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UN rights chief urges Australia to overhaul detention policies

Published: Updated:

The UN’s top rights official urged Australia to reform its criminal and refugee detention systems on Tuesday, just days after the country’s prime minister took a veiled swipe at the international body.

Speaking in Sydney, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said she had been “shocked” to learn that the country’s age of criminal responsibility was just 10 years old, calling on Australia to raise the age to the “internationally accepted level” of 14 years.

The policy disproportionately affects indigenous children, who make up 70 percent of those aged under 14 held in Australian jails.

She also said it was “time to roll back” the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, a policy she described as becoming “entrenched” under successive governments.

Australia’s hardline approach to asylum seekers includes turning away refugees arriving by boat and offshore detention. Both measures have been condemned by the UN previously.

“I encourage Australia to make greater use of human rights-compliant alternatives to detention, which are non-custodial and community-based,” Bachelet said.

Her comments came after conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week used a major foreign policy speech in Sydney to decry international institutions that he said “demand conformity rather than independent cooperation on global issues.”