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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reviews the report of Australia

Committee on Economic, Social
  and Cultural Rights

31 May 2017

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights today concluded its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Australia on its implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Introducing the report, John Quinn, Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that Australia welcomed open discussion of the complex challenges which prevented the full realization of individuals’ rights, and it had a proud tradition of positive engagement with international human rights mechanisms.  The country embraced migrants and refugees as core members of the society, and it was home to people from over 300 nationalities.  Australia was an international model for multiculturalism, tolerance, respect, inclusion and integration.  However, more needed to be done for indigenous Australians who faced higher levels of disadvantage across all areas of life, Mr. Quinn underlined. 

In the ensuing dialogue Committee Experts reminded that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was not fully incorporated in Australia’s domestic legislation, and that the Committee’s recommendations had not been taken into account.  They also noted that the set “Closing the Gap” targets had not been on track, whereas human rights standards vis-à-vis migrants, asylum seekers and refugees had not been followed by the Australian Government.  Experts also raised concern regarding the non-ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant, the lack of clear recognition of the collective rights of indigenous peoples, extraterritorial human rights obligations of Australian businesses, high levels of poverty and homelessness, the income management programme and its potential to be discriminatory towards indigenous populations, fair work conditions and the gender pay gap, child trafficking and slavery, violence and abuse of persons with disabilities, domestic violence against women and girls, climate change, and inequity in education. 

In her concluding remarks, Elizabeth Wilde, Assistant Secretary of the Human Rights Branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, underlined that the Government of Australia took very seriously its deliberations with the Committee and it appreciated the efforts made by Committee Experts.

Maria Virginia Bras Gomes, Committee Chairperson, stressed that the Committee considered all articles of the Covenant as having positive obligations towards full implementation of the Covenant.  She reminded that the Committee would for the first time launch a follow-up procedure, listing five or six issues requiring the urgent attention of the Government. 

The delegation of Australia consisted of representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Attorney General’s Department, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the Department of Social Services, the Department of Employment, the Department of Health, and the Department of Education.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will next meet today at 3 p.m. to consider the fifth periodic report of Uruguay (E/C.12/URY/5).

Report

The fifth periodic report of Australia on its implementation of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights can be read here: E/C.12/AUS/5.
 
Presentation of the Report
 
JOHN QUINN, Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that the First Australians, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, were the oldest continuous living culture in the world, and as such made a unique and vital contribution to the Australian nation.  Australia embraced migrants and refugees as core members of the society, and it was home to people from over 300 nationalities.  The country had very generous immigration and humanitarian programmes, and in the past 70 years it had welcomed 7.5 million migrants and more than 800,000 people under humanitarian programmes.  Australia was an international model for multiculturalism, tolerance, respect, inclusion and integration, Mr. Quinn underlined.  Australia welcomed open discussion of the complex challenges which prevented the full realization of individuals’ rights, and it had a proud tradition of positive engagement with international human rights mechanisms.  Australia had an open invitation to the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, and it saw each report as a chance to focus on the future and build on the expertise of other nations, Committee members, Special Procedures and civil society.  Australia’s decision to seek membership of the Human Rights Council embodied its commitment to the ongoing promotion and protection of human rights both at home and abroad.  In response to Australia’s Universal Periodic Review in 2015, in 2016 the Government had established a Standing National Human Rights Mechanism to strengthen its engagement with human rights reporting.  It had accepted the 27 Universal Periodic Review recommendations to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and the country would ratify the OPCAT by the end of 2017.  The Universal Periodic Review process had also led the Government to reflect on its longstanding commitment to uphold gender equality in all areas of society, including the military, by lifting its CEDAW reservations.

Australians generally enjoyed a relatively high standard of living and quality of life.  Australia had been a global pioneer in developing social safety nets, including recently in fields such as disability.  Nevertheless, the country faced particular challenges, notably challenges in serving a diverse and dispersed population out of which 30 per cent lived in regional and remote areas.  Due to the federal constitutional system, in which powers were shared between federal institutions, State and Territory Governments delivered many services and programmes in education, health and adequate standard of living areas.  That added a degree of complexity in the implementation of Australia’s human rights obligations, but it also inspired innovation and leadership.  There was more to be done for indigenous Australians who faced higher levels of disadvantage across all measures of quality of life.  In 2008 all Australian governments had agreed to set targets aimed at closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians in the areas of health, employment and education.  Progress had been made, but it was slow.  Australia had a generous social security system and universal healthcare.  The Government was implementing the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 and a National Disability Insurance Scheme.  It also delivered support to refugees, humanitarian entrants and other migrants in vulnerable situations through settlement services, whose aim was to enable the participation of new arrivals as quickly and as fully as possible in the Australian society and economy. 

Australia was committed to the right to education and it provided universal, free primary and secondary education for all children.  Schooling responded to the needs of all children in the country.  The Government was also committed to supporting everyone’s right to work and to creating meaningful and safe employment for all Australians.  It spent approximately 800 million dollars each year on the Disability Employment Service programme.  Women’s workforce participation was essential to the country’s future, which was why the Government was committed to closing the gender participation gap. 

Questions by Country Co-Rapporteurs
 
MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Australia, welcomed some of the successes presented by the Australian delegation.  She reminded that the Covenant was not fully incorporated in domestic legislation, adding that there had been ample evidence that the Committee’s recommendations had not been taken into account.  Was there adequate protection of economic, social and cultural rights in the current institutional set up, on an equal footing with political and civil rights?

As for non-discrimination, the Country Co-Rapporteur reminded that almost none of the targets were on track.  Were those targets unrealistic and not based on evidence? 

Speaking of the National Disability Strategy, had there been an impact evaluation?

On Australian businesses and their extraterritorial human rights obligations, the Country Rapporteur asked whether a relevant national action plan had been adopted.  Did it address the human rights violations of Australian companies and their supply chains abroad?

As for migrants, asylum seekers and migrants, the Country Co-Rapporteur expressed concern that some human rights standards had not been followed by Australia.  The main issues were the punitive approach towards migrants arriving by sea, and the living conditions in processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

What was the position of the Government on the ratification of the Optional Protocol of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights?

RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Australia, noted very deep disparities in the enjoyment of rights between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.  Infant mortality was higher and life expectancy was lower among indigenous Australians.  There was also no clear recognition of the collective rights of indigenous peoples in the country.  Did Australia plan to formalize the legal status of the indigenous peoples?  What was the position of the Government on financing and implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?  What were the reasons for non-ratification of the ILO Convention 169?

Mr. Uprimny also raised the question of the 1993 Native Title Law and the indigenous peoples’ right to land, as well as of the Northern Development Agenda and of the measures for having meaningful consultations on the Agenda with indigenous communities. 
 
Responses by the Delegation

The delegation reminded that the issue of the incorporation of the Covenant in domestic law had been raised in various fora.  Australia safeguarded Covenant rights through a variety of measures at the national and sub-national levels, and through specific legislation, such as that on social security.   The delegation noted that State Parties to the Covenant are able to choose from a range of measures to implement economic, social and cultural rights.  Legislation was one tool, but not always the most effective one to give effect to the Covenant.  There was a whole range of options to ensure citizens’ rights.  For example, when entitlements were denied, citizens could seek different remedies through the courts, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Australian Human Rights Commission.  Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and Children’s Commissioners had to take into account Covenant provisions and rights.  At the moment, Australia was not considering becoming a party to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  The Government was nevertheless monitoring developments relating to the Optional Protocol. Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights was tasked to report on human rights compatibility of all bills, and it had regular reporting sessions.  The Committee could not only inquire into the proposed legal acts, but also the existing ones. 

As for the 1993 Native Title Act, it was aimed to facilitate  the enjoyment of rights in the Native Title space.  A number of reviews had been undertaken in order to revise that act.  The government would bring forward a package of reforms to the Act drawing on these reviews in consultation with Indigenous Australians.  In 2015 a white paper had been adopted on the development in Northern Australia to improve infrastructure, water supply and general economic development, with the participation of indigenous communities. 

Speaking of closing the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, the Prime Minister had made clear the obligation to work with indigenous peoples to deliver solutions.  The Government had been working hard to reinvigorate partnership with Australia’s Congress of the First Peoples.  The Government had set a number of targets in closing the gap.  In order to meet the aspirations, it was necessary to work with all governments and businesses.  Ambitious targets had been set for education, health and employment.  The Government acknowledged that more work needed to be done, especially with respect to an evidenced based methodology, determining the drivers for change and setting of SMART targets.  There had been significant progress in health, reduction in mortality and tobacco use, literacy and indigenous female employment.  Targets had not been met due to a range of reasons, such as the need for more policy research.  Nevertheless, improving the lives of indigenous peoples had been declared a priority across all sectors. 

As for the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal peoples, the Australian Constitution did not provide for any separate recognition.   However, recommendations had been made to recognize specifically the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  By the end of June 2017, conclusions would be submitted.  The Government had been working with the Congress of First Peoples to that end and it was committed to deliver real and lasting solutions for indigenous peoples. 

On the impact of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 and the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which had begun in 2013, they would be measured progressively and to that end there was a three-stage impact evaluation process.  The consolidated report would be released by the end of the year.  The National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 was the primary mechanism to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability.  The second progress report was currently under way. 

Australia’s asylum and border protection system was focused on providing safe and orderly migration and preventing smuggling of persons and death at sea.  Australia was one of the top three countries resettling refugees in the world.  Its system was not punitive to people arriving irregularly by sea.  The centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea were governed by those countries and not by Australia.  It was emphasized that these are open centres and no one was detained in those centres.  All children in Nauru were transitioned to local schools.  People not found to be refugees would be subject to deportation, which was normal procedure.  There are long term residency and resettement options in third countries for those found to be refugees by the Papua New Guinea and Nauru Governments. Those arrangements were consistent with the principle of non-refoulement.

On extraterritorial human rights considerations for Australian businesses, the Government had established a multi-stakeholder reference group and had met for the first time in early May 2017.  No parameters had been settled on whether there should be particular focus on extraterritoriality.  The current position of the Government was that a national action plan consultation process was probably the right way to deal with that issue. 
 
Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts    

One Expert noted that there seemed to have been some “dancing around” on the progressive realization of the Covenant rights.  Those should be immediately implemented. 

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Australia, reminded that the Committee’s role was to monitor the implementation of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  She referred to the Special Rapporteur for Migrants report that stated that several Australia’s policies had been regressive, especially in the area of asylum and migration as it sent the wrong message to smugglers and traffickers of human beings. 

RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Australia, reiterated the question about the non-ratification of the ILO Convention 169.  What was the status of the rights of indigenous peoples under Australian law?

One Expert asked about the expenditure of the Australian Government for each right under the Covenant.  How come that a country with such tremendous resources still had astonishing levels of poverty?
 
Replies by the Delegation

Speaking of the Special Rapporteur for Migrants report, the delegation said that Australia was open to having external scrutiny.   Australia considered that it had implemented the obligations under the Covenant.  As for the ILO Convention 169, the Government did not intend to ratify it as the rights of indigenous peoples were protected under other international treaties and under domestic law. 

Poverty in Australia was a very challenging question for the Government.  No Australian Government had ever adopted an official poverty line.  Payment rights could not be compared to other OECD countries.  Different allowances for families, students and persons with disabilities existed.  The Government was aware that particular disadvantages were experienced by indigenous peoples and across the country.  It was looking at how to get better information and design better solutions to address poverty and disadvantage. 

Second Round of Questions by Committee Experts

ZDZISLAW KEDZIA, Acting Chairman of the Committee, noted that the protection of the rights in Australia was portrayed from the point of view of the institutional and procedural picture provided by the Government.  However, one had to wonder whether the perspective of individuals would have been the same.  The variety of procedures described by the delegation might render individuals lost.    

One Expert raised the issue of unemployment, notably among indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and youth.  Which policies worked and which ones did not? 
What was being done to foster fair work conditions and to overcome the gender and pay gap?  Arbitrary dismissal from work was still problematic, as well as with the freedom to form trade unions. 

What was the position of the Government on the right to social security and assistance?
Experts voiced concern about income management and poverty issues in the Northern Territory, which was mostly populated by indigenous communities.      

Replies by the Delegation

Vulnerable groups in the labour market included indigenous people, elderly, youth and persons with disabilities.  The use of wage subsidies that reduce the cost of labour was one of the most effective strategies, as well as work experience schemes.  There was a transition-to-work programme and an investment approach to employment.  The Fair Work Act set out minimum salary payments and protection for workers.   The gender pay gap was governed by the equal remuneration principle.  However, a lot of issues relevant to the gender pay gap still needed to be resolved.  As for migrant workers, under Australian law temporary migrant workers had the same basic protections as Australian citizens. Australia recently passed domestic laws to better protect sponsored temporary overseas workers.   Monitoring was introduced to ensure whether employers were complying with their obligations.  There was also a Migrant Workers Task Force established and extra funding was provided for the Fair Work Ombudsman. 

As for the social security system, the Government placed a lot of emphasis on the economic empowerment of all Australians and the wellbeing of families.  Thus, a variety of payments existed for the elderly, persons with disabilities, families, students and indigenous peoples.  The Government ensured that the payments were targeted at those in most vulnerable situations.  The Government’s spending on age-related pension was projected to rise, as well as health spending.   It had thus established an investment approach to welfare spending and it had identified high-risk groups, namely young parents, young carers and young students.      

The income management programme was designed to ensure that a percentage of income was set aside for the purchase of basic items, rather than for the purchase of alcohol, tobacco and gambling.   It was non-discriminative and it encompassed all welfare recipients.  There had been five evaluations of the income management programme and it had been generally found to be positive.  Job seekers had mutual obligations requirements and unless they met them, they would be penalized.  However, extenuating circumstances were taken into account and penalties could be waived. 

Regarding the freedom of association in trade unions, the Delegation clarified that the Act on the Building and Construction Commission had been established due to systemic and ongoing unlawful activities by throughout the industry.  The Act was in line with the country’s international obligations. 
 
Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts

One Expert raised the issue of the 2017 bill that froze family benefits and its possible impact on child poverty. 

Was there a system to compare the work of equal value?  How did the Government deal with women’s unpaid work, such as care for children and the elderly?  What was the effect of wage support? 

What was the primary objective of the Act on the Building and Construction Commission?

What was the impact of same-sex couples’ lack of access to official marriage in terms of social security and employment benefits?

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Australia, asked for clarification between voluntary income management and compulsory income management.  The evaluation showed that compulsory income management had not been positive.  It could lead to the discrimination of indigenous peoples.  Was random drug testing necessary for job seekers?

Experts raised the issue of violence and abuse of persons with disabilities and progress made in that area, as well as of domestic violence against women and girls, which was found to have been persistent and rising, especially among indigenous women and girls and those with disabilities.  Was domestic violence against women and girls criminalized?

As for child trafficking and slavery, the National Action Plan did not have provisions for compensation to victims. 

It seemed that the Australian Government had a different understanding of poverty from that of the Committee.  The poverty level in the country stood at some 12 per cent, according to some sources, and even higher according to other sources.  It was for that reason that the Committee had recommended that the Government establish an official poverty line. 

Homelessness was a matter of concern for all Australian Governments.  What were practical measures to address that problem?  In addition, homelessness was criminalized. 

Climate change directly impacted food security and hunger, and the right to health.  Australia had made serious commitments to reduce gas emissions.  However, its emissions had continued to increase.  It was striking that although 80 per cent of emissions came from burning of fossil fuels, the information on climate change focused on indigenous land and water resources.  In 2013 Australia had repealed its gas emission pledges and had continued to invest in fossil energy.  There was a gap between commitment on paper and policies in practice.  Did Australia intend to revise its climate change and energy policies to reverse the current trend of gas emissions?  How did it intend to take into account the rights of indigenous peoples in that respect?

Responses by the Delegation
 
The delegation explained that income support and family payments rates were calculated according to the consumer price index.  On occasion, the Government could freeze the indexation to better target those payments.  Re-indexation for family tax benefits would resume on 1 July 2019 and families would continue to receive substantial tax-free payments according to current needs in the next two years.  Supporting job seekers to overcome substance use would help them get back into the labour market and would have wider social advantages.  Random drug testing would be a precondition for receiving certain social security payments.  Job seekers who were positive on more than one test would be referred to medical professionals. 

As for the compulsory income management, evaluation had overall shown that it could improve money management and meeting children’s priority needs.  It had produced mixed results in terms of financial harassment.  Income management improved stabilization in crisis situations and it had been useful in working with families to address their needs. 

Speaking of violence and abuse of persons with disabilities in institutional care, recommendations had been made to introduce programmes to address the causes of such violence.   A Quality and Safeguards Commission would be established to safeguard and minimize the risk of abuse for participants of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.  It would be responsible for national complaints management and operational responsibility.   Universal redress and abuse reporting mechanisms would continue to be developed by jurisdictions and responsible regulatory and professional bodies. 

Violence against women and girls stood at unacceptable levels in Australia and the Government was committed to exploring the causes and remedies of such violence.  To that end, national action plans had been introduced and a major investment had been made to support women and children who had experienced violence.  Data on violence against women and girls from 2016 would be published in October 2017.  A national data framework would be developed to collect information on domestic violence, as well as a working group to address family violence in indigenous communities in order to come up with culturally appropriate measures. 

The Australian Government placed great importance to the economic empowerment of its citizens, but no Australian Government had ever adopted an official poverty line.   Inequality and poverty were not seen as one and the same issue.  Poverty was a multidimensional phenomenon and the Government did not find that any individual policy was successful in addressing poverty.  A multifaceted approach was needed to address various forms of poverty, one of which was the social safety system.  Addressing homelessness was high on the Government’s agenda through the provision of appropriate housing and support services.  A new national homelessness and housing agreement was under way.  Domestic and family violence was one of the major causes of homelessness in the country.  Strengthening viable accommodation options for women and children affected by violence was one of the main priorities for the Government.  The Australian Government did not accept such characterization by the Committee that there had been criminalization of homelessness in the country.            

The work of equal value in the equal pay context included work of equal or comparable value, which included different work in different industries.  Unpaid work included all forms of voluntary community and family work, such as childcare, which was mostly performed by women.  Such unpaid work was supported through various transfer payments and tax benefits.  In the Government’s 2017-2018 budget, new measures for people undertaking unpaid work had been announced.  Substantial wage subsidies were available for mature-age job seekers.  Employers and job seekers were monitored closely to ensure that there were no bad practices.

The lack of the right to same-sex marriage did not affect same-sex couples’ employment, health and social benefits, as there was prohibition of discrimination against persons based on their gender and sexual identity.   The 2009 legal reforms had removed all forms of such discrimination. 

Data on child slavery and trafficking was an ongoing challenge and Australia was developing a framework to collect better data at the national and regional level.  An increasing number of men and women were being identified as exploited outside of the sex industry.  Victims of trafficking and slavery might be entitled to specific remedies, damages and reparations.  Broader and more flexible support measures had been introduced for victims. 

The Native Title Act stipulated that traditional owners needed to be negotiated with in good faith or grant their permission for the development of lands under the Native Title Act.  Indigenous communities actively used their rights and the Government was discussing reforms of the Native Title Act in consultation with indigenous communities.  Native title determinations covered almost one third of the landmass in Australia.

ELIZABETH WILDE, Assistant Secretary of the Human Rights Branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, explained that the Government was currently reviewing its climate change policies and it was closely consulting with various stakeholders.  The aim was to complete the review by the end of 2017.   The development of energy and climate change policies could not happen in isolation as the same ministry was responsible for those issues.  There was intent to develop renewable energy sources and to reduce carbon emissions.
 
Follow-up Questions by Experts
 
MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Experts and Country Co-Rapporteur for Australia, raised the issue of accountability for the provision of healthcare services in migrant detention centres.  She also asked about indigenous peoples’ health, healthcare in migrant detention centres, compulsory treatment of persons with mental disabilities, and care for the elderly.

Experts asked about the Government’s plans to use solar energy.  How did the Government deal with religious minorities that had different perspectives on women’s rights?  Which population used which public and private health insurance systems? 

Turning to housing issues, Experts inquired about affordability in the context of rapidly rising housing costs in Australia; the long-waiting lists for social housing; and homelessness and overcrowding in the Northern Territory, particularly among indigenous communities.

There was concern about the physical and mental condition of prisoners, particularly of indigenous prisoners.

One Expert reminded that 63 per cent of adults and 28 per cent of children in Australia were obese.  Obesity rates had reached an incredible rate among indigenous people, with almost 40 per cent.   What was being done to discourage the consumption of processed foods and snacks? 

RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Australia, inquired about  the policy of the Government with respect to compulsory sterilization of persons with disabilities and genital mutilation of inter-sex children.  He suggested that the mandatory drug testing of persons who received welfare support be changed to voluntary.

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Australia, raised the issues of an adequate standard of living and family reunification for migrants and refugees. 
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
ELIZABETH WILDE, Assistant Secretary of the Human Rights Branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, responded that Australia was considering options for the electricity sector to play its share in reducing emissions under the Finkel Review.  Energy sources would be a consideration of the Government’s broader review of climate change.

All people at detention centres received healthcare that was comparable to the standard available to the rest of the population.  Regional processing centres were open facilities.  Responsibility for the administration of healthcare provision at regional processing centres and for transferees and refugees living in the community was governed by the national laws of Nauru and Papua New Guinea.  Australia did not affect control of those centres, but provided support for the provision of health services to the respective governments under inter-governmental agreements.  Family reunion was an option available through Australia’s annual humanitarian programme.  For those on a bridging visa, that option was not available. 

As part of Australia’s multicultural policy, two-way integration was enforced.  Culturally and linguistically diverse women experienced more barriers in accessing support services and were less likely to leave a family violence situation.  Changing communities’ outlook on violence and gender was done through engaging with community leaders and culturally and linguistically diverse women and men.  

The mandatory drug testing for job seekers was constantly being reviewed.  As for the housing programmes, the new housing and homelessness agreement provided for new types of assistance and affordability schemes.  There was also a housing affordability fund that provided grants to local governments. 

Compulsory treatment orders may be put in place for persons with mental health issues who were not capable to decide for themselves, the delegation said.  Sterilization could only be decided by the person herself, a guardianship tribunal or through a court order.  As for the medical treatment of inter-sex children, this could occur through consent, parental decision or with a court order depending on the proposed treatment.  Developing a better data framework for the treatment of persons with cognitive or mental disability was underway.  Many initiatives at all jurisdiction levels had been made to manage issues relating to the detention of mentally impaired persons found unfit to plead guilty or not guilty because of their condition. 

The Government was implementing a national plan to address the particular health challenges faced by indigenous peoples.  There were also campaigns to reduce the use of tobacco products, as well as to address obesity, among all Australians, and indigenous communities in particular.  

ELIZABETH WILDE, Assistant Secretary of the Human Rights Branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Australia, explained that there were mental healthcare services provided to prisoners, such as suicide prevention.  Australia had universal health coverage, including high subsidies for those with low incomes.   Its public health services were designed to be complemented by a private healthcare system, also partially assisted by the Government.  Ms. Wilde noted that while the percentage of elderly population was still not at a critical stage, the Government should reflect on that issue sooner rather than later.  Current efforts included programmes to provide high quality and culturally appropriate care for elderly indigenous persons, with a focus on supporting indigenous health and aged care workers. 

Fourth Round of Questions by Experts

RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Australia, commended the high level of access to education in Australia.  However, there was a serious problem of inequity in education.  Family background determined academic performance to a large extent, which reduced social mobility.  A school-funding reform was underway and was well received.  How did the Government intend to implement that reform and ensure that it went in the right direction?  

There was a remote-school attendance strategy for indigenous students.  However, performance and attendance were not satisfactory due to problems of access, cultural accessibility and language.  There was a shortage of early education for indigenous population and the actual financing might be reduced.  What measures were being taken to ensure that indigenous students received culturally sensitive early education?  In practice, indigenous population suffered harassment in schools. 

As for persons with disabilities and inclusive education, there was evidence of a rise in segregated education.  What measures was the Government taking to ensure inclusive education across the country?  Mr. Uprimny noted that Australia could not deny its responsibility to provide education to refugees and asylum seekers in regional processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

Speaking of the native land title and consultations with indigenous peoples, Mr. Uprimny underlined that the requirements were too stringent and not in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  He also reminded that in some cases consultations for the commercial use of indigenous lands had not been conducted in good faith.  What was the rate of access to the internet for indigenous population?
 
Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the school-funding reform was needs-based oriented.  One of the problems was the complexity of the plan, which aimed to establish a base-line funding for schools and, thus, addressing inequity in education.  The Government announced its funding for the period 2018-2028 and the overall level of Commonwealth funding for schools would increase.  Growth in Commonwealth funding of government schools would be relatively higher as compared to non-government schools.  State Governments provided the largest amount of funding for public schools, whereas more of federal funding went to non-government schools.

In relation to languages, there were provisions to support indigenous languages and indigenous arts more broadly, through the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support and Indigenous Languages and Arts programmes.  The Government provided over $40 million Australian dollars annually to that end.  The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies had been allocated $40 million over four years to support ongoing efforts to preserve, restore, manage and digitise their collection of indigenous cultural heritage material.

From 2017, the Government would also provide an additional $10 million over four years to support indigenous community led projects that harnessed digital technology in an innovative and culturally sensitive manner to revive, maintain and teach language.

Education for refugees and asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea was provided through the Nauru and Papua New Guinea national systems.  Under the inter-governmental arrangement between Nauru and Australia, Australia provided support and funding for education, including the construction of classrooms, as well as school supplies and uniforms.  It also provided adult education support. 

The funding of education for students with disabilities would grow by almost six per cent annually, according to the 2018-2027 school funding reform plan.  The purpose of disability standards for education aimed to provide supportive educational environment to students with disabilities on the same basis as all other students.  Australian schools had tried to promote safe and respectful learning environment for students of diverse gender and sexual identities. 

Remote schooling and early learning for indigenous students was one of the priorities of the 2018-2028 national school funding plan. A major longitudinal research study, Footprints in Time, has recently provided robust evidence of the importance of early childhood education and care programmes in boosting cognitive and developmental outcomes among indigenous children.

In addition to the measures outlined above, the Council of Australian Governments had set measurable targets to monitor improvements in early childhood education for indigenous children.

The “Closing the Gap” targets aimed to address and reduce indigenous disadvantage.
The Government’s target was for 95 per cent of all indigenous four year‑olds to be enrolled in early childhood education by 2025.

The Native Title Act required an ongoing connection to land by indigenous peoples.  The delegation explained that indigenous communities had opportunities to negotiate about  the use of their ancestral land for commercial purposes, such as the case in point of the Carmichael coal mine.
 
Follow-up Questions by Committee Experts

RODRIGO UPRIMNY, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Australia, asked whether the programme of safe schools for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex students, which was expiring in 2017, would be renewed or not.  He also inquired whether there would be any competition for funds for education of indigenous students.

What was the legal position of the Australian Government vis-à-vis refugees in Nauru and Papua New Guinea?
 
Responses by the Delegation

ELIZABETH WILDE, Assistant Secretary of the Human Rights Branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said that she understood that states and territories were considering continuation of the safe schools programme for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

The status of refugees and the administration of regional processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea were fully governed by those Governments.  As for education for indigenous students, there would be no competition for funding of their schooling, but their needs needed to be clearly identified.
 
Concluding Remarks
 
ELIZABETH WILDE, Assistant Secretary of the Human Rights Branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, thanked the Committee for the constructive spirit of the discussion and welcomed the opportunity to share Australia’s experiences.  The delegation looked forward to hearing the Committee’s concluding observations.   Ms. Wilde underlined that the Government took very seriously its deliberations with the Committee and it appreciated the efforts made by Committee Experts.

MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Chairperson, noted that the Committee considered that all articles had positive obligations towards the full implementation of the Covenant.  She reminded that the Committee would for the first time launch a follow-up procedure, listing five or six issues requiring urgent attention
  
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