Amnesty International Report 2014/15 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Australia

Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Sir Peter Cosgrove (replaced Quentin Bryce in March)
Head of government: Tony Abbott

Australia’s hard-line approach to asylum-seekers continued, with those arriving by boat either sent back to their country of departure, transferred to offshore immigration detention centres, or detained in Australia. Indigenous Peoples continued to be heavily over-represented in prisons despite comprising only a fraction of the population, with Indigenous youth being imprisoned at 25 times the rate of non-Indigenous youth. Regressive new legislation, introduced in the name of counter-terrorism and security, failed to protect the rights to privacy and freedoms of expression and movement.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Australia maintained its offshore processing policy, transferring anyone who arrived by boat after 19 July 2013 to Australian-run immigration detention centres on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island or Nauru. By 1 December 2014, approximately 2,040 asylum-seekers were detained in these centres, including 155 children on Nauru. Violence and possibly inadequate medical treatment resulted in the deaths of two asylum- seekers at the Australian-run immigration detention centre on Manus Island (see Papua New Guinea entry).

Australia continued to turn away boats containing asylum-seekers. By September, 12 boats with 383 people on board had been turned back at sea. An additional two boats were returned directly to Sri Lanka.

In October, the government introduced legislation to “fast track” the processing of over 24,000 asylum applications that had been suspended. The legislation removed a number of important safeguards and will allow people to be returned to other countries regardless of Australia’s non-refoulement obligations under international law.

Australia also maintained its mandatory detention policy for those arriving without valid visas. By 1 December, there were 3,176 individuals in detention centres in mainland Australia and on Christmas Island, including 556 children. In August, the government announced it would transfer the majority of children and their families from onshore detention centres to the community on bridging visas.

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

Due to the failure of successive governments to effectively address Indigenous disadvantage, Indigenous Peoples continued to be over-represented in prisons. They comprised 27.4% of adults and 57.2% of juveniles in prisons, despite accounting for just 2.3% of all adults and 5.5% of youth in the general population.

In August, a young Aboriginal woman died in police detention in Western Australia when she was returned to custody twice by the local hospital with serious internal injuries. She had been detained to pay a fine, a policy that disproportionately affects Indigenous Peoples.

Between September and December, the Western Australian government demolished the majority of buildings in the remote Aboriginal community of Oombulgurri following a 2011 forced eviction. Many remote communities across Australia were at risk following the Federal government’s decision in September to discontinue funding essential and municipal services.

Counter-terror and security

National laws were introduced broadening intelligence agency powers, monitoring online activity and preventing the reporting of unlawful conduct by members of those agencies. New laws criminalized travel to areas abroad designated by the government as places where a listed terrorist organization was engaged in “hostile activity”, while shifting the evidentiary burden on to the accused. The operation of controversial preventative detention and control orders were extended and an ill-defined offence of “advocating” terrorism introduced.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Australia had its fifth periodic review before the UN Committee against Torture in November. The Committee criticized Australia for continuing with its policies of mandatory detention and offshore processing of asylum-seekers. It also raised concerns about overcrowding in prisons and the disproportionately high rates of Indigenous incarceration. The Committee called on Australia to swiftly ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

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