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Title:  Australia Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996


Australia has a federal system of government and a long history as a 
multiparty parliamentary democracy.  The judiciary is independent.  

Federal, state, and local police are under the firm control of civilian 
authorities and carry out their functions in accordance with the law.

A highly developed economy, which includes manufacturing, mining, 
agriculture, and services, provides most people with a high per capita 
income.  A wide range of government programs offers assistance for the 
minority of relatively disavantaged citizens.

Laws provide for basic human rights; the Government respects and 
enforces these laws.  The Government administers many programs to 
improve the socioeconomic conditions of Aboriginals and Torres Straits 
Islanders, who together form about 2 percent of the population, and to 
address longstanding discrimination against them.  A national study 
documented credible allegations that police have used excessive force 
against juvenile aborigine detainees.  Societal discrimination and 
violence against women are problems, which, however, are being actively 


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

  a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

According to a February Australian Institute of Criminology report, 
there was a 12 percent increase (74 deaths in 1993 versus 83 in 1994) in 
total deaths in police and prison custody during the 12-month period 
ending in June 1994.  The number of Aboriginal deaths in custody 
increased from 7 to 11.  The same report shows that non-aborigine deaths 
in custody increased from 49 to 51.  The incidence of deaths per 1,000 
prisoners was 4.44 for aborigine detainees versus 3.65 for non-aborigine 

In the state of Victoria, at least eight people in 1995 were shot dead 
by police.  There have been allegations in the print media and among 
human rights groups of pervasive police use of excessive force in the 
apprehension of suspects.  Four separate investigations into the 
shootings were carried out by the state government and the police.  
These recommended a vigorous plan of action, including additional 
training techniques in nonviolent apprehension, and new equipment for 
police officers.  In all, there were 22 fatal police shootings in 
Victoria between 1988 and 1995, 5 of which involved people with 
histories of mental illness. 

  b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

  c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 

The law prohibits all such practices, and there were no reports that 
officials employed them.

Prison conditions meet international standards and the Government 
permits visits by human rights monitors.

  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and the 
Government observes this prohibition in practice.

  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the 
executive and legislative branches respect its provisions.

There is a well-developed system of federal and state courts, with the 
High Court at its apex.  Almost all criminal trials are conducted by 
courts established under state and territorial legislation.  The Federal 
Court and the High Court have very limited roles to play.  When trials 
are conducted in local courts, the magistrates sit alone.  In the higher 
courts, namely the state district or county courts and the state or 
territory supreme courts, trials are usually conducted by judge and 
jury.  The jury decides on the facts and verdict after a trial conducted 
by a judge.

The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and the judiciary 
vigorously enforces this right.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

The law prohibits such practices.  The authorities generally respect 
these prohibitions, and violations are subject to effective legal 

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

  a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

There is no bill of rights.  In two decisions, the High Court indicated 
that freedom of political discourse is implied in the Constitution.  The 
Government respects these rights in practice.  An independent press, an 
effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system 
combine to ensure freedom of speech and of the press, including academic 

  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Although these freedoms are not codified in law, citizens exercise them 
without government restriction.

  c.  Freedom of Religion

Citizens have complete freedom of religion.  A provision of the 
Constitution precludes the adoption of a state religion.

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

The law provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in 
practice.  The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for 
Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.  
The Government has continued to forcibly repatriate persons who it has 
determined do not have a valid claim to refugee status.  Private human 
rights and refugee lobby groups maintain that the Government's refugee 
and asylum adjudication process is applied inconsistently.

Under the Migration Reform Act of 1992, asylum seekers who arrived at 
the border without prior authorization to enter the country were 
automatically detained.  In November and December 1994, there was a 
dramatic, but temporary, increase in the numbers of asylum seekers 
arriving by boat, mostly from southern China, bringing the annual total 
to 952.  The majority of asylum seekers were detained for the duration 
of the often-prolonged asylum process.  The detention policy has been an 
intractable issue.  The policy has led to extensive litigation initiated 
by human rights and refugee lobbies charging that the lengthy detentions 
(in some instances involving children and lasting several years) violate 
the human rights of the refugees.  In September the Government's Human 
Rights Commissioner, Chris Sidoti, initiated an investigation of alleged 
human rights violations arising from the prolonged detention.

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

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their 
government peacefully, and citizens exercise this right in practice 
through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of 
universal suffrage.

No legal impediments exist to prevent women and indigenous people from 
holding public office.  However, historical patterns of bias against 
women and the deleterious effects of poor educational achievement and a 
generally inferior socioeconomic status for indigenous people have 
contributed to their underrepresentation among political leaders.  
Approximately 14 percent of Members of Parliament (M.P.'s) are women.  
There are no Aboriginals serving as M.P.'s.  The Government and the 
opposition have both declared their intent to increase the number of 
women elected to public office, but little progress has been made since 
these declarations.

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

A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government 
restriction (and in some instances with government funding), 
investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.  
Government officials are very cooperative and responsive to their views.

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

The law prohibits discrimination based on the above listed factors, and 
the Government and an independent judiciary vigorously enforce the 


Social analysts and commentators estimate that domestic violence may 
affect as many as one family in three or four.  Government statisticians 
stress that, because of underreporting and the lack of an agreed method 
for collecting statistics, it is impossible to provide an accurate 
national profile of the number of women who are victims of domestic 
violence.  The Government is in the last tranche of a well-received 
national 3-year community education campaign about domestic violence and 
the legal recourse available to victims.

Women have equal status under the law, and the law provides for pay 
equity.  There are highly organised and effective private and public 
women's rights organisations at the federal, state and local levels.  
There is a federal-level Office of the 

Status of Women which monitors women's rights.  The Federal Sex 
Discrimination Commissioner receives complaints and attempts to resolve 
those that are deemed valid.  A 1994 U.N. report estimated that women 
receive approximately 90 percent of wages paid to men for substantially 
similar work.

A government-funded advisory body reported in 1994 that women face 
systemic discrimination within the legal system.  The report indicated 
that discrimination against women permeates law, judicial 
interpretation, and women's access to legal services.


The Government demonstrates its strong commitment to children's rights 
and welfare through its well-funded systems of public education and 
medical care.  There is no pattern of societal abuse against children.  
The Federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission receives 
complaints and attempts to resolve those it finds valid.  Similarily, 
the six states and two territories investigate complaints of neglect or 
child abuse and institute practical measures aimed at protecting the 
child when such complaints prove founded.

  People with Disabilities

The Government has enacted legislation which prohibits discrimination 
against disabled persons in employment, education, or other state 
services.  The Disability Discrimination Commissioner promotes 
compliance with federal laws prohibiting discrimination against disabled 
persons.  The Commissioner also promotes more energetic implementation 
and enforcement of state laws that protect the rights of disabled 

State and territory governments have not enacted legislation mandating 
the provision of accessibility for the disabled.  It is lawful to deny 
employment or services to those with disabilities if there are 
reasonable grounds for believing that the disabled person would be 
unable to carry out the work or would require the employer or service 
provider to furnish services or facilities which could not reasonably be 
supplied.  State and territory courts have upheld or dismissed suits 
brought by disabled plaintiffs on a case-by-case basis.  Attempts by 
physically impaired people to use antidiscrimination legislation in 
broader battles have not been successful to date.

  Indigenous People

The Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination on 
grounds of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin.  The 
Ministry for Aboriginal Affairs, in conjunction 

with the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Commission (ATSIC), has 
the main responsibility for initiating, coordinating, and monitoring all 
governmental efforts to improve the quality of life of indigenous 
peoples.  A wide variety of government initiatives and programs seek to 
improve all aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander life.

In practice, however, indigenous Australians continue to experience 
significantly higher rates of imprisonment, inferior access to medical 
and educational services, greatly reduced life-expectancy rates, 
elevated levels of unemployment, and general discrimination which 
contribute to an overwhelming feeling of disenfranchisement.

Indigenous people are imprisoned 16 times more than nonindigenous 
people.  Over 45 percent of aborigine men between the ages of 20 and 30 
have been arrested at some time in their lives.  The prison 
representation rate for indigenous juvenile offenders is almost 20 times 
that of nonindigenous juveniles.  Indigenous groups claim that the 
Government's lack of response to a series of recommendations by the 1991 
Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody contributes to these 
disturbing statistics.  The Government acknowledges that socioeconomic 
conditions give rise to the common precursors of indigenous crime, e.g., 
unemployment, homelessness, and boredom.

Police harassment of indigenous people and racial discrimination by 
police and prison custodians persists.  A 1994 University of Melbourne 
study of 171 aborigine juveniles in custody stated that 85 percent 
reported being hit, punched, kicked, or slapped by police.  Preliminary 
data suggest that the problems highlighted by the 1994 study continued 
in 1995.  Most of the juveniles interviewed had complaints concerning 
violence occurring after apprehension and during questioning about 
alleged offenses.  Government statistics have confirmed the common 
perception among indigenous people that they are systematically ill-
treated by police.  Government reports have suggested that the pursuit 
of economic self-determination for indigenous people will greatly assist 
in solving the crime problems in indigenous communities and the 
inequities in rates of imprisonment.

The average life expectancy of an indigenous person is 20 years less 
than that of a nonindigenous person.  The infant mortality rate for 
indigenous children is three times that of nonindigenous children.  The 
maternal mortality rate for indigenous women is five times that of 
nonindigenous women.  The incidence of illnesses such as tuberculosis, 
leprosy, hepatitis, and of sexually transmitted diseases is 10 times 
greater among indigenous people.

A national survey indicated that 22.5 percent of indigenous children 
complete secondary education versus 76.2 percent of nonindigenous 
children.  Only 7 percent of Aboriginals pursue postsecondary education.

The Government has initiated programs, including a 1 billion Australian 
dollar (US$ 750 million) Indigenous Land Fund and a Federal Social 
Justice Package, aimed at ameliorating the challenges faced by 
indigenous Australians.  The Government is also seeking ways to improve 
upon 1993 Native Title Legislation which has been largely unsuccessful 
in assisting aborigines to establish and pursue title to land.

Section 6  Worker Rights

  a.  The Right of Association

Australian law and practice provide workers, including public servants, 
freedom of association domestically and internationally.  Approximately 
35 percent of the work force is unionized.  Although unions carry out 
their internal functions free from government or political control, most 
local affiliates belong to state branches of the Australian Labor Party 
(ALP).  Union members must make up at least 50 percent of the delegates 
to ALP congresses, but unions do not participate or vote as a bloc.

There are no restrictions on the right to strike.  Legislation which 
went into force on March 30, 1994 for the first time legalized what had 
always been a de facto right to strike.

Laws and regulations prohibit retribution against strikers and labor 
leaders, and they are effectively enforced.  In practice, employers tend 
to avoid legal remedies (e.g., secondary boycott injunctions) available 
to them in order to preserve a long-term relationship with their unions.

Since 1992 the federal Labor Government has used its adherence to 
International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions to override state 
objections to new labor relations legislation.  Recent major provisions 
(right to strike, parental leave, pay equity, minimum wage, and 
protection from unfair dismissals and hiring discrimination) were 
deliberately based on ILO conventions and recommendations, as well as on 
broader international conventions and covenants.

Unions may freely form and join federations or confederations, and they 
actively participate in international bodies.

  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Australian law and practice provide workers with the right to organize 
and bargain collectively, and the law protects them from antiunion 

Federal and state governments administer centralized, minimum-wage 
awards and provide quasi-judicial arbitration, supplemented by 
industrywide or company-by-company collective bargaining.

Government legislation has aimed to facilitate decentralized collective 
bargaining, keyed to individual enterprises, in order to relate wage 
increases more directly to gains in productivity.  Workers can trade 
fringe benefits for greater wage increases, but must register their 
agreement with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC), 
which insures that they suffer no net disadvantage.  The legislation 
also created an industrial relations court to adjudicate disputes, 
especially the failure to bargain in good faith, arising from the 
increased use of enterprise bargaining.

There are no export processing zones.

  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Although there are no laws prohibiting it, forced labor is not 

  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, effectively prevent most children from 
joining the work force until they are 15 or 16 years of age.  Federal 
and state governments monitor and enforce a network of laws, which vary 
from state to state, governing the minimum school-leaving age, the 
minimum age to claim unemployment benefits, and the minimum age to 
engage in specified occupations.

  e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

Although a formal minimum wage exists, it has not been relevant in 
setting wages since the 1960's.  Instead, 80 percent of workers are 
covered by differing minimum wage rates for individual trades and 
professions, all of which are sufficient to provide a decent standard of 
living for a worker and family.  However, the recent growth of cottage 
industry, especially in the manufacture of clothing, prompted a 
government-funded report in March which spawned a Senate motion to 
inquire about outwork reform.

Most workers are employees of incorporated organizations.  For them, a 
complex body of government regulations, as well as decisions of 
applicable federal or state industrial relations commissions, prescribe 
a 40-hour or shorter workweek, paid vacations, sick leave, and other 
benefits, including at least one 24-hour rest period per week.

Federal or state safety laws apply to every workplace.

The Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act of 1991 
provides federal employees with the legal right to cease work if they 
believe that particular work activities pose an immediate threat to 
individual 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 demand remedial action.


[end of document]


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