NSWCCL wholeheartedly supports the High Court challenge brought by Doctors for Refugees against the Commonwealth and the Minister for immigration and Border Protection in relation to the secrecy provisions of Border Force Act 2015.
The Act contains provisions which allow for the imprisonment for up to 2 years of doctors, social workers and others who disclose ‘protected’ information regarding conditions in immigration detention centres.
As a result these people may be liable to imprisonment for complying with their professional standards and ethical obligation to report abuse, because such abuse occurs in an immigration detention centre. Reporting abuse outside immigration centres is required by legislation, but is criminalized in the context of immigration centres.
There is no convincing justification for the introduction of such draconian provisions. We believe the only reason for these provisions is to silence those working in detention centres. This is contrary to the principles of transparency and open debate, which are fundamental in a democracy. How can people support government policy when they have no idea what is being done in their name?
NSWCCL strongly opposed the introduction of the secrecy provisions of the Border Force Act, which were introduced with bipartisan support. These toxic and undemocratic provisions should be repealed immediately.Read more
In March this year, the NSW government passed legislation aimed at intimidating anti-coal seam gas protesters, joining a growing trend toward restricting environmental activism in Australia. This legislation, The Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016, follows similar legislation targeting Tasmanian anti-logging protesters and Western Australian environmentalists. The two primary purposes of the bill are to confer expanded powers on police and to severely enhance penalties for protesters.
Expansion of Police Powers
Under this legislation, police are empowered to give directions to protesters if they find the directions necessary to avert a serious safety risk. Because coal seam gas protests often occur on fracturing sites near heavy machinery, it will not be difficult for police to produce pretextual safety-related justifications in order to give directions to protesters, including directions to disperse. It is an offence to fail to heed these directions. The legislation also confers the power to stop, search, and detain without a warrant those protesters whom the police suspect are in possession of devices used to “lock on” or secure a person to fracturing equipment.
These changes give police wide discretion to control the activities of protesters, and even potentially to disperse or preemptively prevent protests based on police assessments of “safety risks,” which are left undefined by the law. They also allow police to search and detain people on the mere suspicion that they possess completely lawful and harmless items such as rope or glue. As the NSW Law Society warned in their submission opposing the bill, these expansions of police power are not offset with increased judicial oversight.
Anti-coal seam gas protesters should comply with police directions if they want to avoid legal consequences, but should also ask police to provide a safety-related justification for any directions, to check that police are operating within the contours of the law. Protesters should be aware that they may be searched or detained on suspicion of possessing securing devices and that these devices, if seized by the police, are forfeited to the government.
Measures to Deter Dissenters
This legislation also significantly increases the penalties associated with anti-coal seam gas protests. Prior to the bill’s passage, it was illegal to trespass on enclosed lands and such trespass was punishable with a maximum $550 fine. The bill increases this penalty by ten times for trespassers who “interfere with…[a] business.” The increased penalty also attaches to trespassers who merely intend to or attempt to interfere with business activities. This means that anti-coal seam gas protesters who are judged to intend to interfere with fracturing activities can be slapped with a $5,550 fine. For organizations which send many protesters to engage in collective action, the combined impact of these fees, assessed against each protester, could be massive.
Perhaps the most serious change enacted by this law is the redefinition of the crime of “interference with a mine” to include actions in which many anti-coal seam gas protesters regularly engage. This crime is punishable by up to seven years imprisonment, providing a serious deterrent against participating in anti-coal seam gas protests. The new definition of “mine” includes all extraction, exploration, construction and decommissioning sites for petroleum, gas and minerals. The crime encompasses intentionally or recklessly hindering the working of the equipment of a mine. The practical effect of this change for anti-coal seam gas protesters is that many of their most effective protest strategies – such as locking on to fracturing equipment or blockading to prevent the movement of such equipment – now constitute the serious crime of “interference with a mine.” These changes heighten the risks that anti-coal seam gas protesters must take to express their dissent, imposing heavy fines and jail time for even the slightest interference with the profit-generating activities of energy corporations.
These changes are an expression of the NSW government’s frustration with anti-coal seam gas protesters, who have been successful in deterring energy corporations’ extraction of coal seam gas through direct action campaigns. Although there have been some cases of minor injuries involved in such environmental protests, they have mostly been associated with police activity in the course of arresting protesters. The concurrent introduction of legislation reducing fines for energy corporations which engage in unlicensed exploration demonstrates that business interests are at least as salient for the NSW government as the “safety” interests which purport to justify these laws. Because the activities which are given heightened penalties in this bill were already prohibited before this law was passed, it is clear that the government intends to send a chilling message to anti-coal seam gas protesters.
Abortion (administering or having) has been a criminal offence in NSW since colonization. However, since 1971 NSW case law has established that abortion is lawful in exceptional contexts where it can be established that it is necessary to preserve a woman from serious danger to her life or mental or physical health and it is not out of proportion to the danger to be averted.
Having to rely on this limited defense is a deeply flawed and unsatisfactory legal position for both women and medical practitioners. The right to lawful abortion remains uncertain and limited in NSW, which generates reluctance among many practitioners to perform abortions, with serious consequences for many women.
The decriminalization of abortion has long been CCL policy.
There has been recent reform of abortion laws in the ACT (2002) Victoria (2008) and – more limitedly in Tasmania (2013). In these jurisdictions abortion has been decriminalized and is treated as primarily a health issue.
Many activists in NSW who support abortion law reform have been reluctant to campaign around the issue in recent times. This is because of the ever-present possibility that a very conservative NSW Parliament – especially Legislative Council – might react with stronger anti- abortion legislation removing the current lawful defences and thus make the situation far worse for women.
The NSW Greens have decided to challenge this analysis and are attempting to revive a strong campaign for the decriminalization of abortion in NSW.
Accordingly Dr Mehreen Faruqi (Greens MLC) has drafted an abortion law reform bill which abolishes all criminal offences relating to abortion in NS W, as well as introducing some other protections including the establishment of exclusion zones around abortion centres and requiring medical practitioners who conscientiously object to abortion to refer a woman to another practitioner who does not have such an objection.
NSWCCL has met with Dr Faruqui and discussed her strategy and made some technical suggestions for changes to the draft bill. We have agreed to support the campaign – although we are very aware of the hostile attitudes of some members of the NSW Parliament and think it likely that the campaign will be a long one.
The Greens are holding consultations about the bill. They will be holding a public meeting in the Glebe Town Hall on Monday 6th June at 6pm. We urge interested members and supporters to attend.
Dr Lesley Lynch
Despite vigorous opposition from the Labor Party and the Greens, the NSW Parliament last week passed extraordinary new controls on the right to protest, on freedom of movement and association and a wide range of other constraints using police powers conferred by Serious Crime Prevention Orders (SCPO) and Public Safety Orders (PSO).
If that was not enough the Premier and Police Minister simultaneously introduced a disturbing new counter-terrorism bill into the Parliament -The Terrorism (Police Powers) Amendment (Investigative Detention) Bill 2016. This will allow the detention and interrogation of persons aged 14 and over for up to 14 days.
We expect this Bill to be pushed through the Parliament this week.
The NSW Parliament is this week considering two disturbing proposals for new laws creating ‘Serious Crime Prevention Orders’ and ‘Public Safety Orders’ to combat organized serious crime.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) has major concerns about both these proposals.
The Serious Crime Prevention Orders (SCPO) regime is an extraordinary, unwarranted and dangerous proposal.
It imposes major controls on persons – including not only those who have not been charged or convicted of any criminal offence- but also persons who have been found NOT guilty or have had their convictions quashed.
The target group potentially caught up in this regime is huge and includes law abiding citizens.
The SCPO will constitute a rival criminal justice regime to the courts. It allows police to sidestep the courts for the less rigorous option of imposing open-ended control orders on specified persons. A person found not guilty can notwithstanding have strict controls on their lives imposed for 5 years.
The Organised Crime and Public Safety Bill will give police unprecedented discretionary powers to stop a person (or ‘class of persons’) from attending public events, premises or areas.
The police officer has only to be ‘satisfied’ that the person’s presence poses ‘a serious risk to public safety or security’ and that the imposition of a public safety order is ‘reasonably necessary’. The grounds for making these judgements are very broad.
This Bill comes fast on the heels of the passage of the contentious and outrageous Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016 in March.
A person who contravenes these orders will be committing an offence with a penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment.
These Bills are part of an accelerating trend of disproportionate and extraordinary laws which undermine individual liberties and rights and the Rule of Law in NSW. This trend must be resisted.
NSWCCL urges the NSW Parliament to reject both these unjustified and unnecessary Bills.
For more information on this bill:
The Senate electoral reform bill passed though all stages of Parliament on 18th March after a marathon sittings – including a 28 hour non-stop Senate session. This is a very good outcome for democracy in Australia. NSWCCL supports the new electoral process and is relieved Australia does not have to go to another election under the current broken and distorted system.
Sadly the Parliament is bitterly divided on this Bill which emerged from a unanimous Joint Committee on Electoral Reform (PJCEM) report over two years ago – though the only cross-bench representative on that Committee was Nick Xenophon.
Given the huge role that then Labor Senator John Faulkner had in supporting this reform, it is particularly disappointing that the ALP felt it had to oppose the Bill with such vehemence.
As indicated in our earlier report, NSWCCL understands the very real pressure of possible adverse electoral outcomes for individual parties in any changes to electoral processes.. Nonetheless, we had hoped that Parliament could have approached this vital legislative reform with much greater consensus about underlying electoral principles.
After all no-one, bar some of the cross-benchers, argues that the current electoral process is fair or democratic. Few (we hope!) would disagree that it is better for voters to be able to directly choose who they want to vote for rather than party machines and other backroom players. Few would disagree that the Senate electoral outcomes in 2013 were not a manifestation of democratic process and did not fully reflect voters’ wishes.
The failure of our Parliament to build on the consensus achieved by the PJCEM is in significant part because of the failure of the major parties to act on the report in a timely fashion. Then unavoidable tensions emerged when the Government determined to rush the reforms through Parliament with a very short timeline for examination of the Bill and in close proximity to an election – and even more perturbing for some- a possible double dissolution.
But the bottom line is a significant reform has been achieved.
The original Bill was amended to include partial optional preferential voting below the line (as well as above the line) following a recommendation from a very short review of the Bill by the PJCEM. This amendment addressed the one concern the NSWCCL had with the proposals.
Senate electoral reform in the balance - 03/03/16
NSWCCL submission to the JCEM - 29/02/16
Despite widespread opposition from the legal profession, anti- CSG and environmental groups, farmers, unions, concerned citizens and, of course, NSWCCL the Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016 was forced through Parliament on Tuesday.
NSW now has another set of laws which encroach on fundamental democratic rights – in this case the right to peaceful protest. It is unnecessary and disproportionate legislation. We will maintain our opposition and campaign for its repeal.
The Labor Party and the Greens made last ditch efforts to amend the Bill to remove its most disturbing provisions. Failing that they called for the referral of the Bill to a Parliamentary Committee for proper consideration and public consultation.
Not surprisingly the Government rejected all their amendments- with the support of the Shooters Party and the Christian Democrats. The latter was a surprise given that Fred Niles had addressed the protest rally against the Bill outside Parliament House on Tuesday assuring the crowd of his strong opposition to the Bill and his support for the right to protest in a democracy like Australia.
Amendments proposed by the Shooters and Fishers party were however accepted by the Government. One of these provides for a review of the operation of the legislation by the Minister after 3 years. Much will have happened in three years in this important community debate around CSG activities. An earlier review would have been preferable to provide some insight into the impact of the legislation on legitimate protest around this issue. It would also been far preferable if the review was to be done by someone in a more independent position than the Minister – eg parliamentary committee or the Ombudsman – and that community consultation be required as part of the review.
The other amendments were minor improvements. The most significant ensures that police directions given to protesters who obstruct traffic only refer to the individuals so doing and not to the whole gathering.
A sad few days in the NSW parliament.
Read more about this bill on our website:
The outrageous Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016– better know as the ‘anti-protest’ bill- will be further debated in the NSW Legislative Council today.
This bill is a deliberate Government attack on the right to public assembly and public protest in NSW and proposes unwarranted and dangerous expansions of discretionary police powers.
This Bill is part of a systematic determination by the NSW Government to constrain effective opposition by the community to reckless CSG and other mining activities.
The Bill blatantly privileges the CSG and mining interests over the right of the community to protect the public good - in this case protection of water, agriculture and the environment - through public assembly and peaceful protest.
On Tuesday NSWCCL joined many other groups and 1000 protestors outside Parliament house to vociferously oppose this Bill. The Greens, the ALP and Fred Nile spoke against the Bill. The Law Society and the NSW Bar Council sent letters to the Government opposing the Bill. A current survey provides definitive evidence of community opposition to this Bill.
Nonetheless it appears likely that the Bill will today become law with the Shooters and Fishers Party supporting its passage.
Without the numbers to block the Bill in the Legislative Council the ALP and the Greens have proposed amendments which would remove the most obnoxious elements of the Bill.
If the Government is responsive to community rather than CSG and mining views, they should seize the opportunity provided by these amendments to retreat from this unwarranted and unwise legislation.
Dr Lesley Lynch
Read more about this bill on our website:
On Tuesday 8th March, 2016, the Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016 was proposed in the NSW Parliament. The aim of the bill is to "amend and clarify the laws in relation to unlawful interference with mining and other businesses", however concern has been expressed over the expansive powers given to the police, with some commentators referring to it as the 'Anti-Protest' Bill.
The New Matilda reports that these proposed 'anti-protest laws' follow on from undertakings like those made by Premier Mike Baird at a mining industry dinner in late 2014, where he said his government would “crack down” on civil disobedience and “throw the book” at people who “unlawfully enter mining sites”.
In response to the media release of the proposed amendment, President of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks spoke to The New Matilda, and noted that what the state government is proposing appears to be “completely unnecessary and disproportionate” to the challenges thrown up by protests against big mining.
"If criminal activity does take place and miners or coal seam gas proponents suffer loss, then they’ve always got the ability to sue the protestors to claim damages. That should compensate them for whatever loss they’ve suffered. That’s a perfectly adequate remedy. It’s been pursued a number of times and there’s no reason to expose people to draconian fines in addition to claims for compensation,” he said.
“Where people are trespassing,” Blanks said, “the law concerning trespass is perfectly adequate to deal with any activity and there’s no need to change them.”
“Police powers which are based on their assessment of a person’s intention are very easily able to be abused and undoubtedly will be abused in many cases – police shouldn’t have those kinds of powers,” Blanks said.
With the full extent of the bill still uncertain, Blanks said that there’s a broader issue within that “police may be seen to be one-sidedly supporting mining interests where there is a legitimate protest going on, which is just going to cause the community to lose confidence in the police”.
He said that “the lessons of history are that very often protests which start this way generate a level of community attention to the issue which causes a complete change in community attitudes against the interests of miners and other commercial interests such as forestry”.
“Protest has on occasion involved civil disobedience and breaches of laws, and there are very, very many cases where the protestors – even though they’ve been engaged in illegal activities – have had widespread or overwhelming community support,” Blanks said.
Source: The New Matilda
Read More about this bill on our website:
The Australian Parliament is currently debating a Bill to reform the Senate electoral processes. It is very dismal listening: much abuse, much nonsense, and very little intelligent analysis. And all happening in a last minute dash.
Not Parliament at its best.
NSWCCL supports immediate reform of the distorted and undemocratic Senate electoral processes. We have urged this since the 2013 elections so dramatically illustrated the undemocratic processes and outcomes of this broken system. We have made a submission to the Joint Committee on Electoral Matters supporting a Bill which, if amended on one key matter, will deliver that reform.
This Bill is supported by the Government, the Greens and Senator Xenophon. The ALP and the other cross benchers vehemently oppose it. Perceived electoral self-interest appears to be the common driver- with the possible exception of the Greens.
This is such a shame. Two years ago there was constructive consensus from all major players and Xenophon on the need for immediate action and for a comprehensive reform package recommended by a unanimous parliamentary committee report. This report was scathing in its criticism of the 2013 Senate election process and urged Parliament to act quickly so that Australian electors should not have to go to another election under the current system.
Sadly both the Government and the Opposition failed to act then.
The current Bill provides a second, albeit belated, opportunity to enact these crucial reforms. It must be amended to fully implement the Committee’s 2014 recommendations to allow partial optional preferential voting below the line. This is an imperative if we are not to have an inconsistent and flawed new system.
NSWCCL understands the self-interest electoral pressures on parties especially in the context of a mooted double dissolution in an extremely overheated political environment. However, on an issue as fundamental as the right of electors to be able to choose who they vote for, to control the allocation of their preferences and to not vote for candidates they don’t support , we have a right to expect our political parties and parliamentarians to put democracy first.