Civil and human rights

Supreme Court of Western Australia rules bottom pinching isn’t indecent assault

A controversial Local Court judgment in Western Australia in relation to indecent assault has been upheld by the Western Australia Supreme Court. The judgment turned on an agreed set of facts. After a charity wheelchair basketball event, members of the police team prepared to take a group photo. One of the men in the photo said something like “don’t take this the wrong way”, and as the photo was about to be taken, pinched a woman on the side of her right buttock. The woman accepted that this action was intended to be “in some way humorous" and was done "in order to provoke a startled reaction”.

It was agreed that there was an unlawful assault, however the prosecution needed to also show the assault was indecent. Indecent assault carries up to 5 years imprisonment, and a fine of $24,000. For an assault to be indecent, it must have a sexual connotation, and offend against prevailing contemporary community standards of decency and propriety. The Magistrate made a series of findings, concluding that touching a person’s bottom was not necessarily or inherently indecent and the pinch in this case was an example of unlawful but not indecent touching.

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The arrest and threatened extradition of Julian Assange

On Thursday 11 April 2019, Wikileaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange was arrested by British police after the Ecuadorian embassy withdrew Assange’s asylum. Assange is currently facing two charges – one concerns failing to surrender to the British courts in 2012. The other charge is at the behest of the United States government, which is seeking to extradite him in relation to an alleged conspiracy between Assange and Chelsea Manning over the leaking of secret documents in 2010.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties President, Pauline Wright, said “No matter what our personal views of Julian Assange may be, there are important matters of principle at stake that go beyond the personalities involved. We must condemn the decision of the United States to seek the extradition and prosecution of a non-citizen who published truthful information about US war crimes. This has clear implications for the protection of whistle-blowers into the future and the independence of the press.” She said “What is to stop more authoritarian regimes claiming a similar right to prosecute Australians in the future, including journalists exposing war crimes or corruption? The Australian government should urge the United Kingdom to block Assange’s extradition to the United States.”

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High Court upholds safe access zones for abortion clinics

High Court protects women’s safe access to abortion clinics

Today the High Court of Australia made a decision which maintains greatly needed legal protections for women seeking reproductive health care - including abortion- in Tasmania and Victoria.  NSWCCL welcomes this unanimous upholding of the current laws in these states.  

The provisions, which provide these protections within a 150-metre safe access zone, had been challenged by anti - abortion campaigners who argued they infringed their right to free speech and political protest.

In rejecting this line of argument, the High Court found that any impediment to free speech or political protest caused by its prohibition within this limited 150 metre zone was ‘negligible’.

This accords with the position NSWCCL took in supporting the passage of the NSW Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics legislation in 2018. We took this position as an organisation which has defended civil liberties for over 50 years and approaches any law which limits free speech or political freedom with great caution.  We considered the NSW legislation to be necessary and reasonable. 

The High Court decision today provides a very welcome level of certainty as to the constitutionality of the NSW safe access zone provisions.

The decision not only provides clarity as to the constitutionality of existing provisions it also provides a context which should facilitate the extension of these much-needed legal protections to women in Western Australia and South Australia.

We extend our thanks to the Human Rights Law Centre and the Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic for their submissions to the High Court in defence of the safe access zones.

In NSW we must now turn our attention to the achievement of abortion law reform in this term of government. 

 

NSWCCL Public Statement on HC decision 

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Hands off the ABC: Senate Inquiry finds political interference in ABC

5 April 2019

NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) condemns political interference in the ABC, in the wake of a Senate Report finding political interference in the ABC by the government.

On 1 April, on the eve of the Federal Budget, the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications published its report on “The allegations of political interference in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)”. The committee found that “political interference or the prospect of political interference, and all that that entails, is experienced to varying degrees throughout the ABC.” It also found that “the Coalition Government has been complicit in the events of 2018 and beyond, by using funding as a lever to exert political influence in the ABC.”

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Justice for Nasrin Sotoudeh: CCL urges the release of Iranian political prisoner

4 April 2019

NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has urged the Iranian authorities to release Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer.

Originally arrested in June last year, Sotoudeh has been sentenced to 38 years imprisonment and 148 lashes. The allegations against her include “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” membership in various human rights groups, “disturbing public peace and order” and “publishing falsehoods with the intent to disturb public opinion.” Amnesty International has adopted her as a prisoner of conscience.

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The High Court upholds the cultural value of Aboriginal land

21 March 2019

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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