Should healthcare providers boycott working in Australian asylum seeker detention?

Associate Professor Deborah Zion1, Professor Louise Newman2, Professor Linda Briskman3

1 Centre for Cultrual Diversity and Wellbeing and Office for Research, Victoria University, Victoria, 8001.
2 Director of the Centre for Women’s Mental Health at the Royal Women’s Hospital and Professor of Psychiatry, University of Melbourne, 3053.
3 Swinburne Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology, 3122.

Australian immigration detention has been identified as perpetuating ongoing human rights violations. Concern has been heightened by the assessment of clinicians involved and by the United Nations that this treatment may in fact constitute torture.  On this basis there has been increasing discussion as to whether or not healthcare providers should continue to work in detention, especially under the employ of the prison providers, and the Department of Immigration. In essence such employment has been described as a “dual loyalty” conflict, where the care of the patient is in conflict with the demands of the employer and the state.

The question then remains: What are morally acceptable roles for healthcare providers in the current asylum system, and is there any role for health care providers in detention? If so, what might that be?

In order to answer these questions, we will present short papers on the meaning of boycotts, the role of witnessing and dual loyalty conflict. We will then draw on the experience of those who have worked in the detention setting to try and resolve these questions.


Associate Professor Deborah Zion IS the Chair of the HREC at Victoria University, and an adjunct fellow at the Centre for Cultural Diversity and well being. She is a Eureka Prize finalist, and has for many years, been engaged in research concerning ethics, healthcare and asylum.

About the Association

The Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law (AABHL) was formed in 2009.

It encourages open discussion and debate on a range of bioethical issues, providing a place where people can ask difficult questions about ideas and practices associated with health and illness, biomedical research and human values.

The AABHL seeks to foster a distinctive Australasian voice in bioethics, and provide opportunities for international engagement through its membership, journal and conferences.

Members come from all the contributing humanities, social science and science disciplines that make up contemporary bioethics.

Many members have cross-disciplinary interests and all seek to broaden the dialogues in which all members of the wider community ultimately have an interest.

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