Australia is the only liberal democracy without a national human rights protection. Our latest annual Human Rights Barometer report investigates key areas of human rights concern and highlights how a single Human Rights Act will uphold the rights of everyone and provide a mechanism to hold decision-makers to account.
In the 12 months since Amnesty International Australia launched its inaugural Human Rights Barometer, there has been a change of government and an emphasis on ambitious climate targets as well as more progressive policies on refugee rights and First Nations justice.
Australians clearly care about human rights; the previous Human Rights Barometer proved that and the latest reaffirms that support, despite a slight softening in overall opinions.
The latest report looks at 4 key human rights areas: First Nations peoples’ rights, racism, Covid-19 impact on human rights and refugee rights. These are the key findings:
- First Nations people are one of the most vulnerable groups in Australian society. 50% of respondents believe that First Nations people need the most protection within Australia.
- Australia needs to stop imprisoning First Nations children. First Nations children currently comprise 50% of Australia’s youth detention population. Half of the survey respondents supported raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old and only 20% did not agree with this option. A vast majority (81%) of respondents said there are better alternatives to locking kids up.
A Human Rights Act will ensure there is a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislative framework in place across Australia. Until then, Amnesty continues to advocate for the Australian government to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old.
- Australia has a problem with racism and it is our responsibility to fix it. More than half of the respondents (55%) agreed that Australia has a problem with racism to some degree. 80% of people surveyed felt that everyone in Australia has a responsibility to stop racism.
- There is a lack of understanding of different cultures and ethnic groups in Australia. Unfortunately, 57% of Australians believe that some cultures and ethnic groups do not want to fit into the ‘Australian’ way of life. 55% of respondents agreed and 18% of respondents strongly agreed that some cultures need to be doing more to fit in. This indicates that many people still believe homogeneity is necessary for a harmonious Australian society.
- Multiculturalism should be more freely discussed among Australians. Less than half of respondents disagreed with the statement that Australia is not a successful multicultural society, and 32% said they weren’t sure. There needs to be more open discussion around multiculturalism and diversity in Australia to increase understanding.
With racial inequality firmly in the spotlight, now is the best time for Australia to act. Together, we can build an equal Australia where everyone feels safe and a sense of belonging regardless of race, ethnicity, culture or religion.
- Australians are increasingly skeptical of COVID-19 restrictions. Compared to the previous year, there has been an increase in respondents who feel that COVID-19 restrictions and orders have infringed on their rights. 43% of respondents felt this way, compared to 32% in 2021.
- However, a majority of people still feel COVID-19 restrictions were worthwhile. 67% of respondents said that the impact of lockdowns and other COVID-19 restrictions on their rights has been worth it to slow the spread of the virus.
- Attitudes towards COVID-19 restrictions differ across the country. Queensland had the highest number of respondents (47%) who felt that restrictions had infringed on their rights. Victorians also had high levels of concern about the impact on their rights, though 61% still supported COVID-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, in Western Australia, there was strong support for restrictions, with 74% of residents saying they supported COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.
We have expressed concern over police overreach in the application of public health orders amidst the pandemic. Reports have been raised of discrimination and targeting of vulnerable groups, namely Indigenous, homeless and migrant Australians.
A Human Rights Act would ensure that these inherent rights are balanced and considered with the protection of public health. It could also ensure greater scrutiny and transparency over policing powers to prevent overreach and abuse in the future. Until then, Amnesty will continue advocating to protect the right to peaceful protest.
- Australians want to end offshore detention. 54% of respondents agreed and 20% of respondents strongly agreed that if people are found to be refugees, they should be settled in Australia as opposed to settled or detained offshore. A total of 60% of surveyed Australians think that the Federal Government spends too much money on keeping asylum seekers in detention.
- Many Australians support an increase in the humanitarian refugee intake level. One-third of respondents feel that Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake should increase, while 41% felt that it should stay the same. Only 14% of respondents felt that it should decrease. Amnesty International Australia has called upon the Government to increase the intake to a minimum of 30,000 places a year.
By the end of 2025, Amnesty aims to raise refugee and humanitarian intake numbers, increase community resettlement, secure the release of those incarcerated on- and off-shore and build safe pathways for asylum seekers into Australia.
In March 2022 after nine long years, the Australian Government accepted New Zealand’s long-standing offer of resettling refugees trapped in Australia’s cruel offshore detention regime. Now, Amnesty is calling for an increase in Australia’s annual humanitarian intake to a minimum of 30,000 places per year.
Do Australians know if these rights are protected?
Awareness of which rights are currently protected under Australian law remains varied and seemingly not that well understood.
- Bare majorities of the sample said that the right to vote (61%), freedom from discrimination (55%) and the rights of children (54%) were protected by Australian law.
- Only half the sample believed there were laws that protected Australians from torture (51%) and slavery (51%), with the other half saying there weren’t or they were unsure.
In reality, Australia is a signatory to the core human rights treaties but current federal laws only protect people from discrimination on the basis of their sexuality, gender, age, race, and disability. The current laws and framework are insufficient. The government is failing to protect, respect, and fulfil human rights, as is its responsibility under international law.
Support for a Human Rights Act (HRA) is still strong
- A vast majority (73%) of Australians support the introduction of an HRA when told Australia doesn’t currently have one.
- Knowing that Australia is the only liberal democracy without an HRA again bolsters the case for its introduction: 59% of the sample become more supportive when they know this.
- One fifth of supporters (22%) felt an HRA would provide important protection for vulnerable people and those who could not speak up for themselves.
- 10% felt that an HRA would simplify current laws and provide commonly agreed standards.
A Human Rights Act would ensure all individuals under Australia’s care, regardless of background or identity, have access to basic rights, equal freedoms, and dignity.
Amnesty envisions an Australia where everyone is treated with equality, justice, dignity, and respect, no matter who you are or what you believe. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has the power to protect and defend our human rights. Join us in our call to legislate a Human Rights Act now.
Amnesty International Australia is leading the way in protecting and defending human rights. Over the next five years, we’ll strive for systemic change on the human rights issues that are vital to our allies, partners, and the people of Australia. Our vision is to sustain the ground so many fought hard to and take purposeful action to further advance human rights. View our Australian campaigns.