Head of state
Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Quentin Bryce
Head of government
Julia Gillard (replaced Kevin Rudd in June)
Death penalty
abolitionist for all crimes
21.5 million
Life expectancy
81.9 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f)
6/5 per 1,000

The government reinstated the Racial Discrimination Act but only partially restored protection of human rights. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD Committee) criticized the government for the continued discrimination against Indigenous Peoples and the high level of disadvantage they faced. The government temporarily suspended processing asylum claims for Sri Lankans and Afghans, but committed to releasing a number of children and families from immigration detention.

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

In June, the Federal Government reinstated the Racial Discrimination Act. The Act had been suspended in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities since 2007 when the government launched the Northern Territory intervention in response to a report citing high levels of sexual abuse. Aboriginal people were subjected to racially discriminatory measures, including compulsory income management. However, the reinstatement only partially restored human rights protection and did not provide remedies for ongoing discrimination or avenues of redress for damage suffered.

In August, Australia appeared before the CERD Committee. Key concerns of the Committee were the lack of protection against racial discrimination in the Australian Constitution, the partial reinstatement of human rights protection, disproportionate imprisonment rates for Indigenous people and continued Indigenous deaths in custody.

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Refugees and asylum-seekers

In April, the government suspended asylum applications for Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals for three and six months respectively.

In June, the government reopened the controversial Curtin detention centre and detained some families in the remote mining town of Leonora in Western Australia.

In September, the Minister for Immigration announced plans to detain 300 asylum-seekers on an air force base at Weipa in the far north of Queensland.

  • Three Sri Lankan asylum-seekers who had been forcibly returned to Sri Lanka from Australia were subsequently arrested and tortured.

Mandatory, indefinite detention, coupled with poor conditions in some detention facilities, put a large number of detained asylum-seekers at risk of self-harm and mental illness.

In October, the government committed to releasing several hundred children and families held under Australia’s mandatory detention regime. However, the government announced it would establish two new centres to increase Australia’s detention capacity by 1,200 places, many of which were intended for children and families.

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Violence against women and girls

In September, the government released a draft of its National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.

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Legal, constitutional or institutional developments

In April, laws were introduced that created a specific torture offence and ensured that the death penalty could not be reintroduced anywhere in Australia.

  • In October, a young couple facing criminal charges in the state of Queensland for self-procuring an abortion were acquitted. This highlighted inconsistencies in abortion laws across state jurisdictions and the need to regulate abortion under health legislation.

A Federal Human Rights Act was recommended by a government-appointed committee after widespread public consultation. However, the government did not adopt the recommendation.

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Human rights by region

World regions Midde East and North Africa Asia Pacific Europe and Central Asia Africa Americas


A number of countries in Africa celebrated the 50th anniversary of their independence during the year while others prep ...


In the Americas many human rights have been recognized in law, if not always in practice, over the past 50 years. Whi ...

Asia Pacific

In a region with almost two thirds of the world’s population, stretching a third of the way around the planet, ...

Europe & Central Asia

The right to truth and justice, and the determination of victims and their relatives to achieve this how ...

Middle East and North Africa

2010 dawned with Yemen an unusual focus of international attention following an alleged terrorist ...

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