Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 14:07 GMT

Amnesty International Report 2008 - Australia

Publisher Amnesty International
Publication Date 28 May 2008
Cite as Amnesty International, Amnesty International Report 2008 - Australia, 28 May 2008, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Head of State: Queen Elizabeth II, represented by Michael Jeffery
Head of government: Kevin Rudd (replaced John Howard in December)
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 20.6 million
Life expectancy: 80.9 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 6/5 per 1,000

Large-scale government intervention to address disadvantaged Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory was developed without adequate consultation and resulted in a reduction of Indigenous control over their land. Counter-terrorism laws continue to cause concern. Asylum-seekers experienced long-term detention offshore under the "Pacific Solution".


Indicators of Indigenous disadvantage remained unacceptably high. The life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is 17 years lower than that of the rest of the population and Indigenous people are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous people.

Legislation for unprecedented intervention in the Northern Territory was passed in response to a damning report on child sexual abuse. The intervention, developed without adequate consultation, committed significant resources to address disadvantage in Indigenous communities but overrode Indigenous controls on access to their land. The legislation attempted to by-pass Australia's Racial Discrimination Act and the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination.

Australia voted against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples when it was passed by the UN General Assembly in September.

'War on terror'

  • Indian national Dr Mohammed Haneef was detained without charge for 12 days before terrorism charges were dropped, highlighting flaws in Australia's counter-terrorism laws. Subsequently, his visa to work in Australia was revoked, a decision overturned in the Federal Court.
  • In May, Guantánamo Bay detainee David Hicks was repatriated to jail in Australia after entering a plea bargain before a US Military Commission. He was released in December. Under the terms of Hicks' plea bargain, he is not allowed to talk about his experience for twelve months and was required to sign a statement that he was not tortured or otherwise ill-treated while in US custody. On his release he was placed under a control order restricting his movement, association and communication – the second such order to be issued in Australia. The first, on terrorism suspect Joseph "Jack" Thomas, was lifted in August and restrictions were included in his bail conditions. The High Court earlier determined that Thomas' control order did not breach the Constitution.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Under Australia's "Pacific Solution" offshore detention policy, 82 Sri Lankans continued to be detained on Nauru, 72 of whom had already been deemed by the Australian Immigration Minister to be refugees. The previous Australian government attempted to pressurize seven Burmese Rohingya asylum-seekers to return to Malaysia to avoid its obligations under the Refugee Convention. They remained on Nauru for over 12 months, but were resettled in December following the change in government.

  • Iraqi refugee Mohammed Faisal was resettled in Australia after being detained on Nauru for over five years. Following a review of his security status, which was initially found to be problematic, he was accepted by Australia where he received medical treatment after becoming suicidal.
  • In October, Australia announced a moratorium on resettling refugees from Africa, citing difficulties regarding their ability to integrate. This raised concerns about discrimination in Australia's resettlement policy.
  • Continued use of Temporary Protection Visas obliges refugees to re-apply for protection after three years, denying them security to remain in Australia.

Violence against women

In December, a District Court described the gang rape of a 10-year-old Indigenous girl as "childish experimentation" and brought the issue of consent inappropriately into the trial. The nine men found guilty were not given custodial sentences

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