Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of men and women, 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. 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 nonindigenous women, according to a 2018 report.
According to a 2020 statement by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the proportion of women who experienced partner violence in the last decade remained relatively stable. Women were more likely than men to be victims of domestic violence, including homicide, across all states and territories. The Institute of Criminology released a paper in February that analyzed the prevalence of domestic violence against women during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. The research showed that 4.2 percent of women had experienced physical violence from a cohabiting partner, while 5.8 percent had experienced coercive control. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, pregnant women, women with a long-term restrictive health condition, women from non-English speaking backgrounds, and younger women were more likely to experience physical or sexual violence or coercive control in the three months prior to the survey.
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 Human Rights Commission receives complaints of sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination. The penalties vary across states and territories.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
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 attendance by skilled health-care workers during pregnancy and childbirth. Indigenous persons in isolated communities had more difficulty accessing such services, including menstrual health- and hygiene-related products, 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. Government, at national and state and territory levels, provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and 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.).
Systematic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
It is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his or her race, color, descent, national origin or ethnic origin, or immigrant status. The law protects individuals from racial discrimination in many areas of public life, including employment, education, getting or using services, renting or buying a house or unit, and accessing public places. The law also makes racial hatred unlawful. The government effectively enforced the law.
Government programs to mitigate factors contributing to racial discrimination included the Closing the Gap framework launched in 2008 and the 2020 National Agreement on Closing the Gap, a revised framework for the Closing the Gap strategy that included 16 new targets. In March the government launched a National Anti-Racism Framework, which seeks to outline a coordinated, shared vision to tackle racism and promote racial equality.
Of 2,307 complaints received by the Human Rights Commission in 2019-20 (the most recent data available), 17 percent related to racial discrimination. The plurality of racial discrimination complaints related to the provision of goods and services (37 percent), with the second largest category being discrimination related to employment (19 percent). Of these racial complaints, 1 percent related to access to places and facilities.
Aboriginal persons 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.
In August the prime minister announced Australian dollars AU$379 million ($280 million) for reparations to indigenous individuals whom various bodies – including police, churches, and welfare institutions – forcibly removed from their families when they were children in the Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory, or Jervis Bay Territory.
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 directly administered indigenous communities, including some policing powers, education, healthcare, etc., and has several programs that provide funding for indigenous communities.
According to the Bureau of Statistics, while indigenous peoples make up less than 3 percent of the total population, they constitute 29 percent of all prisoners. The imprisonment rate for indigenous adults in 2019 was 12 times that for others. 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. According to a 2020 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, just under half of all the juveniles detained were indigenous, and indigenous youths ages 10-17 were 17 times more likely than non‑indigenous youths to be in detention.
The Human Rights Commission has an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner.
The Law Council of Australia; a conglomeration of legal, medical, and social justice organizations called Raise the Age Alliance; and other civil society groups campaigned for all governmental jurisdictions to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14. The age of responsibility is set independently by federal, state, and territory governments.
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 in 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 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 rate of indigenous children removed from their families for legal or safety reasons was nearly 10 times greater than that for the nonindigenous.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 for both boys and girls. Persons aged 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. Forced marriage is a criminal offense. In 2019 the government expanded the definition of forced marriage explicitly to capture all marriages involving children younger than age 16. 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 a substantial fine and 15 years’ imprisonment. Under federal law, suspected pedophiles can be tried in the country regardless of where the crime was committed, and the maximum penalty for persistent sexual abuse of a child outside the country is 25 years’ imprisonment.
The government largely continued federal emergency intervention measures to combat child sexual abuse in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, following findings of high levels of child sexual abuse and neglect in a 2007 inquiry. In 73 remote communities, these measures included emergency bans on sales of alcohol and pornography, restrictions on how welfare recipients could receive and spend payments, the linkage of support payments to school attendance, and required medical examinations for all indigenous children younger than age 16 in the Northern Territory. Police received authority to enter homes and vehicles without a warrant to enforce the intervention. Public reaction to the intervention was mixed, with some indigenous activists asserting there was inadequate consultation with affected communities, that the policies lacked evidentiary substantiation, that the intervention aimed to roll back indigenous land rights, and that the measures were racially discriminatory, because 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 Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction 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. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported the first decrease in anti-Semitic incidents since 2015; however, incidents categorized as “serious” rose significantly. These incidents included direct verbal abuse, threats, harassment, and physical assaults. Media reported that persons in the country posted comments and shared various images online portraying the coronavirus as a Jew and accusing Jews of creating and spreading the virus. In August antisemitic content surfaced online after some members of the Orthodox Jewish community attended an illegal engagement party during a pandemic lockdown. Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews publicly condemned the anti-Semitism.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The disability discrimination commissioner of the Human Rights Commission promotes compliance with federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law also provides for commission mediation of discrimination complaints, authorizes fines against violators, and awards damages to victims of discrimination. The government effectively enforced the law.
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.
Persons with disabilities may access health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others.
According to government sources, approximately half of Australians with a disability are employed, compared with approximately 80 percent of all working-age persons.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
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 February Victoria passed a law prohibiting “practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” joining other jurisdictions including the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland in outlawing so-called “conversion therapy.”
Transgender adolescents who seek certain treatments including hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgery are required to obtain either parental consent or court authorization. Three states – New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia – require surgery or medical treatment as a prerequisite for changing an individual’s gender identity on their birth certificate. Other identity documents issued by federal, state, and territory governments (including passports) do not have this prerequisite. In November, the Australian Medical Association expressed the view that no person, including intersex persons, should be subjected to medical procedures that modify sex characteristics without their informed consent.
Legal protections against discrimination for LGBTQI+ persons generally include exemptions for religious entities. In December Victoria passed a law removing exemptions that previously allowed religious schools to discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and other attributes. Several Australian states and territories have laws protecting LGBTQI+ persons against hate speech. Several have laws that require courts to consider whether a crime was motivated by hatred towards LGBTQI+ persons when sentencing an offender.