Human Rights in Australia
The story of human rights in Australia belongs, in part, to the English convicts sent there as punishment mostly for petty thievery. However, a larger part of the tale belongs to the country’s indigenous people.

After American independence, the British needed a new place to ship criminals. England chose Australia, and between 1788 and 1868, they sent 165,000 predominantly male convicted thieves to the “land down under.” Those sent during the first 20 years were chained beneath the decks of the ships transporting them for their entire eight-month journey. Of all those sent, one-third died during the voyage. Of those who survived their sentences, very few ever returned to England.

Instead, they settled the land, starting farms and businesses that employed later convicts. But they were not the first of the continent’s inhabitants. The Aboriginal Australians, as the British called them, lived in Australia for 60,000 years before British annexation. The British did not accept any prior claims to the land.

Here is an abbreviated timeline of human rights in Australia as they impact indigenous people:

  • 1804: Tasmanian settlers were authorized to shoot indigenous Australians.
  • 1816: The governor of New South Wales extended “white law” to certain indigenous Australians while declaring Martial Law against others.
  • 1838: The government enacted Prohibition laws against indigenous people. They weren’t overturned until 1963.
  • 1843: The governor of New South Wales’ proposal that courts allow indigenous Australians’ evidence fails. The first use of such evidence did not occur until 1876.
  • 1869: The governor was allowed to order the removal of indigenous children to reform or industrial schools and to apprentice them at age 13.
  • 1886: The Half-Caste Act passed, extending many of the laws impacting indigenous children to mixed-race children.
  • 1901: The Commonwealth of Australia formed. The Constitution excludes indigenous people from the right to vote or be counted in the census. It was not until 1962 that indigenous Australians were enfranchised. Counting them in the census did not occur until 1967.
  • 1901: The White Australia Policy, a series of laws that prevented non-white immigration, remained in effect until 1972.
  • 1943: The government offered Exemption Certificates to indigenous Australians, colloquially called “dog tags,” which conferred limited citizenship rights to those willing to relinquish personal and cultural history. As the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports: “It was a license to live in a white man’s world … But holding a Certificate of Exemption meant effectively renouncing your culture and heritage.”
  • 1910-1907: The government enacted an assimilation policy, which for many “half-castes” included adoption into white families. Generations of indigenous and “half-caste” children were removed from their families and placed under the guardianship of the state.  These children came to be known as “The Stolen Generations.”

A 1967 referendum in which 90% of Australians voted to remove discriminatory clauses in their Constitution was the first step in the reconciliation movement meant to restore human rights in Australia. For the first time, indigenous Australians were counted in the census and given citizenship. Much more needs to be done about high rates of homelessness, incarceration and unemployment among Australia’s indigenous people. However, the government and the population are committed to change.

The Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet links to 168 projects and programs related to the culture of indigenous people. Additionally, Caritas Australia works to support self-determination among them. Meanwhile, indigenous-led tourism is being used to promote reconciliation. “For 250 years they’ve been told their culture is worthless,” says John Morse, formerly a manager with Tourism Australia, the government’s tourism division. “All of a sudden people are traveling to see it, and truly understanding it is extraordinarily rich and fascinating.

Laurie Gold

Photo: Flickr

Barrel TrainIn the remote regions of Pilbara, Australia, a train snakes through red dirt tracks, but the cargo it carries is one of a kind. The Aboriginal community of Punmu, 700 kilometers east of Newman, have DIY’ed their way into converting a couple of metal drums into a unique barrel train.

John Reudavey, the chief architect of this novel school train, got the idea while holidaying in Perth, where he noticed a couple of drums being towed behind a ride – on the mower. He saw parents paying $2 for the kids to putt around the footy oval and an idea was born.

The Train

For the rugged and uneven terrain of Pilbara, Reudavey along with volunteers Donald Graham, Peter Doery and the Punmu community, linked barrels and attached them to a front tractor, which ultimately drives the entire system around. They mounted the drums onto metal framings with wheels and linked them together to form this 24-seater desert transit.

The carriages were decorated using design artwork from children and community members. Local industries like the Newcrest Mining, Telfer provided the necessary support for the successful creation of this project.

Reudavey’s Western Desert Express now serves around 40 Punmu children which go to RAWA community school which is an independent school catering to students from Kindergarten to Year 12.

According to the Principal Sarah Mortimer, the ride is safe and positive and is welcomed by parents with younger kids, who can now send their children safely and timely to school. While school attendance has never been an issue, the biggest challenge faced by Mortimer has been student arrivals. The principal hopes that the barrel train would help address the issue of late arrivals and encourage students to stay at schools for the entire day.

For Reudavey, the biggest driver is the eager look on the faces of young children as they wait for their unique barrel train ride each morning, rain, hail or shine.

The Punmu Aboriginal Community

Punmu is an Aboriginal community situated in the very heart of Western Australia, located 640 km southeast of Port Hedland in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia, within the Shire of East Pilbara. Punmu are considered to be the most isolated communities in Australia. The Punmu community has a population of approximately 180 people and Manyjiljarra (pronounced Mun-dul-jar-ah) is the spoken language. Two main reasons the Martu live out in the middle of the desert are: to return to their traditional land and to save the community from the ill effects of alcohol, petrol sniffing and drugs.

Jagriti Misra

Norfolk island
Two years ago, Norfolk Island lost its independence after 68 years to become an official territory of Australia.

The new reforms, due to Norfolk Island’s severe economic downturn and high poverty rates, took effect on July 1, 2015. Half the population is at or below the poverty line.

The remote island between Australia and New Zealand relies on tourism for its main industry, but when its tourism rates heavily declined, the island began going to Australia for economic help.

The mainland decided to make Norfolk an official territory in which the 1,800 residents would have to pay personal and business income taxes to Australia. In return, Norfolk is provided with healthcare and social security benefits which they had previously been denied.

Many Norfolk Islanders resented this change due to the island’s deep roots of nationalism. The island was established in 1856 when 194 Pitcairn Islanders and their Tahitian companies settled there. Around 38 percent of the islanders are descendants of the original settlers.

“History is being rewritten around us about who we are and who we were. Our political heritage has been completely erased,” said Andre Nobbs, a former prime minister and descendant of a Pitcairn family. “You imagine all of those things happening to you as a people or a nation.”

So many Norfolk Islander’s feel that this change is a violation of the island’s rich political heritage and present the new mainland rule. To this day, they refer to themselves as Norfolk Islanders, and that the word ‘Australian’ on their passports is merely a technicality. With so much disapproval, it’s a wonder why the shift in power should even have happened.

The answer is because it works. Today, the island’s economy is taking off. The real estate industry has done more business in the last nine months than it has in the past seven years, more tourists are coming and new medical facilities and better schools have come about from this shift in power. Nonstop flights to and from Auckland have returned as of April this year. Many visitors to Norfolk Island have decided to move there permanently after a holiday there.

While the people of Norfolk will refer to themselves as Norfolk Islanders before they admit any connection to Australia, becoming a territory of Australia has greatly improved the economic state of the island.

Kelsey Jackson

Photo: Flickr

Australia consistently tops the chart for having one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Death rates continue to decline and diseases continue to be eradicated. However, between 2014 – 15, over 11 million Australians (50 percent) suffered from a chronic disease: coronary heart disease. In past and present, this is one of the deadliest diseases in Australia.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) Australia’s Health 2016 report, there are several prevalent diseases in the country. The top diseases in Australia are coronary heart disease, followed by Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, cerebrovascular disease and lung cancer. The most common combination is cardiovascular disease coupled with arthritis. This combination affects 32 percent of the total population over the age of 65.

The Heart Foundation reported 45,392 deaths of Australian adults caused by coronary heart disease (CHD) in 2015. CHD occurs when the blood vessels that support blood flow to the heart muscle are blocked. Critical forms include a heart attack (blood vessel leading to the heart is suddenly and entirely blocked) and angina, a chronic condition that consists of short periods of chest pain when the heart has a temporarily limited blood supply. CHD kills one Australian every 12 minutes.

The AIHW monitors and analyzes the population’s health by measuring morbidity and mortality rates. Morbidity focuses on the rate of disease in a population. Mortality measures the frequency of death in a specific area. This number is calculated by taking the number of deaths (in the specified area) and dividing it by the total population. Utilizing and combining these techniques enables health policy makers and service planners to recognize the impact of various diseases and their corresponding risk factors.

Cancer contributes to a large portion of premature deaths caused by the top diseases in Australia. Due to its “diverse group of several hundred diseases,” the mortality and morbidity rates are high. The risk of being diagnosed with one of the various types of cancer before the age of 85 is one in two for males and one in three for females. Between 2014 – 2025, the projected number of deaths from all types of cancer is estimated to increase by 5,912 deaths among males and 4,515 among females.

In 2017, cancer exceeded coronary heart disease as the top disease in Australia. To combat increasing cancer cases, a team of scientists from North Tce institution is developing advanced methods of treatments and recovery. Additionally, the organization is looking at all different forms of the disease, varying from prostate cancer to leukemia. Changing hazardous lifestyle factors reduces the risk of cancer. Lincoln Size, Cancer Council chief executive officer, states that quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, using sunscreen outdoors, and exercising daily are important risk reducing factors.

Madison O’Connell

Photo: Flickr

 Refugees in Australia
Australia has a history of turning refugees away and had faced a lot of criticism for its policies. Refugees in Australia might suffer through a troubling system. Here are ten facts about refugees in Australia:

  1. In 2015, only 0.48 percent of the world’s refugees were protected in Australia.
  2. In 2015-2016, Australia accepted 13,750 people through humanitarian programs.
  3. In 2010, Prime Minister Julia Gillard tried to get an agreement from nations involved in the Syrian War to stop people from arriving. The government would even turn away boats filled with refugees.
  4. Australia’s government introduced a policy in 2013 called the Operation Sovereign Borders. When refugees travel by boat to the country, they stop at the Pacific Islands in Papua New Guinea. Refugees are being held in detention facilities on the islands of Nauru and Manus. These refugees in Australia from countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, and Iraq are named asylum seekers.
  5. The facilities in Papua New Guinea have been reported to have inhumane conditions and staff who abuse people and treat them like prisoners. In the Nauru center, people are housed in vinyl tents that are extremely hot and at risk of flooding. There have even been suicide attempts and reports of self-harm among the children.
  6. In 2016, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled that the detention facilities were unconstitutional after the refugees in Australia had been in illegal detention for a year.
  7. There are organizations trying to look out for the refugees in Australia such as the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The Australian Human Rights omission (AHRC), Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Senate Select Committee called on the Australian government to change the rules on the facilities in Nauru when the authorities became aware of the abusive treatment.
  8. In November 2016, after months of negotiation, President Obama signed a deal with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the U.S. to accept 1,200 refugees from Papua New Guinea’s islands detention centers. The process would take six months to a year to complete the transfer of the refugees in Australia.
  9. At first, President Trump confirmed that his administration would allow refugees in Australia to settle in the United States according to the Australian prime minister despite Trump’s recent Muslim Ban.
  10. After a phone call with the Australian prime minister, it seems Trump might be changing his mind about the deal. He said he would not allow another “Boston Bomber.” However, the refugees have been proven to not be illegal immigrants.

After Trump’s immigration ban, it is unknown what will happen to some of the refugees in Australia and the detention centers. But hopefully, the humanitarian programs will find a way to help these people who are not terrorists, but simply people trying to escape a war.

Emma Majewski

Photo: Flickr

Cook Islands

The Cook Islands is a sovereign island nation in free association with New Zealand. The main island, Rarotonga, is home to 70% of the nation’s estimated 17,800 people. Rarotonga is a small island, measuring approximately 26 square miles, with only one airport to accommodate its primary source of income: tourism.

Tourism constitutes more than half of the nation’s GDP and is the main stimulant of economic growth. However, it also contributes to the growing problem of waste management in the Cook Islands.

Waste collection is provided to all households Monday through Saturday by two private contractors operating in conjunction with the Ministry of Infrastructure Cook Islands (ICI). Businesses are responsible for disposing of their own waste in the sanitary landfill located in Avarua, the most populous district of Rarotonga and the nation’s capital.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand, along with support from the private sector, provide aid to improve the conditions of waste management in the Cook Islands. The Waste Management Facility, managed by ICI, employs three staff members at the landfill and another five at the recycling center. The sanitary landfill was designed in 2006 with an intended lifespan of 15 years but has now reached its capacity.

Avarua is also home to four operational incinerators used to burn garbage, two of which are used solely for airline waste and medical waste and none of which possess emissions control technology. In addition, open burning in backyards and public spaces is a common practice amongst Cook Islanders.

This is a problem, as open burning and the resulting emissions can be detrimental to human and environmental health. Open burning has been proven to emit significantly more harmful pollutants than municipal incinerators, releasing twice as many furans, 17 times as many dioxins and 40 times more ash, as well as carbon monoxide and dioxide, lead, arsenic, mercury, acid vapors and carcinogenic tars.

This not only because is there no emission control, but because open fires burn at lower temperatures, inhibiting complete combustion of the waste being burned. They also operate closer to the ground, increasing the risk of exposure to harmful effects.

Tourism is a major contributor to the abundance of refuse which has made it exceedingly difficult to control in the Cook Islands. However, the income generated from tourism is needed to stimulate the growth of the waste management system. After all, the standard set for tourists has been the principal catalyst for discussion over the development of waste management in the Cook Islands. The government is looking to break this waste cycle by improving facility quality.

Jaime Viens

Photo: Flickr



Papua New Guinea Refugees
The untouched wilderness and island paradise of Papua New Guinea often enchants first-time visitors. However, Australia’s harsh immigration policies and practices have recently come to light. Current news reports reveal a tale of cruelty and endless waiting for those hoping to leave the country. Here are seven facts about Papua New Guinea refugees:

  1. In 2005, a partnership between UNICEF, the Catholic Church, and the government of Papua New Guinea issued some 1700 birth certificates to unregistered refugee children. In a country where only three percent of births are registered, the project offered hope for many children. Although birth certificates are often taken for granted in first world countries, they are very important tools. They can ensure a child’s social, legal and economic rights in the country they live in.
  2. Australia’s strict refugee policy orders all intercepted refugees to be taken to a detention center on Manus Island. After countless scandals dealing with the horrible living and working conditions at the detention facility, the Australian government made the decision to begin winding down operations at Manus Island. As a result, the facility will be closed by 2018.
  3. New Zealand Prime Minister, Bill English, recently reached out to the Prime Minister of Australia and offered to resettle 150 refugees at Manus Island in New Zealand. The offer has been in place since 2013. Regardless, the Australian Prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has hardly acknowledged the possible benefits of the offer.
  4. Papua New Guinea refugees detained at Manus Island have endured horrible living conditions and physical strife. Nonetheless, Matt Siegel of Reuters says that of the terrible things these people must go through, the psychological effects are the most dangerous. “Some of these people have been in these camps for three, four, five years, and that leads to an enormous level of self-harm, suicide attempts.”
  1. Refugees who are resettled in Papua New Guinea are often resettled in cities like Lae, where the crime rate is high and the wages are low. One witness claims that some refugees work low wage jobs like construction but are paid as little as $12 a day.
  2. Refugees detained at Manus Island and Nauru have staged hunger strikes and peaceful protests to demand freedom. One reporter even described instances where some men sewed their mouths shut for a hunger strike.
  3. In 2016, Australia announced a one-time partnership with the U.S. and the U.N. The U.S. pledged to resettle a number of refugees from Manus Island. Priority would be given to women and children, with single men bringing up the rear of the priority list.

While steps are now being taken to close down island prisons like Manus Island and Nauru, there are still millions of refugees around the world looking for a new place to call home. One hopes that Australia and Papua New Guinea will do better to help those who dream of a new life on their shores.

Mary Grace Costa

Photo: Flickr

Poverty in AustraliaPoverty in Australia is a fact of life for many residents. The country is one of the wealthiest developed countries in the world, but that does not mean the country doesn’t have poverty. Even though the country’s economy has grown in the last two decades, there are still issues of poverty in Australia.


What to Know About Poverty in Australia


  1. Child poverty is rising in Australia. Almost 30 years ago, then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke promised that “No child would live in poverty by 1990.” Unfortunately, that promise has not been fulfilled. According to the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), more than 730,000 children are living in poverty, which is about one in six children in Australia. Child poverty in Australia has also increased by two percent in the last decade.
  2. One in four Australians who apply for homelessness services are indigenous. Indigenous people make up only three percent of the overall population in Australia, so race and diversity are a factor in someone’s earnings.
  3. The people most likely to be part of the lowest 20 percent income group are the elderly, single parents and indigenous people.
  4. One person in the top 20 percent has 70 times more income than someone in the bottom 20 percent. There is huge economic inequality in Australia, and the gap continues to widen in both wealth and opportunities. This inequality is also a global issue since the world’s top one percent own more than the bottom three billion people in the world.
  5. Young people aged 15-24 are the most likely to be unemployed. A January 2016 report studying Australia’s poverty suggested that the youth unemployment rate was more than twice the overall unemployment rate.

Australia’s government has been trying to solve the problem by creating more jobs, but there are more ways that economic equality can be achieved. Some solutions include free education and healthcare for everyone, affordable housing, and having everyone pay a fair share of taxes.

Emma Majewski

Photo: Flickr

 Nauru Refugees
Here are 10 facts about Nauru refugees:

  1.  Nauru refugees are not in Nauru by choice. Nauru refugees originally sought refuge in Australia. However, Australia was unwilling to provide them with care and forced 1,200 asylum seekers into a detainment center in Nauru. Nauru is only eight square miles, no larger than an international airport and already has a population of 10,000 people.
  2. The native Nauruans do not want the Nauru refugees there. The Nauru refugees are targeted by locals. Physical assaults against refugees happen regularly. What little property the Nauru refugees have is frequently broken or vandalized. Even refugee children are subject to these torments, making it difficult for them to concentrate or attend school.
  3. There are no legal services for the Nauru refugees. None of the Nauru refugees will become residents of either Nauru or Australia. The Nauru refugees are seeking refuge in fear of persecution in their home countries. However, the travel documents they have been issued confine them to Nauru for five years.
  4. The Nauru refugee crisis is being covered up. Nauru has banned foreign journalists in order to hide the poor treatment of refugees. The Australian government passed a law making it illegal for any employees, former or current, to disclose information on the conditions of the refugees. Despite these efforts, reporters find ways to interview refugees and former workers continue to come forward with their experiences.
  5. Nauru refugees came in search of liberty, only to become victims. Ali and his wife Khorvas are just one example of many. They left Iran because they believed in democracy. They sought to find a place where they would not be denied their human rights, but they only traded one confinement for another.
  6. The conditions the Nauru refugees live in do not meet U.N. standards. The tents each house 14 refugees and cannot weather the elements. Rain seeps in, heat and humidity are intensified, mold festers and pests easily infiltrate. The water supply is insufficient, resulting in dehydration or the consumption of unsanitary water. Waste management is not secure, allowing for cross-contamination.
  7. Sexual predators target Nauru refugee camps. Hawo, a Somalian, left her home country because of violence and sexual abuse towards women. Unfortunately, sexual exploitation of refugees is widespread. Men, including guards, force themselves onto women or expect them to barter sex for necessities. Reports of these incidents are not taken seriously.
  8. Health care for refugees is minimal. The Nauru hospital is small and lacks basic supplies. The majority of cases must be treated through abrupt transfers to Australia. The majority of medical transfers are due to mental health issues. Many refugees have been promised treatment that never comes. There is no screening of communicable diseases and no pediatric care in Nauru. Roughly 50 percent of the child refugees have latent tuberculosis. Immunization courses are never fully completed.
  9. Child refugees in Nauru are most at risk physically and mentally. There are no safety precautions set forth for children. Within the 2000 leaked records of reported abuse, there are records of sexually abused children, 59 physical assaults on children, 30 instances where a child has self-inflicted harm and 159 accounts of children threatening to self-harm.
  10. Many of the refugees have turned to suicide or self-inflicted harm. Refugees have taken to hunger strikes in hopes to improve their living situations. Omid Masoumali’s death was caught on cellphone video. Masoumali lit himself on fire, in protest to the conditions in where he was held. Benjamin, a 19-year-old who cut his wrists, said the Nauru refugees are a people living without hope.

Although no word has been given to close the Nauru Detainment Center, the second Australian Refugee Detention Center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, is closing operations.

The Australian Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in April 2016. Recently, counselors from Save the Children, a nonprofit previously working on Nauru, bravely reported many of the abuses they witnessed but were bound by confidentiality not to reveal this.

In light of these revelations, it is hoped that the Nauru Detainment Center will also close, allowing the Nauru refugees to receive quality aid elsewhere.

Amy Whitman

Photo: Flickr

Australia’s RefugeeAustralia founded their offshore Nauru Detention Center for asylum-seekers on the Pacific island Nauru in 2001. It closed for a brief period in 2008 while the Australian government built detention centers on the mainland, but Nauru eventually reopened for refugee-processing in 2012.

Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia without a valid visa are transferred to either the Nauru or Manus Island Detention Center, where they spend an average of 445 days behind bars.

Australian law dictates that there is no limit on the length of time a refugee may be held in a detention center.

This militarized system of dealing with refugees is designed for the ease of processing on staff.  It is also easier to sell to other countries as “effective” rather than identifying and adapting the Australian refugee system to current changing global migration patterns.

Despite criticism that its refugee system is inhumane, the Australian government’s methods in their detention centers are often envied and copied by other countries, particularly because of the hostile mood toward refugees in recent years.

In contrast to Germany, which accepted over one million refugees in 2015, Australia placed only around 13,750 refugees in their Humanitarian Program in the 2015-2016 year.

Recently, the Nauru Detention Center, in particular, has come under scrutiny since the release of around 2,000 staff incident reports from the Center. These detail, among other things, sexual and physical abuse of refugees as well as self-harm among refugees.

In July 2015, there was an average of one incident of a refugee self-harming every two days. These “incidents” ranged from slashing wrists or overdosing on pills to self-immolation.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton stated in a press release that refugees lied about the incidents of sexual abuse at Nauru Detention Center and deliberately self-harmed in order to garner sympathy and speed up their immigration process.

Though the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has resisted holding a royal commission on the state of Nauru Detention Center, Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs called for immediate action on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, calling the Detention Center’s methods illegal and immoral.

Three non-governmental organizations have also petitioned the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse to investigate Nauru, based on the released reports of abuse.

Because the reports on the maltreatment of Nauru Detention Center prisoners were released so recently (first published by The Guardian on August 10th, 2016), there is no current information on whether the Australian government plans to close the detention center or allow it to remain open. There is also a dearth of information on what solutions the government will propose to fix the allegations of sexual and physical abuse to refugees.

Until the mistreatment of asylum seekers at Nauru Detention Center can be investigated thoroughly, proposed solutions are based on testimony alone. These solutions include improved living conditions, faster processing, and more visitations between refugees and any relatives/loved ones who live on the mainland.  An increase in healthcare, especially mental healthcare, for those living in the detention center is also a proposed solution.

Bayley McComb

Photo: Flickr