A January 2023 Commonwealth Ombudsman report revealed inhumane treatment in federal detention centres, including the use of force against immigration detainees and unsanitary food services. A Human Rights Watch report raised further concerns over prison and detention centre conditions and criticized the over-representation of Aboriginal people in prison facilities. Australia has also received criticism internationally, and in October 2022 the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture suspended its visit to Australia due to restrictions to its access to several detention sites and documentation. Australia has also missed a twice-extended deadline to meet its obligations under the UN’s Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), which it ratified in 2017.
Environmental protester Deanna Coco was handed a 15-month jail sentence on 2 December 2022 after blocking a lane of traffic on Sydney’s Harbour Bridge on 13 April. Human rights advocates and a senior UN official have condemned the decision, arguing the disproportionate punishment violates the right to peaceful protest. Coco’s sentence is the first of its kind under new anti-protest laws introduced in New South Wales in 2022, which invoke harsh penalties for non-violent protests. After being denied bail earlier in December and spending 11 days in jail, Coco was granted bail on 13 December, with an appeal motion scheduled for March 2023. The move came as over 100 protesters gathered outside the court calling for her sentence to be overturned. Climate activists have increasingly become the target of these harsh penalties over the last year.
Australia has established a National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC), fulfilling one of the Albanese government’s key election promises. In what experts hail as the biggest reform to federal public accountability in decades, the legislation will boost whistle-blower protections and the ability of journalists to protect the identity of sources. The commission will operate independently from the government and will investigate public officials for corruption, including crimes committed before its establishment, and will begin operation by mid-2023.
A landmark ruling by the United Nations Human Rights Committee on 23 September found that the Australian government had violated the rights of a group of Torres Straits Islanders to enjoy their culture and be free from arbitrary interference in their private lives by failing to protect them from the effects of climate change. Following a three-year-long legal battle, the UN committee ruled the government's emissions reduction targets and coastal defence measures inadequate. The decision creates a pathway for individuals to lodge complaints when national systems fail to take appropriate measures against climate change.