Australia
Head of state
Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Quentyn Bryce)
Head of government
Julia Gillard

Despite the establishment of a federal human rights committee to consider all new bills before Parliament, laws were passed restricting the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Northern Territory and reintroducing a policy of offshore processing where asylum-seekers arriving by boat are sent to Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

Background

The government announced that it would ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture in January 2011. However, it had not done so by the end of the year. A parliamentary human rights scrutiny committee was established in March to consider all new bills, and ensure that they included a statement of human rights compatibility.

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Indigenous Peoples’ rights

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth continued to be over-represented in Australia’s criminal justice system. Indigenous youth accounted for 59% of the national juvenile detention rates while Indigenous Peoples as a whole only made up 2% of the total population. Australia maintained its reservation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, allowing states and territories to detain children in adult prisons.

  • In Victoria, a 16-year-old Aboriginal boy was held in an adult prison in solitary confinement for up to 22 hours per day from August to November.
  • In April, police opened fire on a suspected stolen vehicle occupied by Aboriginal youths in Kings Cross, Sydney. Two Aboriginal boys, one aged 14, were shot. An independent Ombudsman’s report into the incident had not been released by December.

In June, the Stronger Futures legislation, which extended laws contained in the controversial and discriminatory 2007 Northern Territory Intervention (a series of laws including welfare changes and law enforcement in Indigenous communities), was passed without genuine consultation or scrutiny by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. The legislation allows for far-reaching intervention into Indigenous Peoples’ lives in the Northern Territory.

In September, the government deferred the referendum on constitutional recognition of Australia’s Indigenous Peoples.

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Refugees and asylum-seekers

In August, legislation was passed reintroducing offshore processing of asylum-seekers. Australia’s annual humanitarian intake was increased to 20,000 places in October.

Under new legislation introduced in November, asylum-seekers who arrived by boat would either be processed offshore or have fewer rights in Australia; those arriving by plane would not face such restrictions. As of 30 October, there were 7,633 asylum-seekers and refugees detained in Australia, including 797 children. More than 7,000 of these asylum-seekers were designated for offshore processing and had not started the refugee status determination process. In November, 63 refugees with negative security assessments remained in indefinite detention, including one girl and five boys.

  • As of 15 December, Australia was detaining 385 asylum-seekers, all men, on Nauru, and 47 asylum-seekers on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, including 16 children.
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