Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
In December 2020 the government appointed a special investigator to investigate Australian Defense Force personnel allegedly involved in 39 killings in Afghanistan from 2009-13 and recommend prosecutions. In July the government also announced a reform program to address responsibility for past failures and make cultural and systemic changes to prevent future departures from required standards. These actions followed a November 2020 recommendation by the inspector general of the Australian Defence Force that federal police investigate 19 soldiers over their alleged role in the murder of 39 prisoners and civilians and the cruel treatment of two others. The inspector general’s inquiry found credible information that junior special forces soldiers were goaded by more senior enlisted unit members into mistreating or killing prisoners and noncombatants, planting weapons and equipment on battlefield casualties to create justification for questionable engagements, and other possible crimes.
In August 2019, a Western Australia police officer pleaded not guilty to murder in the shooting of a 29-year-old indigenous woman. On October 23, the officer was acquitted of murder. After the death, the town was the first in the area to introduce a program in which police responded to similar calls with an indigenous cultural liaison officer and a mental health professional.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits such practices, and the government generally respected these provisions. There were occasional claims police and prison officials mistreated suspects in custody.
Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces.
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Police have authority to enter premises without a warrant in emergency circumstances.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
Although the constitution does not explicitly provide for freedom of speech or press and other media, 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 media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for media.
National Security: In May a Senate Inquiry into Press Freedom released a report that tabled 17 recommendations, including on improving the freedom of information laws and amending the criminal code to reverse the onus on journalists to prove their stories are in the public interest. This followed the 2019 federal police raid on the home of a News Corp reporter seeking information about the publication of classified material, and a subsequent raid on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation headquarters over reporting of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan that sparked a national discussion on press freedom. A coalition of media organizations led the debate and calling for more legal protections for journalists and whistleblowers.
Although the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are not codified in federal law, the government generally respected these rights.
In July and August, thousands of protesters attended “Freedom Rally” demonstrations against stay-at-home orders and other public health measures adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following a July 24 protest in Sydney, New South Wales, police reportedly issued hundreds of fines and charged dozens of protesters for violating public health orders. Some police officers were reportedly injured when protesters then began throwing objects; two men were arrested and charged after allegedly striking a police horse. In August a man was sentenced to eight months jail for his role in organizing antilockdown protests in Sydney.
Victoria police fired pepper-ball rounds during an August 21 protest in Melbourne and arrested more than 200 protesters during what the Victoria police commissioner called one of the most violent protests in 20 years. According to media reports, at least nine officers were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation and the government generally respected these rights. Public health orders enacted to control the spread of COVID-19, including internal and external border control measures, quarantine requirements, and lockdowns restricted movement.
In-country Movement: Most state and territory governments enacted interstate border control measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, either temporarily prohibiting movement or enforcing a mandatory 14-day quarantine period on arrival. Several jurisdictions at times prevented citizens from returning to their homes after travelling interstate when a COVID outbreak occurred. Most state and territory governments at times imposed strict lockdown measures to control the spread of COVID-19, requiring residents to stay at home unless commuting for a designated purpose, such as to purchase groceries or for essential work. Some governments temporarily restricted residents’ movements to a three-mile radius, imposed nighttime curfews, and required work permits for those undertaking essential work. Penalties for breaching stay-at-home orders included substantial fines. In August a man was jailed for two months for leaving Sydney in contravention of public health measures.
Some human rights groups expressed concerns about several public health measures imposed by subnational governments. On November 2, 2020, in the case of Loielo v Giles, the Supreme Court of Victoria ruled that a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew imposed in Victoria in August-September 2020 was lawful, ruling it proportionate to the public health threat and consistent with the state’s Charter of Human Rights.
Foreign Travel: In June a federal court rejected a legal challenge to the pandemic-related requirement for citizens to obtain an exemption from the Department of Home Affairs to leave the country. Citizens and permanent residents must provide evidence that travel supports a permitted purpose such as business, urgent medical treatment not available in the country, or the national interest. Human rights groups criticized pandemic-related health measures sharply reducing inbound international travel, claiming they effectively deprived citizens of the right to enter the country. In April two citizens brought a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee accusing the government of breaching Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a view echoed by some human rights groups. In May the government implemented a two-week ban on entry by individuals, including citizens, who had recently been in India due to concerns about the COVID-19 situation there. Failure to comply carried a penalty of five years’ imprisonment. Human rights groups and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized these restrictions.
The government cooperated with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern. UNHCR noted, however, that it continued to work with the government to overcome the organization’s concerns, including access to durable solutions. In a 2019 submission to a Senate committee, UNHCR detailed challenges such as prolonged detention of migrants and access to asylum and statelessness determination procedures.
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 and other humanitarian entrants for resettlement in the country. The Department of Home Affairs oversees refugee resettlement via the Refugee and Humanitarian Program, which distinguishes between “offshore” and “onshore” individuals. Individuals residing offshore – outside the country – can apply for a humanitarian visa if they are subject to persecution in their home country; meet the “compelling reasons” criterion; and satisfy health, character, and national security requirements. Individuals who arrived in the country legally and later seek protection can apply for a Permanent Protection visa. Persons who seek to enter the country without proper authorization are classified as illegal migrants and subject to detention in the country or, for unauthorized maritime arrivals, in a third country for offshore processing. Individuals who arrived illegally may be permitted to apply for a Temporary Protection visa or a Safe Haven Enterprise visa at the discretion and invitation of the responsible government minister but are precluded from applying for a Permanent Protection visa and it was generally very difficult for them to legalize their status.
UNHCR identifies and refers some applicants who are residing offshore to the government (usually the Department of Home Affairs) to be considered under the offshore component of the humanitarian program. While the Migration Act contains family reunification provisions, such requests from irregular migrants are given lowest priority.
The law allows the home affairs minister to designate and enter into an agreement with a third country as a regional processing country for migrants who attempt to enter the country illegally through maritime arrivals. By law any unauthorized maritime arrival entering the country’s waters is liable for transfer to a designated regional processing country for processing and resettlement.
Memoranda of understanding for refugee processing were signed with Papua New Guinea and Nauru. Centers were established in those countries; however, they were closed in October 2017 and March 2019, respectively. The settlement arrangements provide for third-country resettlement of unauthorized maritime arrivals that Nauru or Papua New Guinea assess as needing international protection. The assessments are conducted by the regional processing country under its domestic laws. On October 6, Australia and Papua New Guinea announced the refugee processing agreement between the two countries will end on December 31, and the remining refugees will be offered a permanent migration pathway if they wish to stay in Papua New Guinea. A memorandum of understanding for the resettlement of Nauru-determined refugees in Cambodia existed from 2014-18.
As of August 25, approximately 107 refugees or asylum seekers remained in Nauru, housed in community-based facilities funded by the Australian Government; another 125 remained in similar facilities in Papua New Guinea. Since 2019 all persons transferred to these countries reside in community-based accommodation pending third-country migration outcomes.
A detention facility on Christmas Island, an Australian territory, was reopened in 2020 to accommodate overflow in the country’s immigration detention network. As of August 29, the facility held approximately 250 persons, mostly individuals whose visas were cancelled for character reasons (i.e., persons who served 12 months or more in jail and were pending removal from the country). There were media reports asylum seekers were moved to the facility as early as 2019.
By law the government must facilitate legal representation to all persons in immigration detention in the country when requested. Some government-funded legal assistance remained available for visa applications for unauthorized maritime arrivals.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Domestic and international organizations reported deteriorating mental health among migrants brought from Nauru and Papua New Guinea for medical treatment and detained in immigration facilities in the country. These organizations alleged some migrants held in these facilities lacked access to communal and outdoor areas and to adequate mental health and other medical services, increasing the risk of suicide and self-harm among those being treated. The government released some individuals from these facilities on short-stay visas or into community detention pending departure from the country. The government reported that it provided necessary services to refugees and denied claims of harsh conditions or lack of medical services. Protests in Brisbane and Melbourne seeking policy changes, including a change to community detention policy, continued during the year.
Approval of transfers of asylum seekers and refugees from Nauru and Papua New Guinea to Australia for medical treatment not available in the regional processing location is handled on a case-by-case basis subject to clinical advice.
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 or job training 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 without authorization and were not taken to regional processing countries: the Temporary Protection Visa and Safe Haven Enterprise Visa. The government must invite these migrants, who are otherwise barred from making a visa application due to their status as unauthorized arrivals, to apply for either visa. The Temporary Protection Visa is valid for three years, and visa holders can work, study, and reside anywhere in the country with access to support services. Once expired, Temporary Protection Visa holders may apply for another. The Safe Haven Enterprise Visa is valid for five years and is granted on the basis that the visa holder works or studies in nonmetropolitan areas. Safe Haven Enterprise Visa holders may apply for certain permanent or temporary visas after 42 months.