Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press, the High Court has held that the constitution implies a limited right to freedom of political expression, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Libel/Slander Laws: Journalists expressed concern that strict defamation laws have had a “chilling effect” on investigative journalism and freedom of the press. In February businessman and political donor Chau Chak Wing won a defamation case against a media organization that linked him to a bribery case implicating a former president of the UN General Assembly. A member of parliament, Andrew Hastie, criticized the verdict, saying, “Generally speaking, we are concerned about the impact that defamation laws in Australia are having on responsible journalism that informs Australians about important national security issues.”
National Security: In June the AFP raided ABC’s headquarters and the home of a News Corp journalist as part of an investigation into the alleged publishing of classified national security information. The media union denounced the raids as an attempt to “intimidate” journalists; an Essential Poll found that three-quarters of citizens were concerned about press freedom in the aftermath of the raids. The country’s three largest media organizations–ABC, News Corp, and Nine Entertainment–jointly called for more legal protections for journalists and whistleblowers. In July the parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security opened an inquiry into the impact of law enforcement and intelligence powers on the freedom of the press. Media companies challenged the constitutionality of the AFP’s warrants in court.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Although the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are not codified in law, the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Domestic and international organizations expressed serious concern about credible allegations of abuse of migrants in the detention center on Nauru and from the former detention center at Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Abuses included inadequate mental health and other medical services, instances of assault, sexual abuse, suicide, self-harm, suspicious deaths, and harsh conditions. The government claimed to continue to provide necessary services to refugees.
In March parliament passed medevac legislation giving medical experts the authority to authorize refugees and asylum seekers from the former Manus Island detention center or Nauru to travel to Australia to receive medical treatment. According to media reports, 179 persons had transferred to the country for health reasons under this legislation as of December.
In December parliament repealed the medevac legislation, a step human rights advocates denounced. The repeal of the law restores the full discretion of federal ministers to accept or reject medical transfers to the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a statement saying that it was “disappointed by the repeal” and expressing concern that it “may negatively impact vital care for asylum seekers in offshore processing facilities.”
Refoulement: UNHCR noted that immigration authorities in the country and offshore detention centers forcibly deported refugees and asylum seekers. The government refused to allow these families to be reunited in the country. UNHCR is aware of several cases where family members are held on offshore processing facilities, while spouses undergoing medical treatment reside in the country.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government maintains a humanitarian refugee program that includes several types of visas available to refugees for resettlement in the country. UNHCR identifies and refers the majority of applicants considered under the program.
The law authorizes the immigration minister to designate a country as a regional offshore processing center. Parliament must be notified and then has five days to reject the proposed designation. Asylum seekers transferred to third countries for regional processing have their asylum claims assessed by the country in which the claim is processed. Agreements were in effect with Nauru (2013) and Cambodia (2014), although the latter has been little used.
In May authorities intercepted a boat with 20 Sri Lankans trying to reach the country to claim asylum. The Sri Lankans were taken to Christmas Island, a small Australian island approximately 300 miles south of Jakarta. They were held there for a few days while their asylum claims were adjudicated. After the claims were denied, the 20 were flown back to Sri Lanka with the cooperation of the Sri Lankan government. The incident was the first use of Christmas Island for detention of asylum seekers in five years. Authorities also occasionally forced intercepted boats carrying smuggled persons back into the territorial waters of their country of embarkation when safe to do so.
By law the government must facilitate access to legal representation for persons in immigration detention in the country. Access to government-funded legal assistance is available only to those who arrived through authorized channels.
In June 2018 the immigration minister stated no refugee in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, including persons with close family ties, would be resettled in the country. The government sought to enforce this policy, although UNHCR representatives accused the government of breaking a previous promise to accept refugees with close family ties. Moreover, the long-term status of persons evacuated to the country for medical treatment pursuant to the March parliamentary action remained uncertain as of November.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement from third countries and funded refugee resettlement services. The Humanitarian Settlement Services program provided case-specific assistance that included finding accommodation, employment programs, language training, registering for income support and health care, and connecting with community and recreational programs.
Temporary Protection: The law permits two temporary protection options for individuals who arrived in the country and were not taken to regional processing centers in third countries. The temporary protection visa (TPV) is valid for three years, and visa holders are able to work, study, and reside anywhere in the country with access to support services. Once expired, TPV holders are eligible to reapply for another TPV. The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) is valid for five years and is granted on the basis that visa holders intend to work or study in nonmetropolitan areas. SHEV holders are eligible to apply for certain permanent or temporary visas after 42 months.
Section 7. Worker Rights
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Federal, state, and territory laws provide for protections against employment discrimination. The HRC reviews complaints of discrimination on the ground of HIV/AIDS status under the category of disability-related complaints.
The law requires organizations with 100 or more employees to establish a workplace program to remove barriers to women entering and advancing in their organization. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The government continued efforts to encourage persons under the Disability Support Pension (DSP) program to enter the workforce when they have the capacity to do so, including by requiring compulsory workforce activities for DSP recipients younger than age 35 who can work for more than eight hours per week.
The government enforced laws prohibiting employment discrimination; however, employment discrimination against women, indigenous persons, and persons with disabilities occurred. According to the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the full-time gender pay gap was 15.3 percent. The International Labor Organization noted its concern that, despite several government initiatives, indigenous peoples continued to be disadvantaged and that employment targets were not met.
Persons with disabilities also faced employment discrimination. In 2017-18, the latest year for which such data were available, approximately 30 percent of the complaints about disability discrimination received by the HRC were in the area of employment and 36 percent in the area of goods, services, and facilities.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
For a single adult living alone, the minimum wage exceeded the poverty line defined as 50 percent of median income.
By law maximum weekly hours are 38 plus “reasonable” additional hours, which, by law, must take into account factors such as an employee’s health, family responsibilities, ability to claim overtime, pattern of hours in the industry, and amount of notice given. An employee may refuse to work overtime if the request is “unreasonable.”
Federal or state occupational health and safety laws apply to every workplace, including in the informal economy. By law both employers and workers are responsible for identifying health and safety hazards in the workplace. Workers can remove themselves from situations that endangered health or safety without jeopardy to their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation. The law includes an antibullying provision. The law also enables workers who are pregnant to transfer to a safe job regardless of their time in employment.
The government effectively enforced laws related to minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. The FWO provides employers and employees advice on their rights and has authority to investigate employers alleged to have exploited employees unlawfully. The ombudsperson also has authority to prosecute employers who do not meet their obligations to workers. FWO inspectors may enter work sites if they reasonably believe it is necessary to ensure compliance with the law. The number of FWO inspectors was sufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors can order employers to compensate employees and sometimes assess fines. Penalties were generally sufficient to deter violations, but there were some reports violations continued in sectors employing primarily migrant workers.
Workers exercised their right to a safe workplace and had recourse to state health and safety commissions, which investigate complaints and order remedial action. Each state and territory effectively enforced its occupational health and safety laws through dedicated bodies that have powers to obtain and initiate prosecutions, and unions used right-of-entry permits to investigate concerns.
Most workers received higher compensation than the minimum wage through enterprise agreements or individual contracts. Temporary workers include both part-time and casual employees. Part-time employees have set hours and the same entitlements as full-time employees. Casual employees are employed on a daily or hourly wage basis. They do not receive paid annual or sick leave, but the law mandates they receive additional pay to compensate for this, which employers generally respected. Migrant worker visas require that employers respect employer contributions to retirement funds and provide bonds to cover health insurance, worker’s compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and other benefits.
There continued to be reports of employers exploiting immigrant and foreign workers (also see section 7.b.). As part of the FWO’s Harvest Trail inquiry into the exploitation of overseas workers in the agricultural sector, the FWO continued to operate a system for migrant workers to report workplace issues anonymously in 16 languages.
There were reports some individuals under “457” employer-sponsored, skilled worker visas received less pay than the market rate and were used as less expensive substitutes for citizen workers. The government improved monitoring of “457” sponsors and information sharing among government agencies, particularly the Australian Tax Office. Employers must undertake “labor market testing” before attempting to sponsor “457” visas. A “417” working holiday visa-holder inquiry recently found the requirement to do 88 days of specified, rural paid work to qualify for a second-year visa enabled some employers to exploit overseas workers.
Safe Work Australia, the government agency responsible to develop and coordinate national workplace health and safety policy, cited a preliminary estimate that, in the year to October, 121 workers died while working. Of these fatalities, 41 were in the transport, postal, and warehousing sectors; 28 in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing sectors; and 17 in construction.