NSWCCL Submissions

Safe access to abortion clinics - in with a chance!

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.   

 

NSWCCL Public Statement on safe Access Bill 2018

Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics Bill 2017  

 


Migration Amendment (Clarification of Jurisdiction) Bill 2018

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.

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Legislative assault on civil society and public political discourse

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 NSWCCL 

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Electoral funding bill - reform or suppression of civil society voices

NSWCCL recently joined with other CCLs to oppose the deeply disturbing Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill 2017.

This Bill will not deliver the reform to electoral funding that is urgently needed in Australia. It will however, deliver a devastating blow to civil society’s capacity to participate in political advocacy and to the broad freedom of political communication.  

In addition, it proposes a clumsy, heavy handed, costly and overly burdensome approach to regulation of the charity and political advocacy sectors. 

The stated objective

The Bill is part of the Government’s highly controversial package of proposed ‘national security and foreign intervention laws’ which the Prime Minister says are in response to ‘grave warnings’ about ‘unprecedented threats’ on this front.

The CCLs support the much needed reform of election funding at the national level. We accept that foreign funding of political parties and related entities (and politicians) should not be allowed to distort our democratic electoral process. We strongly agree that the integrity of our electoral system is fundamental to both our democracy and national sovereignty and to the restoration of public confidence in our political process.

Foreign donations and influence are, however, not the most significant factors undermining the integrity and fairness of the electoral process in Australia  and public confidence in the political system.  

Moreover, if foreign intervention damaging to Australia’s interests and democracy is the target, it is puzzling that the Bill excludes foreign or global private corporations which exercise considerable influence over political parties, government policy and even electoral outcomes.

The CCLs doubt that the Bill will achieve its claimed objective of protecting against foreign intervention in the electoral process.  

The hidden objectives

The CCLs main concern is that the ‘foreign intervention’ agenda is being used as cover to advance the Government’s long term attempt to deter major charities from public - and inextricably political - advocacy relating to their core constituency and to damage GetUp as an effective independent, progressive political advocacy body.  

The blatant attack on GetUp is achieved by amending the definition of an 'associated entity' so as to capture it - and other independent civil society organisations involved in political advocacy.    

This is done by conflating support for a  policy with support for a political party also supporting that policy.  

The Bill overrides the critical difference between an independent political advocacy organisation and a political party and its “associated entities”. The independent political entity takes advocacy positions on the basis of support for or opposition to policy matters - not on the basis of support for or opposition to political parties.

Based on recent history of GetUp’s progressive campaigning this proposal would almost certainly define GetUp  as an ‘associated entity’ of the ALP (presuming the ALP maintains progressive policies..) and the Greens.  As many point out- a rather bizarre outcome!

This would, as clearly intended, destroy GetUp’s  reputation as an ‘independent’ progressive  advocacy body.  It is its independence from the major parties which is the basis for much of its support.

The CCLs consider this an outrageous manipulation of the law. If enacted, this proposal will do immense damage to the vibrancy of legitimate political debate in Australia.  We note that if we met the expenditure threshold, this definition would capture all of the civil liberties organisations in Australia- notwithstanding our vehement non- partisan position re political parties. 

Charities

The most serious onslaught on large charities and environment/conservation bodies rests on the extraordinarily broad and contorted definitions of ‘political activity’, ‘political purpose’ and ‘political campaigner’ in the Bill.   The intersection of these expansive definitions will force most major charities to be registered as ‘political campaigners’.                

Having forced them into an inappropriate political category, the Bill will impose cumbersome, unclear and costly administrative, recording and reporting arrangements in relation to foreign donations -which in most instances are marginal to their overall donations. 

Charities defined as ‘third party entities’ will not be able to use foreign donations for ‘political’ work . This is not a marginal impact  because, as defined, that prohibits them from using these funds for much of their core charity work.

Charities defined as ‘political campaigners’ will be banned from accepting foreign donations over $250. For those charities involved in advocacy work of global significance (eg. World Wildlife or Results International) this will have a devastating effect.   Overall, no public good will be achieved by this.

Because it defines political activity and purpose so broadly, the Bill will create uncertainty and deep unease in the charity sector as to how its critical advocacy and education work will be defined. 

The CCLs reject the underpinning assumption of these definitional manoeuvres by the Government. The CCLs consider that charities are entitled to participate in political debate flowing from their core work. We reject the narrow view that the role of charities is simply to attend to the immediate needs of those they seek to help.

The outraged response of the CEO of St Vincent’s de Paul Society to this Bill is justified:

The ostensible reason for introducing this Bill is to deal with the threat of foreign powers interfering with our elections. There is no evidence that our major charities are a vehicle for foreign powers.”

“Rather, this Bill is aimed at muting the voice of charities and others who have been critical of the government. It is dangerous legislation that is not only a threat to charities, but to democracy itself.   (St Vincent de Paul website)

 

Next steps 

The Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters is reviewing the Bill and will report to Parliament by the end of March. The furore around the Bill has been huge - there are currently 148 submissions to the Committee and although I have not read them all, it is pretty certain that most will be opposed to the Bill's attack on charities and bodies such as GetUp.

The Government may have enough sense to reassess the outrageous and unwarranted proposals in the Bill.

The Leader of the Opposition has recently indicated that Labor will not support aspects of the Bill that stifle charities. We await detail but hope that this is opposition to more than one aspect of the constraints on charities and that it incorporates the attack on independent political advocacy bodies. The Greens have indicated strong opposition to the Bill.

The Government has indicated that the bills in its national security and foreign intervention package will be considered by Parliament in May. This Bill and the Espionage and Foreign Intervention Bill are the most controversial.

The CCLs will consider the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committees on these Bills when they become public and will continue to lobby the Opposition and members of Parliament to remove the many  proposals which will be toxic for civil society political discourse and to find a less clumsy and burdensome way of disclosing or preventing foreign donations influencing the Australian electoral process. 

On this front,  the CCLs will continue to argue that the most effective way to achieve much needed reform of electoral funding and protection of the integrity of the electoral process is to:

  • impose real-time, full disclosure of donations to political parties, associated entities, MPs and parliamentary candidates
  • a lowering of the current donation disclosure threshold from $13500 to $2000 or thereabouts
  • and urgently set up a widely based National Integrity Anti-Corruption Body.

 

Dr Lesley Lynch 

NSWCCL Vice President 

 

For more detailed information and our specific recommendations read the Joint CCLs' submission on the Bill. 

Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill 2017

 

 


Review of Guardianship Act 1987

New South Wales Law Reform Commission: Review of Guardianship Act 1987

 

We acknowledge that persons without decision-making abilities, or a limitation thereof, are
vulnerable members of society, and such persons should be supported to make decisions
concerning crucial aspects of their lives in order to be afforded an opportunity to live as
comfortably and freely as others. Hence, insofar as the draft proposals of the New South
Wales Law Reform Commission (‘NSWLRC’) on its review of the Guardianship Act 1987
(NSW) promote these individuals’ civil liberties in both the public and private domains, we
support the proposed changes to the current arrangements existing under the Guardianship
Act 1987 (NSW).


Overall, we strongly endorse the NSWLRC’s draft proposals because we believe that the new
framework, as contemplated by the Assisted Decision-Making Act, better protects and
promotes the civil liberties of persons affected than the schemes supported by the
Guardianship Act 1987 (NSW). As a result, this submission will be limited to only those
aspects of the NSWLRC’s draft proposals which could be improved to better protect civil
liberties of the persons affected.

 

Read full submission: Discussion and Recommendations


NSWCCL Submission: The Role and Function of the Legislation Review Committee

The Legislation Review Committee (LRC) was created as an alternative to the adoption of a
Bill of Rights for New South Wales. It has not functioned well, and is no substitute for such a
bill.


We have noted problems in relation to uneven performance, lack of time, “urgent” bills,
lack of impact, lack of clear standards, poor argument, lack of expert input and lack of
attention to delegated legislation. The problems are manifest on the LRC’s own website—
in its annual reports, its legislation review Digests and its Information Paper.


The roots of most of these problems lie in the lack of time provided for the LRC to do its job,
and in the entrenched culture within the NSW Parliament of ignoring its views.

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NSWCCL Submission: NSW Sentencing Council Victims' Involvement in Sentencing

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the
Consultation Paper by the NSW Sentencing Council: Victims’ involvement in sentencing.
(September 2017) (The Paper).


The Paper provides a useful summary of the range of issues around victims’ involvement in
sentencing. CCL has focussed on responding briefly to questions relevant to the issues we regard
as important from a civil liberties perspective. We have focussed on answers rather than
reworking the arguments for various possible responses – as these are reasonably familiar and
are well covered in the Paper.


We have not responded at this time to the questions relating to restorative justice but hope
there may be a later opportunity to provide some input as to our views on this very important
dimension.

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National Integrity Commission -committee report equivocates

There is  widespread and  well argued community and expert support for a national body to expose  and prevent serious and systemic corruption within, and relating to, public administration (including the electoral process and parliament including MPs and their staff).

In April this year, NSWCCL joined others in arguing strongly for the immediate establishment of such a body to a Senate Select Committee specially established to consider (yet again..) this longstanding and increasingly urgent issue. (see earlier post

At the time there was some optimism that at last effective action by the Parliament might be possible.    While it was clear the Government would not soften its opposition, it did appear that Labor may shift its position and support some kind of national anti-corruption body. Significantly, the Select Committee was chaired by Senator Jacinta Collins from the ALP.

Unfortunately the recently released report of the Select Committee is somewhat of a disappointment in that its recommendations are equivocal.

Noting the number of recent inquiries into the issue, NSWCCL argued that the time for a  decisive recommendation for immediate action on a national body had come: 

We are concerned that if there is no firm recommendation for the establishment of a NIC  from this Inquiry, the same lack of follow-through would again be a likely outcome. ‘

‘Given there appears to be greater openness for action on this issue in the current Parliament than was previously the case, a decisive recommendation may generate positive outcomes. This may not be so at a later time. ‘

Sadly, this argument did not prevail -though it was argued by numbers of key submissions. With the support of the ALP and coalition members,  the majority report recommended a transitional approach with priority being given to the position the Government and its agencies had favoured - that the focus of action should be strengthening the existing national framework:

'The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government prioritises strengthening the national integrity framework in order to make it more coherent, comprehensible and accessible.' (Rec 1)

However, the Committee did not reject the strong arguments in support of an overarching anti-corruption body. In fact it found that the evidence was pretty persuasive:

'On the basis of the evidence before it, the committee also believes that the Commonwealth government should carefully weigh whether a Commonwealth agency with broad scope to address integrity and corruption matters—not just law enforcement or high risk integrity and corruption—is necessary. It is certainly an area of great interest to the public and irrespective of whether it is achieved by way of a new federal agency or by some other mechanism(s), current arrangements must be strengthened' (par 4.141, p218)

and therefore called for 'careful consideration' of such a body: 

'The committee recommends that the Commonwealth government gives careful consideration to establishing a Commonwealth agency with broad scope and jurisdiction to address integrity and corruption matters.' (Rec 2) 

NSWCCL argued that there was no incompatibility between deciding to establish a national body and ongoing analysis of and strengthening of the national integrity framework.  

There was committee support for this  stronger position from the NXT representative Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Senator Hinch in added comments and from the Green's Senator Lee Rhianon  in a dissenting report. All argued for an immediate start on  the establishment of a national integrity body.   

The Greens also agreed with the NSWCCL position that the new body should be empowered to conduct public inquiries where it is in the public interest to do so. 

 The Committee made 5 other process related recommendations which are all positive and reasonable- but in our view cannot be an effective alternative to a single overarching national integrity commission. 

Where to next 

The body of the report makes for a strong argument for a swift move to a national body. The danger is that, given the equivocal recommendations, the moment for the necessary, decisive action will be lost in the chaotic and contentious parliamentary context. 

We do not yet have a Government response to the Committee report - or from the Labor Party.  However, it is not likely that the Government will decide to go beyond the Committee's recommendations and quite possible that it will ignore recommendation 2 - and possibly others - and focus only on recommendation 1.  

NSWCCL will continue to argue the urgent need for a national body. 

But we will also join efforts with those seeking to keep alive and progress the other recommendations and try to keep the Government explicitly working on a staged agenda with the eventual establishment of a broad based national integrity commission as a likely outcome.  

 

NSWCCL  NIC submission April 2017 

Select Committee Report on a NIC Sept 2017 

 

Dr Lesley Lynch 

VP NSWCCL

 


NSWCCL Calls on Commonwealth Government to Reform the Federal Custody Notification Service

The Custody Notification Service (CNS) is a legislative scheme requiring police to contact an Aboriginal legal service every time an Aboriginal person enters police custody. The scheme was designed and recommended by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991. Since its implementation in NSW around 17 years ago, the CNS has seen the rate of Aboriginal deaths in NSW Police custody plummet from around 18 per year, in the late 1980s, to zero for an unbroken period of over ten years.

Earlier this year, the Commonwealth Government sought to reform the federal CNS (after a finding by the ACT Supreme Court in R v CK [2013] ACTSC 251, that existing federal legislation did not require ACT Police to notify an Aboriginal legal service when an Aboriginal person entered police custody). In amending federal CNS legislation, the Commonwealth consulted at length with the Australian Federal Police but failed to consult widely with Aboriginal legal services. Accordingly, the new 'model' Commonwealth CNS fails to provide Aboriginal people in custody with some of the key procedural rights to which they are entitled under the NSW CNS scheme (click below for further details relating to the proposed federal CNS). Ultimately, the CCL takes the view that the legislation in its unamended form will increase Aboriginal deaths in custody and rates of indigenous incarceration.

The CCL has advised a Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee of Inquiry and liaised with a range of Aboriginal legal services around the country, in respect to the consequences of the new Bill. While the CCL's submission to the Senate Committee was supported by ALP and Greens Senators, it failed to convince the Coalition Government to substantively change the legislation. Rather, in acknowledgement of the submission by the CCL, the Senate Committee has recommended amending the explanatory memorandum of the Bill to assist interpretation of the legislation in such a way that is more closely aligned with the NSW CNS. The CCL fears that such change is not enough to counter injustice against Aboriginal people within the federal criminal justice system.

A copy of the submission may be found here.

 


Australian Citizenship Changes

Hundreds of submissions were made to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee on the Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017.

You can read our submission here.

CCL views the Bill as dangerous, undemocratic and unfair. In brief we argued that the Bill:

  • creates a class of permanent residents who are denied recognition as citizens
  • requires new citizens to accept arbitrarily defined "Australian values"
  • confers unwarranted extraordinary powers on the Minister for Immigration
  • requires that applicants for citizenship have a knowledge of English which is set at an unfairly high level.

The Senate committee is due to report on 4 September 2017.