Australia

Executive Summary

Australia is a constitutional democracy with a freely elected federal parliamentary government. In a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May, the Liberal Party and National Party coalition was re-elected with a majority of 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives. The House subsequently reconfirmed Scott Morrison as prime minister.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP), an independent agency of the Department of Home Affairs, and state and territorial police forces are responsible for internal security. The AFP enforces national laws and state and territorial police forces enforce state and territorial laws. The Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force are responsible for migration and border enforcement. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.

The government took steps to prosecute officials accused of abuses, and ombudsmen, human rights bodies, and internal government mechanisms responded effectively to complaints.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Voting is mandatory.

Recent Elections: The government held a free and fair federal parliamentary election in May. Voters re-elected the Liberal-National Party Coalition government. The coalition won 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives; the opposition Labor Party won 68 seats and others won six seats.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

Indigenous persons and other minorities generally were underrepresented in elective office relative to their share of the population. Voters elected the first indigenous woman to the House of Representatives in 2016 and the first Chinese-Australian woman to the House of Representatives in the May elections. The country’s first indigenous cabinet minister, Ken Wyatt, was appointed in May.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented these laws effectively.

Corruption: All states have anticorruption bodies that investigate alleged government corruption, and every state and territory appoints an ombudsman who investigates and makes recommendations in response to complaints about government decisions. The government also appoints one commonwealth (federal) ombudsman as laws differ between states, and one process or policy cannot always be used across jurisdictions.

The Australian Capital Territory established its anticorruption commission in July.

The law requires persons and entities who have certain arrangements with, or undertake certain activities on behalf of foreign principals to register with the government.

Financial Disclosure: The law requires all federal, state, and territory elected officials to report their financial interests. Failure to do so could result in a finding of contempt of parliament and a possible fine or jail sentence. Federal officeholders must report their financial interests to a register of pecuniary interests, and the report must be made public within 28 days of the individual’s assumption of office. The law prohibits foreign campaign contributions.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials often were cooperative and responsive to their views.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The Human Rights Commission (HRC), an independent organization established by parliament, investigates complaints of discrimination or breaches of human rights under the federal laws that implement the country’s human rights treaty obligations. The HRC reports to parliament through the attorney general. Media and nongovernmental organizations deemed its reports accurate and reported them widely. Parliament has a Joint Committee on Human Rights, and federal law requires that a statement of compatibility with international human rights obligations accompany each new bill.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and the government enforced the law effectively. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for rape. Maximum penalties range from 12 years’ to life imprisonment, depending on the jurisdiction and aggravating factors.

The law prohibits violence against women, including domestic abuse, and the government enforced the law. The laws of individual states and territories provide the penalties for domestic violence. In the largest jurisdiction, New South Wales, domestic violence offenses cover acts of personal violence (such as stalking, intimidation, or strangulation) committed against a person with whom the offender has (or had) a domestic relationship. For domestic violence offenses, courts must impose a full-time prison sentence unless a valid exception applies. In the case of strangulation, an offense associated with domestic violence, the maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment.

Violence against women remained a problem, particularly in indigenous communities. Indigenous women were 32 times as likely to be hospitalized due to family violence as non-Indigenous women, according to a 2018 report.

Women were more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence, including homicide, across all states and territories. According to a 2016 survey, women were nearly three times more likely to have experienced partner violence than men, with approximately one in six women (17 percent) and one in 16 men (6 percent) having experienced partner violence since the age of 15. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of women who experienced partner violence in the last decade remained relatively stable. Federal and state government programs provide support for victims, including funding for numerous women’s shelters. Police received training in responding to domestic violence. Federal, state, and territorial governments collaborated on the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-22, the first effort to coordinate action at all levels of government to reduce violence against women.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment. Complaints of sexual harassment can lead to criminal proceedings or disciplinary action against the defendant and compensation claims by the plaintiff. The HRC receives complaints of sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination. The penalties vary across states and territories.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under laws related to family, religion, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance, as well as employment, credit, pay, owning or managing businesses, education, and housing. The government enforced the law effectively.

Employment discrimination against women occurred, and there was a much-publicized “gender pay gap” (see section 7.d.).

Birth Registration: Children are citizens if at least one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of the child’s birth. Children born in the country to parents who are not citizens or permanent residents acquire citizenship on their 10th birthday, if they lived the majority of their life within the country. Failure to register does not result in denial of public services. In general, births were registered promptly.

Child Abuse: State and territorial child protection agencies investigate and initiate prosecutions of persons for child neglect or abuse. All states and territories have laws or guidelines that require members of certain designated professions to report suspected child abuse or neglect. The federal government’s role in the prevention of child abuse includes funding for research, carrying out education campaigns, developing action plans against commercial exploitation of children, and funding community-based parenting programs.

In 2017 the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released its final recommendations on what institutions and governments should do to address child sexual abuse and ensure justice for victims. Since the recommendations were released, the Royal Commission website reports there have been 42,000 calls handled, 8,000 sessions held, and 2,500 referrals to authorities, including police. The government also responded by creating the National Office for Child Safety in the Department of Social Services in July 2018.

The rate of indigenous children on care and protection orders was nearly seven times greater than the nonindigenous rate.

In September, Roman Catholic Cardinal George Pell lodged an application with the country’s highest court to appeal his child sex abuse convictions. In August the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria upheld Pell’s December 2018 conviction on five counts of child sexual abuse of two boys in the 1990s. Pell was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and required to register as a sex offender. The Court of Appeal also refused Pell’s release from prison during his appeal.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. Persons age 16 to 18 may apply to a judge or magistrate for an order authorizing marriage to a person who has attained 18 years; the marriage of the minor also requires parental or guardian consent. Two persons younger than age 18 may not marry each other; reports of marriages involving a person younger than age 18 were rare. The government reported an increase in the number of forced marriage investigations, but the practice remained rare.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for commercial sexual exploitation of children and was effectively enforced.

The law prohibits citizens and residents from engaging in, facilitating, or benefiting from sexual activity with children overseas who are younger than age 16 and provides for a maximum sentence of 17 years’ imprisonment for violations. The government continued its awareness campaign to deter child sex tourism through distribution of pamphlets to citizens and residents traveling overseas.

The legal age for consensual sex ranges from ages 16 to 18 by state. Penalties for statutory rape vary across jurisdictions. Defenses include reasonable grounds for believing the alleged victim was older than the legal age of consent and situations in which the two persons are close in age.

All states and territories criminalize the possession, production, and distribution of child pornography. Maximum penalties for these offenses range from four to 21 years’ imprisonment. Federal laws criminalize using a “carriage service” (for example, the internet) for the purpose of possessing, producing, and supplying child pornography. The maximum penalty for these offenses is 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of A$275,000 ($186,000), or both. Under federal law, suspected pedophiles can be tried in the country regardless of where the crime was committed.

The government largely continued federal emergency intervention measures to combat child sexual abuse in aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, following findings of high levels of child sexual abuse and neglect in a 2007 inquiry. These measures included emergency bans on sales of alcohol and pornography, restrictions on the payment of welfare benefits in cash, linkage of support payments to school attendance, and medical examinations for all indigenous children younger than age 16 in the Northern Territory.

While public reaction to the interventions remained generally positive, some aboriginal activists asserted there was inadequate consultation and that the measures were racially discriminatory, since nonindigenous persons in the Northern Territory were not initially subject to such restrictions.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s report on compliance at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.

According to the 2016 census, the country’s Jewish community numbered 91,000. During the year ending on September 30, 2018, the nongovernmental Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported 366 anti-Semitic incidents, an increase of 59 percent over the previous 12-month period. These incidents included vandalism, threats, harassment, and physical and verbal assaults. One neo-Nazi group, Antipodean Resistance, was responsible for 36 percent of reported anti-Semitic incidents.

During the May election campaign, several candidates’ posters were defaced with swastikas and “Hitler” moustaches, including the posters of several Jewish parliamentarians. An anonymous letter was distributed in the electorate of one independent Jewish parliamentarian, opposing her candidacy and claiming Jews were spreading disease.

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government effectively enforced the law.

The disability discrimination commissioner of the HRC promotes compliance with federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law also provides for HRC mediation of discrimination complaints, authorizes fines against violators, and awards damages to victims of discrimination.

Children with disabilities generally attended school. The government provided funding for early intervention and treatment services and cooperated with state and territorial governments that ran programs to assist students with disabilities.

According to government sources, approximately half of Australians with a disability are employed, compared with 83 percent of all working-age persons.

Of total complaints (2,046) received by the HRC in 2017-18, 14 percent related to racial discrimination. The plurality of racial discrimination complaints related to employment (29 percent), with the second largest category being discrimination in the provision of goods and services (28.5 percent). Fewer than 1 percent of racial discrimination complaints related to access to places and facilities.

Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders constitute the country’s indigenous population. Despite federal and state government initiatives, indigenous peoples and communities continued to have high incarceration rates, high unemployment rates, relatively low levels of education, and high incidences of domestic and family violence, substance abuse, and limited access to health services in comparison with other groups. The National Indigenous Australians Agency has responsibility for policy and programs related to indigenous peoples and communities. The prime minister reports annually to parliament regarding government progress on eliminating indigenous inequalities.

Indigenous groups hold special collective native title rights in limited areas of the country and federal and state laws enable indigenous groups to claim unused government land. Indigenous ownership of land was predominantly in nonurban areas. Indigenous-owned or -controlled land constituted approximately 20 percent of the country’s area (excluding native title lands) and nearly 50 percent of the land in the Northern Territory. The National Native Title Tribunal resolves conflicts over native land title applications through mediation and acts as an arbitrator in cases where the parties cannot reach agreement about proposed mining or other development of land. Native title rights do not extend to mineral or petroleum resources, and in cases where leaseholder rights and native title rights conflict, leaseholder rights prevail but do not extinguish native title rights.

As part of the intervention to address child sexual abuse in Northern Territory indigenous communities (see section 6, Children), the national government administered indigenous communities directly. The strategy and a number of other programs provide funding for indigenous communities.

According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics, while indigenous peoples make up less than 3 percent of the total population, they constituted 27 percent of the full-time adult prison population. Nearly half of the imprisoned indigenous persons were serving sentences for violent offenses. Figures from parliament note that indigenous youth were significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. The data indicates that 68 percent of detained juveniles were from an indigenous background. It was more likely that an indigenous juvenile would be incarcerated than at any other point since 1991, when the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report was released. An Australian Law Reform Commission study released in March 2018 found that the justice system contributed to entrenching inequalities by not providing enough sentencing options or diversion programs for indigenous offenders.

The HRC has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.

No laws criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited by law in a wide range of areas, including employment, housing, family law, taxes, child support, immigration, pensions, care of elderly persons, and social security.

The law provides protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.

In 2017-18, the HRC received 87 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation and 30 based on gender identity.

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