Speech delivered by NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks to Staff and Student Meeting - Defend USYD Civil Liberties at the University of Sydney on Wednesday 29 April 2015.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to elders past and present.
It is pleasing to see concern about civil liberties as a central issue at the University of Sydney. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has had strong links with the University since our foundation in 1963.
NSWCCL is joining this meeting today because we are concerned that the University reacting in a disturbingly disproportionate way to the incidents which occurred at the Colonel Richard Kemp lecture on 11 March 2015.Read more
NSWCCL is extremely concerned by SBS’s decision to sack journalist Scott McIntyre for a series of tweets on Saturday critical of the ANZAC tradition. We are deeply committed to defending free speech in its varied - and sometimes offensive - forms as a central value of a progressive and enlightened society.
Equally troubling has been the reaction to the McIntyre incident from certain sections of the political establishment. Mcintyre’s sacking should be understood as a free speech issue, and not merely as a breach of a vague social media policy in an employment contract.
We note the concerns of the MEAA regarding the increasing pressure placed on journalists to at once build a personal ‘brand’ on social media, and to suppress aspects of their private life, including political views, that their employer may find objectionable. The pressure on media professionals - indeed, many modern professionals - to limit expression of their personal views on social media as a requirement of their employment amounts to a demand for self-censorship that should be roundly rejected.
We are also concerned that, in the modern age, corporate entities can and do restrict free speech as much as governments.
Today's threats to freedom of speech can be nuanced and subtle. Corporations can be at the root of these threats: in the workplace, on the internet, and in public spaces.
Finally, we note, and are disappointed by, the role of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the incident. Even if Turnbull, as he claims, merely alerted SBS to the tweets, his involvement was highly inappropriate, and would have sent a clear message of disapproval to SBS management. It should be seen straightforwardly as an attempt by a federal government minister to interfere with the independence of a public broadcaster, and gag and punish the speech of a member of the public. We are sure that Turnbull’s intervention would have been of great concern to John Stuart Mill, the author of the classic work on free speech, On Liberty.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has joined with the Refugee Council of Australia and over 100 Australian organisations and community groups in urging the Australian Government for an immediate moratorium on offshore transfers to Nauru and Manus Island until all recommendations of the Moss Review and Cornall Report have been fully implemented, and the centres comply with minimum international standards.
The call follows the appalling case of a five year old girl who attempted suicide after prolonged detention on Nauru.
Conditions are similarly poor on Manus Island, where a majority of asylum seekers have still not had their applications processed after two years, and as on Nauru, limited health care is available.
Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council said: “No child should be sent there and certainly not sent to a situation while the environment remains so dangerous… [W]e call upon the Australian Government to immediately cease the transfer of vulnerable asylum seekers until all the recommendations of the Moss Review and the Cornall report are implemented.”
These reports highlighted sexual abuse, violence and the systematic failure to provide safety and security to detainees, particularly women and children. The Australian Government, by accepting all the recommendations of the Moss Review, has acknowledged that considerable changes are needed, yet continues to send asylum seekers into a fearful environment where their safety and security cannot be guaranteed.
The combined councils for civil liberties across Australia (New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty Victoria, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, South Australia Council for Civil Liberties, Australian Council for Civil Liberties) have made a joint submission to the Acting Independent National Security Legislation Monitor's (INSLM's) inquiry into the impact on journalists of the operation of section 35P of the ASIO Act 1979, which contains two offences that criminalise disclosures of information relating to a ‘special intelligence operation’.
The main civil liberties issues at stake in relation to the s35P are freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which should never be curtailed in democracy.
While understanding the justification of security and intelligence services’ powers for the protection of national security, the combined CCLs have raised serious concerns over the new national security and counter-terrorism legislation which incorporates a number of new extraordinary provisions.
CCLs raise the cumulative impact of the extended legislation on the work of journalists. Even though a warrant is now required for access to a journalist’s metadata, the CCLs condemn the very real possibility of access to this data which can readily reveal the identity of a source, without informing the journalist his metadata is being released to ASIO.
The CCLs urge the Government to protect a free and robust press in Australia by repealing the concept of the SIO regime and the s35P offences considered as unnecessary, draconian and dangerous for Australia’s democratic well-being.
NSWCCL recently made a submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee's inquiry into the Migration Amendment (Strengthening Biometrics Integrity) Bill 2015. The submission condemns the Bill in its current form since the collection and retention of biometric data poses an unnecessary and disproportionate threat to the privacy of all non-citizens and Australian citizens.
While understanding the justification for the collection and use of biometric data, NSWCCL is concerned that the Bill does not contain essential safeguards to limit the collection and retention of additional biometric data such as fingerprints, handprints, measurement of height and weight, an audio or video recording and an iris scan.
Furthermore NSWCCL is concerned that the Bill in its current form may disproportionately affect minors, incapable persons and asylum seekers because it removes the requirement for consent and presence of a parent, guardian or independent person for and during the collection of such biometric data.
Thus, NSWCCL urges Parliament to conduct a privacy impact assessment and relevant safeguards be implemented to ensure that the amendment does not allow for the mass collection and retention of biometric data.
Next week the Parliament of Australia will debate the highly contentious and dangerous data retention bill (Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014). This bill, if passed, will mandate the collection and retention for two years of telecommunications data on all citizens – suspect and non-suspect alike – for subsequent access and analysis by intelligence and security agencies, police and other agencies.
No warrant will be necessary to access this data.
If this bill becomes law, Australia will have one of the most extensive and intrusive data collection and surveillance regimes in the democratic world.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties has written to all Labor MPs and Senators. We need you to do this too.Read more
NSWCCL President warns against 'not guilty' pleas and privacy issues concerning domestic violence register
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks has warned against the automatic placement of offenders on a proposed domestic violence register, strongly urging that a court should decide whether to place somebody on the register based on an assessment of their risk to the community.
"If it's automatic, we will see an enormous change in the way people treat their defence," he said. "It will be a huge incentive on everyone charged with domestic violence offences to plead not guilty, which is quite counter-productive. We want a system where people are encouraged to recognise their guilt."
There are also potential privacy issues associated with the proposed register: "You don't want people getting information off the register and putting it on Facebook". Mr Blanks argues that access to the register should be strictly regulated.
Persons on the register should also be notified if their information has been accessed. While it has been argued that this could deter persons from checking the register, Mr Blanks affirms that it is a "fundamental privacy principle...People are entitled to know when information about them is being disclosed."
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 6/3/2015
Source: SBS News, 6/3/2015
Source: 2SER 107.3, 9/3/2015
In a YouTube video released on Sunday the Prime Minister has hinted at a national security crackdown involving the tightening of migration and welfare rules. On SBS News NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks argued that a further national security crackdown could be counter productive:
"You don't defeat every terrorist incident by increasing the powers of the national security agencies. You don't destroy freedom in order to protect it. What you do is you should promote community coherence. You should make sure everybody in our society is committed to our common ideals and not drive wedges between them because driving wedges between them is going to perpetuate these kinds of attacks."
Stephen also warned that possible welfare changes could result in a backlash from innocent Australians:
"The community is going to find that very intrusive and unacceptable. People should not have to say they reject terrorism in order to get a Centrelink benefit. That is something that something that is just going too far. That is going to make people suspicious of the entire security apparatus that has been erected around them."
Stephen also spoke to "the Wire", noting that following the extraordinary case of Man Haron Monis, reactionary bail reforms appear to be on the agenda and threaten to undermine the fundamental presumption of innocence: "Bail is not an excuse to start locking people up as if they are presumed guilty." He also warned that welfare reforms could potentially lead to 'McCarthy' style systems where welfare recipients may need to prove that they are not terrorist sympathisers in order to receive benefits.
Article/Audio: National Security - have we been too lenient too long?
Source: The Wire, 16/2/2015
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns the Prime Minister’s attack on the credibility of the Human Rights Commission (HRC), and Commissioner Gillian Triggs following the release of the Commission’s damning report into the detention of asylum seeker children.Read more
On the evening of Monday 9 February NSWCCL - supported by the Victorian, Queensland and South Australian CCLs and Electronic Frontiers Australia - invited our federal members of parliament to a special, pre-release screening of the gripping documentary CITIZENFOUR in Parliament House.
It was a terrific success with MPs from the ALP, Greens and cross benchers as well as staff, journalists and members of the public coming to watch the film and discuss it over drinks afterwards. (Maybe the failure of any liberal MPS to attend was related to their ongoing drama around leadership and policy directions.)Read more