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. Violence against women remained a problem, particularly in indigenous communities.
According to the government, approximately one in three women experienced physical violence, and nearly one in five experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 years. In July the ABS reported that in 2015 police recorded 21,380 cases of sexual assault, of which 82 percent of the victims were women. Two-thirds of sexual assaults occurred in a residential location.
In 2015, there were 158 homicides linked to family and domestic violence; 103 of the victims were female. In September 2015, in its first major policy initiative, the government under Prime Minister Turnbull announced a policy package of A$100 million ($75 million) to address the threat of domestic violence, particularly against women. Federal and state governments funded programs to combat domestic violence and 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.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is a criminal act in all states and territories of the country, and these laws apply extraterritoriality to protect citizens or residents from being subjected to FGM/C overseas. In June a court sentenced a Muslim leader to at least 11 months in jail for covering up FGM/C offenses against two sisters in Wollongong and Sydney between 2009 and 2012. The court sentenced the girls’ mother, and the woman who carried out the procedure, to 11 months home detention. It was the country’s first FGM/C trial. In 2013 the government held a national summit on FGM/C and subsequently announced a National Compact on Female Genital Mutilation. In 2013 the government announced it would provide A$1 million ($750,000) for 15 new projects aimed at ending FGM/C among citizens whether they lived domestically or abroad.
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 HRC received 212 complaints of sexual harassment during 2014-15; however, separate statistics on resolution of harassment complaints were not available.
An independent review of the Victoria Police Department released in December 2015 found workplace sexual harassment to be an endemic problem despite more than 30 years of legislation prohibiting sex based discrimination. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission found evidence that of more than 5,000 participants surveyed, 40 percent of women and 7 percent of men had experienced sexual harassment. The review found evidence of chronic underreporting with victims afraid of negative professional and personal consequences resulting from making a complaint.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health; and to have the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. State and territorial governments provided comprehensive sex education and sexual health and family planning services. Women had access to contraception and skilled medical care, including essential prenatal, obstetric, and postpartum care. Indigenous persons in isolated communities had more difficulty accessing such services than the population in general. Cultural factors and language barriers also inhibited use of sexual health and family planning services by indigenous persons, and rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy among the indigenous population were higher than among the general population.
Discrimination: The law provided 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 and/or managing businesses, education, and housing. Employment discrimination against women occurred, and there was a much-publicized “gender pay gap” (see section 7.d.). The HRC received 453 complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act from 2014-15, including 358 from women.
There were well-organized and effective public and private women’s rights organizations at the federal, state, and local levels. The federal sex discrimination commissioner of the HRC undertakes research, formulates policy, and conducts educational work designed to eliminate gender discrimination. The Office for Women, under the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, focuses on reducing violence against women, promoting women’s economic security, and enhancing the status of women.
Birth Registration: Children are citizens if at least one parent is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of the child’s birth; however, being physically born within the country does not confer citizenship on a child. 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. 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. The federal government’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse released an interim report in 2014, which included the personal stories of 150 abused persons. In August 2015 the commission released recommendations on background checks for persons working with children and, in September 2015 released recommendations on redress and civil litigation. It continued to conduct hearings during the year.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, a national agency that maintains health statistics and information, there were 42,457 children in substantiated abuse or neglect cases during 2014-15. The rate remained unchanged between 2012-13 and 2014-15 at approximately eight per 1,000 children. The rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children on care and protection orders was approximately seven times greater than the nonindigenous rate.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. A person between 16 and 18 years may apply to a judge or magistrate in a state or territory for an order authorizing marriage to a person who has attained 18 years, but the marriage of the minor still requires parental or guardian consent. Two persons younger than 18 years may not marry each other. Although no statistics were available, reports of marriages involving a person younger than 18 years were rare. There were reports forced marriage sometimes occurred.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law provides for a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment for commercial sexual exploitation of children. There were documented cases of children younger than 18 years subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.
The law prohibits citizens and residents from engaging in, facilitating, or benefiting from sexual activity with children overseas who are younger than 16 years 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 is 16 years in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Victoria, and Western Australia and 17 years in Tasmania and South Australia. In Queensland the age of consent for anal sex is 18 years, while the age of consent for all other sexual acts is 16 years. Maximum penalties for violations 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. In New South Wales; however, the law prohibiting child abuse material, including child pornography applies only to children younger than 16 years, and in South Australia the law prohibiting child exploitation material, including child pornography, only applies to children younger than 17 years. 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 ($206,000), or both. Under federal law suspected pedophiles can be tried in the country regardless of where the crime was committed. The AFP worked with its international partners to identify and charge persons involved in online exploitation of children.
The government largely continued federal emergency intervention measures initiated in 2007 to combat child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. 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 16 years in the Northern Territory. In 2012 parliament extended most of these interventions through 2022.
While public reaction to the interventions remained generally positive, some Aboriginal activists asserted there was inadequate consultation and 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. For information see the Department of State’s report on compliance at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
According to the 2011 census, the country’s Jewish community numbered 97,300 persons. During the 12-month period ending in September 2015, the nongovernmental Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported 190 anti-Semitic incidents logged by the council, Jewish community umbrella groups in each state, and the Australian Capital Territory, and community security groups. These incidents included vandalism, harassment, and physical and verbal assaults. In early April vandals spray-painted several swastikas on Marouba Synagogue in Sydney and on nearby bus stop signs. The synagogue’s Rabbi Friedman described the incident as “an assault against Jewish people and directed towards those in my community.”
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment; education; access to premises; access to air travel and other forms of transport; provision of goods, services (including health services), and facilities; accommodation; purchase of land; activities of clubs and associations; sport; the judicial system; and the administration of federal laws and programs. The government effectively enforced the law.
The disability discrimination commissioner of the HRC promotes compliance with federal laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The commissioner also promotes implementation and enforcement of state laws that require equal access to buildings and otherwise protect the rights of persons with disabilities, including providing equal access to communications and information. The law also provides for mediation by the HRC of discrimination complaints, authorizes fines against violators, and awards damages to victims of discrimination.
Schools are required to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act, and children with disabilities generally attended school. The federal government’s Better Start for Children with Disability initiative provided up to A$12,000 ($9,000) per person for early intervention services and treatment for eligible children with disabilities. The government also cooperated with state and territorial governments that ran programs to assist students with disabilities. The 2015 budget increased federal funding for students with disabilities to a record A$1.3 billion ($974 million) for 2015-16 and more than A$5 billion ($3.75 billion) over 2014-17. The government announced a National Consistent Collection of Data on School Students with Disability so that all students with disability receive funding on the same basis.
The HRC’s annual report stated that 740 complaints, citing 846 alleged grounds of discrimination, were filed under the Disability Discrimination Act during 2014-15. Of these, 34 percent related to employment, and 37 percent involved the provision of goods and services (see section 7.d.). The HRC resolved 772 complaints during the period, including 376 through conciliation.
In 2013 the government launched the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), a national disability insurance program and allocated a budget of A$14.3 billion ($10.7 billion) to the program. On June 30, the NDIS began across the country following a trial involving 30,000 people.
According to its annual report, the HRC received 561 complaints under the Racial Discrimination Act during 2014-15, citing 1,070 alleged grounds of discrimination. Of these, 18 percent involved employment, 15 percent involved provision of goods and services, and 18 percent alleged “racial hatred.” The HRC reported resolution of 405 complaints, including 202 through conciliation (see section 7.d.).
According to the 2011 census, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders constituted 2.5 percent of the total population.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders hold special collective native title rights in limited areas of the country. Aboriginal Land Rights and Native Title Acts at the federal and state levels 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 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. Under a 2002 High Court ruling, native title rights do not extend to mineral or petroleum resources and, in cases where leaseholder rights and native title rights are in conflict, leaseholder rights prevail but do not extinguish native title rights.
The Indigenous Land Corporation, established in 1995, provides a continuing source of funds for indigenous persons to acquire or manage land for the benefit of indigenous persons. It has acquired 250 properties and added more than 5.8 million hectares to the indigenous estate. It receives a minimum annual payment of A$45 million ($34 million) from the Land Account, which had a balance of A$2.014 billion ($1.5 billion) at the end of June 2015. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet administer the Land Account. It is separate from the National Native Title Tribunal and is not for payment of compensation to indigenous persons for loss of land or to titleholders for return of land to indigenous persons.
As part of the intervention to address child sexual abuse in Northern Territory indigenous communities (see section 6, Children), in 2007 the government took control of 64 indigenous communities through five-year land leases. The federal government’s Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory plan begun in 2012 repealed the emergency response and provided for negotiation of voluntary long-term leases. The Indigenous Advancement Strategy administered by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, which began in 2014, allocated indigenous-specific federal funding of A$4.9 billion ($3.7 billion) for a period of four years. Additionally, authorities allocated A$3.7 billion ($2.8 billion) through National Partnership Agreements, Special Accounts, and Special Appropriations. Funding was also available through indigenous-specific and mainstream programs delivered by other agencies.
In 2013 parliament unanimously passed an act of recognition intended to build momentum for a future referendum for constitutional recognition of indigenous people. The new government supported constitutional recognition of indigenous people and was working toward a referendum to achieve this aim. The portfolio of indigenous affairs had cabinet-level status, and indigenous policy coordination shifted to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Since 2008 the prime minister has reported annually to parliament on the government’s progress on eliminating indigenous inequalities. In February the prime minister reported mixed results in the eight years since the government set Closing the Gap targets, with advancements in education and child mortality, but slower progress in employment and life expectancy.
According to the ABS, as of March the rate of imprisonment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals was 11.4 times higher than the national imprisonment rate, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners represented 27 percent of the full-time adult prisoner population. The Ministry for Indigenous Affairs reported in October indigenous children and teenagers were 24 times more likely to be imprisoned than the nonindigenous population, while indigenous women are 30 times more likely to be incarcerated. Nearly half of the imprisoned indigenous persons were serving sentences for violent offenses.
The ABS reported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals experienced disproportionately high levels of domestic violence, with hospitalization for family-related assault 28 times more likely for indigenous men and 34 times more likely for indigenous women than the rest of the country’s population. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, life expectancy for indigenous men was an estimated 69.1 years, compared to 79.7 years for nonindigenous men; life expectancy for indigenous women was an estimated 73.7 years, compared to 83.1 years for nonindigenous women; and the indigenous unemployment rate was 17 percent, compared to approximately 5 percent for the nonindigenous population.
The Productivity Commission’s 2012 Indigenous Expenditure Reportestimated that total direct indigenous expenditure in 2010-11 was A$25.4 billion ($19 billion). This resulted in expenditures of A$44,128 ($33,100) per indigenous citizen, compared to A$19,589 ($14,700) for other citizens. The report found the difference was due to “greater intensity of service use” and “additional costs of providing services.”
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, established in 2012, is the national representative body for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders. Government funding for it ceased in 2014. The HRC has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There are no laws criminalizing 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 in 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 intersex status.
The HRC received 34 complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation during 2014-15.
In 2014 Victoria and New South Wales passed laws to expunge convictions related to consensual sex between men. In May, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews apologized to citizens convicted of homosexual acts. Following the federal election, the opposition Australian Labor Party announced its first federal “shadow minister” for equality.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
In June media reported vandals set a car on fire and sprayed anti-Muslim graffiti on a wall outside a Perth mosque. Earlier that month, someone left a pig’s head near the entrance of another mosque in Perth and parts of a pig in a nearby Islamic school.