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Department Seal


DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994


Australia has a federal system of government and a long history 
as a multiparty parliamentary democracy.  Federal, state, and 
local police carry out their functions in accordance with the 
requirements of the law, which respects and safeguards 
individual human rights.

Australia has a developed economy, which includes 
manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and services, providing 
most Australians with a high per capita income.  A wide range 
of government programs offer assistance for the minority of 
relatively disadvantaged citizens, but fiscal constraints are 
affecting the amount made available.  People are free to hold 
private property, pursue economic and personal interests, 
associate with others, and organize trade unions.

Basic human rights are ensured by law and respected in 
practice.  The Government is firmly committed, both 
domestically and internationally, to the promotion of, and 
respect for, human rights.

In part as a result of the April 1991 report of the Royal 
Commission, which investigated the deaths of Aboriginals while 
in custody, the Government administers many programs aimed at 
improving the socioeconomic conditions of Aboriginals and 
Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI), who together form about 1.6 
percent of the population, and addressing longstanding 
discrimination against them.  


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Killing for political motives by the Government or by political 
organizations does not occur.

The April 1991 Report of the Royal Commission investigating the 
deaths of ATSI in custody stated that, although the deaths were 
not caused deliberately, police and prison officials showed 
callous indifference and remarkable insensitivity, which 
contributed significantly to the deaths.  The Commission also 
found that although ATSI died at approximately the same rate as 
others in prison, ATSI persons were arrested at a rate 29 times 
that of whites.

In a report issued in August, the Australian Institute of 
Criminology stated that deaths among the overall population in 
custody have not fallen in the period since the Royal 
Commission completed its work.  The Institute noted that during 
the last 2 years, the overall number of deaths had been 
essentially constant:  61 in 1991 and 62 in 1992.

In contrast, however, Aboriginal deaths in custody were 
reported to have fallen from 11 in 1991 (18.0 percent) to 7 in 
1992 (11.3 percent).  Further, the rate of deaths per 1,000 
persons in custody was significantly lower for Aboriginals than 
for others--a notable improvement over previous data attesting 
to a somewhat higher rate of deaths among Aboriginal prisoners.

     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 generally respected.  In April 1991, however, 
the Royal Commission investigating ATSI deaths in custody 
indicated it had found credible evidence that ATSI had 
frequently been mistreated while in custody, and it recommended 
several steps to reduce the number of arrests and improve the 
treatment of ATSI prisoners to avoid further deaths.  During 
1993 federal and state authorities continued to address the 
problem of deaths and mistreatment of Aboriginals in custody by 
means of police reform, including improved detention procedures 
and training courses in Aboriginal culture.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Australian law prohibits arbitrary arrest and imprisonment.  
This prohibition is respected in practice.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

Australia's well-developed system of federal and state courts 
is fully independent.  Both in law and in practice, defendants 
receive due process, including a presumption of innocence, a 
right to confront witnesses, and a right of appeal.  On the 
other hand, previous practice in federal and state cases has 
not always required that the Government pay for an indigent 
defendant's lawyer.

All Australian states except New South Wales have obliged 
people involved in criminal cases to meet a merit test before 
qualifying for legal aid.  The purpose of the merit test is to 
save the Government from "wasting funds on unwinnable cases."  
Under these procedures, many, but not all, defendants in 
serious criminal cases have been found to deserve legal 
counsel.  If the case was considered futile, the defendant was 
denied counsel at public expense.  An unfavorable decision 
could be appealed to a panel of independent lawyers and social 
workers appointed by the Legal Aid Commission.

The High Court has stated that it would be an exceptional case 
in which a person accused of serious charges could be tried 
fairly without a lawyer.  In 1993 the State of Victoria took 
account of this decision by abolishing a previous restriction 
whereby counsel would not be provided if the cost was thought 
likely to exceed a specified amount, which at the end of 1993 
equated to about $130,000.

Defendants, including ATSI, appearing before an Australian 
Defense Force magistrate in cases subject to military 
jurisdiction, are exempt from the merit test.  The Government 
maintains offices of special legal counsel for persons of ATSI 
descent, who are always entitled to receive legal aid.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

Under Australian law and in practice, no search may be 
conducted without a judicially issued warrant.  The Government 
does not interfere with the privacy of family, home, or 

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

A democratic political system, an effective judiciary, and 
diverse, vigorous, and independent news media combine to 
protect freedom of speech and press and full academic freedom.  
But Australia does not have a bill of rights, and journalists 
are sometimes subjected to court proceedings aimed at 
compelling them to reveal confidential sources.  In May a South 
Australian journalist was fined about $3,200 for refusing to 
reveal sources for a published report alleging that criminal 
behavior was involved in financial losses by the State Bank of 
South Australia.  In September a New South Wales journalist 
received a 2-month suspended sentence for refusing to reveal 
sources for an article on police corruption.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Australia does not have a written Bill of Rights but is a party 
to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 
which provides for freedom of assembly and expression; these 
freedoms are respected in practice.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

Australians have complete freedom of religion.  A provision in 
the Constitution precludes the adoption of an official state 

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Australia imposes no restrictions on movement within or outside 
the country.  The rights of emigration and repatriation are 
also protected.

The Government removes from Australia boat people whose 
applications for asylum or humanitarian admission are denied.  
In late 1992, the Australian High Court upheld the Government's 
right to detain boat people pending adjudication of their 
cases.  As of September 30, 1993, Australian authorities had 
granted refugee status to 141 boat people, including 8 children 
born in Australia, out of some 540 applications from persons 
who had arrived since 1989, primarily from Cambodia, China, and 
Vietnam.  Two hundred forty-one boat people were still being 
held in various detention camps, pending court decisions.

In an August 13 submission to Parliament's Joint Standing 
Committee on Migration, the Department of Immigration and 
Ethnic Affairs stated,  "It is of concern that some 
unauthorized arrivals have been held in detention for very long 
periods:  in some cases for more than 3 1/2 years."  The 
Attorney General's Department addressed this same point in its 
own submission to the Joint Standing Committee, noting the 
requirement of the International Covenant on Civil and 
Political Rights that detention not be excessively long.  At 
the request of the Joint Standing Committee, the Canberra 
office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also 
submitted comments, indicating that detentions were unduly 
prolonged in some cases and possibly contravened Article 31 (1) 
of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The status of 19,000 Chinese, who had been students in 
Australia at the time of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, 
and their 9,500 dependents, was regularized in November 1993 
when the Australian Government granted them permanent resident 
status.  Prior to the regularization of their status, they had 
received a clear commitment that none would be returned to 
China against their will, unless they broke the law.  They had 
also been given provisional status through the granting of 
temporary residence permits valid for 4 years.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Australians elect representatives to a two-chamber Federal 
Parliament as well as to numerous state and local bodies 
through free and open elections.  Voting, by secret ballot, is 
compulsory in general elections for Australians 18 years of age 
and older; voters who do not at least collect ballots may be 
fined, and fines are in fact levied.

Indigenous people are able to participate fully in Australia's 
political processes.  They do so as voters, members of 
political parties, and candidates for elected office.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

A wide range of local nongovernmental organizations concerned 
with human rights operates freely, and the Government permits 
unimpeded access to all international groups investigating 
alleged human rights violations.  Australia actively promotes 
human rights.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status


Analysts and commentators state that violence in the home, 
mainly carried out by men against women, has enormous social 
and economic costs.  Previous estimates suggested that domestic 
violence may affect as many as one Australian family in three 
or four, but government officials stress the impossibility of 
providing an accurate national profile of the number of women 
who are victims of domestic violence, because of underreporting 
and the lack of an agreed method for collecting statistics.

The Government continued its community education campaign aimed 
at ending violence against women, operating under a 3-year 
budget of about $2.3 million.  The National Committee on 
Violence Against Women produced a national strategy focused on 
the role of all levels of government in eliminating violence 
against women; it was endorsed by ministerial councils 
consisting of federal and state ministers with similar 

The Sex Discrimination Act of 1984 prohibits discrimination on 
the basis of sex, marital status, or pregnancy, and in late 
1992 Parliament enacted amendments which significantly 
strengthened it.  Separate 1986 legislation on affirmative 
action obliges employers to provide equal employment and equal 
promotion opportunities for female employees.

Because of widespread concern about perceived bias against 
women in the legal system, the Australian Law Reform Commission 
initiated an inquiry into the equality of women before the 
law.  Women's rights and welfare are promoted by 
community-based women's organizations, women's advisers in each 
of the states, and by the Government's Office of the Status of 


The National Child Protection Council, a Commonwealth-funded 
body which also includes representatives of state governments 
as well as community members, promotes and conducts research on 
the prevention of child abuse and child neglect.  The Council 
is examining the feasibility of a National Community Education 
Program, and it actively cooperates with nongovernmental 

In September the Government issued a national strategy aimed at 
preventing child abuse and creating an environment which 
supports families and communities and helps them meet their 
responsibilities to care for and protect children.

In a report made public later in that same month, a senior 
judge of the Family Court of Australia strongly criticized the 
State of Victoria's plan to reduce funding for child protection 
services by $5 million.  Adverse findings included charges that 
the Children's Court was threatened by primitive conditions, 
overcrowding, overwork, and a lack of resources; that 
insufficient resources were being allocated for the 
introduction of mandatory reporting of child abuse; and that 
the state government had "virtually abandoned the care and 
protection" of homeless adolescents.

     Indigenous People

The Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination 
on grounds of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic 
origin, and most Australians have equal access to government 
services.  In practice, however, ATSI continued to suffer 
abusive treatment and widespread discrimination.  As a remedial 
measure, on both the federal and state level, police training 
now includes more emphasis on race sensitivity.

Because the Aboriginal population is the most disadvantaged 
group in relation to education, housing, health, and 
employment, the federal and state governments provide special 
services which supplement the broad range of programs that are 
available to all Australians.  These special services are aimed 
at improving socioeconomic conditions among ATSI.

Parliament established the Aboriginal and Torres Strait 
Islander Commission to give ATSI more control over many 
government programs intended for their benefit and also set up 
the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, which is 
coordinating a 10-year program to promote better understanding 
between ATSI and other Australians.  In September the State of 
Western Australia announced a plan aimed at quadrupling the 
number of Aboriginal police officers over a 5-year period.

Observers affiliated with Aboriginal groups generally supported 
federal and state programs but tended to describe them as 
underfunded.  Further, they noted that much of the underlying 
problem of racial discrimination stemmed from deeply rooted 
personal attitudes and views, expressing doubt that government 
programs, although valuable in themselves, will produce notable 
results in the short run.  In addition, these observers 
questioned whether federal and state police authorities had 
shown sufficient diligence and energy in pursuing police reform.

Spokespersons for Aboriginal groups also stressed the need for 
appropriate and nondiscriminatory legislation that would assist 
in resolving property disputes involving Aboriginal groups who 
claimed traditional ownership of land as a matter of native 
title under common law.  In their view, it would not be 
sufficient for federal and state governments to guarantee 
existing titles and award financial compensation to Aboriginal 
groups whose interests might have been adversely affected by 
the Crown's past land grants (e.g., freehold title, pastoral 
leases, mining leases).  Instead, they asserted, the principles 
of justice and nondiscriminatory treatment required that 
Aboriginal groups be entitled to recover actual ownership as a 
result of lawsuits that met criteria (e.g., ongoing and 
uninterrupted access to and use of the land) established by the 
High Court in its landmark Mabo Decision (1992), which, in 
part, had been based on provisions of the Racial Discrimination 

The Government continued its commitment to promote 
intercultural understanding and to address better the needs of 
ethnic groups through a national multicultural agenda.

     People with Disabilities

The Federal Disability Discrimination Act (1992) complements 
state laws prohibiting discrimination.  It is administered by 
the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, a 
Commonwealth body whose first Disability Discrimination 
Commissioner was appointed in February.  Federal officials are 
currently developing a national disability strategy based on 
the U.N. Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities 
for Persons with Disabilities.  Ensuring access to public 
buildings is required by the Disability Discrimination Act and, 
in part, is addressed in building codes.  Australian 
authorities are investigating ways to improve compliance in 

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

Australian law and practice provide workers, including public 
servants, freedom of association both domestically and 
internationally.  According to figures released by the 
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 1993, 39.6 percent of 
the work force is unionized.  Unions are closely aligned with 
the Australian Labor Party (ALP), and supply 60 percent of the 
voting delegates at ALP congresses.  However, the Labor 
Government does not influence union policies, which are often 
at variance with its own, despite the fact that several key 
ministers were once trade union officials.

In response to a November 1992 finding by the International 
Labor Organization (ILO) that the legal requirement for unions 
to have at least 10,000 workers in order to be registered under 
the federal system could "unduly influence workers' free choice 
of unions," the Government repealed this provision on December 
16, 1993, with amendments (effective March 1994) to the 
Industrial Relations Act of 1988.  Inter alia, these amendments 
extended enterprise bargaining to the nonunionized sector and 
created a labor court to adjudicate secondary boycott and 
good-faith bargaining questions.

Australian workers enjoy the right to strike, which is well 
established in practice.  This right had not been protected 
under domestic law.  However, the Government included explicit 
recognition of the right to strike in the December 16, 1993, 
legislation.  In general, industrial disputes are resolved 
through direct employer-union negotiations or under the 
auspices of the various state and federal industrial relations 
commissions whose mandates include compulsory conciliation and 

According to ABS figures released on December 20, 1993, in the 
12 months ending September 1993, there were 631 reported 
disputes involving 1,065,100 persons and 1,165,800 working days 
lost.  The number of disputes is the lowest on record in a 
12-month period since the ABS series was first compiled in 
December 1981, and represents a 50-year low according to other 
available statistics.  On a proportional basis (working days 
lost per thousand employees), the coal mining industry 
experienced the greatest number of labor disputes.  Overall, 
there were no significant strikes in 1993.

     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.  Workers are also protected by law and 
in practice from antiunion discrimination.  The Government 
enhanced existing protection against unfair dismissal in its 
December 16, 1993, legislation, along lines specified in ILO 

A pattern of centralized minimum wage awards and quasi-judicial 
arbitration, supplemented by industrywide or company-by-company 
collective bargaining, has generally prevailed since 1904, when 
the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission was 
established.  The Industrial Relations Act of 1988 made 
technical changes in the system, creating a new Industrial 
Relations Commission which focuses more on its quasi-judicial 
dispute settlement role.  At the same time, the Government has 
encouraged the spread of decentralized enterprise collective 
bargaining, in order to relate wage increases more to gains in 

In November 1992, the newly elected Conservative Government in 
the State of Victoria introduced a series of laws which, the 
International Confederation of Free Trade Unions alleged, 
forced 800,000 workers to sign individual employment contracts 
as opposed to collective agreements and outlawed almost all 
strikes and limited pickets.  Following a strike and protest 
demonstrations, the Federal Government acted to incorporate 
most, if not all, of these workers under the federal Industrial 
Relations Law to protect their trade union rights.

Export processing zones (EPZ's) do not exist in Australia.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Although there are no laws regarding forced labor, Australia 
fully respects the ILO's conventions concerning forced labor, 
and forced labor is not practiced.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

There is no federally mandated minimum age for employment, but 
state-imposed compulsory education requirements, monitored and 
enforced by state educational authorities, prevent children 
from joining the work force until they are 15 to 16 years old, 
except in individual cases involving administrative approval 
for absence from school because of reasons such as illness, 
disability, or family hardship.  In addition, federal and state 
ministries of labor monitor and enforce a complicated network 
of legislation (which varies from state to state) governing 
such interrelated factors as minimum school-leaving age, 
minimum age to claim unemployment benefits, and minimum age to 
engage in specified occupations.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

Australia has long had a tradition that workers should be 
guaranteed a decent standard of living.  The degree of wage 
comparability for women is one of the highest in the world, and 
pay equity was enacted in legislation passed on December 16, 
1993.  Although a formal minimum wage exists, it is not used.  
Instead, most workers are covered by differing minimum wage 
rates for individual trades and professions, as embodied in a 
comprehensive system of "awards" determined by the various 
quasi-judicial state and federal industrial relations 
commissions, after submissions by union, employer, and 
government representatives.  In many cases involving individual 
business enterprises, the commissions approve wage rates 
previously negotiated and agreed upon by employers and unions.  
Where market conditions warrant, employees are often paid 
higher wages than those provided for in industrial awards 
("over-award payments").  About 80 percent of wage and salary 
earners are covered by awards.  The remaining 20 percent are 
mostly management-level employees or are self-employed.  There 
are no trades whose awards are below the formal minimum wage.

The lowest current federal award of about US$221 (A$328) per 
38-hour week is for clothing workers.  Combined with other 
regularly provided benefits and government entitlements for 
low-income families, this wage provides a decent standard of 
living for a worker and his family.  Real monetary wages for 
the average worker declined over the past decade, but a 
comprehensive social welfare program maintained a social safety 
net under lower paid workers.

The majority of workers are employees of incorporated 
organizations.  For them, a complex body of federal and state 
regulations, as well as decisions of the corresponding 
industrial relations commissions, prescribes a 40-hour or 
shorter workweek, paid vacations, sick leave, and other 
benefits, including at least one 24-hour rest period.  In a 
limited number of cases, workplace health and safety standards 
are also prescribed.  Federal or State safety laws apply to 
every workplace.

An intergovernmental body called the National Occupational 
Health and Safety Commission (also known as "Worksafe 
Australia") develops advisory standards and codes of practice 
which can be a basis for new laws.  The Occupational Health and 
Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act of 1991 gives a federal 
employee the legal right to cease work if he or she believes 
that particular work activities pose an immediate threat to 
health or safety.  Most states and territories have laws that 
grant similar rights to their employees.  At a minimum, private 
sector employees have recourse to state health and safety 
commissions, which will investigate complaints and enjoin 
remedial action as appropriate.  Some states and territories 
also have legislation empowering trained private sector workers 
(in firms with more than 10 employees) to suspend any activity 
they deem unsafe.  (###)

[end of document]


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