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.
The last English speaking country remaining on the list.
The NSW CCL supports marriage equality and opposes holding a plebiscite or referendum on the issue. Peoples’ rights and freedoms must not be subject to a vote of a majority of citizens.
A cross party bill supporting the legalisation of same-sex marriage was brought to the Australian Parliament as it resumed this week, forcing us to consider the question of marriage equality. Sadly in a marathon party-room debate last Tuesday night, the Coalition decided against granting its members of parliament a free vote on marriage equality before the general election, postponing the debate. Again. Australia is indeed the only English speaking country which has not (yet) legalised marriage for same sex couples.Read more
The 2015 NSWCCL dinner last Friday was the largest such gathering in living memory – and certainly one of largest in our 52 years of dinners
The huge attendance (and the numbers turned away) reflects the intense public interest in hearing Professor Gillian Triggs speak about current threats to human rights, the rule of law in Australia and the AHRC’s ‘ year of living dangerously'. It also reflects the determination within the community to defend the AHRC and its President from the unwarranted and extreme attacks by the Coalition Government and some members of the media throughout this year.
Professor Triggs did not disappoint. She gave a powerful and chilling analysis of executive government overreach and encroachment on fundamental rights and freedoms over recent years.
Probably even more disturbing was her critique of the recent failures of Parliament to protect these fundamental liberties, leading her to pose two very large questions for Australians:
What then are the safeguards of democratic liberties if Parliament itself is compliant and complicit in expanding executive power to the detriment of the judiciary and ultimately of all Australian citizens?
What are the options for democracy when both major parties, in government and opposition, agree upon laws that explicitly violate fundamental freedoms under the common law and breach Australia’s obligations under international treaties?
Part of Gillian’s address focussed on the controversial issue of the moment- the Government’s proposal to strip dual citizens of their Australian Citizenship for certain actions deemed to justify such extreme punishment. she described this proposal as striking 'at the heart of Australia’s successful migrant and multi-cultural nation and threatens social cohesion.’
(The deeply flawed Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 is currently before Parliament. NSWCCL, with many others, opposes this bill and will, over coming weeks, continue our advocacy to members of parliament to reject the bill.)
The 429 people crammed into the restaurant made their appreciation of Gillian’s speech clear both by applause and the hugely positive vibe for the rest of the evening. In summary, it was a tremendous evening and for the moment at least, there was a perverse mood of optimism within the very crowded room.
Ray Davison - a Gadigal man – opened the dinner with a warm and interesting ‘welcome to country’.
Apart from the key note address, the gathering was treated to a lively summary of the state of affairs of civil liberties and the NSWCCL by President Stephen Blanks.
A welcome side benefit of the crowd and the mood was that our fundraising efforts were very successful- facilitated by a host of volunteers moving round the room and by a few very generous donors of auction and raffle items.
Video of Speeches
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is gravely concerned that doctors, teachers and social workers employed in Australia’s immigration detention network could face jail for speaking out about their experiences.
With the Border Force Act 2015 coming into effect, employees working in various capacities face a two year sentence for recording or disclosing “protected information” they come into contact with as a result of their work.
As the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have noted, this restriction on free speech will prevent doctors from following their professional and ethical obligations to advocate on behalf of their patients.
“This legislation is particularly troubling given the history of poor care in immigration detention,” says NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks.
“It is telling that doctors who have worked in these centres at the highest level have previously decided to go public with their concerns. Systemic failures have led to gross human rights violations.
“These public disclosures have put pressure on governments to improve conditions in the centres.”
A steady flow of leaks to the media about sexual assaults in the Nauru detention centre eventually forced the Department of Immigration to order an independent review in October 2014. It found credible evidence of sexual assaults, which the government has now been forced to acknowledge and act upon.
“While forcing government action is one important outcome of such disclosures, it must also be remembered that the public has a right to know what is done in their name,” says Blanks.
Detention centres have always been places lacking in public scrutiny where civil liberties are overlooked. Successive governments have made sure to keep the people detained out of public view, hiding the trauma and lasting damage indefinite detention inflicts.
While the CCL notes the assurances that the new Border Force Act will not cancel out existing safeguards in the Public Interest Disclosure Act, we are unconvinced this legislation is sufficient. It sets too high a bar for whistleblowers, and circumscribes too tightly the situations in which they may share information with the public.
Furthermore, the existence of this legislation is a danger even before any doctor, teacher, or humanitarian worker is dragged before a court. Its mere existence is a threat to would-be whistleblowers, an attempt to intimidate Australian workers who see something wrong into staying quiet about it.
We know that this government has a particularly ugly tendency to target those who try to bring abuses in detention centres to the public’s attention, as seen by the unrelenting attacks on Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs.
“Australia’s immigration detention network has been made a dark place,” says Stephen Blanks.
“With this new act, the government is trying to blot out the small rays of sunlight still getting in.”
NSWCCL this week has written to Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion and the Prime Minister Tony Abbott calling for the Federal Government to continue its funding of the Custody Notification Service (CNS).
The CNS is a telephone hotline providing personal and legal advice to indigenous people taken into custody. Under NSW legislation it is compulsory for the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) to be notified if an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is detained, and the CNS is the practical service that allows this to occur. Since its implementation, no indigenous deaths in custody have occurred in NSW/ACT.
CCL previously supported the campaign to 'Save the CNS' in 2013, and it is extremely disappointing that this essential notification service for indigenous people in custody is once again being threatened - particularly in the context of the recent report by Amnesty International that showed Australia incarcerates indigenous children at one of the highest rates in the developed world. It would reflect poorly on the Government's commitment to Closing the Gap and reversing the shameful over-representation of indigenous people in Australia's prisons if the CNS was to cease.
See also: NSW ditches another protection for Indigenous people in custody, The Conversation, 10/06/2015 (Author: CCL member Eugene Schofield-Georgeson)
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has condemned the secrecy surrounding negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement and the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA), and called on governments involved in the negotiations to release the full draft texts of the deals.
CCL President Stephen Blanks stated that “the draft agreements must be released immediately so that the Australian public can engage in a comprehensive debate about their proposals."
“The current generation of free trade agreements are being negotiated with a complete lack of democratic accountability, and have largely failed to consult non-corporate stakeholders,” Blanks said.
But for leaked drafts released by Wikileaks, the Australian and global public would have no knowledge of the contents of these two agreements.
Guardian Australia revealed on Tuesday that Australian politicians have been told that they can view the TPP text, but must sign a non-disclosure agreement before doing so. DFAT public servants involved in the TPP negotiations have also been made to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Some of the leaked proposals from the TPP, particularly investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses, as well as intellectual property and environmental regulatory changes, have provoked significant controversy in Australia and other countries involved in the negotiations.
The TISA documents, leaked on Thursday, show that the agreement would involve sweeping regulatory changes in the Australian finance, health, transport, telecommunications and e-commerce sectors.
Blanks said that the wide-reaching nature of the changes in the TPP and TISA made a rigorous public debate all the more important.
“We have serious concerns about the civil liberties implications of some of the specific measures in the TPP, like the potential criminalisation of copyright infringement,” he said.
"But the drastic nature of many of the measures, regardless of one's position on them, makes a thorough and transparent debate in the parliament and civil society absolutely crucial."
NSW Council for Civil Liberties has joined with a number of other human rights groups calling for an overhaul to the way the Australian government campaigns to end the death penalty, today launching a new strategy document: ‘Australian Government and the Death Penalty: A Way Forward’.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Law Centre, Reprieve Australia, Australians Detained Abroad, NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Civil Liberties Australia and UnitingJustice Australia have joined forces to launch the blueprint.Read more