Right to Health: UN Special Rapporteur Releases Report on Australia - Focus on Indigenous Health and Detainee Health

On 3 June 2010, the UN Special Rapportuer on the Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health, Anand Grover, released his final report following a mission to Australia in November and December 2009. The report focuses on the standard of living and quality of health care and health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, people in prison and immigration detainees.

Section II the report considers the international and national legal framework within which the right to health is considered in Australia, and discusses the recognition of international human rights under Australian law.  On this issue, the Special Rapporteur concludes that the Australian Government should take steps to comprehensively enshrine human rights, including the right to health, in Australian law.  He further recommends that such rights be recognized as enforceable and justiciable.

Section III of the report considers the issue of Indigenous health, including as to health status, the underlying social determinants of health (including severe socio-economic disadvantage and social exclusion), and access to health care services and primary health care.

Section IV of the report focuses on the right to health of detainees in Australia, including prisoners and immigration detainees, and notes that all persons deprived of liberty are entitled to the right to the highest attainable standard of health, to be treated with humanity and dignity, and to have equal access to health services as those in the community.  The Special Rapporteur observed inconsistencies and inequalities in treatment and and access to services across different facilities, and was particularly concerned with the disproportionate impact of incarceration on Indigenous populations, as well as persons with mental illness.  He also observed that Australia’s continuing policy of mandatory detention poses significant barriers to the realization of the right to health for asylum seekers and refugees.

Section V of the report sets out the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions and recommendations pertaining to each of the areas discussed above, including that Australia should:

  • Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, and establish an independent national preventive mechanism to conduct regular inspections of all places of detention;
  • Pass legislation restoring the Racial Discrimination Act vis-à-vis the Northern Territory as a matter of priority, and introduce constitutional protection of the rights of Indigenous peoples;
  • Develop a national health policy which includes a detailed plan for the full realization of the right to health;
  • Implement legislative or other guarantees to ensure that the opinions of national representative Indigenous bodies, such as the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, are taken into account;
  • Give priority to education in human rights throughout the country, particularly in respect of education for health professionals;
  • Address, as a matter of urgency, the qualitative and quantitative inadequacy of educational services for remote communities;
  • Ensure that Indigenous communities have control over allocation of resources, by providing local governance monitoring structures;
  • Allocate additional funding to health promotion programmes throughout the Northern Territory;
  • Increase engagement with community health providers by prisons, which would improve continuity of care and facilitate reintegration into the community;
  • Increase resource allocation for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illnesses within prisons;
  • Assess and invest in the primary health care sector throughout the prison system;
  • Undertake research regarding indigenous incarceration issues as a matter of urgency, and ensure that new interventions concerning prevention of incarceration and treatment during incarceration are evidence-based and appropriately evaluated;
  • Reconsider the policy of mandatory detention of irregular arrivals;
  • Assess the viability of providing on-site interpreters in immigration detention facilities;
  • Place detainees with a history of torture and trauma in community detention; and
  • Reconsider the appropriateness of detention facilities continuing to operate on Christmas Island, and assess provision of mental health services to this population as a matter of priority.

The Special Rapporteur’s report is at www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/14session/A.HRC.14.20.Add4.pdf.

A Briefing Paper prepared by the HRLRC to assist the Special Rapporteur is available here.