Aslan Shand, acting editor
Australia’s failing response to Indigenous Australians, refugees and the treatment of whistleblowers who alert the public to government corruption was once again highlighted in this year’s Human Rights Watch World Report 2021.
The continuing failure of the Australian government and people to respect and improve the lives of Indigenous Australians was highlighted on multiple fronts. Indigenous Australians make up 29 per cent of Australia’s adult prison population, but just three per cent of the population.
The Report highlighted the impact of laws such as jailing Indigenous people for unpaid fines and the high level of preventable deaths in custody as key issues across the country. In particular, the April 2020 finding by a Victorian coroner who ‘found the 2017 death of Aboriginal woman Tanya Day “clearly preventable” and that “unconscious bias” was a factor in her being reported to police and arrested’. This unconscious bias against First Nations People was also demonstrated in the healthcare system and highlighted by the death of a 6-year-old Indigenous Australian boy who died owing to ‘inadequate’ treatment in 2017.
The unconscionable destruction and desecration of Indigenous sites was also demonstrated by the actions of Rio Tinto when they blew up a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site in Western Australia in May 2020.
Not only has the Australian government now marked seven years in holding legitimate refugees in offshore processing facilities but they have also actively blocked offers from the New Zealand government for their resettlement outside Australia. ‘At least 12 refugees and asylum seekers have died in Australia’s offshore processing system since 2013, six of them suicides’, according to the Report.
This leaves about 290 refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru and at least another 1,200 in limbo who were transferred to Australia for medical and other reasons. A bill that would grant detention staff the right to seize phones and give detention officers ‘new search and seize powers without the need of a warrant’ is currently pending in the upper house.
The ongoing efforts of the government to cover up their own corrupt actions was again highlighted by the government’s willingness to reduce freedom of expression and lack of protection for whistleblowers. Barrister and former ACT attorney-general Bernard Collaery and ‘Witness K’ currently face the risk of jail after they exposed the Australian government’s bugging of the Timor-Leste government’s offices in an attempt to gain a trade advantage.
Federal attorney-general Christian Porter ‘has invoked powers under the National Security Information Act’ to hold parts of the trial in secret to prevent full public accountability of the government’s actions.
The report also examined issues on the rights of older people, people with disabilities, children’s rights, foreign policy, and the government’s lack of action to call out human rights violations in a range of countries. It also points out that Australia continues to export ‘military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, despite grave concerns about alleged war crimes by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’.
Find out more about the actions your government is taking on your behalf at Human Rights Watch World Report 2021.