Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
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.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The internet was widely available to and used by citizens.
Law enforcement agencies require a warrant to intercept telecommunications, including internet communications.
In April parliament passed the Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material Act in response to the livestreaming via Facebook of the shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, by an Australian citizen. It introduced new offenses for social media sites and online content-hosting services that allow videos of offensively violent conduct to be viewed in the country. This law defined such conduct as videos depicting terrorist acts, murders, attempted murders, torture, rape, or kidnapping. Services that fail to rapidly remove material from their website are subject to large fines (including up to A$10.5 million ($7.1 million) or 10 percent of annual revenue for corporations) and the imprisonment of their employees. In September the government ordered five websites, all based outside the country, to remove “abhorrent violent material” or face prosecution. The material on at least one website included a video of the beheading of a Scandinavian tourist in Morocco.
Two special representatives of the UN Human Rights Council, David Kaye and Fionnuala Ni Aolain, publicly opposed the law and questioned its consistency with human rights standards and freedom of expression. These concerns were echoed by media companies in the country, which warned the law could lead to the censorship of legitimate speech. Facebook, Google, and Amazon also opposed the laws, warning it would require “proactive” surveillance of users worldwide.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
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.
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 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.