In December last year, Wentworth MP Kerryn Phelps advanced a bill to provide for emergency medical evacuations for people on Manus or Nauru. After negotiations with the crossbench, she agreed on amendments with independent MP Tim Storer and the Greens. These amendments were passed by the Senate with Labor’s support.
The bill provided that if two doctors agreed a person needed medical attention, they should be brought to Australia. The Minister can refuse to do so for security reasons related to ASIO assessment. If the Minister believes that the person does not need medical evacuation, an Independent Health Advice Panel would evaluate the question. The Minister could not overrule their conclusions on medical grounds: the Minister could only refuse medical evacuation if the person was judged prejudicial to Australia’s security. The Bill also provided for 24 hour limits on each step of the process, in recognition of the medical emergency involved.Read more
Labor and the cross-bench found sufficient common ground to achieve a significant victory for decency and humanitarian values in the Australian Parliament yesterday. The medical evacuation amendment was further amended and then passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 75-74. It was also an historic victory in that it is the first time in 75 years that a Government has lost a substantive vote in the lower house.
This was achieved in the face of an extraordinary and increasingly desperate onslaught by the Government.
The saga is however ongoing. The Bill must return to the Senate today. It’s passage there is not guaranteed. The Government may repeat its December tactics and filibuster to block its consideration. Derryn Hinch is reported as ‘considering his position’ on the amendments. His vote is crucial.
It will be another tense day for supporters of the amendment.
The positives so far
Under extreme pressure the cross bench and Labor were sufficiently sure-footed to negotiate a workable amendment.
The agreed amendment remains strong enough to achieve speedy medical evacuation for those requiring urgent medical care which cannot be provided in Manus or Nauru – albeit with several caveats.
The amendment addresses the central scare-mongering Government claim- a renewed wave of asylum seeker boats – by restricting the provisions to persons on Manus and Nauru at the commencement of the legislation.
Tony Smith brought some dignity and propriety to the house and enhanced his status as a fair and non-partisan speaker by refusing what reads like an instruction from the Attorney General Christian Porter to block discussion of the amendment on constitutional grounds and by making this ‘instruction’- and the underpinning advice from the solicitor general - public despite a specific request from the AG to keep it private.
Minister Dutton retains greater discretionary power to exercise his veto on medical transfers than initially proposed in the cross-bench amendment which leaves open the possibility of misuse/abuse of the provisions.
The restriction of the provisions to only those detained at the commencement of the legislation leaves an obvious future problem if we continue with off- shore processing of asylum seekers.
We are also left with an ethical/moral issue in relation to those who will be excluded from the new provisions because they are deemed a threat to national security and have committed serious crimes. Do we think it is acceptable to allow them to die or suffer from serious illness?
Desperate government tactics
The Government ran an all-out attack on the amendment (in fact on any amendment to the existing legislation) and on Labor yesterday. There was little or no mention of the cross-benchers who were the initiators of the amendment. Though we are all familiar with disregard for truth or logic in parliamentary debates, the Government pushed the boundaries on such behaviour yesterday. Their tactics seemed to be driven both by increasing desperation about losing the vote and ‘smart’ forward thinking about effective election tactics.
As the commentators say, we are getting a preview of the pivotal role border protection will have in the forthcoming election- if the Government has its way.
The surprise of the day was the revelation by the speaker at the end of question time that he was in receipt of a letter from the AG - including advice from the solicitor general that there was an argument that the underlying amendment passed in December 2018 was unconstitutional and that the AG considered that on these grounds the speaker should not allow the amendment to be considered at this stage. And that he should keep the advice private.
The speaker’s calm rejection of both these requests was a high point in the parliamentary day.
The extreme scare-mongering rhetoric of the Government’s attack on the Labor Party for supporting any version of the medical evacuation bill is a disgraceful performance which will further damage the standing of the Australian Parliament.
Facts have been brushed aside in favour of absurd, illogical and totally fabricated threats to public safety allegedly posed by refugees. Wild and unfounded allegations about refugee murderers, rapists, pedophiles and bad characters abound, as do supposed threats to national security from the wave of refugee boats that temporary medical evacuations of seriously ill refugees will allegedly generate.
What a disappointment that Bill Shorten and Labor have again been spooked by a blatantly dishonest and scaremongering attack from the Government and are now seeking to water down the Bill they voted for in the Senate in December- when they know the Government’s arguments are ridiculous and dishonest.
Again they have failed to engage with and refute an absurd and extreme Government attack which, given its patent dishonesty, should not have been beyond their capacity. And do they never learn the futility of succumbing in this way? Caving in and agreeing to weaken the Bill will not make any difference to the Government’s ongoing attack - they will just amend the line of attack as they have already this morning.
Last minute negotiations continue between Labor and the cross bench including the Greens. Hopefully a position can be agreed which will gain the support of all without significantly weakening the Bill - which would be the case if Labor's initial amendments were incorporated.
If this Bill is defeated today and the constructive cross bench initiative comes to nothing, Labor may have future cause to regret their lack of fortitude.
Australians will be deeply disappointed if this Bill fails or is seriously weakened today.
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has signed an open letter urging Members of Parliament to support the Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill 2018. This Bill includes amendments advanced by MP Kerryn Phelps to provide for medical evacuations from Manus and Nauru.
CCL President Pauline Wright said “In the last five years, we have seen 12 deaths on Manus and Nauru. There are human beings who have died because Australian officials have refused to permit urgently needed medical transfers until it was too late. Medical treatment should be a medical question, not a political one. Doctors should be able to determine how to treat their patients, and what kind of care is needed.”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
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the threatened deportation of Aboriginal man Brendan Thoms. The ABC reports he is the second Aboriginal man since September to appeal to the High Court when threatened with deportation.
President of the CCL, Pauline Wright said, “It is unacceptable that the immigration authorities have the power to cancel a visa and deport someone, or condemn them to a life of detention, without proper accountability. Such decisions can ruin a person’s life, yet there is no merits review when the Minister considers whether to intervene in the decision-making. The threatened deportation of an Aboriginal man who happened to be born overseas but came to Australia as a child demonstrates anew the dangers of such oppressive visa cancellation powers.”
According to the Department of Home Affairs, visa cancellations have increased by over 1400 percent between 2013-14 and 2016-17 financial years. This is at least partially due to legislative amendments to the Migration Act that have given greater powers to the Department and Minister, who can cancel or refuse visas for minor offences. Wright said, "The Minister can even consider whether to refuse or cancel a visa, by ‘having regard to… the person’s past and present general conduct.’ No government official should have such broad discretion to ruin someone’s life.”Read more
NSWCCL is one of many organisations who have today called on the NSW Parliament to reform the current "archaic, cruel, and degrading" abortion laws" in this state which "deny a woman the right to make decisions about her healthcare". The 33 signatory organisations made this call in a strongly worded public letter to MPs asserting the imperative for reform:
NSW now has the most archaic abortion laws in the nation - laws created in 1900 that treat pregnant people like second class citizens when it comes to accessing abortion care. The attitudes of 1900 should not deny a woman the healthcare she needs in 2018. It’s time that NSW’s abortion laws are made fit for today’s world, and that abortion is finally recognised as a health matter – as it is in Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT, Northern Territory and now Queensland.
We call on you to support decriminalising abortion in NSW, and to vote for new health laws that promote the autonomy, dignity and well-being of people who need to end a pregnancy by providing for safe, legal and compassionate access to abortion care.
NSWCCL is an active member of a 'round table' of concerned organisations determined to achieve the long overdue removal of abortion from the criminal law and its management as a health matter. Abortion law reform has been high on the NSWCCL agenda for over 50 years - but like others we are of the view that the time has come for for all concerned organisation and individuals to demand action from our members of Parliament.
It is simply not acceptable to the women of NSW that our Parliament should continue to resist reform on this hugely important women's issue when the Parliaments of Victoria, Tasmania, ACT, Northern Terrority and, most recently, Queensland have been responsive to the rights of women and have decriminalized abortion.
There are some positive signs that seem to indicate some possibility that the NSW Parliament might be a little more open on this issue than previous indications.
The passage of the legislation setting up safe access zones at reproductive healthcare clinics in NSW earlier this year was a very positive manifestation of respect of patient dignity and privacy. The SMH reports today that Premier Berejiklian indicated she remained 'open-minded' on the issue and favoured a conscience vote in Parliament.
The new leader of the Opposition Michael Daley has sadly not yet reached the conclusion of his predecessor who in October indicated Labor would, if elected, decriminalize abortion. However Daly is clear he has not yet determined his position and will refer the issue to the NSW Law Reform Commission. This was the path the Queensland labor Government took which led to a successful reform outcome.
NSWCCL will give high priority to the campaign for reform of abortion laws in the context of the emending NSW election and in that context we would support the referral of the matter to the NSW Law Reform Commission.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Due to the historic vote on 10 December 1948, today is known as Human Rights Day.
President of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) Pauline Wright said, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a seminal declaration by countries across the world, that human rights are fundamental, intrinsic, and inalienable. Nations across the globe saw the horrors of World War II, and determined to establish a new world order, based on respect for political, civil, social, economic and cultural rights.”Read more
Two needed bills abandoned - one flawed and reckless bill waved though – a sad day in the Australian Parliament.
On Thursday, the last chaotic day of the Parliamentary session, the Prime Minister declared he would do all in his power to thwart the majority will of parliament.
His stated motive was to stop Parliament from passing legislation requiring the transfer of refugee children in need of medical care from Nauru to Australia for treatment. His deeper motive was to avoid his Government suffering a Parliamentary defeat on substantive legislation.
He succeeded by filibustering in the Senate and when the Bill was eventually passed by a majority of senators, by closing down the House of Representatives so the Bill could not be considered there.
This was shameful – both in process and outcome.
Also a casualty was the promised legislation to protect GLBTQI students from discrimination in private schools. This was both deeply disappointing and a breach of the Prime Minister’s commitment to act on this issue before Christmas.
Astonishingly the Government was also prepared to sacrifice its 'encryption' legislation that it had repeatedly insisted was so urgent the PJCIS had to abort its review process so the public could be better protected from terrorist incidents over Christmas.
The Labor Opposition then took the extraordinary decision to wave through the 'encryption' Bill without moving any of its own tabled amendments - in full knowledge of the many problems that remained in the Bill.
Its motive was to avoid being wedged on a national security issue. The outcome is that Australia has another flawed and disproportionate counter-terrorism law.
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties applauds school students in Sydney and across the country for walking out of schools in support of climate action.
Climate change is an important issue which will have the deepest effect on the most vulnerable people within society moving into the future.
NSWCCL Vice President, Josh Pallas, said “It is so encouraging for us to see young people mobilised around such an important issue. They are showing bravery in exercising their political rights on an issue that stands to have the greatest impact on their lives. The Prime Minister, our government, and school principals should be encouraged to see that our students are active civic citizens”.
The students have come under sustained criticism from the government for walking out of schools. Some have reported that their principals are threatening reprisals if they attend and wear their school uniforms. NSWCCL condemns any criticism of these students for exercising their democratic rights to freedom of assembly and speech.
NSWCCL President, Pauline Wright said “The Council stands in solidarity with students today. No one should stand in the way of them exercising their rights.”
NSWCCL would like any school students who face reprisals to get in contact with them.