Australia is a vibrant multicultural democracy with a strong record of protecting civil and political rights, but serious human rights issues remain. In 2016, the government continued its draconian policy of offshore transfers of asylum seekers to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru. There were growing calls to address abusive offshore detention conditions and resettle those found to be refugees in Australia.
Indigenous Australians remain disproportionately subject to the criminal justice system. In 2016, the government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a royal commission into the mistreatment of children in detention facilities in the Northern Territory.
Australia does not recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Australian government announced a plebiscite on the right of same-sex couples to marry, but political opponents blocked it, arguing a plebiscite is expensive and wasteful and that the issue should be determined by a parliamentary free vote.
In November, controversy over the Racial Discrimination Act—including attacks on the Australian Human Rights Commission for its handling of discrimination complaints—led the government to set up a parliamentary inquiry to examine whether the act imposes unreasonable limits on free speech. Other human rights concerns include overly broad counterterrorism laws and limits to the rights of people with disabilities.
SOURCE: Human Rights Watch. “Australia: Events of 2016.” HRW 2017 [In: Human Rights Watch World Report 2017]
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