Human Rights in Australia

Amnesty International  Report 2013

The 2013 Annual Report on
Australia is now live »

Head of state Queen Elizabeth II, represented by
Quentin Bryce (replaced Michael Jeffery in

Head of government Kevin Rudd
Death penalty abolitionist for all crimes
Population 21 million
Life expectancy 80.9 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 6/5 per 1,000

The government apologized to the “Stolen Generations” of Indigenous Peoples who were removed from their families under government policy between 1910 and 1970. The Federal Race Discrimination Act remained suspended in the Northern Territory. A National Council to reduce violence against women and children was established. Temporary protection visas and mandatory detention were abolished but, in practice, asylum-seekers still faced detention.

"The government pledged to “close the gap” between Indigenous Peoples and other Australians..."

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

In February, the government made an historic apology to the “Stolen Generations” – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who as children were forcibly removed from their families. However, the government opposed compensation. The government pledged to “close the gap” between Indigenous Peoples and other Australians but opposed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In October, a government-appointed Review Board recommended changes to the previous government’s emergency response to protect children and make Aboriginal communities safe in the Northern Territory. The Board recommendations included increased engagement with Aboriginal communities, reinstatement of the Racial Discrimination Act and urgent action to address high levels of disadvantage and marginalization. The government agreed to reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act, but with a 12-month delay.

Violence against women

In May, the government established the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children. In August, the High Court of Australia upheld the conviction of a Melbourne brothel owner, the first person convicted under anti-slavery laws introduced in 1999.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

In August, the government finalized the abolition of Temporary Protection Visas for asylum-seekers.

In January, the government closed its offshore detention facility on the island nation of Nauru. In May, the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern that the detention facility on Christmas Island was still in use. Despite this, Australia began use of a new high security facility on the Island in December. 

In July, the government announced that asylum-seekers would be temporarily detained for identity, health and security checks, but only those who posed a risk to society would remain in detention. At the end of the year, this commitment had not been implemented.

Counter-terror and security

Australian law allowing pre-charge detention for terrorism suspects remained in force. The law remains incompatible with international law. However, in December the government agreed to reforms and established a National Security Legislation Monitor to review the operation of the legislation.

  • In October, Joseph “Jack” Thomas, the first person to be placed under a control order restricting movement, association and communication, was acquitted of terrorism-related offences after a retrial.
  • The control order imposed on former Guantánamo Bay detainee David Hicks ended in December.

Torture and other ill-treatment

The government announced its intention to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and to introduce laws explicitly prohibiting torture.

Legal, constitutional or institutional developments

In July, Australia ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In November, the government reformed legislation to remove discrimination against same-sex couples and their children, but did not include legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Amnesty International reports

Setting the standard: International good practice to inform an Australian national plan of action to eliminate violence against women (Amnesty International Australia, 2008)