Australia's human rights performance under fire

Human Rights Watch has released a scathing review of Australia's policies on asylum seekers, disability, sexual orientation and Indigenous affairs.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

The New York-based group, Human Rights Watch, has released a scathing review of Australia's policies on asylum seekers, disability, sexual orientation and Indigenous affairs.

The report criticises the current Coalition government and its Labor predecessor.

Thea Cowie reports.

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Most damning is the report's assessment of Australia's asylum seeker and refugee policies.

It accuses successive governments of undermining Australia's previously strong human rights record by demonising asylum seekers arriving by boat, and undercutting refugee protections.

The watchdog criticises Australia for mandatory and indefinite detention of asylum seekers, and for sending them overseas for processing and possible resettlement if they are found to be refugees.

It's also critical of the re-introduction of Temporary Protection Visas for refugees, and accuses Australia of failing to raise human rights abuses with its neighbours.

The worldwide report, covering policy decisions up to last November, is almost 700 pages long.

But Human Rights Watch Australia Director Elaine Pearson says the chapter on Australia stands out for all the wrong reasons.

"I don't think there's any other country that is the wealthiest country in the region sending asylum seekers back to much poorer, much less equipped countries on any regular basis. So I think Australia shouldn't be paving the way forward in this respect for other countries to follow. I think this is definitely a race to the bottom and Australia should be really thinking long and hard if that's how it wants its global standing to be remembered: for its cruel policies to deter asylum seekers."

The report card doesn't touch on Abbott government policies introduced since November when the document was finalised.

Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs says the Human Rights Watch report adds to the growing body of domestic and international criticism of Australia's asylum seeker policies.

Ms Triggs has told the ABC her biggest worry is the continued detention of children.

"I think every Australian understands that perhaps this is one area where Australia has simply gone too far. We've got over a thousand children in closed detention, in isolated conditions. Our concern is, as a matter of law, children should not be detained except as a matter of last resort and we are clearly not at the last resort level."

The report also raises concerns about Australia's policy on people with disabilities.

It criticises laws which it says promote guardianship and strip people of their right to make decisions about their own lives.

The report says alarmingly, Australian laws also allow women and girls to be involuntarily sterilised if the Family Court or Guardianship Tribunal decides that's in their best interests.

The watchdog is critical of a Senate committee review last year for recommending the practice be regulated, rather than banned.

Liberal Senator Sue Boyce sat on the committee.

She says the government is working to improve the situation, but it's more complicated than the report suggests.

"Unfortunately of course a Senate committee can't start telling state governments what to do. But we very much suggested that everybody should be moving towards a best protection of rights test rather than simply looking at the best interests which often ended looking at other people's best interests. Judges have taken into account how hard it may or may not be to manage the menstruation of women with a disability. But the view of the committee is that is a failure of the care system not something that a woman should be punished for by being sterilised."

Human Rights Watch also unimpressed with Australia's progress in closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.

It points to the figures showing that Indigenous Australians die 10 to 12 years before their non-indigenous counterparts, and that the Indigenous infant mortality rate is almost twice as high.

Australia's opposition to same sex marriage is also lamented, along with the exemption of religious organisations from changes made last year to the Sex Discrimination Act.


Source World News Australia

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