Australia 2016/2017

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Australia 2016/2017

The justice system continued to fail Indigenous people, particularly children, with high rates of incarceration, reports of abuse and deaths in custody. Australia maintained its hardline policies of confining people seeking asylum in offshore processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, and turning back those attempting to reach Australia by boat. Counter-terror measures violated basic human rights.

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

Indigenous children were 24 times more likely to be detained than non-Indigenous children. Despite the recommendation by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that the international minimum age of criminal responsibility should be 12, the age was 10 throughout Australia. Children aged 10 or 11 were detained in every state except Tasmania. Nearly three quarters of them were Indigenous children.

Contrary to Article 37(c) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 17-year-olds were tried as, and jailed with, adults in the state of Queensland. The Queensland government passed legislation to change this in November. In December, the Court of Appeal in Victoria found the detention of children in an adult prison to be unlawful and ordered their transfer to a youth justice facility. Instead, the Victorian government officially renamed part of the adult prison a youth facility.

Leaked footage exposed abuse and other ill-treatment of children in detention in the Northern Territory. Similar abuses were reported in Queensland.1 This led to the announcement of a Royal Commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory and an independent review in Queensland.

Indigenous adults were 15 times more likely to be jailed than non-Indigenous adults. At least five Indigenous people died in custody in various states and territories throughout the year.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

In April, the Papua New Guinea Supreme Court ruled that the detention of around 900 men held in the Australian-run facilities on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island was unlawful and ordered that they be closed immediately. No timeframe had been made public for the closure of the centres by either the Australian or Papua New Guinean governments by the end of the year (see Papua New Guinea entry).

As of 30 November, there were 383 people, of whom 44 were children, 49 women and 290 men, in an offshore processing centre on Nauru, where they continued to suffer neglect, ill-treatment and other abuse in a deliberate policy to deter asylum-seekers from trying to reach Australia by boat (see Nauru entry).2

Around 320 people taken to Australia for medical treatment remained at risk of being returned to either Nauru or Manus Island.

In November, the Australian government announced that some of the refugees detained on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, would be resettled in the US.

During the year, at least three boats carrying asylum-seekers were returned directly to Sri Lanka. In June a boat was returned to Viet Nam before the passengers’ claims for asylum had been adequately assessed. An unspecified number of boats were turned back to Indonesia.

Australia continued its policy of mandatory indefinite detention of asylum-seekers. As of 30 November, 1,414 people were held in onshore detention.

More than a year after Australia announced it would resettle an additional 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, nearly 8,400 refugees had arrived by December.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

Despite overwhelming support from the public, there was still no legislation on marriage equality. Under the current law, marriage is permissible only between a man and a woman.

Counter-terror and security

New counter-terror laws were proposed and passed. Among those proposed was a continuing detention order allowing for detention beyond expiry of sentence. Legislative changes allowed for children as young as 14 years old to be put under control orders, reduced from 16 years. Citizenship laws with the potential to make people stateless came into effect.

  1. Australia: Reforms to justice system essential to protect the rights of Indigenous youth (NWS 11/4730/2016)
  2. Australia: Appalling abuse, neglect of refugees on Nauru (NWS 11/4586/2016)

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Get the Amnesty International Report 2016/17