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
We are looking forward to attending an Evening with Edward Snowden in Sydney, which is being staged by ThinkInc. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden will be appearing via video link. We are running a competition for supporters who are yet to join CCL. The first 2 supporters to join CCL as members will receive a complimentary ticket to the event. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org when you sign up as a member to enter the competition. Supporters and members may also obtain a discount on the ticket price by entering the code NSWCCL when booking. See you on the 28th!Read more
Welcome to the May 2016 issue of the NSWCCL Newsletter
In this issue:
National issues | Federal election | Asylum Seekers | National Integrity Commission
NSW Issues | Forum on new police powers | Serious Crime and Public Safety Bills
CCL Issues | Annual Dinner | Jim Staples | An Evening with Edward Snowden | Submissions | Congratulations to Hannah Ryan! | Update from the Justice Action Group | Join an Action GroupRead more
The Australian Parliament is currently debating a Bill to reform the Senate electoral processes. It is very dismal listening: much abuse, much nonsense, and very little intelligent analysis. And all happening in a last minute dash.
Not Parliament at its best.
NSWCCL supports immediate reform of the distorted and undemocratic Senate electoral processes. We have urged this since the 2013 elections so dramatically illustrated the undemocratic processes and outcomes of this broken system. We have made a submission to the Joint Committee on Electoral Matters supporting a Bill which, if amended on one key matter, will deliver that reform.
This Bill is supported by the Government, the Greens and Senator Xenophon. The ALP and the other cross benchers vehemently oppose it. Perceived electoral self-interest appears to be the common driver- with the possible exception of the Greens.
This is such a shame. Two years ago there was constructive consensus from all major players and Xenophon on the need for immediate action and for a comprehensive reform package recommended by a unanimous parliamentary committee report. This report was scathing in its criticism of the 2013 Senate election process and urged Parliament to act quickly so that Australian electors should not have to go to another election under the current system.
Sadly both the Government and the Opposition failed to act then.
The current Bill provides a second, albeit belated, opportunity to enact these crucial reforms. It must be amended to fully implement the Committee’s 2014 recommendations to allow partial optional preferential voting below the line. This is an imperative if we are not to have an inconsistent and flawed new system.
NSWCCL understands the self-interest electoral pressures on parties especially in the context of a mooted double dissolution in an extremely overheated political environment. However, on an issue as fundamental as the right of electors to be able to choose who they vote for, to control the allocation of their preferences and to not vote for candidates they don’t support , we have a right to expect our political parties and parliamentarians to put democracy first.
COPS Database Forum: October 21st 2015
On October 21st 2015, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties in conjunction with the Law Society of New South Wales held a forum on the Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) database.
The panel comprised Jackson Rogers, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties’ Convenor – Justice, Police & Mental Health Action Group (Chair); Camilla Pandolfini, Senior Solicitor at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre; David Porter, Senior Solicitor at the Redfern Legal Centre; and Chris Watson, barrister from Forbes Chambers.
The event was a great success, and discussion both within the panel and with the attending audience brought many issues to light about the functions and impacts of the COPS database including:
- Can a person access information held about them on the COPS Database?
- How do police make entries on the COPS database?
- Are COPS Database entries used in criminal trials?
- What about false entries in the Database?
- Is the COPS Database just proactive policing, and is that not a good thing
- What would be an appropriate oversight mechanism?
To read the full report and minutes of the event, please follow the links below. If you are interested in this forum, or others like it, subscribe to our newsletter for more information on upcoming events, become a supporter and tell us what you think, or join NSWCCL and help support the fight for civil liberties!
Welcome to the December 2015 issue of the NSWCCL Newsletter
In this issue:
National issues | 800 year anniversary of signing of Magna Carta |Counter-terrorism
NSW Issues | Police Oversight reform in NSW
CCL Issues | Submissions | Action Group Profile: Free Speech, Privacy and Open Government | Join an Action GroupRead more
The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 has not yet been approved by parliament. The debate on the Bill is scheduled to resume next week. As Labor has indicated it will support the revised version of the Bill, it is almost certainly going to be approved quickly and probably without amendment.
As this is such a significant issue, the NSW, Victorian, Queensland and South Australian Councils for Civil Liberties and the Australian Council for Civil Liberties have issued a joint public statement making one last call on the Australian Parliament to abandon this misguided Bill.Read more
The NSWCCL, in partnership with the Law Society, is planning a forum on the recent COPS Database, and its implications for the public. Notable speakers from the police force and legal professsion are expected to host a conversation on many of the matters associated with the program. One of these is the recent settlement awarded to a class action lawsuit on behalf of young people who whose information was incorrectly entered into the database and resulted in wrongful arrest.
The parties to a class action on behalf of young people, run by The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and Maurice Blackburn, have reached a settlement of at least $1.85 million. The settlement is subject to final Court approval and paves the way for the young people affected to be properly compensated. The class action is on behalf of young people who were allegedly wrongfully imprisoned byNSW police as a result of problems with the NSW Police database.
You may be eligible for compensation if:
1. you faced charges in the Children’s Court of New South Wales; and
2. you were arrested before 20 May 2014 by the New South Wales police for a breach of bail conditions; and
3. you weren’t actually on bail at the time you were arrested, or you were on bail but not subject to the condition you were arrested for.
Find out more here: Public Interest Advocacy Centre
**And look out for further notices about our upcoming COPS Database Forum here**
The National Health and Medical Research Council has published draft ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproduction technology in clinical practice and research.
Responding to an invitation to comment, the NSWCCL has made a submission that supports these draft guidelines, applauding the NHMRC for their support for the autonomy of all involved and their rights to detailed, accurate, contemporary and relevant information concerning the procedures, legal consequences and otherwise of their decisions.
Some questions for which further comment is requested of the NHMRC include, (1) Payment for the risks and labour involved in egg donation, (2) Sex selection on non-medical grounds, and (3) the potential establishment of an Australian egg bank.