NSWCCL has condemned the Government's proposal to strip citizenship from Australians involved in terrorism as against the rule of law, and a particularly cynical attack on fundamental principles of the due process of law given the 800 year anniversary of the Magna Carta this month.
President Stephen Blanks spoke to The Wire, claiming that by stripping either dual national or sole Australian citizens of their citizenship will subject those individuals to arbitrary detention "without any trial, without any evidence being presented to a court, without any judicial decision". He labelled this an "unacceptable and outrageous idea that should be rejected firmly by the community".
Stephen rejected Prime Minister Tony Abbott's claim that the proposal respects the rule of law because it allows for judicial review. This gives no comfort given the failure of this process for negative ASIO security assessments: "The cases in which people have attempted to challenge negative ASIO assessments about them through a judicial review have ended up a miserable failure. ASIO is able to keep protected from the court the information on which it has relied in coming to its assessment, and the court has no way of testing if the information held by ASIO is reliable or not reliable. And most importantly, the defendant, the individual who is the subject of the decision, has no opportunity to see the information that ASIO has used or the Minister has used, no opportunity to challenge that information, no opportunity to provide any explanations, no opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses."
Stephen also raised concerns about citizenship implications for dependents and family members, and the slippery slope for citizenship laws of this kind: "In the UK, it's apparent that the citizenship laws don't just apply to people involved in terrorism, but they can apply to people in serious organized crime, for example," Stephen told The Wire, "So already we're seeing this thin edge of a wedge: you can start with terrorists, and then serious criminal gangsters. It won't be a big step to go to sex offenders and others."
Source: The Wire, 01/06/2015
The Sydney Morning Herald has revealed that Transport for NSW has provided both police and the Department of Immigration with the data from Opal cards in over 50 cases, including relating to proceedings of an offence, reasonable grounds of an offence, and missing persons.
The department also stated that it has denied requests in about 70% of instances. NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks warns that this suggests that police were attempting to abuse their access to Opal card information: "I'm concerned that police are not exercising the necessary degree of restraint in asking for personal information where it's not appropriate."
NSWCCL again called for warrants for access to Opal card data. "It's unsatisfactory that it's left to the Department of Transport to decide whether or not this personal information should be handed over," Stephen said. "That decision should be in the hands of a judge, or a person who issues a warrant."
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 22/05/2015
Australian authorities accessing personal information without warrants, Shanghai Daily, 22/05/2015
No warrants needed to access Opal Card records, Sydney Morning Herald, 15/07/2014
NSW Council for Civil Liberties has joined with a number of other rights groups arguing that if Australia wants its opposition to the death penalty worldwide to be credible, it is important that Australian laws consistently reflect that opposition.
They spoke on the issuance of a blueprint for change entitled “Australian Government and the Death Penalty: A Way Forward”, which details four steps the government should take to build on the current momentum to end the death penalty.
NSWCCL joined with Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI), the Human Rights Law Centre, Reprieve Australia, Australians Detained Abroad, Civil Liberties Australia and Uniting Justice Australia.
Source: Jakarta Post, 21/05/2015
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks spoke to SBS News welcoming the 12-month trial of a smoking ban in Sydney's Martin Place.
He did say, however, that it was important for the change to be introduced gradually. "It is very important that the enforcement of this ban is done in a sensitive way. It would be wrong for Council officers to be fining people in a heavy handed way." Stephen said.
Rangers will walk around Martin Place asking smokers to put their cigarettes out, and will not fine anyone at this stage. Smokers could face a $110 fine at the end of the trial.
If the trial is successful, it could be expanded to other areas such as the Pitt St Mall.
Video: SBS World News 11 May 6:30 - part 2 (from 4'24 to 6'16)
Source: SBS World News, 11/05/2015
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks has spoken to 7 News expressing concerns about how Apple and Google are tracking mobile phone users' every move and storing this information.
"I think we’re going to get to the stage where we will have consumer legislation that recognises those kind of terms as being unfair," Stephen said.
Both Apple and Google track and store this data. Apple stated it uses it to provide personalised services.
Source: 7 News, 30/04/2015
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that over a hundred people attended the Staff and student meeting 'Defend USYD civil liberties' at the University of Sydney campus on Wednesday 29 April. NSWCCL President spoke at the event, defending the right of free expression on campus, and criticising the university's use of its Code of Conduct in disciplinary proceedings.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks told attendees, "Universities, which have been a hotbed of free speech for centuries, are threatening staff and students with disciplinary action for expressing themselves."
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 30/04/2015
The Australian reports that at a recent public inquiry by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM), CCL Secretary Lesley Lynch argued that the new s35P in the ASIO Act should be repealed. The provision gives ASIO officers immunity for unlawful criminal conduct in these operations and makes it a serious criminal offence for anyone, including journalists, to disclose any information about them. This will seriously constrain the ability of journalists to report on wrongdoing or abuse of power by ASIO.
Source: The Australian, 28/04/2015
See also: Combined CCLs submission to the inquiry
In the lead up to speaking at the University of Sydney staff and student meeting 'Defend Civil Liberties at University', CCL President Stephen Blanks has spoken to the Sydney Morning Herald and New Matilda on the importance of protecting free speech and the right to protest on university campuses. "How bizarre is it that universities, which have been a hotbed of free speech for centuries, are threatening staff and students with disciplinary action for expressing themselves," Stephen told the SMH.
Stephen condemned the university's decision to invoke its 'vague' code of conduct against staff and students involved in legitimate protest. He told New Matilda: "The Code of Conduct has in it an obligation on staff to treat people with respect and dignity. That of course is fine in academic discourse but in the context of a protest it’s completely inappropriate. The essence of protest is that one can be contemptuous of those with whom you disagree and you don’t need to treat them with respect. That’s not to say that there’s any justification for breaches of the peace, but that’s not the allegation here."
He also questioned whether the use of force by security guards was proportionate to the situation.
NSWCCL's involvement comes after the University sent "show cause" letters to 13 people - including five students, a Professor, and two security guards - in relation to a protest held during a public talk on a Sydney University campus by retired British Colonel Richard Kemp.
Source: Sydney Morning Herld, 27/04/2015
Source: New Matilda, 24/04/2015
Lateline obtained documents under FOI containing correspondence between the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Ministers. The documents show requests to pass on information to foreign authorities about Australians who potentially could face the death penalty under other nations' laws.
This process of obtaining Ministerial authority when the AFP passes on information in these contexts is in line with guidelines implemented in 2009, following an ongoing campaign by the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.
CCL President Stephen Blanks told Lateline: "It should make the AFP very wary about how they behave in these sorts of situations... the 2009 guidelines are entirely appropriate to make sure that there is some oversight of what they're doing."
Unfortunately, the guidelines came too late for Bali Nine pair Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, scheduled to be executed this week. The AFP, however, claim they acted appropriately in passing information about the Bali Nine on to Indonesian authorities.
Source: ABC Lateline, 24/04/2015
See also: AFP must explain its role in Bali executions, The New Daily, 29/04/2015
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks spoke to The Australian on the disturbing revelations that NSW's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) may have acted inappropriately when seizing the phones of crown prosecutor Margaret Cunneen and her family members during a corruption investigation.
The Australian reports that ICAC officers used a notice to produce, rather than a warrant, to seize mobile phones. This highlights the importance of checks and balances when agencies use coercive powers, with Stephen Blanks warning without these checks, such powers can be abused. “ICAC should not be able to self-issue warrants,” he said.
Source: The Australian, 17/04/2015