Speech delivered by NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks to Staff and Student Meeting - Defend USYD Civil Liberties at the University of Sydney on Wednesday 29 April 2015.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to elders past and present.
It is pleasing to see concern about civil liberties as a central issue at the University of Sydney. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has had strong links with the University since our foundation in 1963.
NSWCCL is joining this meeting today because we are concerned that the University reacting in a disturbingly disproportionate way to the incidents which occurred at the Colonel Richard Kemp lecture on 11 March 2015.Read more
NSWCCL has made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee arguing that Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 – a ‘de facto’ internet filter – should not be passed. In CCL’s view, website blocking is not a proportionate response to copyright infringement, and has major implications for freedom of speech.
The submission identifies a number of key issues in the Bill, including procedural fairness, the broad scope of the proposed legislation, and the potential negative implications for virtual private networks (VPNs), cloud storage providers, and whistleblowers. CCL has provided a number of recommendations addressing these concerns should the Bill continue to proceed through Parliament against CCL’s recommendation.
NSWCCL is extremely concerned by SBS’s decision to sack journalist Scott McIntyre for a series of tweets on Saturday critical of the ANZAC tradition. We are deeply committed to defending free speech in its varied - and sometimes offensive - forms as a central value of a progressive and enlightened society.
Equally troubling has been the reaction to the McIntyre incident from certain sections of the political establishment. Mcintyre’s sacking should be understood as a free speech issue, and not merely as a breach of a vague social media policy in an employment contract.
We note the concerns of the MEAA regarding the increasing pressure placed on journalists to at once build a personal ‘brand’ on social media, and to suppress aspects of their private life, including political views, that their employer may find objectionable. The pressure on media professionals - indeed, many modern professionals - to limit expression of their personal views on social media as a requirement of their employment amounts to a demand for self-censorship that should be roundly rejected.
We are also concerned that, in the modern age, corporate entities can and do restrict free speech as much as governments.
Today's threats to freedom of speech can be nuanced and subtle. Corporations can be at the root of these threats: in the workplace, on the internet, and in public spaces.
Finally, we note, and are disappointed by, the role of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the incident. Even if Turnbull, as he claims, merely alerted SBS to the tweets, his involvement was highly inappropriate, and would have sent a clear message of disapproval to SBS management. It should be seen straightforwardly as an attempt by a federal government minister to interfere with the independence of a public broadcaster, and gag and punish the speech of a member of the public. We are sure that Turnbull’s intervention would have been of great concern to John Stuart Mill, the author of the classic work on free speech, On Liberty.
The combined councils for civil liberties across Australia (New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty Victoria, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, South Australia Council for Civil Liberties, Australian Council for Civil Liberties) have made a joint submission to the Acting Independent National Security Legislation Monitor's (INSLM's) inquiry into the impact on journalists of the operation of section 35P of the ASIO Act 1979, which contains two offences that criminalise disclosures of information relating to a ‘special intelligence operation’.
The main civil liberties issues at stake in relation to the s35P are freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which should never be curtailed in democracy.
While understanding the justification of security and intelligence services’ powers for the protection of national security, the combined CCLs have raised serious concerns over the new national security and counter-terrorism legislation which incorporates a number of new extraordinary provisions.
CCLs raise the cumulative impact of the extended legislation on the work of journalists. Even though a warrant is now required for access to a journalist’s metadata, the CCLs condemn the very real possibility of access to this data which can readily reveal the identity of a source, without informing the journalist his metadata is being released to ASIO.
The CCLs urge the Government to protect a free and robust press in Australia by repealing the concept of the SIO regime and the s35P offences considered as unnecessary, draconian and dangerous for Australia’s democratic well-being.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties recently wrote to all ALP members and all senators urging that the Data Retention Bill be delayed until key issues in the bill are resolved.
Next week the Parliament of Australia will debate the highly contentious and dangerous data retention bill (Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014). This bill, if passed, will mandate the collection and retention for two years of telecommunications data on all citizens – suspect and non-suspect alike – for subsequent access and analysis by intelligence and security agencies, police and other agencies.
No warrant will be necessary to access this data.
If this bill becomes law, Australia will have one of the most extensive and intrusive data collection and surveillance regimes in the democratic world.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties has written to all Labor MPs and Senators. We need you to do this too.Read more
Laura Poitras' gripping documentary CITIZENFOUR will be screened in Parliament House tonight, Monday 9 February, following on from its success in winning a BAFTA overnight. The combined civil liberties councils across Australia (NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty Victoria, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, South Australian Council for Civil Liberties, and the Australian Council for Civil Liberties) and Electronic Frontiers Australia are hosting the screening in Parliament for interested politicians and staffers. The documentary provides a powerful insight into the astonishing dimensions and significance of metadata collection and analysis, and is offered as a contribution to the debate on the contentious data retention bill.
The screening has been crowdfunded by hundreds of individual donors across Australia.
Last year civil liberties and human rights groups resisted, with limited success, the worst elements of the veritable tsunami of new counter-terrorism laws the Abbot Government brought in swift succession to the Parliament. Now we are fast approaching a decision point in the highly significant and contentious debate as to whether the Australian Parliament will legislate the mandatory collection and retention of mass telecommunications data for the bulk of the population to enable retrospective access by authorities.
It would be a major negative step for a democracy. It will be a major intrusion every citizen’s right to privacy - including those not suspected of any unlawful activity. This will have major flow-on implications for other freedoms and democratic values. In particular, it will undermine a robust and free press and constrain legitimate whistle-blowers by removing any confidentiality from all phone and internet communications.
The combined CCLS consider it to be a step too far. We strongly oppose the policy concept and urge the Parliament to reject it.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties and the Muslim Legal Network of New South Wales have joined in this submission to highlight the fact that the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill (No.1) 2014, like the government’s other counter-terrorism laws, are simultaneously an attack on the civil liberties of all Australians and are, rightly or wrongly, perceived as a targeted attack on the Muslim community in Australia.
Summary of Recommendations:
- We strongly oppose the provisions regarding Part 5.3 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (“the Control Order Regime”).
- We strongly oppose the provisions regarding the amendments to the Intelligence Service Act (“the Intelligence Act”).
The submission also attacks the unreasonable haste with which these new laws are being introduced, allowing a mere ten days for review and submissions. This does not allow reasonable time for public debate or informed decision making by members of parliament, which we believe amounts to an abuse of process by the Australian Government resulting in reckless lawmaking.
Joint submission to PJCIS inquiry into Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 - October 2014
Councils for civil liberties across Australia (New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty Victoria, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, South Australia Council for Civil Liberties, Australian Council for Civil Liberties) have come together to make a joint submission on the Australian Government’s Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014 (the Bill).
The submission address the following issues:
- Inadequate review timeframe
- Extension of sunset clauses to 2025
- Loose definitions and discretionary enforcement related to foreign incursion offences
- Freedom of travel to 'No-Go Zones'
- Scope of personal jurisdiction
- Potential for indefinite arbitrary detention in lieu of timely consent for prosecution from Attorney-General
- Advocacy offences an unreasonable imposition upon free speech
- Potential abuse of delayed notification warrants
- Unjustifiable revisions concerning travel document cancellation
- Unnecessary enhancement/broadening of customs officers detention powers
- Suspension of welfare payments retains right of review
NSWCCL has issued extensive public comment regarding this bill - read more here