NSWCCL wholeheartedly supports the High Court challenge brought by Doctors for Refugees against the Commonwealth and the Minister for immigration and Border Protection in relation to the secrecy provisions of Border Force Act 2015.
The Act contains provisions which allow for the imprisonment for up to 2 years of doctors, social workers and others who disclose ‘protected’ information regarding conditions in immigration detention centres.
As a result these people may be liable to imprisonment for complying with their professional standards and ethical obligation to report abuse, because such abuse occurs in an immigration detention centre. Reporting abuse outside immigration centres is required by legislation, but is criminalized in the context of immigration centres.
There is no convincing justification for the introduction of such draconian provisions. We believe the only reason for these provisions is to silence those working in detention centres. This is contrary to the principles of transparency and open debate, which are fundamental in a democracy. How can people support government policy when they have no idea what is being done in their name?
NSWCCL strongly opposed the introduction of the secrecy provisions of the Border Force Act, which were introduced with bipartisan support. These toxic and undemocratic provisions should be repealed immediately.
In March this year, the NSW government passed legislation aimed at intimidating anti-coal seam gas protesters, joining a growing trend toward restricting environmental activism in Australia. This legislation, The Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016, follows similar legislation targeting Tasmanian anti-logging protesters and Western Australian environmentalists. The two primary purposes of the bill are to confer expanded powers on police and to severely enhance penalties for protesters.
Expansion of Police Powers
Under this legislation, police are empowered to give directions to protesters if they find the directions necessary to avert a serious safety risk. Because coal seam gas protests often occur on fracturing sites near heavy machinery, it will not be difficult for police to produce pretextual safety-related justifications in order to give directions to protesters, including directions to disperse. It is an offence to fail to heed these directions. The legislation also confers the power to stop, search, and detain without a warrant those protesters whom the police suspect are in possession of devices used to “lock on” or secure a person to fracturing equipment.
These changes give police wide discretion to control the activities of protesters, and even potentially to disperse or preemptively prevent protests based on police assessments of “safety risks,” which are left undefined by the law. They also allow police to search and detain people on the mere suspicion that they possess completely lawful and harmless items such as rope or glue. As the NSW Law Society warned in their submission opposing the bill, these expansions of police power are not offset with increased judicial oversight.
Anti-coal seam gas protesters should comply with police directions if they want to avoid legal consequences, but should also ask police to provide a safety-related justification for any directions, to check that police are operating within the contours of the law. Protesters should be aware that they may be searched or detained on suspicion of possessing securing devices and that these devices, if seized by the police, are forfeited to the government.
Measures to Deter Dissenters
This legislation also significantly increases the penalties associated with anti-coal seam gas protests. Prior to the bill’s passage, it was illegal to trespass on enclosed lands and such trespass was punishable with a maximum $550 fine. The bill increases this penalty by ten times for trespassers who “interfere with…[a] business.” The increased penalty also attaches to trespassers who merely intend to or attempt to interfere with business activities. This means that anti-coal seam gas protesters who are judged to intend to interfere with fracturing activities can be slapped with a $5,550 fine. For organizations which send many protesters to engage in collective action, the combined impact of these fees, assessed against each protester, could be massive.
Perhaps the most serious change enacted by this law is the redefinition of the crime of “interference with a mine” to include actions in which many anti-coal seam gas protesters regularly engage. This crime is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment, providing a serious deterrent against participating in anti-coal seam gas protests. The new definition of “mine” includes all extraction, exploration, construction and decommissioning sites for petroleum, gas and minerals. The crime encompasses intentionally or recklessly hindering the working of the equipment of a mine. The practical effect of this change for anti-coal seam gas protesters is that many of their most effective protest strategies – such as locking on to fracturing equipment or blockading to prevent the movement of such equipment – now constitute the serious crime of “interference with a mine.” These changes heighten the risks that anti-coal seam gas protesters must take to express their dissent, imposing heavy fines and jail time for even the slightest interference with the profit-generating activities of energy corporations.
These changes are an expression of the NSW government’s frustration with anti-coal seam gas protesters, who have been successful in deterring energy corporations’ extraction of coal seam gas through direct action campaigns. Although there have been some cases of minor injuries involved in such environmental protests, they have mostly been associated with police activity in the course of arresting protesters. The concurrent introduction of legislation reducing fines for energy corporations which engage in unlicensed exploration demonstrates that business interests are at least as salient for the NSW government as the “safety” interests which purport to justify these laws. Because the activities which are given heightened penalties in this bill were already prohibited before this law was passed, it is clear that the government intends to send a chilling message to anti-coal seam gas protesters.
Abortion (administering or having) has been a criminal offence in NSW since colonization. However, since 1971 NSW case law has established that abortion is lawful in exceptional contexts where it can be established that it is necessary to preserve a woman from serious danger to her life or mental or physical health and it is not out of proportion to the danger to be averted.
Having to rely on this limited defense is a deeply flawed and unsatisfactory legal position for both women and medical practitioners. The right to lawful abortion remains uncertain and limited in NSW, which generates reluctance among many practitioners to perform abortions, with serious consequences for many women.
The decriminalization of abortion has long been CCL policy.
There has been recent reform of abortion laws in the ACT (2002) Victoria (2008) and – more limitedly in Tasmania (2013). In these jurisdictions abortion has been decriminalized and is treated as primarily a health issue.
Many activists in NSW who support abortion law reform have been reluctant to campaign around the issue in recent times. This is because of the ever-present possibility that a very conservative NSW Parliament – especially Legislative Council – might react with stronger anti- abortion legislation removing the current lawful defences and thus make the situation far worse for women.
The NSW Greens have decided to challenge this analysis and are attempting to revive a strong campaign for the decriminalization of abortion in NSW.
Accordingly Dr Mehreen Faruqi (Greens MLC) has drafted an abortion law reform bill which abolishes all criminal offences relating to abortion in NS W, as well as introducing some other protections including the establishment of exclusion zones around abortion centres and requiring medical practitioners who conscientiously object to abortion to refer a woman to another practitioner who does not have such an objection.
NSWCCL has met with Dr Faruqui and discussed her strategy and made some technical suggestions for changes to the draft bill. We have agreed to support the campaign – although we are very aware of the hostile attitudes of some members of the NSW Parliament and think it likely that the campaign will be a long one.
The Greens are holding consultations about the bill. They will be holding a public meeting in the Glebe Town Hall on Monday 6th June at 6pm. We urge interested members and supporters to attend.
Dr Lesley Lynch
Despite vigorous opposition from the Labor Party and the Greens, the NSW Parliament last week passed extraordinary new controls on the right to protest, on freedom of movement and association and a wide range of other constraints using police powers conferred by Serious Crime Prevention Orders (SCPO) and Public Safety Orders (PSO).
If that was not enough the Premier and Police Minister simultaneously introduced a disturbing new counter-terrorism bill into the Parliament -The Terrorism (Police Powers) Amendment (Investigative Detention) Bill 2016. This will allow the detention and interrogation of persons aged 14 and over for up to 14 days.
We expect this Bill to be pushed through the Parliament this week.
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