The report by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor –Roger Gyles QC - on the controversial section 35P provisions of the ASIO Act was tabled in the Senate on 2nd February. These provisions created draconian offences with penalties of 5 and 10 years imprisonment for disclosure by any person of any information relating to ASIO ‘Special Intelligence Operations’ (SIO) at any time.
NSWCCL, along with the other councils for civil liberties, strongly opposed both the SIO regime and these provisions for their chilling effect on the media and on reasonable scrutiny of ASIO. The controversy around these offences forced the Prime Minister to ask the INSLM to review their impact on journalists.
The report is thorough and suggests the INSLM gave proper and serious consideration to the informed criticisms of the SIO regime and the obnoxious disclosure offences. His findings on the offences are consistent with our views. His recommendations remedy some of the worst aspects of the offences – but sadly fall short of repealing them.
The Government has said it will implement the INSLM’s recommendations in full.Read more
The Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 has not yet been approved by parliament. The debate on the Bill is scheduled to resume next week. As Labor has indicated it will support the revised version of the Bill, it is almost certainly going to be approved quickly and probably without amendment.
As this is such a significant issue, the NSW, Victorian, Queensland and South Australian Councils for Civil Liberties and the Australian Council for Civil Liberties have issued a joint public statement making one last call on the Australian Parliament to abandon this misguided Bill.Read more
NSWCCL has issued a media release opposing the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015.
We recognise that the amended Bill is significantly improved and less dangerous than the initial extremely flawed version.
We welcome these changes, but remain disturbed by, and opposed to, expanding citizenship-stripping laws. Australian citizens who are alleged to have engaged in terrorist related activities should be charged, taken to trial and, if found guilty, punished and imprisoned in Australia. CCL argues the Bill should not be passed by Parliament.
Should the Bill proceed, CCL opposes the inclusion of the retrospectivity provision- even though it is limited to a very small number of people. It is a breach of a fundamental rule of law and natural justice principle. Retrospective application of punitive legislation is never acceptable.
NSWCCL welcomes the inclusion of a minimum age for persons caught by the Bill’s provisions. However, that minimum age should be 18 not 14 as is proposed for conduct related provisions. We welcome the removal of the provision allowing children to have their citizenship revoked if a parent had their citizenship revoked.
We urge the membership of the influential PJCIS which is to be given an expanded oversight role in relation to the operation of this legislation, be amended to be more fully representative of the Parliament.
The highly controversial Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 was introduced into Parliament in June 2015. It will come back to the Australian Parliament later today in a significantly amended form following the Government’s acceptance of recommendations from the Parliamentary Joint Intelligence and Security committee (PJCIS). It is likely to be dealt with quickly and passed this week.
NSWCCL recognises that the amended Bill will be a significantly improved and far less dangerous version. We welcome these changes, but remain disturbed by, and opposed to, expanding citizenship-stripping laws. Australian citizens who are alleged to have engaged in terrorist related activities should be charged, taken to trial and, if found guilty, punished and imprisoned in Australia. To expel them from the polis is to place the person outside the reach of the State’s legal system. It will not make us safer.Read more
CCL members gathered on Wednesday evening in the City of Sydney Council Chambers for the 52nd Annual General meeting of the NSW Council. It was a well-attended, lively and productive meeting.
The National Health and Medical Research Council has published draft ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproduction technology in clinical practice and research.
Responding to an invitation to comment, the NSWCCL has made a submission that supports these draft guidelines, applauding the NHMRC for their support for the autonomy of all involved and their rights to detailed, accurate, contemporary and relevant information concerning the procedures, legal consequences and otherwise of their decisions.
Some questions for which further comment is requested of the NHMRC include, (1) Payment for the risks and labour involved in egg donation, (2) Sex selection on non-medical grounds, and (3) the potential establishment of an Australian egg bank.
The last English speaking country remaining on the list.
The NSW CCL supports marriage equality and opposes holding a plebiscite or referendum on the issue. Peoples’ rights and freedoms must not be subject to a vote of a majority of citizens.
A cross party bill supporting the legalisation of same-sex marriage was brought to the Australian Parliament as it resumed this week, forcing us to consider the question of marriage equality. Sadly in a marathon party-room debate last Tuesday night, the Coalition decided against granting its members of parliament a free vote on marriage equality before the general election, postponing the debate. Again. Australia is indeed the only English speaking country which has not (yet) legalised marriage for same sex couples.Read more
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is gravely concerned that doctors, teachers and social workers employed in Australia’s immigration detention network could face jail for speaking out about their experiences.
With the Border Force Act 2015 coming into effect, employees working in various capacities face a two year sentence for recording or disclosing “protected information” they come into contact with as a result of their work.
As the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have noted, this restriction on free speech will prevent doctors from following their professional and ethical obligations to advocate on behalf of their patients.
“This legislation is particularly troubling given the history of poor care in immigration detention,” says NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks.
“It is telling that doctors who have worked in these centres at the highest level have previously decided to go public with their concerns. Systemic failures have led to gross human rights violations.
“These public disclosures have put pressure on governments to improve conditions in the centres.”
A steady flow of leaks to the media about sexual assaults in the Nauru detention centre eventually forced the Department of Immigration to order an independent review in October 2014. It found credible evidence of sexual assaults, which the government has now been forced to acknowledge and act upon.
“While forcing government action is one important outcome of such disclosures, it must also be remembered that the public has a right to know what is done in their name,” says Blanks.
Detention centres have always been places lacking in public scrutiny where civil liberties are overlooked. Successive governments have made sure to keep the people detained out of public view, hiding the trauma and lasting damage indefinite detention inflicts.
While the CCL notes the assurances that the new Border Force Act will not cancel out existing safeguards in the Public Interest Disclosure Act, we are unconvinced this legislation is sufficient. It sets too high a bar for whistleblowers, and circumscribes too tightly the situations in which they may share information with the public.
Furthermore, the existence of this legislation is a danger even before any doctor, teacher, or humanitarian worker is dragged before a court. Its mere existence is a threat to would-be whistleblowers, an attempt to intimidate Australian workers who see something wrong into staying quiet about it.
We know that this government has a particularly ugly tendency to target those who try to bring abuses in detention centres to the public’s attention, as seen by the unrelenting attacks on Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs.
“Australia’s immigration detention network has been made a dark place,” says Stephen Blanks.
“With this new act, the government is trying to blot out the small rays of sunlight still getting in.”
NSWCCL this week has written to Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion and the Prime Minister Tony Abbott calling for the Federal Government to continue its funding of the Custody Notification Service (CNS).
The CNS is a telephone hotline providing personal and legal advice to indigenous people taken into custody. Under NSW legislation it is compulsory for the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) to be notified if an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is detained, and the CNS is the practical service that allows this to occur. Since its implementation, no indigenous deaths in custody have occurred in NSW/ACT.
CCL previously supported the campaign to 'Save the CNS' in 2013, and it is extremely disappointing that this essential notification service for indigenous people in custody is once again being threatened - particularly in the context of the recent report by Amnesty International that showed Australia incarcerates indigenous children at one of the highest rates in the developed world. It would reflect poorly on the Government's commitment to Closing the Gap and reversing the shameful over-representation of indigenous people in Australia's prisons if the CNS was to cease.
See also: NSW ditches another protection for Indigenous people in custody, The Conversation, 10/06/2015 (Author: CCL member Eugene Schofield-Georgeson)
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has condemned the secrecy surrounding negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement and the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA), and called on governments involved in the negotiations to release the full draft texts of the deals.
CCL President Stephen Blanks stated that “the draft agreements must be released immediately so that the Australian public can engage in a comprehensive debate about their proposals."
“The current generation of free trade agreements are being negotiated with a complete lack of democratic accountability, and have largely failed to consult non-corporate stakeholders,” Blanks said.
But for leaked drafts released by Wikileaks, the Australian and global public would have no knowledge of the contents of these two agreements.
Guardian Australia revealed on Tuesday that Australian politicians have been told that they can view the TPP text, but must sign a non-disclosure agreement before doing so. DFAT public servants involved in the TPP negotiations have also been made to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Some of the leaked proposals from the TPP, particularly investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses, as well as intellectual property and environmental regulatory changes, have provoked significant controversy in Australia and other countries involved in the negotiations.
The TISA documents, leaked on Thursday, show that the agreement would involve sweeping regulatory changes in the Australian finance, health, transport, telecommunications and e-commerce sectors.
Blanks said that the wide-reaching nature of the changes in the TPP and TISA made a rigorous public debate all the more important.
“We have serious concerns about the civil liberties implications of some of the specific measures in the TPP, like the potential criminalisation of copyright infringement,” he said.
"But the drastic nature of many of the measures, regardless of one's position on them, makes a thorough and transparent debate in the parliament and civil society absolutely crucial."