisions actually are buttressing what is already an incredibly harmful system."

A number of human rights NGOs accuse Australia of ignoring a wide range of rights abuses against asylum seekers and refugees at the Australia's offshore processing centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

The Manus regional processing centre, where around 900 men are held, was found by PNG's Supreme Court in April to be illegal - PNG and Australian governments say they are working to close the centre.

Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton however told a global summit on refugees in New York this month that his government's border protection policies and handling of refugees were world-leading.

Yet Canberra has been criticised for a lack of transparency at the Nauru centre by its the chairman of its own advisory council on asylum-seekers.

Paris Aristotle called for greater media access to Nauru where local authorities charge a non-refundable visa application fee for journalists of $US6,000.