Refugees protest poor detention centre conditions on Australian-controlled Manus Island

Peaceful Assembly

During August 2017, refugees and asylum seekers on Australian-controlled Manus Island reportedly protested for several days against the conditions in the detention center. The authorities had cut off access to the water and electricity supply - a decision that according to reports, is part of a "broader campaign to forcibly relocate them to a new camp in Lorengau they say is unsafe".  

Over a year ago, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled that the Australian-controlled detention centre was illegal and ordered "both the PNG and Australian governments to immediately begin making arrangements to move people out of detention". However, refugees expressed concern over their safety in being transferred, as there were reports of attacks on refugees in the Lorengau township. 

The UN Refugee Agency issued a statement recommending that: 

"To prevent further tragedies and an escalation of the crisis, the planned closure of the Manus Island ‘Regional Processing Centre’ must only take place in the context of continued critical services, and in line with Australia’s ongoing responsibility for the refugees and asylum-seekers it has transferred to Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Any further reduction of fundamental support for refugees and asylum-seekers transferred by Australia to Papua New Guinea would add to the serious health and security risks of people who have been in detention over the last four years".

Association

A debate arose in Australia over proposed legislation that allegedly will "stop union mergers". According to reports, the government's proposal will task Australia’s Fair Work Commission with applying a "public-interest" test for union mergers. In a statement, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) regarded the proposed bill as an "Orwellian affront to democracy" and a violation of "International Labour Organisation conventions on Freedom of Association." ACTU further stated:  

"In respect of the so called ‘public interest test’, the Bill does not even pretend to be about protecting union members’ interests or guaranteeing the democratic functioning of organisations, but instead it cites ill-defined economic justifications for overriding member’s democratic rights". 

Expression

In August 2017, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) updated the social media guidelines for public servants. The guidelines stated the following as "risk factors": criticising "the work, or the administration, of your agency, the Minister or your previous agencies" and even liking a post on social media could "generally be taken to be an endorsement of that material as though you’d created that material yourself". Regarding anonymity, the APSC guides express that "[i]t is simply common sense to assume that anything you write or post can be linked to you and your employer—whether you intend it or not". 

Althought the rules sparked some debate over freedom of expression, APSC stated that: 

"The common law recognises an individual right to freedom of expression. This right is subject to limitations such as those imposed by the Public Service Act. In effect, the Code of Conduct operates to limit this right". 

In a separate incident in early September, a Christian teenager’s business contract with Capital Kids Parties was reportedly terminated due to her views expressed online in regards to the same-sex marriage postal survey. Madlin Sims, owner of Capital Kids Parties, posted on Facebook that she had “fired a staff member” because they “made it public knowledge that it’s okay to vote no” on the same-sex marriage postal survey. A debate has ensured over whether or not the company violated labour law. MPs on both sides of the political spectrum argued that nobody should lose their job over how they voted in the survey. 

In regards to the case, workplace law expert, Tim Lyons, stated to The Guardian that: 

“As long as the expression of your views isn’t threatening people in the workplace ... and is not hate speech, then clearly you’ve got a right to your views”.