Head of state
Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Quentin Bryce
Head of government
Julia Gillard
Death penalty
abolitionist for all crimes
22.6 million
Life expectancy
81.9 years
Under-5 mortality
5.1 per 1,000

Australia continued to violate the rights of Indigenous Peoples, stripping essential services from Aboriginal homelands. Refugee policy favoured deterrence, with mandatory, indefinite and remote detention for asylum-seekers arriving by boat.

Indigenous Peoples’ rights

The government continued to limit funding for housing and municipal services such as water and sanitation to Aboriginal peoples living on traditional homelands in the Northern Territory. As a result, people were effectively forced to abandon their traditional homelands to access essential services.

An expert panel on the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians was due to provide recommendations to the Federal Parliament by December.

Justice system

Indigenous Peoples, while accounting for roughly 2.5 per cent of Australia’s population, comprised 26 per cent of the adult prison population. Half of all juveniles in detention were Aboriginal. A parliamentary committee report on Aboriginal youth and justice published in June showed a jump of 66 per cent in Aboriginal imprisonment rates between 2000 and 2009.

  • In September and October, security firm employees were fined for failing to prevent the death of Aboriginal elder Mr Ward, who collapsed from heatstroke in a prison van in 2008.
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Refugees and asylum-seekers

In July, the Australian and Malaysian governments agreed to swap 800 asylum-seekers who arrived by boat in Australia with 4,000 refugees (predominantly from Myanmar) who were in Malaysia awaiting resettlement.

  • 42 asylum-seekers (predominantly Afghans), including six unaccompanied boys, challenged their removal to Malaysia. In a landmark decision, the High Court ruled in August that the swap was invalid under Australia’s Migration Act. The Act prohibits Australia from deporting asylum-seekers to countries that do not have sufficient legal guarantees for refugee protection (see Malaysia entry).

As of November 5,733 people were in immigration detention, including 441 children. Thirty-eight per cent of the 5,733 had been detained for over 12 months. Increasing rates of suicide and self-harm, including by children as young as nine, were reported in nearly all detention centres. In July, the Commonwealth Ombudsman launched an investigation; the findings remained pending.

In September, the government introduced Complementary Protection laws that strengthened protection for people fleeing abuses – such as female genital mutilation, honour killings and the death penalty – which are not covered by the UN Refugee Convention.

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Violence against women and children

In February, the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children was endorsed by federal, state and territory governments.

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International scrutiny

In January, Australia’s human rights record was assessed for the first time under the UN Universal Periodic Review. Australia agreed to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and to consider ratifying ILO No. 169 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. However, it rejected: introducing a Human Rights Act; ending mandatory detention of asylum-seekers; allowing same-sex marriage; and compensating Indigenous People who were forcibly removed from their families when they were children.

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  • Amnesty International’s Secretary General visited Australia in October.