Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1988

Australia is a long established, multiparty, parliamentary
democracy operating within a federal system of government.
Federal elections were held in July 1987, and will be held
again before November 21, 1990.
Federal, state, and local police in Australia act in
conformity with civil law, which respects and safeguards
individual human rights. Civil law is observed in practice.
Australia's developed economy, with important mining and
agricultural sectors, provides most Australians with a high
per capita income. Furthermore, the Government provides
assistance for the minority of relatively disadvantaged
citizens. Individuals are free to hold private property, to
pursue their economic and personal interests, to associate
with others, and to organize trade unions.
Australia has been in the forefront of those countries
promoting human rights both domestically and internationally.
Fundamental human rights are assured by law and respected in
Protection of the rights of Australia's Aboriginals
(approximately 200,000, or about one-and-one-quarter percent
of the nation's population) is a demonstrated concern of the
Government, which recognizes that they are now and have been
in the past the group most economically and socially
disadvantaged. As Australia celebrated its 1988 bicentennial
of European settlement, public attention to Aboriginal
concerns increased. The Government continues to favor a more
formal delineation (proposed in 1987) of Aboriginal rights
than currently exists, and has approved tribal consultations
aimed at producing a "compact" or "treaty" with the
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political Killing
Killing for political motives by the Government or by
Australian political organizations does not occur.
      b. Disappearance
There have been no instances of political disappearances.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Australian law prohibits all these practices, and this
prohibition is respected.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Australian law prohibits arbitrary arrest and imprisonment.
This prohibition is respected.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Australian law provides for the right to both a fair hearing
and a fair public trial with an unimpeded right of counsel.
Free counsel is provided to indigents accused of crimes.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Under Australian law and in practice, no search may be
conducted without a judicially issued warrant. Australia is a
nation of liberal political traditions and common law, and the
Government does not interfere with the privacy of family,
home, or correspondence.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
A functioning democratic political system, an effective
judiciary, and a large, diverse, and independent press combine
to ensure freedom of speech and of the press.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Although Australia does not have a bill of rights, it is a
signatory to the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, which provides for freedom of assembly and
expression. These freedoms are respected in practice.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Australians have complete freedom of religion. A provision in
the Constitution precludes the adoption of an official state
religion. Australians also maintain numerous links with
coreligionists abroad.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There are no restrictions on movement within or outside of
Australia, including the right of emigration and repatriation.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Australians participate in their government by electing a
two-chamber Federal Parliament as well as numerous state and
local bodies. Voting is compulsory in general elections for
Australians 18 years of age and over; eligible voters who do
not vote may be fined.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
It is the Government's policy to respond to any communication
from the United Nations alleging violations of human rights in
Australia. The Government also allows unimpeded access to all
international and nongovernmental groups investigating alleged
human rights violations.
Internationally, Australia has been active in promoting human
rights in the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations and
in other forums.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
By law, Australia's people have equal access to government
services without reference to race, sex, religion, language,
or social status. Basic food, shelter, health care,
education, and social security benefits are guaranteed for
all. The Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits
discrimination on grounds of race, color, descent, or national
or ethnic origin.
However, Aboriginal groups and others claim that the
Aboriginals suffer widespread discrimination. The Government
acknowledges that the Aboriginal population is the most
disadvantaged group in such areas as education, housing,
health, and employment. In addition to the broad range of
programs available to all Australians, the Government provides
services specifically aimed at improving Aboriginal socioeconomic
conditions. In 1987 the Government created a Royal
Commission to investigate Aboriginal cell deaths, some 53 of
which were estimated at that time to have occurred since
1980. Since the Commission's creation, the number of alleged
cell deaths has grown to more than 100, and the Commission
continues to take testimony.
Aboriginal land rights remain a controversial issue. The
present Federal Government is committed to some form of land
rights legislation, preferably implemented by the states.
However, prospects for the enactment of such legislation at
any level of government appear remote over the short term.
The Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 prohibits discrimination on
the basis of sex, marital status, or pregnancy. Women
constitute 40.17 percent of the Australian work force.
Although women are beginning to enter jobs previously occupied
only by men, they remain concentrated in a narrow range of
occupations predominantly occupied by females and
characterized by relatively low pay and status. In 1985 the
Government passed affirmative action legislation obliging
employers to take corrective action where there is
underrepresentation of women employees.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Australian law and practice afford workers great freedom to
establish and to join trade unions, to choose their union
representatives, and to formulate union programs. These
rights of association include the right of Australian unions
to associate with their counterparts in other nations and to
participate in international labor organizations. Unions are
extremely active and powerful, representing over half of the
work force. Australian workers have the right to strike.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Australian workers are granted the right, by law and in
practice, to organize and bargain collectively and to be
represented in negotiating the prevention and settlement of
disputes with employers. These rights are enforced equally
throughout the country. Industrial disputes are arbitrated by
a system of federal and state industrial courts, in which
trade unions receive a full and fair hearing. The rights of
trade union officials are fully protected in both law and
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Australia has ratified and fully respects International Labor
Organization (ILO) Convention 105 concerning forced labor.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Australia has ratified and fully respects the following ILO
conventions concerning minimum age for employment: Convention
7 (minimum age); Convention 10 (minimum age for agricultural
workers); Convention 15 (minimum age for trimmers and
stokers); Convention 112 (minimum age for fishermen); and
Convention 123 (minimum age for underground workers) . In
addition, federal and state ministries of labor monitor and
enforce a complicated network of legislation (which often
varies from state to state) governing such interactive factors
as minimum school-leaving age, minimum age to claim
unemployment benefits, and minimum age to engage in specified
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Australia has long had a tradition that workers should be
guaranteed a decent standard of living. Australia does not
have a minimum wage. Instead, differing minimum wage rates
for individual trades and professions are embodied in a
comprehensive system of discrete "awards" sanctioned by
various state and federal commissions. The benchmark minimum
wage is traditionally taken from the federal metal industry
award, and is currently the equivalent of US$141 per week.
Combined with other regularly provided benefits and government
entitlements for low-income families, this wage provides a
decent standard of living. In addition, a complex body of
regulations and commission decisions prescribes the 40-hour
(often 38-hour) week, paid vacations and sick leave, and
health and safety standards in the workplace, as well as other
benefits for the overwhelming majority of Australian workers.
Compliance with these and other regulations, such as minimum
age of employment, is actively monitored and enforced by
federal and state ministries of labor.