The Universal Periodic Review (UPR), where UN member states question each other on human rights issues, saw Australia receive more recommendations than any other country.
At the top of the agenda was Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, children in detention, and its First Nations people.
Of particular concern: the high incarceration rates of Indigenous people – especially juveniles – as well as mandatory sentencing laws in some states, and the age of criminal responsibility.
In Australia, Indigenous children are 24 times more likely to be locked up than non-indigenous children and Australia holds 10 and 11 year old children criminally responsible. This is younger than the international standard of 12 years old.
“They weren't talking about justice targets, or justice reinvestments or specific issues that we wanted to hear. So it really was an unsatisfactory response."
An Australian representative was asked to respond to a recommendation by a number of countries like Uruguay, Norway and Canada about whether Australia should take more serious action to reduce incarceration rates[S1] .
The representative said change comes from focusing on “the long-term drivers of violence”.
“The government is addressing these by its commitment to education, employment and economic development,” Bronwyn Field, from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet said.
Indigenous Rights Manager for Amnesty International Australia, Tammy Solonec, was in Geneva at the UN event and added that she thought the government’s response was disappointing.
“They weren't talking about justice targets, or justice reinvestments or specific issues that we wanted to hear. So it really was an unsatisfactory response,” Ms Solonec said.
While many countries praised Australia’s approach in tackling domestic violence, the United States said they want to see stronger efforts made in combating the disproportionate effect it has on Indigenous families.
The US also had a strong message for the Australian government in regards to the closure of West Australian communities:
“To ensure that indigenous peoples are consulted when considering the viability of remote communities, and that those affected by closures of communities receive transitional support and unimpeded access to ancestral lands,” the US recommendation read.
Heavy criticism was also targeted at Australia for not ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) -- a move Australia agreed to implement at its last review, four and a half years ago.
“To ensure that indigenous peoples are consulted when considering the viability of remote communities, and that those affected by closures of communities receive transitional support and unimpeded access to ancestral lands."
If implemented, it would allow the UN to inspect all places of detention, from juvenile facilities to offshore detention centres.
“We really need to push on Australia to do that, because so many of our people have died in lock-ups- Aboriginal deaths in custody- we see lots of Aboriginal people having standards in prisons that don't meet international obligations,” Ms Solonec said.
The long list of recommendations, mostly criticising Australia's treatment of Indigenous people and asylum seekers, had a few encouraging points.
Many countries were supportive of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, as well as the government's $100 hundred million investment in tackling domestic violence.