At about 1:26am this morning (8th June 2018) the NSW Parliament passed the Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2018. It had been a long day and night. While there was little doubt that the Bill had majority support, its cross-party supporters had to fend off 19 separate amendments which would have in various ways undermined the object of and the effectiveness of the Bill.
In the end all amendments were defeated and the Parliament did the right thing by women and endorsed the Bill by 62 votes to 18 - a comfortable majority of 44.
This is a very significant and overdue win for women in NSW. They are now protected by law from the distressing harassment and invasion of privacy that so many have had to endure when entering a reproductive clinic for an abortion or other medical support about their reproductive health. Staff working in these clinics will also be spared from both direct harassment and the stress of receiving distressed clients who have had to run the gamut of such harassment.
NSWCCL joined many others in supporting this Bill since it was introduced into Parliament by ALP MLC Penny Sharpe a year ago. In doing this, we were conscious that the effect would be to constrain some rights of anti-abortion protesters around reproductive clinics offering abortion services. However given the objective was the protection of women accessing lawful services from serious harassment and intimidation in a limited zone, we consider its provisions to be reasonable and necessary.
The Bill was successful because of cross party support that was achieved in recent weeks. The Labor Party and the Greens supported it - the Government allowed a conscience vote and National Party MLC Trevor Khan gave the Bill the needed extra support by co-sponsoring it with Penny Sharpe.
It is a very welcome outcome.
Hopefully it is a prelude to the eventual decriminalization of abortion in NSW.
One year after it was introduced into the Parliament by Labor MLC Penny Sharpe, a private members bill to provide much needed protection and privacy for women accessing abortion clinics in NSW will return to Parliament for debate today.
This time the bill - Public Health Amendment(Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill - will be co-sponsored by the National's MLC Trevor Khan as well as Penny Sharpe - a significant step towards cross party support from within the Government. Both the Labor and Greens parties have committed to support the bill so there is a definite chance that it might actually be passed before Parliament rises at the end of May.
The bill seeks to provide effective legal protection for women from harassment and intimidation as they access reproductive health clinics for advice or a pregnancy termination. The level of this intimidation and harassment that women regularly encounter outside these facilities is totally unacceptable. It generates distress, embarrassment - and sometimes fear - and breaches the privacy of women seeking to access a legal medical procedure.
Current NSW laws relating to harassment and intimidation are inadequate in this context - as was the case in other states and territories which have put into place similar specific safe access laws for women's access abortion centres.
NSWCCL's policy has for many years been to campaign for the decriminalization of abortion. Last year such a bill was introduced by Green's MLC Mehreen Faruqi only to fail in the Legislative Council. Nonetheless we are confident that the NSW Parliament will eventually have to accept women’s right to make their own reproductive choices and respond to the strong community support for this right to be reflected in the law.
In the interim we give our full support to this necessary, sensible and proportionate Bill.
Its sponsors are optimistic but we in recent times saw the euthanasia bill unexpectedly defeated in the Legislative Council. All who support this bill need to actively advocate for it over the next two weeks to encourage sympathetic coalition MPs to consider supporting it.
In relation to the Amendment, it is submitted that: Avenues to commence actions in the Federal Court should remain open; The Federal Court is more suitable for hearing class actions than the Federal Circuit Court; The Federal Court is more suited to hearing significant migration appeals; The amendment is likely to affect human rights; There is concern about the complexity of the Migration Act provisions
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) thanks the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for its invitation to make a submission concerning the Migration Amendment (Clarification of Jurisdiction) Bill 2018.Read more
National issues | Espionage, foreign influence and the attack on civil society and public discourse| Religious freedom review| Attacks on unions| Citizenship| Universal Basic Income|
NSW Issues | Lack of transparency on Taser Use| Boiling Frog
CCL Issues | Submissions | Successful Annual Dinner | Join an action group | Note change of venue for March Committee meeting
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties calls on the Federal Government to provide compensation to victims of institutional child sexual abuse, whether or not they have subsequently been convicted of serious crimes.
The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs has recently published its report on the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. The report notes that the Attorney General has indicated that a final position has not yet been determined on the proposed exclusion of criminal offendors, and that a discretionary approach to exclusions could be considered.
Although a discretionary approach is an improvement on the original exclusionary approach, we do not consider it to be the preferred option.
Punishments for crimes are determined by the courts after carefully considering all the circumstances. It is not appropriate for politicians to add to those penalties, especially when they do not consider the individual circumstances that may mitigate a victim’s guilt.
The Council considers that the Government’s actions in excluding those who have been convicted of serious crimes from compensation serve no good purpose and fail to take into account the compelling evidence before the Senate inquiry that a history of childhood abuse is a significant causative factor for offending later in life.
NSWCCL is looking for a person with legal qualifications to work with its executive and committee on priority civil liberties and human rights issues. Closing date for applications is Wednesday 25th April 2018.
This is a new position created to strengthen our capacity to respond to an increasing volume of challenges to civil liberties and rights in Australia. It will be an exciting and challenging position.Read more
The heavy-handed response of the constabulary towards a collection of cyclists intending to pedal around Centennial Park with their hair in the wind last Sunday as a peaceful protest calling for reform to mandatory helmet laws marked another low point in the fraught relationship in Sydney between cyclists, drivers and the long arm of the law. Similar rides in other cities across Australia and New Zealand passed without incident. But in Sydney, police dispatched seven police cars to intercept and stop the planned “helmet optional” ride around the park’s Grand Drive cycle lane, threatening participants with $330 fines (among the highest anywhere in the world).
As the NSW Council for Civil Liberties pointed out, this action by police appeared grossly disproportionate to any conceivable safety concerns, a waste of public resources and fails to respect the fundamental right to peaceful protest in a democratic society.
Join us in protest against the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees by Australia, both in the offshore detention centres of Nauru and Manus Island and on the Australian mainland. The NSWCCL Committee is formally endorsing this rally and will be showing our solidarity marching behind the NSWCCL banner.
Conditions for the refugees and asylum seekers dumped on Manus Island and Nauru remain intolerable. Though some refugees have been resettled in third countries, others remain in limbo not knowing when or if they will be resettled.
There are around 30,000 refugees within Australia seeking asylum. At present, most will at best receive temporary protection visas, leaving them in fear of forced return to danger, and unable to reunite with their families.
Find us gathered near the eastern stone wall, on the Elizabeth St side of Belmore Park, at 1:45 pm, Sunday 25 March. Look for the white banner of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.
We look forward to marching together.
NSWCCL worked with other councils for civil liberties through January and February to respond to the large, complex and alarming Espionage and Foreign Intervention Bill 2017 and the related Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill 2017.
These Bills are part of a major package of proposed legislation relating to national security and foreign intervention which also included three other bills: the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017, the Security of Critical Infrastructure Bill 2017 and the Home Affairs and Integrity Agencies Legislation Amendment Bill 2017.
These Bills encompassed much beyond foreign intervention and national security. They also encompass an extraordinary multi-faceted attack on civil society’s right to participate in public political discourse.
This attack included a massive expansion of national secrecy laws capturing not just public officials but also any person who makes an unauthorized disclosure of information covered by these laws. Journalists rightly protested that the secrecy laws effectively criminalised every phase of journalists work. Charities and independent advocacy bodies like GetUp were targeted so as to undermine their participation in public political discourse. Many of the offences carry very serious penalties – in the case of general secrecy offences more than doubling current penalties.
The PM rightly described this package as ‘the most important overhaul of our counterintelligence legislative framework since the 1970s’. It was therefore a disgrace that we were only given a few weeks to comment on them. Strong protests from civil society groups eventually gained an extension into mid/late February.
Few organisations were able to respond to all the Bills in this timeframe. NSWCCL in conjunction with the Joint CCLs prepared submissions on the large and important Espionage and Foreign Intervention Bill 2017 and the Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill. We failed to get in a submission on the equally alarming Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017.
The reaction from civil society and the media – and the Law Council of Australia (LCA) - has been ferocious. The Attorney-General Christian Porter responded with a package of amendments to alleviate the impact of the secrecy offences on journalists.
This was a smart and positive move by the AG. His proposed amendments to his own Bill were in line with recommendations made by civil society and the LCA – however they are a long way from solving the very problems with these Bills.
The Parliamentary Committee on intelligence and security will report on the most significant of these Bills in April. In the interim NSWCCL will do what it can to persuade Parliament not to pass these Bills - and certainly not in their current form.
Dr Lesley Lynch
Vice-President NSWCCLRead more