Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Australia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 6 July 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Australia, 6 July 2011, available at: [accessed 17 December 2017]
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.

The 2010 federal elections in Australia resulted in a hung parliament, with the incumbent Labor Party forming a minority government with the support of an Australian Greens' MP and three independent MPs. The treatment of asylum seekers was once again a major issue in the national election.

Aboriginal Australians

Following former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's apology in 2008 to indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generation (children of Aboriginal or Torres Strait islander descent who were systematically removed from their families by federal or state officials, in a policy that was in place until the 1960s), in 2010 current Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the government's intention to hold a referendum to recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in the Australian Constitution. The government has established an expert panel to lead a national discussion and broad consultation which will take place in 2011. A key issue will be whether this recognition will be in the form of a new provision inserted into the text of the Constitution, or a reference in the preamble.

In all social indicators, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to rank as the most disadvantaged peoples in Australia, for example in indices of education, employment, health, standard of living, life expectancy and incidence of domestic violence. They are also grossly over-represented in the child protection and criminal justice systems.

In June 2010, Australia was considered by the CEDAW committee. While congratulating Australia on a range of indicators regarding the status of women, the CEDAW committee noted that indigenous women and girls face the highest levels of violence of any ethnic group in the country, especially at home, where indigenous women are 35 times as likely to be hospitalized as a result of family violence-related assaults as non-indigenous females. The CEDAW committee also observed that indigenous women have fewer opportunities, are less likely to participate in public life, and have more restricted access to justice, and to quality education, health care and legal aid services.

The Australian government's response to the levels of disadvantage faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has been the 'Closing the Gap' campaign. This campaign has been criticized by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples for insufficiently consulting and collaborating with indigenous communities regarding its design and implementation, and accordingly failing to achieve meaningful change in indigenous peoples' lives.

Asylum seekers

The issue of refugees and asylum seekers continues to capture the nation's attention, and national debate continues around asylum seekers arriving or attempting to arrive on Australian shores by boat. A policy of mandatory indefinite detention remains in place for all asylum seekers. This policy has been applied indiscriminately, including to children, and as of mid-January 2011 there were 1,065 children living in immigration detention facilities around Australia. In October 2010, the government announced plans to release the majority of unaccompanied children and families into the community by June 2011.

On 15 December 2010, a wooden boat carrying up to 100 Iranian, Iraqi and Kurdish asylum seekers smashed onto the cliffs of Christmas Island. There were 42 survivors but at least 30 people lost their lives. Three children were orphaned by the tragedy. Those who survived were immediately detained on Christmas Island, where they await processing.

The Australian government recently announced that it is considering further offshore processing of asylum seekers in Timor Leste. Responsibility for legal processing, resettlement and processes for failed asylum seekers would fall to the Timorese government, which is a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Migrant communities

Since 1945, 7 million immigrants have come to Australia; 44 per cent of Australians were either born outside the country or have at least one parent who was.

Despite the large numbers of migrants in Australia, targeted discrimination against minority communities continues to be a serious issue in Australian society. African communities experience particularly high levels of discrimination. This is especially the case for the Sudanese community, which is one of the fastest growing ethnic minority communities in Australia. Sudanese Australians often suffer discrimination, racial vilification and negative stereotyping, which has been perpetuated by the media and the government by focusing the discourse on the community's alleged levels of criminality. This discrimination often extends to a range of economic and social rights, including finding or maintaining employment, accessing housing and public spaces, and discriminatory policing.

Muslim women in Australia are also particularly vulnerable, and report experiencing discrimination, and feeling unsafe and unwelcome. This affects their freedom of movement, and their sense of safety and control and agency over their own lives. The feeling of vulnerability is heightened for those women wearing the hijab, who are easily identifiable targets for discrimination. Migrant women overall also experience low levels of participation in the labour market, and are often engaged in low-paying jobs. There is a lack of linguistic and culturally appropriate services, limiting migrant women's access to public services, including health care.

In recognition of the discrimination and racism experienced by migrants, the Labor government announced a new policy on multiculturalism in February 2011. A new entity, the Australian Multicultural Council (AMC), will be established, which will operate as an independent and permanent body and advise the government on policies that pertain to multiculturalism. Its mandate will be broader than that held by the current advisory council, and the AMC will have a formal role in devising multicultural policy, as well as an advisory role.

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