Australian human rights falling behind globally

Human rights laws in Australia are falling behind other Western democracies, Human Rights Watch has said in their latest global report.
Human rights laws in Australia

A leading international body has called on Australia to do more to uphold human rights standards.

The Human Rights Watch 2024 World Report found Australia’s human rights status is at risk of being “tarnished” by immigration and criminal justice issues.

Human rights laws in Australia

Human rights are standards based on basic principles of dignity, equality and respect.

They are often set out in a National Human Rights Act – a comprehensive set of laws to ensure a country’s human rights protections. Australia is the only Western democracy with no Human Rights Act or Constitutional Charter.

Instead, it relies on protections outlined in the Constitution, international treaties and some national laws relating to human rights, like anti-discrimination legislation.

Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch (HRW) acknowledged Australia “mostly protects” the rights of its citizens.

However, it noted concern about the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, including in offshore detention centres.

HRW also voiced concern about the disproportionate incarceration rate for First Nations people and deaths in custody.


In its annual report, HRW flagged concern over Australia’s immigration detention facility in Nauru.

In June 2023, the Government evacuated the final refugees at Nauru in what was considered a “significant step” towards ending offshore processing. However, it drew criticism when it resumed the transfer of asylum seekers to Nauru later in the year.

Refugees have alleged poor treatment in these facilities, including being withheld basic supplies like food and water.

Criminal justice

Despite making up 3% of the national population, First Nations people make up nearly one-third of Australia’s adult prison population.

HRW noted previous findings of “inappropriate” conditions in prisons with large populations of First Nations people.

It also flagged new Queensland laws (that contradict the state’s Human Rights Act) allowing youth offenders to be held indefinitely in police watchhouses often used for adults.

Next steps

HRW has called for the Government to introduce a Human Rights Act, saying it would further protect and improve the lives of Australian citizens.

A Parliamentary Committee recommended the Federal Government establish a Human Rights Act in 2009, but this was not implemented.

Last year, the Government established an inquiry to re-examine the potential for a national Human Rights Act. It’s report is due in March.

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