Indigenous people continued to make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population. Major changes to immigration detention practices resulted in the release of child asylum-seekers and their families. However, the policy of mandatory detention of asylum-seekers remained unchanged. There were concerns that new counter-terrorism measures could have a negative impact on fundamental human rights.

Violence against women

Although the government extended the national awareness campaign, "Violence against Women – Australia says No", it did not provide funding in the 2005 budget for the two substantive national programmes addressing domestic and sexual violence against women (Partnerships against Domestic Violence and the National Initiative to Combat Sexual Assault). The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare found that on average 48 per cent of women fleeing domestic violence were turned away from specialist accommodation for lack of resources.

The Victorian state government abolished the partial defence of provocation to murder and amended self-defence laws in recognition of the gendered nature of these defences. Victoria and New South Wales established pilot, specialized domestic violence courts.

  • In August, a Northern Territory court sentenced a 50-year-old man to one month's imprisonment with two years suspended after a charge of raping a 14-year-old girl was reduced to "carnal knowledge". The man's defence argued that he had a right to sexual relations with the girl who was a "promised bride" under Aboriginal customary law. In December an appeal court found the sentence "manifestly unjust" and ordered that the man serve at least 18 months' imprisonment.

Indigenous people

The government's Productivity Commission report, Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2005, noted an increase in the number of indigenous Australians who reported being victims of violence. The report noted that indigenous people were 11 times more likely than other Australians to be imprisoned and that the life expectancy of indigenous people was around 17 years less than that of the population as a whole.

  • A coroner's inquiry into the 2004 death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee on Palm Island started in February 2005 and was continuing at the end of the year.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

In June, the government announced changes to migration legislation affecting asylum-seekers and refugees. These increased ministerial discretionary powers and resulted in the release of all children and their families from immigration detention centres into community detention. Not all those released were granted permanent visas and many still faced uncertain futures.

Public awareness of the detention of an Australian permanent resident and the forcible removal from Australia of an Australian citizen resulted in inquiries into Australia's immigration detention centres and into the operation of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. The ensuing reports were critical of both cases and found additional instances of wrongful detention, poor case management and inadequate care of detainees' mental health.

Human rights and security

Counter-terrorism laws introduced in December contained measures with potentially negative impacts on fundamental human rights. Measures included preventative detention in secret for 14 days without charge or trial, and renewable control orders for up to 12 months; the latter could severely constrain freedom of movement and association and could limit employment and communications. Freedom of speech was limited by new sedition laws.

Australian David Hicks entered his fourth year in detention in Guantánamo Bay, pending his trial by a US military commission which fails to meet international fair trial standards. The Australian government continued to assert such commissions would deliver fair trials. David Hicks' trial was stayed by a US court on 14 November 2005 (see United Kingdom entry). Mamdouh Habib, the other Australian detainee held by the US authorities in Guantánamo Bay, was repatriated to Australia without charge in January 2005.

This 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.