Bangkok: The Turnbull government wants to downgrade United Nations monitoring of human rights in Myanmar despite reports of ongoing repression by the country's military, which retains impunity from abuses.
Australia's stand at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva comes as rights groups accuse Myanmar government forces of committing serious violations during renewed fighting with several ethnic armies in remote border areas, including forced labour, torture and ill-treatment and sexual violence against woman.
Fighting since November in the remote hills of north-eastern Myanmar with the Shan State Army - North has displaced at least 10,000 villagers.
The government denies the allegations.
More than 100 civil society organisations in Myanmar have written to the UN asking for it to continue to provide strong monitoring and leadership on the "massive human rights challenges" facing the country.
They also called for the opening there of an Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights.
Yanghan Lee, the UN's special rapporteur in Myanmar, last week told a UN forum that a slew of serious problems exist in Myanmar despite euphoria over the election last November of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, including persecution of Rohingya Muslims in western Rakhine state.
More than 130,000 Rohingya remain in squalid displacement camps while the rest face everyday curbs on basic rights, including their freedom of movement.
The out-going military-backed government used the police and courts to imprison people on politically motivated charges, raising the number of political prisoners to 100, while another 400 face criminal charges for peaceful activism, according to Human Rights Watch.
Human rights groups have condemned Australia's support of moves for the UN council to only provide technical assistance, such as writing new laws.
Emily Howie, director of advocacy and research at the Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre, said Australia's position "severely underplays the extent and seriousness of the ongoing human rights abuses" in the country.
"It reduces pressure at a critical time of the democratic transition and diminishes the ability of the international community, including our allies, to push for much needed change," Ms Howie said.
"If Australia wants to be seen as a world leader on human rights it must step up and advocate them at critical times such as these," she said.
"It is incredibly disappointing to see Australia go soft on some of the most egregious abuses in our region."
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs refused to comment directly about its stand in the UN council, saying that "Australia's view is that the best way to improve human rights practices in Myanmar is to engage constructively with its incoming government, rather than seeking to isolate it."
The spokesperson said Myanmar has made progress on human rights but acknowledged that "serious human rights concerns remain".
Australia's position in talks at the council has been to support moving Myanmar from being categorised as an "Item 4" state, with serious human rights issues, to an "Item 10" one – states that only need technical assistance.
Australia's position is at odds with the United States, Britain and the European Union but contrasts with a tough stand Canberra took against China on March 10, when it was a signatory to a joint statement with countries including the US, Britain, Japan, Norway and Germany.
That statement expressed concern about China's "deteriorating human rights record" including the detention of rights activists, civil society leaders and lawyers, unexplained disappearances and the apparent coerced returns of Chinese and foreign citizens from outside mainland China.
On Tuesday, Myanmar's military stoked concern by nominating hardliner former general Myint Swe for vice-president. The nomination is a sign of tension between the army and Ms Suu Kyi, who insists she will run the government behind the scenes after generals blocked her from becoming president.
The office of military commander Min Aung Hlaing later issued a statement saying the military will co-operate with the incoming government "for stability and peace, unity and development".
A vote on Myanmar is expected to be held in the UN council next week.