26 March 2019
The High Court of Australia has refused to hear an appeal from the NSW Attorney-General in relation to trying the man suspected of murdering three Aboriginal children in Bowraville. The saga of the Bowraville murders has lasted for almost 30 years, beginning with the deaths of the children over a period of five months from 1990 to 1991. The disappearances were originally treated with minimal concern by the police, who suggested the children had gone “walkabout”. The police failure to gather evidence in the crucial early period doomed the attempt to gain justice for the children. In 1994, a man was tried for the murder of one of the children, Clinton Speedy-Duroux. He was acquitted.
According to Professor Larissa Behrendt, the police began to rebuild their credibility with the local Aboriginal community by appointing detective inspector Gary Jubelin to investigate the case. He gathered new evidence to try the same suspect, and presented it before a coronial inquest in 2004. It was regarded as compelling, and this led to a new trial of the suspect, this time for the murder of one of the other children, Evelyn Greenup. Once again, the man was acquitted. The prosecution argued for admitting the new evidence in relation to the deaths of the other children, but this submission was rejected.Read more
NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns Premier Berejiklian’s call for police to search homes without warrants
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s plan to give police powers to search people’s homes and cars without warrants.
The new powers, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, would allow police to seek court authorisation to permit searches for prohibited drugs and drug paraphernalia in a person’s home or car during a two year period. These powers would operate on a pilot basis across four police commands, including Bankstown, Coffs-Clarence, Hunter Valley and Orana Mid-Western police districts. They are intended to target drug offenders.
NSW CCL President Pauline Wright said “The Courts act as a check on the possible abuse of the enormous powers that we give to the police. If there is a reasonable basis for a search, the courts will grant the warrant. If the police can’t show a reasonable basis for a warrant, then it shouldn’t be granted. These new powers are not needed, and offer an unacceptable prospect of being abused.”Read more
NSW Council for Civil Liberties warns of vigilante risk in making child sex offenders register public
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) warns of the risks of the Federal Government making any register of child sex offenders public.
President of the CCL, Pauline Wright said, “The announcement today by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton of a proposal to make a national register of child sex offenders public is both unnecessary and dangerous. Every Australian State and Territory has already brought in a law based on a national model requiring people found guilty of serious child sex offending to be entered on a register of offenders. This register allows police across jurisdictions to share information about people on the register.”
Ms Wright said “It is one thing to allow law enforcement and parole authorities access to information on a register of child sex offenders, but allowing members of the public access would open the gate for vindictive vigilante action against people in the community who have already been punished by a court.”Read more
Today Cathy McGowan (independent MP) succeeded in having her National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 read for the first time in the Lower House. Two hours later the House joined the Senate in calling on the Morrison Government “to establish a national anti-corruption commission.”
Even the Government appeared to give support to the broad concept.
This is the most positive stance we have had from our national politicians on this long overdue critical reform.
However, it was short lived.
Attorney General Christian Porter spent most of his ‘supporting’ speech trashing the model proposed by the cross-bench and warning of the dangers of such bodies.
By Question Time it was clear that the Government’s early support was nothing but a tactic to avoid being defeated on the McGowan Bill in the House.
The momentary prospect of a serious attempt to build a broad consensus within Parliament on this critical issue has been sadly and recklessly abandoned by the Government.
The establishment of a national integrity body is an urgent and necessary reform to restore trust in our democratic processes and politicians.
The NSWCCL urges the Australian Parliament to move forward on this issue quickly - building in the enormous amount of work already been done inside and outside of Parliament on an appropriately balanced model.
We urge the Government to accept the widespread support for a strong and broadly-based anti-corruption body and give serious support to the process.
This very important reform for the public good should – and could - be achieved before the next election.
Contacts in relation to this statement.
0418 292 656
0414 448 654
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is deeply saddened by the death of Ken Horler QC who was a major force in this organisation from its earliest days. From the 1960s to the late 1980’s Ken held numbers of key positions in the CCL including Vice President and, from 1987-92, President. His active contribution to civil liberties took on many forms and encompassed the most pressing of civil liberties issues.
Read our reflection on his contribution to the promotion of civil liberties here. Ken Horler QC Obituary
President Stephen Blanks has called for greater transparency in the use of Tasers in NSW. No updated statistics on Taser use have been released by the NSW Police for 6 years. A mentally ill man died during a police arrest on Sunday during which a Taser was used. In a NSW Ombudsman report in 2012 it was noted that approximately one third of people Tasered by police were suffering from mental illness and three quarters were unarmed. NSW CCL calls on NSW Police to release updated statistics immediately. The current Taser procedures are scheduled for review on 1 July 2018. See today's report in the Guardian here: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/feb/21/call-to-lift-secrecy-around-police-taser-use-after-mentally-ill-mans-death
This week, Aboriginal man, Eric Whittaker died in a Sydney hospital while in police custody. As he lay bedridden, he was placed in leg chains by police. This was the scene that greeted Mr Whittaker’s grieving relatives who came to visit their loved one during his final hours. The family were understandably appalled and insulted by this final indignity. The NSW CCL stands united with the family of the deceased in its condemnation of this corporal treatment which is vividly reminiscent of 19th Century colonial policing practice in this country.
The incident follows recent revelations that Aboriginal children were regularly restrained in the Northern Territory’s notorious, Don Dale Juvenile Centre, by the use of chemical injections. Referred to by prison authorities as, the ‘settlement needle’, the use of these restraints against children has been linked to developmental difficulties in children, including poor cognitive and neurological functioning and hormonal imbalances. A further side effect is suicidal ideation. Given existing rates of youth suicide in Aboriginal communities, the use of these chemicals against Aboriginal people, (against their will) is alarming to say the least. The NSW CCL condemns this practice.
Accordingly, the NSWCCL calls on both the NSW Police and the Northern Territory Department of Correctional Services to cease these damaging practices of corporal restraint against Aboriginal people immediately.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties
4 December 2017
Stephen Blanks – 0414 448 654 - President
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) welcomes the findings of the Coroner into historic and ongoing police attitudes to LGBTIQ hate crimes and calls upon the NSW Police to implement the coronial recommendations wholly and completely. The Coroner today delivered findings from the third inquest into the death of Scott Johnson.
NSWCCL President Stephan Blanks said "this is a momentous occasion which provides closure for the families and communities that were affected by these poorly investigated crimes".
NSWCCL Vice President Josh Pallas said "recently there have been findings made by this Coronial Inquest and the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse which show that the NSW Police fails specific groups of society which require protection from targeted abuse and violence.”
NSWCCL Vice President Josh Pallas says that he “acknowledges the improvements made by NSW Police on LGBTIQ issues, especially with the establishments of the GLLOs, but these findings show that there is still much more to be done to ensure that LGBTIQ persons feel safe and trust the NSW Police to investigate hate crimes against them.
Josh Pallas - 0458 605 281 – Vice President
Stephen Blanks – 0414 448 654 - President
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the
Consultation Paper by the NSW Sentencing Council: Victims’ involvement in sentencing.
(September 2017) (The Paper).
The Paper provides a useful summary of the range of issues around victims’ involvement in
sentencing. CCL has focussed on responding briefly to questions relevant to the issues we regard
as important from a civil liberties perspective. We have focussed on answers rather than
reworking the arguments for various possible responses – as these are reasonably familiar and
are well covered in the Paper.
We have not responded at this time to the questions relating to restorative justice but hope
there may be a later opportunity to provide some input as to our views on this very important
There is widespread and well argued community and expert support for a national body to expose and prevent serious and systemic corruption within, and relating to, public administration (including the electoral process and parliament including MPs and their staff).
In April this year, NSWCCL joined others in arguing strongly for the immediate establishment of such a body to a Senate Select Committee specially established to consider (yet again..) this longstanding and increasingly urgent issue. (see earlier post)
At the time there was some optimism that at last effective action by the Parliament might be possible. While it was clear the Government would not soften its opposition, it did appear that Labor may shift its position and support some kind of national anti-corruption body. Significantly, the Select Committee was chaired by Senator Jacinta Collins from the ALP.
Unfortunately the recently released report of the Select Committee is somewhat of a disappointment in that its recommendations are equivocal.
Noting the number of recent inquiries into the issue, NSWCCL argued that the time for a decisive recommendation for immediate action on a national body had come:
‘We are concerned that if there is no firm recommendation for the establishment of a NIC from this Inquiry, the same lack of follow-through would again be a likely outcome. ‘
‘Given there appears to be greater openness for action on this issue in the current Parliament than was previously the case, a decisive recommendation may generate positive outcomes. This may not be so at a later time. ‘
Sadly, this argument did not prevail -though it was argued by numbers of key submissions. With the support of the ALP and coalition members, the majority report recommended a transitional approach with priority being given to the position the Government and its agencies had favoured - that the focus of action should be strengthening the existing national framework:
'The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government prioritises strengthening the national integrity framework in order to make it more coherent, comprehensible and accessible.' (Rec 1)
However, the Committee did not reject the strong arguments in support of an overarching anti-corruption body. In fact it found that the evidence was pretty persuasive:
'On the basis of the evidence before it, the committee also believes that the Commonwealth government should carefully weigh whether a Commonwealth agency with broad scope to address integrity and corruption matters—not just law enforcement or high risk integrity and corruption—is necessary. It is certainly an area of great interest to the public and irrespective of whether it is achieved by way of a new federal agency or by some other mechanism(s), current arrangements must be strengthened' (par 4.141, p218)
and therefore called for 'careful consideration' of such a body:
'The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government gives careful consideration to establishing a Commonwealth agency with broad scope and jurisdiction to address integrity and corruption matters.' (Rec 2)
NSWCCL argued that there was no incompatibility between deciding to establish a national body and ongoing analysis of and strengthening of the national integrity framework.
There was committee support for this stronger position from the NXT representative Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Senator Hinch in added comments and from the Green's Senator Lee Rhianon in a dissenting report. All argued for an immediate start on the establishment of a national integrity body.
The Greens also agreed with the NSWCCL position that the new body should be empowered to conduct public inquiries where it is in the public interest to do so.
The Committee made 5 other process related recommendations which are all positive and reasonable- but in our view cannot be an effective alternative to a single overarching national integrity commission.
Where to next
The body of the report makes for a strong argument for a swift move to a national body. The danger is that, given the equivocal recommendations, the moment for the necessary, decisive action will be lost in the chaotic and contentious parliamentary context.
We do not yet have a Government response to the Committee report - or from the Labor Party. However, it is not likely that the Government will decide to go beyond the Committee's recommendations and quite possible that it will ignore recommendation 2 - and possibly others - and focus only on recommendation 1.
NSWCCL will continue to argue the urgent need for a national body.
But we will also join efforts with those seeking to keep alive and progress the other recommendations and try to keep the Government explicitly working on a staged agenda with the eventual establishment of a broad based national integrity commission as a likely outcome.
Dr Lesley Lynch