Civil and human rights

The High Court upholds the cultural value of Aboriginal land

On 13 March, the High Court of Australia handed down what is widely considered one of the most significant cases on native title since the famous Mabo 2. The case considered the rights of the Ngaliwurru and Nungalli peoples to compensation in relation to their traditional lands in the Northern Territory.

The basic principle of native title is that where Aboriginal people can show that they have traditionally used land in a particular way, they have acquired a kind of right to that land to continue their usage. That right is called native title. Native title can be extinguished in various ways. An example of extinguishment is what happened in Timber Creek. Between 1980 and 1996, the Northern Territory government engaged in 53 acts, such as granting tenure to land, and constructing public works. These extinguishing acts occurred over 127 hectares, to which Aboriginal people up to that point had exercised their native title.

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About Time: Decriminalising Abortion is Back on the Agenda

As the NSW state election approaches on March 23, and the federal election approaches in May, abortion law reform is finally on the political agenda. Most significantly, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek announced the ALP’s National Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy. Part of this Strategy will include tying federal health funding of public hospitals to their provision of abortion services. The effect of this will be to place significant pressure on states like NSW, where abortion is currently illegal, to provide abortion services in public hospitals. Labor has said it intends to “work closely with the states” to progress decriminalising abortion across Australia.

Queensland decriminalised abortion in October 2018. NSW is currently the only state or territory in Australia where abortion is a criminal offence. There are restrictions on when abortion is legal in other states and territories, including varying conditions on gaining the approval of doctors.

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Queensland passes Human Rights Act

On Wednesday 27 February, at about 4 pm, the Queensland State Parliament passed its Human Rights Bill into law, by a series of vote 49 to 43. There are now three individual human rights acts in Australia: one in Queensland, one in Victoria, and one in the Australian Capital Territory.

The three acts operate in broadly similar ways. They require courts and tribunals to interpret legislation in a way consistent with human rights, except where doing so would be inconsistent with the purpose or plain meaning of the legislation. If the Supreme Court is asked to find whether a particular law or statute is incompatible with human rights, declaring that there is an incompatibility does not result in the law being struck down. The declaration simply means that the relevant Minister or Attorney General has to table a written response to this declaration in parliament. These declarations have been further defanged in Queensland and Victoria, whose human rights acts provide for their parliaments issuing override declarations. Where these are made, the human rights acts have no bearing in relation to the relevant provisions or legislation.

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Renewed push for decriminalisation of abortion in NSW

NSWCCL is one of many organisations who have today called on the NSW Parliament to reform the current  "archaic, cruel, and degrading" abortion laws" in this state which "deny a woman the right to make decisions about her healthcare". The 33 signatory organisations made this call in a strongly worded public letter to MPs asserting the imperative for reform: 

NSW now has the most archaic abortion laws in the nation - laws created in 1900 that treat pregnant people like second class citizens when it comes to accessing abortion care. The attitudes of 1900 should not deny a woman the healthcare she needs in 2018. It’s time that NSW’s abortion laws are made fit for today’s world, and that abortion is finally recognised as a health matter – as it is in Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT, Northern Territory and now Queensland.

We call on you to support decriminalising abortion in NSW, and to vote for new health laws that promote the autonomy, dignity and well-being of people who need to end a pregnancy by providing for safe, legal and compassionate access to abortion care.

NSWCCL is an active member of a 'round table' of concerned organisations determined to achieve the long overdue removal of abortion from the criminal law and its management as a health matter.   Abortion law reform has been high on the NSWCCL agenda for over 50 years - but like others we are of the view that the time has come for for all concerned organisation and individuals to demand action from our members of Parliament. 

It is simply not acceptable to the women of NSW that our Parliament should continue to resist reform on this hugely important women's issue when the Parliaments of Victoria, Tasmania, ACT, Northern Terrority and, most recently, Queensland have been responsive to the rights of women and have decriminalized abortion.

There are some positive signs that seem to indicate some possibility that the NSW Parliament might be a little more open on this issue than previous indications. 

The passage of the legislation setting up safe access zones at reproductive healthcare clinics in NSW earlier this year was a very positive manifestation of respect of  patient dignity and privacy.  The SMH reports today that Premier Berejiklian indicated  she remained 'open-minded' on the issue and favoured a conscience vote in Parliament. 

The new leader of the Opposition Michael Daley has sadly not yet reached the conclusion of his predecessor who in October indicated Labor would, if elected, decriminalize abortion.  However Daly  is clear he has not yet determined his position and will refer the issue to the NSW Law Reform Commission. This was the path the Queensland labor Government took which led to a successful reform outcome. 

NSWCCL will give high priority to the campaign for reform of abortion laws in the context of the emending NSW election and in that context we would support the referral of the matter to the NSW Law Reform Commission.

 

Letter to NSW MPs 

Press release NSW Abortion Reform 11 Dec 201

SMH article 

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Due to the historic vote on 10 December 1948, today is known as Human Rights Day.

President of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) Pauline Wright said, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a seminal declaration by countries across the world, that human rights are fundamental, intrinsic, and inalienable. Nations across the globe saw the horrors of World War II, and determined to establish a new world order, based on respect for political, civil, social, economic and cultural rights.”

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Council for Civil Liberties elects new President Pauline Wright

NSW Council for Civil Liberties is delighted to announce the election of a new
President, Pauline Wright, only the second woman to lead the organisation since its
inception in 1963. Carolyn Simpson QC, former Justice of the Supreme Court of
NSW, was the first female President, from 1975 to 1979.

Wright said “The civil liberties movement has been my life’s work. I’ve been
engaged with NSW Council for Civil Liberties for most of my adult life and I’m
deeply honoured to have been elected President. It has informed almost every aspect
of my professional career. NSWCCL is an increasingly important organisation and its
work is dear to my heart.”

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NSW CCL supports move to decriminalise abortion in Queensland

On 16 July 2018 the Queensland Labor Government released the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) Review of Termination of Pregnancy Laws report. The report made a series of recommendations, including the draft of a bill that would decriminalise abortion in Queensland.

It is currently unlawful to terminate pregnancy in Queensland, due to sections 224 to 226 of the Criminal Code. As noted in the QLRC report, a termination may be “lawful” if it is “necessary to preserve the woman from a serious danger to her life or her physical or mental health (not being merely the normal dangers of pregnancy and childbirth) which the continuance of the pregnancy would entail, and in the circumstances not out of proportion to the danger to be averted.” There are currently between 10 000 and 14 000 abortions in Queensland every year. They are mostly performed in the first trimester, with later terminations “comparatively rare”.

Under the current provisions, a person who causes an abortion can be imprisoned for 14 years. A woman who takes something to cause herself a miscarriage can be imprisoned for seven years. Supplying drugs or other instruments used for the purpose of abortion can result in imprisonment for three years.

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NSWCCL supports changes to racial vilification laws

NSWCCL welcomes the long overdue decision of the NSW Government to strengthen the existing law covering the offence of serious racial vilification.

We support the proposed provisions of the Crimes Amendment (Publicly Threatening and Inciting Violence) Bill 2018. They are largely consistent with the views NSWCCL put forward in its submission to the Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice in 2013. The Bill modernises the grounds relevant to this offence so that it is proposed to provide protection against vilification of persons/groups on the grounds of ‘race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex or HIV/AIDS status’. The new provisions appear likely to address the problems which have blocked any prosecutions ever being initiated under the current Act.  

Read more in our statement of support:

NSWCCL statement NSW Vilification Bill 2018

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On the use of sniffer dogs, and unacceptably broad police powers of exclusion at Sydney Olympic Park

NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the six-month bans handed out to patrons of the Above and Beyond music festival, on the basis of identification by drug sniffer dogs. NSW Police announced before the event that they would exclude patrons, regardless of whether any drugs were found after indications by the drug dogs.

CCL is deeply concerned by these bans. According to the NSW Ombudsman, when drug dogs indicate a person has drugs on them, those dogs are right about a quarter of the time. NSW Police have reportedly ripped up the tickets of people just because they were identified by drug dogs, even when no drugs were found. In effect, the police have declared a willingness to infringe on the rights of people who have done nothing wrong.

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NSW Parliament passes safe access to abortion clinics bill

At about 1:26am this morning (8th June 2018) the NSW Parliament passed the  Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2018.  It had been a long day and night. While there was little doubt that the Bill had majority support, its cross-party supporters had to fend off 19 separate amendments which would have in various ways undermined the object of and the effectiveness of the Bill. 

In the end all amendments were defeated and the Parliament did the right thing by women and endorsed the Bill  by 62 votes to 18 - a comfortable majority of 44.

This is a very significant and overdue win for women in NSW.  They are now protected by law from the distressing harassment and invasion of privacy that so many have had to endure when entering a reproductive clinic for an abortion or other medical support about their reproductive health. Staff working in these clinics will also be spared from both direct  harassment and the stress of receiving distressed clients who have had to run the gamut of such harassment.  

NSWCCL joined many others in supporting this Bill since it was introduced into Parliament by ALP MLC Penny Sharpe a year ago. In doing this, we were conscious that the effect would be to constrain some rights of anti-abortion protesters around  reproductive clinics offering abortion services.  However given the objective was the protection of women accessing lawful services from serious harassment and intimidation in a limited zone, we consider its provisions to be reasonable and necessary.

The Bill was successful because of cross party support that was achieved in recent weeks. The Labor Party and the Greens supported it - the Government allowed a conscience vote and National Party MLC Trevor Khan gave the Bill the needed extra support by co-sponsoring it with Penny Sharpe. 

It is a very welcome outcome.

Hopefully it is a prelude to the eventual decriminalization of abortion in NSW. 

 

Lesley Lynch

 

NSWCCL public statement safe access bill 2018

Safe Access Zone Bill 2018

 

 

 

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