The justice system continued to fail Indigenous people, particularly children, with high rates of incarceration, reports of abuse and deaths in custody. Australia maintained hardline policies by confining people seeking asylum in offshore processing centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, and turning back those attempting to reach Australia by boat. In October, Australia was elected to the UN Human Rights Council, attracting calls for improvement of its human rights record, including cutting all ties to the Myanmar military.
Indigenous peoples’ rights
Indigenous children were 25 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous children.
Leaked footage exposed abuses of children in prison in the Northern Territory, including tear gassing, restraints, choking and solitary confinement. In response, a Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was established and reported on 17 November.
An independent review of youth detention centres in Queensland released in April found abuses including solitary confinement, use of dogs to intimidate, missing CCTV footage, and children at risk of self-harm being sedated and hogtied. Further alleged abuses emerged in Victoria, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia.
Indigenous adults were 15 times more likely to be jailed than non-Indigenous adults. At least eight Indigenous people died in police custody.
The government did not adopt a national plan to ensure Australia meets its obligations in protecting the rights of Indigenous children. However, on 15 December, it ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which mandates that youth detention centres and police lockups are subject to independent oversight and monitoring.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
On 9 April, the government announced that the Australian-run facility on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea (PNG), would be closed by 31 October following the PNG Supreme Court ruling in 2016 that the centre was “illegal” and “unconstitutional”. On 14 April, PNG Defence Force personnel fired into the centre injuring nine people.
The men in detention were forcibly moved into “transit” centres on Manus Island on 24 November. By the end of the year there was no clear plan for the settlement of refugees in a safe country.
As of December there were approximately 800 adult males in detention on Manus Island (see Papua New Guinea entry).
The Australian government was forced to pay a settlement in June to nearly 2,000 refugees and asylum-seekers held on Manus Island, for illegally detaining them in horrific conditions between 2012 and 2016.
As of 30 November, there were 339 people living in the offshore processing facility on Nauru, including 36 children. They were subjected to humiliation, neglect, abuse and poor physical and mental health care. At least 820 additional refugees lived in the community on Nauru; these people faced serious security risks and inadequate access to health care, education and employment.
Approximately 435 people transferred to Australia for medical treatment remained at risk of return to either Nauru or Manus Island.
Australia continued its “turnback” policy. In May the government reported that since 2013, 30 boats had been returned either to Indonesia or to their country of departure. During 2017 people were directly returned to their country of nationality on three known occasions: from a boat containing 25 Sri Lankan nationals in March; five Chinese nationals who landed in northern Australia in August; and a boat containing 29 Sri Lankan nationals in December.
Australia continued its policy of mandatory indefinite detention of people arriving by plane without a visa. As of 30 November, there were 1,301 people in immigration detention onshore (including on Christmas Island). Of these, 19.8% had been detained for over 730 days.
Australia’s resettlement and humanitarian intake was 16,250 for its financial year beginning in June. This decreased from almost 22,000 for the previous financial year, with an additional intake of Syrian and Iraqi refugees ending.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people
Following an overwhelming vote in favour of same-sex marriage, Parliament passed legislation to create marriage equality in December. The postal survey process chosen by the government failed to acknowledge that marriage equality is a human right and generated divisive and damaging public debate.