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Human rights in Australia

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Human rights in Australia

Human rights in Australia have largely been developed under Australian Parliamentary democracy, and safeguarded by such institutions as the Australian Human Rights Commission and an independent judiciary and High Court who apply the Common Law, the Australian Constitution and various other laws of Australia and its states and territories. Universal voting rights and rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination are protected in Australia. As a founding member of the United Nations, Australia assisted in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it is signatory to various other international treaties on the subject of Human Rights. Australia is the only democratic country in the world without a national bill of rights of some kind.[1]

Contemporary Australia is a liberal democracy and heir to a large post-World War II multicultural programme of immigration in which forms of racial discrimination have been prohibited. As a former British Colony, Australia's historical approach to Human Rights has been subject to the inheritance of its Colonial past – thus notions of the rights and processes established by the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights 1689 were brought to Australia by British colonists. By the 1850s, Australia had become a laboratory for Western democracy: Australian colonies were among the first political entities in the world to grant male (1850s) and female suffrage (1890s) and old age pensions and a minimum wage were established around the turn of the century. Capital punishment in Australia has been formally abolished. Vestigial laws discriminating against Aboriginal Australians were eradicated in the 1960s, and major recognitions of injustice towards Aboriginal Australia have been offered by Australian governments and courts throughout recent decades.


  • Australian Constitution 1
  • Australian Human Rights Commission 2
  • Voting rights 3
    • Men 3.1
    • Women 3.2
    • Indigenous Australians 3.3
  • Capital punishment abolished 4
  • Indigenous Australians 5
    • Colonial conflict and dispossession (1790s-1930s) 5.1
    • Restoration and recognition of political and land rights 5.2
    • Stolen generations 5.3
    • Northern Territory Emergency Response 5.4
    • Health 5.5
    • Life Expectancy 5.6
  • Immigration and asylum seekers 6
    • White Australia policy (c.1890s to 1960s) 6.1
    • Assistance to refugees 6.2
    • Mandatory detention 6.3
    • Suspension of Asylum Claims: Sri Lanka and Afghanistan 6.4
    • National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 6.5
  • Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and relationship recognition 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Australian Constitution

The Australian Constitution took effect on 1 January 1901. It includes details on the composition, powers and processes of the Australian Parliament and how federal and state Parliaments share power within Australia. It contains several express and implied protections of human rights – though it does not contain a Bill of Right as contained in the United States Constitution. It can only be altered by referendum.[2] Civil and political rights and liberties expressly provided by the Constitution are: ss 41 (right to vote), 80 (right to jury trial for indictable offences), 116 (freedom of religion) and 117 (freedom from discrimination on the basis of State residence). Economic rights provisions are s 92, which protects freedom of interstate trade, commerce and intercourse; s 51(xxiiiA), which prohibits civil conscription in relation to medical and dental services; and s 51(xxxi), which empowers the Commonwealth government to acquire property "on just terms".[3]

Since 1992 decisions of the High Court of Australia have held that there is a further "implied restriction" on the exercise of government power within the Constitution such that executive and legislative power may not unduly impede communication on matters concerning politics and government (known as the "implied restriction regarding political communication").[4]

Australian Human Rights Commission

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) (previously known as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) is a national independent statutory body of the Australian government. It has responsibility for the investigation of alleged infringements under Australia’s anti-discrimination legislation.

Matters that can be investigated by the Commission include "discrimination on the grounds of age, race, colour or ethnic origin, racial vilification, sex, sexual harassment, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status, actual or potential pregnancy, breastfeeding or disability."

Voting rights

The New South Wales Parliament is Australia's oldest parliament. First elections were held in 1843.

Decades before most other Western nations Australians achieved voting rights. Britain's Australian colonies granted male suffrage from the 1850s and in 1895 the women of South Australia achieved the right to both vote and stand for Parliament, enabling Catherine Helen Spence to be the first to stand as a political candidate in 1897.[5] The Australian colonies federated as the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 and the Franchise Act of 1902, granted the right to vote to men and women.[6] However, the Act also restricted votes for 'natives' unless they were already enrolled. These restrictions were unevenly applied and were relaxed after World War II, with full rights restored by the Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1962.[7] Senator Neville Bonner became the first Aboriginal Australian to sit in the federal Parliament in 1971. Julia Gillard became the first female Prime Minister of Australia in 2010.

Though the various parliaments of Australia have been constantly evolving, the key foundations for elected parliamentary government have maintained an historical continuity in Australia from the 1850s into the 21st century.


Traditional Aboriginal society had been governed by councils of elders and a corporate decision making process, but the first European-style governments established after 1788 were autocratic and run by appointed governors - although English law was transplanted into the Australian colonies by virtue of the doctrine of reception, thus notions of the rights and processes established by the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights 1689 were brought from Britain by the colonists. Agitation for representative government began soon after the settlement of the colonies.[8]

Boyle Travers Finniss became the first Premier of South Australia in 1856 - and the first leader of an Australian colonial parliament elected by universal male suffrage.

The oldest legislative body in Australia, the New South Wales Legislative Council, was created in 1825 as an appointed body to advise the Governor of New South Wales. William Wentworth established the Australian Patriotic Association (Australia's first political party) in 1835 to demand democratic government for New South Wales. The reformist attorney general, John Plunkett, sought to apply Enlightenment principles to governance in the colony, pursuing the establishment of equality before the law, first by extending jury rights to emancipists, then by extendeding legal protections to convicts, assigned servants and Aborigines. Plunkett twice charged the colonist perpetrators of the Myall Creek massacre of Aborigines with murder, resulting in a conviction and his landmark Church Act of 1836 disestablished the Church of England and established legal equality between Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians and later Methodists.[9]

In 1840, the Adelaide City Council and the Sydney City Council were established. Men who possessed 1000 pounds worth of property were able to stand for election and wealthy landowners were permitted up to four votes each in elections. Australia's first parliamentary elections were conducted for the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1843, again with voting rights (for males only) tied to property ownership or financial capacity. Voter rights were extended further in New South Wales in 1850 and elections for legislative councils were held in the colonies of Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.[10]

By the mid 19th century, there was a strong desire for representative and responsible government in the colonies of Australia, fed by the democratic spirit of the goldfields evident at the Eureka Stockade and the ideas of the great reform movements sweeping Europe, the United States and the British Empire. The end of convict transportation accelerated reform in the 1840s and 1850s. The Australian Colonies Government Act [1850] was a landmark development which granted representative constitutions to New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania and the colonies enthusiastically set about writing constitutions which produced democratically progressive parliaments - though the constitutions generally maintained the role of the colonial upper houses as representative of social and economic "interests" and all established Constitutional Monarchies with the British monarch as the symbolic head of state.[11]

In 1855, limited self-government was granted by London to New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania. An innovative secret ballot was introduced in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia in 1856, in which the government supplied voting paper containing the names of candidates and voters could select in private. This system was adopted around the world, becoming known as the "Australian Ballot". 1855 also saw the granting of the right to vote to all male British subjects 21 years or over in South Australia. This right was extended to Victoria in 1857 and New South Wales the following year. The other colonies followed until, in 1896, Tasmania became the last colony to grant universal male suffrage.[10]


South Australian suffragette Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910). South Australian women achieved the right to vote and stand for parliament in 1895.

The female descendants of the Bounty mutineers who lived on Pitcairn Islands could vote from 1838, and this right transferred with their resettlement to Norfolk Island (now an Australian external territory) in 1856.[12]

Propertied women in the colony of South Australia were granted the vote in local elections (but not parliamentary elections) in 1861. Henrietta Dugdale formed the first Australian women's suffrage society in Melbourne, Victoria in 1884. Women became eligible to vote for the Parliament of South Australia in 1894 and in 1897, Catherine Helen Spence became the first female political candidate for political office, unsuccessfully standing for election as a delegate to Federal Convention on Australian Federation. Western Australia granted voting rights to women in 1899.[13]

The first election for the Parliament of the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 was based on the electoral provisions of the six pre-existing colonies, so that women who had the vote and the right to stand for Parliament at state level had the same rights for the 1901 Australian Federal election. In 1902, the Commonwealth Parliament passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act, which enabled all women to vote and stand for election for the Federal Parliament. Four women stood for election in 1903.[14] The Act did, however, specifically exclude 'natives' from Commonwealth franchise unless already enrolled in a state. In 1949, The right to vote in federal elections was extended to all Indigenous people who had served in the armed forces, or were enrolled to vote in state elections (Queensland, Western Australian, and the Northern Territory still excluded indigenous women from voting rights). Remaining restrictions were abolished in 1962 by the Commonwealth Electoral Act.[14]

Edith Cowan was elected to the West Australian Legislative Assembly in 1921, the first woman elected to any Australian Parliament. Dame Enid Lyons, in the Australian House of Representatives and Senator Dorothy Tangney became the first women in the Federal Parliament in 1943. Lyons went on to be the first woman to hold a Cabinet post in the 1949 ministry of Robert Menzies. Rosemary Follett was elected Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory in 1989, becoming the first woman elected to lead a state or territory. By 2010, the people of Australia's oldest city, Sydney had female leaders occupying every major political office above them, with Clover Moore as Lord Mayor, Kristina Keneally as Premier of New South Wales, Marie Bashir as Governor of New South Wales, Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, Quentin Bryce as Governor General of Australia and Elizabeth II as Queen of Australia.

The dates for the other states of Australia are summarised below.

Right to Vote Right to stand
for Parliament
South Australia 1894 1894
Western Australia 1899 1920
Australia (Commonwealth) 1902 1902
New South Wales 1902 1918
Tasmania 1903 1921
Queensland 1905 1915
Victoria 1908 1923

Indigenous Australians

Indigenous Australians began to be enfranchised within Parliamentary systems of the Australian colonies during the 1850s, however the granting of voting rights was uneven and restricted altogether in some colonies (and later states). Vestigial legal discrimination against Indigenous voters was removed in the 1960s. The Menzies Government's Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1962 removed voting restrictions that remained for Aboriginal participation in Federal elections (which had earlier not been an automatic right, but one which depended on whether or not individual states allowed Aborigines to vote), and the Holt Government's 1967 referendum moved to include all Aborigines in the national census for the purposes of determining electoral distributions.

The Holt Government's Australian referendum, 1967 (Aboriginals)[15] - is often wrongly recalled as the year that the Aboriginal people of Australia gained the right to vote; however, this is an incorrect date. It was the Menzies Government's 1962 legislation which removed the restrictions on Aborigines from certain states from voting in Federal elections - however Aboriginal participation in colonial and Federal and state elections had been possible far earlier than this in a majority of states. When the state constitutions of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania were framed in the 1850s, voting rights were granted to all male British subjects over the age of 21, which included Aboriginal men, though participation was not encouraged as it was for others living in the colony. The Commonwealth Franchise Act, passed in 1902, had the effect of lessening the rights of Aborigines to vote. The Act gave women a vote in federal elections but Aboriginal people and people from Asia, Africa or the Pacific Islands (except for Māori) were excluded unless entitled under Section 41 of the Australian Constitution. Section 41 states that any individual who has gained a right to vote at a state level must also have the right to vote in federal elections. The Solicitor-General, Sir Robert Garran, interpreted it to mean that Commonwealth rights were granted only to people who were already State voters in 1902. What transpired was a situation where Aboriginals who had already enrolled to vote were able to continue to do so, whereas those who had not were denied the right. This interpretation was challenged in Victoria in 1924 by an Indian migrant, where the magistrate ruled that Section 2 meant that people who acquired State votes at any date were entitled to a Commonwealth vote. The Commonwealth government instead passed laws giving Indians the vote (There were only about 100 in Australia at the time), but continued to deny other non-white applicants.

Campaigns for indigenous rights in Australia gathered momentum from the 1930s. In 1938, with the participation of leading indigenous activists like First Fleet of British in Australia and launched its campaign for full citizenship rights for all Aborigines. In the 1940s, the conditions of life for Aborigines could be very poor. A permit system restricted movement and work opportunities for many Aboriginal people. In the 1950s, the government pursued a policy of "assimilation" which sought to achieve full citizenship rights for Aborigines but also wanted them to adopt the mode of life of other Australians (which very often was assumed to require suppression of cultural identity).[16]

In the 1960s, reflecting the strong Civil rights movements in the United States and South Africa, many changes in Aborigines’ rights and treatment followed, including removal of restrictions on full voting rights. The Menzies Government Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1962 confirmed the Commonwealth vote for all Aborigines. Western Australia gave them State votes in the same year, and Queensland followed in 1965.

The freedom rides into parts of Australia to expose discrimination and inequality. In 1966, the Gurindji people of Wave Hill station (owned by the Vestey Group) commenced strike action led by Vincent Lingiari in a quest for equal pay and recognition of land rights.[17]

Indigenous Australians began to take up representation in Australian parliaments during the 1970s. In 1971 Neville Bonner of the Liberal Party was appointed by the Queensland Parliament to replace a retiring senator, becoming the first Aborigine in Federal Parliament. Bonner was returned as a Senator at the 1972 election and remained until 1983. Hyacinth Tungutalum of the Country Liberal Party in the Northern Territory and Eric Deeral of the National Party of Queensland, became the first Indigenous people elected to territory and state legislatures in 1974. In 1976, Sir Douglas Nicholls was appointed Governor of South Australia, becoming the first Aborigine to hold vice-regal office in Australia. Aden Ridgeway of the Australian Democrats served as a senator during the 1990s, but no indigenous person was elected to the House of Representatives, until West Australian Liberal Ken Wyatt, in August 2010.[7]

Capital punishment abolished

The last use of the death penalty in Australia was in Victoria in 1967. Death Penalty Abolition Act 1973. The various states abolished capital punishment at various times, starting with Queensland in 1922 and ending with New South Wales in 1985.

Indigenous Australians

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy set up in Canberra by activist agitating for the rights of Indigenous Australians.

Indigenous Australians are the descendants of the mainland's Aboriginal peoples and the Torres Strait Islanders who occupied Australia prior to the arrival of British settlers in 1788. Their ancestors are thought to have arrived in Australia about 50,000 years ago. Though their continental population was never large, introduced disease and frontier conflict saw a decline in the indigenous population during the colonial period, though numbers have recovered and continued to increase in more recent times. Historically, many indigenous Australians were dispossessed without treaty nor compensation, and certain laws discriminated against them. In modern Australia, racial discrimination is illegal and indigenous people have access to certain welfare and land entitlements not accessible to non-indigenous Australians. Particularly in remote regions, standards of health and education among indigenous people are often lower than among the general population.

Colonial conflict and dispossession (1790s-1930s)

The navigator James Cook claimed the east coast of Australia for Britain in 1770, without conducting negotiations with the Indigenous Australians. The first Governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, was instructed explicitly to establish friendship and good relations with the Aborigines and interactions between the early newcomers and the ancient landowners varied considerably throughout the colonial period—from the mutual curiosity displayed by the early interlocutors Bennelong and Bungaree of Sydney, to the outright hostility of Pemulwuy and Windradyne of the Sydney region,[18] and Yagan around Perth. A combination of disease, loss of land (and thus food resources) and war reduced the Aboriginal population and the impact of Europeans was profoundly disruptive to Aboriginal life. Though the extent of violence is debated, there was conflict on the frontier. According to the historian Geoffrey Blainey, in Australia during the colonial period: "In a thousand isolated places there were occasional shootings and spearings. Even worse, smallpox, measles, influenza and other new diseases swept from one Aboriginal camp to another ... The main conqueror of Aborigines was to be disease and its ally, demoralisation".[19]

The British established a new outpost in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) in 1803. Although Tasmanian history is amongst the most contested by modern historians, conflict between colonists and Aborigines was referred to in some contemporary accounts as the Black War.[20] The combined effects of disease, dispossession, intermarriage and conflict saw a collapse of the Aboriginal population from a few thousand people when the British arrived, to a few hundred by the 1830s. Estimates of how many people were killed during the period begin at around 300, though verification of the true figure is now impossible.[21][22]

In 1838, at least twenty-eight Aborigines were killed at Myall Creek in New South Wales, resulting in the unprecedented conviction and hanging of seven white settlers by the colonial courts.[23] From the 1830s, colonial governments established the now controversial offices of the Protector of Aborigines in an effort to avoid mistreatment of Indigenous peoples and conduct government policy towards them. Christian churches in Australia sought to convert Aborigines, and were often used by government to carry out welfare and assimilation policies. Colonial churchmen such as Sydney's first Catholic archbishop, John Bede Polding strongly advocated for Aboriginal rights and dignity[24] and prominent Aboriginal activist Noel Pearson (born 1965), who was raised at a Lutheran mission in Cape York, has written that Christian missions throughout Australia's colonial history "provided a haven from the hell of life on the Australian frontier while at the same time facilitating colonisation".[25]

Fighting at Coniston in the Northern Territory in 1928 saw the last major battle on the 'frontier' of indigenous and non-indigenous Australia. The Caledon Bay crisis of 1932-4 saw one of the last incidents of frontier violence, which began when the spearing of Japanese poachers who had been molesting Yolngu women was followed by the killing of a policeman. As the crisis unfolded, national opinion swung behind the Aboriginal people involved, and the first appeal on behalf of an Indigenous Australian to the High Court of Australia was launched. Following the crisis, the anthropologist Donald Thompson was despatched by the government to live among the Yolngu.[26] Elsewhere around this time, activists like Sir Douglas Nicholls were commencing their campaigns for Aboriginal rights within the established Australian political system and the age of frontier conflict closed.

Restoration and recognition of political and land rights

Statue of Aboriginal rights campaigner Sir Doug Nicholls, Parliament Gardens, Fitzroy, Victoria
Lawyer and rights activist, Noel Pearson of Cape York.

In 1962, the Menzies Government's Commonwealth Electoral Act provided that all Indigenous Australians should have the right to enroll and vote at federal elections (prior to this, indigenous people in Queensland, Western Australia and some in the Northern Territory had been excluded from voting unless they were ex-servicemen).[27] The successor Holt Government called the 1967 Referendum which removed the discriminatory clause in the Australian Constitution which excluded Aboriginal Australians from being counted in the census - the referendum was one of the few to be overwhelmingly endorsed by the Australian electorate (over 90% voted 'yes').[28]

From the 1960s, Australian writers began to re-assess European assumptions about Aboriginal Australia - with works including Geoffrey Blainey's landmark history Triumph of the Nomads (1975) and the books of historian Henry Reynolds.

The Whitlam Labor and Fraser Liberal Governments instigated the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976, which, while limited to the Northern Territory, affirmed "inalienable" freehold title to some traditional lands.[29] In 1985, the Hawke Government returned ownership of Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) to the local Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal people. In 1992, the High Court of Australia handed down its decision in the Mabo Case, declaring the previous legal concept of terra nullius to be invalid. That same year, Prime Minister Paul Keating said in his Redfern Park Speech that European settlers were responsible for the difficulties Australian Aboriginal communities continued to face: ‘We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practiced discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice’. In 1999 Parliament passed a Motion of Reconciliation drafted by Prime Minister John Howard and Aboriginal Senator Aden Ridgeway naming mistreatment of Indigenous Australians as the most "blemished chapter in our national history".[30]

Prior to the calling of a 2007 federal election, the then Prime Minister, John Howard, revisited the idea of bringing a referendum to seek recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution (his government first sought to include recognition of Aboriginal peoples in the Preamble to the Constitution in a 1999 referendum). The Labor opposition initially supported the idea; however, Kevin Rudd withdrew this support just prior to the election.[31]

Notable contemporary indigenous rights campaigners have included: federal politicians Aden Ridgeway and Ken Wyatt, lawyer Noel Pearson; academic Marcia Langton; and Australians of the Year Lowitja O'Donoghue (1984), Mandawuy Yunupingu (1992), Cathy Freeman (1998) and Mick Dodson (2009).[32]

Stolen generations

'Stolen Generation' is the term controversially used to mean the Australian Aboriginal children who were removed from their families by Australian government agencies and church missions between approximately 1900 and 1972. The nature of the removals, their extent, and its effects on those removed, is a topic of considerable dispute and political debate within Australia.

According to a government inquiry on the topic, at least 30,000 children were removed from their parents and the figure may be substantially higher (the report notes that formal records of removals were very poorly kept). Percentage estimates were given that 10–30% of all Aboriginal children born during the seventy-year period were removed.

On 13 February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as well as the Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson, delivered an official apology on behalf of the Parliament of Australia to the Stolen Generations:

"For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry," To the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. "And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry."

Northern Territory Emergency Response

In 2007, Prime Minister John Howard and Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough launched the Northern Territory National Emergency Response. In response to the Little Children are Sacred Report into allegations of child abuse among indigenous communities in the Territory, the government banned alcohol in prescribed communities in the Northern Territory; quarantined a percentage of welfare payments for essential goods purchasing; despatched additional police and medical personnel to the region; and suspended the permit system for access to indigenous communities.[33] The policy was largely maintained under the Rudd and Gillard Governments.

The Intervention has been controversial. It was initially exempted from the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.[34] It entails restrictions on alcohol and kava, a ban on pornography, the compulsory acquisition of townships currently held under the title provisions of the Native Title Act 1993 through five-year leases with compensation on a basis other than just terms. (The number of settlements involved remains unclear.), the suspension of the permit system, the quarantining of a proportion of welfare benefits to all recipients in the designated communities and of all benefits of those who neglect their children, and the abolition of the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP).


Most indigenous Australians live in either major cities, inner or outer regional areas of Australia, with 26.5% of Indigenous peoples living in remote or very remote areas. The health of indigenous Australians is significantly below that of the rest of the country for instance a 2006 study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed that 70% of the Aboriginal population, who number almost 500,000, die before the age of 65, compared with 20% of non-indigenous Australians. The average life expectancy for Aboriginal men is 59, compared with 77 for non-indigenous males with child mortality rates 3 times higher than the nation average.

The suicide rate amongst Aboriginal Australians is almost 3 times higher (at 4.2%) than the national average (1.5%).

The most common causes of death among the adult population are diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Indigenous people suffer from a rate of death from many diseases multiple times the rate of non-indigenous people according to a 2006 report by the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission.[35]

Life Expectancy

Life expectancy in Australia is long and high, with 79.5 years for males and 84.0 years for females.[36] Over the twentieth century in Australia, life expectancy for women increased 26.7 years;[37] while for males it increased 28.7 years.[38] Other statistics show remarkable reductions in the impact of diseases. For example, death rates from cardiovascular disease have fallen 30% in the general population in Australia since 1991, and 70% in the last 35-years and the infant mortality rate figure reduced 25% over 1993 - 2003 and 48% over 1983 - 2003. These statistics demonstrate that significant improvements in the health and life expectation of population groups can occur within decades.

However, despite significant health gains being made by Indigenous peoples in the 1970s and 1980s, health inequality continues to grow across a number of indicators. This can be attributed, in part, to both a slowing up of health gains being made by Indigenous peoples and the rapid health gains made by the non-Indigenous population in recent decades.

Indigenous peoples' self-assessed health status shows they believe little improvement has occurred over the past decade. Over the NATSIS 1994 - NATSISS 2002, the percentage of Indigenous peoples assessing their health as 'fair/poor' rose from 17.5% to 23.3%. Correspondingly, there was no statistically significant increase in the number who assessed their health as 'excellent/very good' or reported reductions in smoking; or alcohol consumption.[39]

The ABS has estimated that the life expectation for Indigenous females decreased slightly from 63 to 62.8 years over 1997 - 2001. For males, it increased from 55.6 to 56.3 years. The life expectation inequality gap increased: between Indigenous and non-Indigenous males: rising from 20.6 to 20.7 years; while between Indigenous and non-Indigenous females, it rose from 18.8 to 19.6 years.[40] The life expectation formula that was used to produce these estimates has now been superseded by a formula that produces an estimate over five-year periods.

Under a new life expectation formula adopted by the ABS in 2003, Indigenous males' life expectation was estimated to be 59.4 years over 1996-2001, while female life expectation was estimated to be 64.8 years. A life expectation inequality gap of approximately 18-years was identified, a reduction of approximately three years on estimates produced in 2001 under the now superseded formula. The next estimate will be calculated over 2001 - 2006.[41]

Indigenous life expectation appears to be similar to that of people in low development states. Although international comparisons should be made with some caution (because of the different formulae with which life expectation is calculated between jurisdictions), with reference to the 2004 United Nation's Human Development Index, Indigenous peoples appear to have a life expectation approximating that of the people of Pakistan (60.8 years).[42]

Immigration and asylum seekers

Australia is an immigrant nation with a large and longstanding multi-ethnic migration program. Australia's immigration program has two components: a program for skilled and family migrants and a humanitarian program for refugees and asylum seekers.[43]

White Australia policy (c.1890s to 1960s)

The White Australia policy, the policy of limiting immigration into Australia to only people of European origin, was the official policy of all governments and all mainstream political parties in Australia from the 1890s to the 1950s, and elements of the policy survived until the 1970s. Although the expression “White Australia Policy” was never in official use, it was common in political and public debate throughout the period.

The Immigration Restriction Act 1901 was one of the first laws passed by the new Australian parliament. The law permitted a dictation test in any European language to be used to in effect exclude non-"white" immigrants. Parliament generally supported the restrictions on the basis of various rationales from labour force protection to outright racism. Outside parliament, figures like Australia's first Catholic cardinal, Patrick Francis Moran denounced anti-Chinese legislation as "unchristian", but was mocked in the popular press and the small European population of Australia generally supported the legislation and remained fearful of being overwhelmed by an influx of non-British migrants from the vastly different cultures of the highly populated empires to Australia's north.[44]

The policy was dismantled by successive governments after World War II, with the Chifley Government pursuing a "populate or perish" migration program which initially favoured British migrants, but increasingly reached out to Southern and Eastern European migrants under the Menzies Government, which in 1958, replaced the Immigration Act's arbitrarily applied European language dictation test with an entry permit system that reflected economic and skills criteria.[45] The successor Holt Government introduced the Migration Act 1966, which effectively dismantled the White Australia Policy and increased access to non-European migrants, including refugees fleeing the Vietnam War.[28] The subsequent Whitlam Government and Fraser Government then shifted immigration policy to a position of official support for multiculturalism.[46] The subsequent Hawke-Keating Government and Howard Government continued the policy of large multiethnic migration. And by the early 21st century, post war immigration had seen 6.5 million migrants from 200 nations arrive in Australia, bringing immense new diversity and Australians grew increasingly aware of proximity to Asia.[47]

Assistance to refugees

A component of the Australian immigration program is devoted to providing protection for refugees: people who are subject to persecution in their own home country and are in need of resettlement. The majority of refugees received by Australia are identified and referred by the UNHCR to Australia. The Special Humanitarian Program further offers refuge to subject to people "substantial discrimination amounting to gross violation of human rights in their home country" and who are supported by a proposer within Australia. In 2009–10 a total of 13,770 visas were granted under these categories. The annual figure remained roughly stable for the years between 2004–2010 and accepted applicants from such nations as Myanmar, Iraq, Bhutan, Afghanistan and six African countries.[43] To varying degrees of success, recent Australian governments have sought to discourage unauthorised arrivals by people seeking refugee status in Australia by maintaining a system of "mandatory detention" for processing of people who arrive without a visa.

Mandatory detention

The entrance of the former Woomera IRPC.

The term 'mandatory detention' describes the legislation and actions of the Australian government to detain all persons entering the country without a valid visa, including children. The policy started under the Keating Labor Government with the passing of the Migration Amendment Act in 1992. The immigration minister, Gerry Hand, explained that the policy, to be applied on a case-by-case basis would facilitate the processing of refugee claims, prevent de facto migration and save the cost of locating people in the community. However, the Migration Reform Act of 1994 introduced by the next immigration minister, Senator Nick Bolkus, made the detention of 'unlawful non-citizens' mandatory.[48]

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, these unauthorised arrivals, popularly referred to as boat people, were transferred to one of the Australian immigration detention facilities on the Australian mainland, or to Manus Island or Nauru as part of the Pacific Solution. Under world law, it is illegal for a country to return an asylum seeker to a country or place where their life is at risk. Australia is currently breaching this law and agencies in Australia are taking matters into their hands to show the world.

Suspension of Asylum Claims: Sri Lanka and Afghanistan

On 9 April 2010 the Australian government announced the immediate suspension of consideration of all new asylum claims in respect of people from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.[49]

National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

The then HREOC held an inquiry into mandatory detention and found that many basic rights outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child were denied to children living in immigration detention.

The Inquiry has found that Australian laws that require the mandatory, indeterminate and effectively unreviewable immigration detention of children, and the way these laws are administered by the Commonwealth, have resulted in numerous and repeated breaches of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Inquiry made a range of specific findings in relation to:

  • monitoring of conditions in detention centres
  • Australia's detention laws and policy
  • Australia's refugee status determination system as it applies to children
  • safety and security
  • mental health
  • physical health
  • children with disabilities
  • education
  • recreation and play
  • unaccompanied children
  • religion, culture and languages
  • temporary protection visas.

These specific findings, based on evidence received by the Inquiry, were assessed against Australia's human rights obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. From this, the Inquiry reached its major findings and recommendations.

Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, and relationship recognition

Registered relationships status Anti-discrimination legislation Adoption and foster parenting Recognition of parents on birth certificate Access to fertility (such as ART, IVF, surrogacy, AI, etc.)
ACT Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Commonwealth of Australia Yes (family law - The Marriage Act 1961 bans same-sex marriages since 2004, under the Marriage Amendment Act 2004) Yes (family law - The Marriage Act 1961 bans same-sex marriages since 2004, under the Marriage Amendment Act 2004) Yes (under the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013) Yes (family law) Yes (family law) Yes (family law)
New South Wales Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Norfolk Island Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Northern Territory Yes No Yes No [50] (banned for gay couples) Yes Yes
Queensland Yes Yes Yes No[51] (banned for gay couples) Yes Yes
South Australia Yes Yes (domestic partnership agreement) Yes No[52] (banned for gay couples, under review) Yes No (banned if not infertile, under review)
Tasmania Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Victoria Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Western Australia Yes No Yes Yes Yes/No (equality in IVF access, but surrogacy is banned for gay couples)[53] Yes

See also


  1. ^ "Williams, George - "The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities: Origins and Scope" [2006] MelbULawRw 27; (2006) 30(3) Melbourne University Law Review 880". Retrieved 2014-08-09. 
  2. ^ "Closer Look: The Australian Constitution; Students; PEO, Parliament of Australia". 2012-03-15. Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  3. ^ "Patmore, Glenn; Harding, Matthew – "Human Rights under the Australian Constitution by George Williams" [1999] MelbULawRw 31; (1999) 23(3) Melbourne University Law Review 817". 1999-12-01. Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  4. ^ See, e.g., Lange v Australian Broadcasting Corporation [1997] HCA 25; (1997) 189 CLR 520; (1997) 145 ALR 96; (1997) 71 ALJR 818 Austlii
  5. ^ Change name (2011-01-28). "Electoral Milestones for Women - Australian Electoral Commission". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  6. ^ Change name (2011-01-28). "The Right to Vote in Australia - Australian Electoral Commission". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  7. ^ a b Change name. "Electoral Milestones - Timetable for Indigenous Australians - Australian Electoral Commission". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  8. ^ [6]
  9. ^ Suttor, T. L. "Plunkett, John Hubert (1802 - 1869)".  
  10. ^ a b Change name (2011-01-28). "Australia’s major electoral developments Timeline: 1788 - 1899 - Australian Electoral Commission". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  11. ^ Change name (2011-01-28). "The Right to Vote in Australia - Australian Electoral Commission". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  12. ^ EC (2005-04-13). "Votes for Women | Elections New Zealand". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  13. ^ "Documenting Democracy". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  14. ^ a b "Electoral Milestones - Timetable for Indigenous Australians". 25 October 2007. Retrieved 27 June 2010. 
  15. ^ Change name (2010-12-22). "Indigenous Australians and the vote - Australian Electoral Commission". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  16. ^ The First Australians: A Fair Deal for a Dark Race par SBS TV 2008.
  17. ^ Geoffrey Bolton (1990) p.193 and 195
  18. ^ Lewis, Balderstone and Bowan (2006) p. 37
  19. ^ Geoffrey Blainey; A Very Short History of the World; Penguin Books; 2004; ISBN 978-0-14-300559-9
  20. ^ "First Australians". SBS. Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  21. ^ "The Fabrication of Aboriginal history". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  22. ^ "The Fabrication of Aboriginal History?". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  23. ^ Bruce Elder(1998)p.83-94
  24. ^
  25. ^ Pearson, Noel (12 February 2008). "Contradictions cloud the apology to the Stolen Generations". The Australian. 
  26. ^ Dewar, Mickey. "Biography - Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda - Australian Dictionary of Biography". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  27. ^ Change name. "Electoral Milestones - Timetable for Indigenous Australians - Australian Electoral Commission". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  28. ^ a b "In office - Harold Holt - Australia's PMs - Australia's Prime Ministers". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  29. ^ "In office - Malcolm Fraser - Australia's PMs - Australia's Prime Ministers". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  30. ^ "The History of Apologies Down Under [Thinking Faith – the online journal of the British Jesuits]". Retrieved 12 October 2009. 
  31. ^ "Noel Pearson's statement on Kevin Rudd". The Australian ( 23 November 2007. Retrieved 12 October 2009. 
  32. ^ "Australian of the Year Awards - Award Recipients". Retrieved 2012-08-03. 
  33. ^ "One policy, two camps - the takeover rift". Sydney Morning Herald ( 27 October 2007. Retrieved 27 June 2010. 
  34. ^ , 10 August 2007Submission of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee on the Northern Territory National Emergency Response LegislationHuman Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission,
  35. ^ Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission (2006) "A statistical overview of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia"
  36. ^ Australian Life Expectancy
  37. ^ From 54.8 years to 81.5 years, Baum F, The New Public Health, (2nd ed), Oxford University Press, New York, 2002, p198.
  38. ^ From 47.2 years to 75.9 years ibid.
  39. ^ ABS, Deaths 2003, Series cat. no.3302.0, ABS, Canberra, 2004, p15.
  40. ^ ABS, Deaths 2001, op.cit., p101, unnumbered table: 'Experimental Estimates of Life Expectancy at Birth, Indigenous'.
  41. ^ ABS, Experimental Estimates and projections, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, op.cit., p15.
  42. ^ United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2004, Oxford University Press, New York, 2004, pp139 -142, 'Human Development Index'.
  43. ^ a b "Australian Immigration Fact Sheet 60 - Australia's Refugee and Humanitarian Program". 2008-10-29. Retrieved 2012-12-12. 
  44. ^ A. E. Cahill (1911-08-16). "Biography - Patrick Francis Moran - Australian Dictionary of Biography". Retrieved 2012-12-12. 
  45. ^ "In office - Robert Menzies - Australia's PMs - Australia's Prime Ministers". Retrieved 2012-12-12. 
  46. ^ "Malcolm Fraser - Australia's PMs - Australia's Prime Ministers". 1975-11-11. Retrieved 2012-12-12. 
  47. ^ "About Australia: People, culture and lifestyle". 2011-06-30. Retrieved 2012-12-12. 
  48. ^ E-Brief - The detention and removal of asylum seekers
  49. ^ "Australia suspends asylum claims". BBC News. 9 April 2010. 
  50. ^ [7]
  51. ^ [8]
  52. ^ [9]
  53. ^ [10]

External links

  • The Australian Human Rights Commission website
  • Australian Human Rights and Civil Rights Index
  • Censorship in Australia - (IFEX)
  • List of Australia's human rights violations
  • NSW Council for Civil Liberties
  • Douglas Scott Case
  • National Human Rights Consultation
  • Right Now - Human Rights in Australia
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