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.”
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."
NSW Council for Civil Liberties has joined with a number of other human rights groups calling for an overhaul to the way the Australian government campaigns to end the death penalty, today launching a new strategy document: ‘Australian Government and the Death Penalty: A Way Forward’.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Human Rights Law Centre, Reprieve Australia, Australians Detained Abroad, NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Civil Liberties Australia and UnitingJustice Australia have joined forces to launch the blueprint.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.
Laura Poitras' gripping documentary CITIZENFOUR will be screened in Parliament House tonight, Monday 9 February, following on from its success in winning a BAFTA overnight. The combined civil liberties councils across Australia (NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Liberty Victoria, Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, South Australian Council for Civil Liberties, and the Australian Council for Civil Liberties) and Electronic Frontiers Australia are hosting the screening in Parliament for interested politicians and staffers. The documentary provides a powerful insight into the astonishing dimensions and significance of metadata collection and analysis, and is offered as a contribution to the debate on the contentious data retention bill.
The screening has been crowdfunded by hundreds of individual donors across Australia.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the Attorney-General’s announcement tonight, on International Human Rights Day, that all children in immigration detention, including those held on Christmas Island, will be released into the community within the next 2 or 3 months.
This announcement shows the government is listening to the Australian community. The community rejects punitive treatment of asylum seeker children.
The number of children in immigration detention should be zero.
The 2014 winner of the Human Rights Medal, Dorothy Hoddinott AO, shows what can be achieved when we treat children with dignity.
Let’s hope that there will be more positive announcements from the government in relation to asylum seekers that shows that Australia is truly are a country of compassion, fairness and human rights.
Update: Sadly it has become clear that the Attorney-General was referring to the release of ONLY the children on Christmas Island. All others will remain in detention. Also doubts have also been raised as to whether the Christmas Island children will be released into the community when they arrive in Australia. The Attorney should clarify this immediately. Seems we still have a way to go before the number of children in immigration detention is zero.
There is growing alarm that the Australian Government is intent on rushing through Parliament very significant new counter-terrorism legislation - The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014- without allowing the community or the Parliament adequate time to understand or debate this legislation.
This is a reckless approach to legislating in any context- but particularly so when the proposed laws will have very significant implications for Australian's rights and liberties. Today, 43 civil liberties, human rights, ethnic, academic and other civil society groups and significant academics and lawyers have published a joint statement calling on the Government to slow down:
'Given the extraordinary nature of this Bill, the undersigned call on the Australian Parliament to not pass the Bill without a more comprehensive public consultation on the necessity of the laws and their compliance with domestic and international human rights obligations.'
NSWCCL, along with Liberty Victoria, Queensland CCL, South Australia CCL and the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, signed this public statement. Two week ago we desperately scrambled to put together a submission on this bill in the ridiculously short time of the 8 days allowed by the Government. This is the largest of the counter-terrorism bills. It amends 20 existing statutes, the explanatory memo runs to 227 pages and the actual bill alone constitutes 158 pages of amendments.
Plainly, the Government was not intent on a serious or genuine consultation process for this review. There is no urgency in relation to the vast majority of proposed laws in this bill. It is a manifest lack of respect for civil society organisations and their legitimate and important voice in the democratic process of lawmaking- and for the role of Parliament as there is no chance that members will have the opportunity to gain an informed understanding of this large bill and its complex and multitudinous provisions.Read more
CCL is strongly opposed to the Governments much criticized Bail Amendment Bill 2014. We oppose it because a flawed policy making process has produced unjust and retrograde draft legislation. We expressed our opposition to the knee-jerk review process to the Government and the review chair and when the bill was debated in the assembly.
The bill is now being debated in the Legislative Council. It looks certain to be passed with little opposition. Sadly, only 3 members of the lower house voted against it (Alex Greenwich independent, Jamie Parker Greens and Greg Piper independent). Disappointingly, the Labor Party did not oppose the bill.
Given the Shadow Attorney-General Paul Lynch’s robust, detailed demolition of the ill-conceived review of the new Bail Act and the main proposals in the Bill, Labor should support a vote to block the Bill in the upper house. The shadow AG in his second reading speech, correctly described the process leading to the bill:
'The Government's solution was to institute a bail review, which resulted in the bill presently before the House.....there are some obvious points that should be made. Most obviously, the Government does not have the slightest idea what it is doing. Then it went through an extremely exhaustive process to get the Law Reform Commission reform. It then went through another lengthy period and process to respond. After settling on its position, it took 12 months to implement the Act and ensure that practitioners and stakeholders understood it and could implement it. A very lengthy and considered approach, a cautious, careful and serious attempt to implement a change in the law—all blown away by a few weeks of bad publicity. It was a knee-jerk reaction totally at odds with the cautious, considered approach that predated it; a reaction, as was made clear by the comments of Don Weatherburn of the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research [BOCSAR], that was not based upon any proper statistical analysis.'
T'he speed of its change made clear that the Government had no commitment to the scheme in which it had invested a vast amount of time and to which it devoted a great deal of consultative resources. It did not know what it actually supported, and it will probably change it again at the drop of a hat. '
The shadow AG concluded his critique with these words:
'The Opposition does not oppose the bill but it thinks the Government has not the slightest idea what it is doing. The Government flip-flops all over the place about this legislation. There will inevitably be another set of amendments because the Government cannot manage to keep its hands off the legislation; it has no clear idea of what it wants to do and how it will do it. The Government is driven by a number of factors, none of which have anything to do with serious and proper policymaking. The Opposition does not oppose this bill, but it will watch with considerable interest what happens to it over time.'
CCL urges Labor to rethink this decision. It would be an extraordinary manifestation of hypocrisy for Labor to 'not oppose' the legislation, as it has suggested it will do.
The NSW community is in search of good government. Labor will only be able to position itself as an electable party if it demonstrates it is capable of acting on principle and sound policy analysis.
Labor knows there was no sound reason for the review. Labor knows that the Bill is not good law. Labor knows the changes will lead to unjust outcomes for individuals. Labor knows that the increased gaol population will be an unnecessary cost to Government.
Labor knows that this whole knee-jerk process to review and amend a new law after 3 weeks is a travesty and a depressing return to the appalling process that generated the 85 amendments that made the old Act unworkable.
The Government should not have introduced this Bill. Attorney General Brad Hazzard was correct in saying a review was not warranted (Daily Telegraph 19/6/14). The law and order auction fuelled by shock-jocks is not in the public interest.
NSWCCL will continue to lobby the Government and the Parliament to withdraw this bill and, in the longer term, to take a more principled and responsible approach to policy development and the making of our laws.
The voting changes proposed in the City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014 (the ‘Borsak Bill’)
offend basic civil liberties principles.
The Bill proposes to give 2 votes to owners of rateable land, 2 votes to rate paying lessees, and 2
votes to occupiers of rateable land in the City of Sydney, for that council’s elections.
The NSWCCL supports the fundamental democratic principle of one person one vote.
We do recognise that corporations and businesses have long been entitled to non-residential voting
rights in the City of Sydney. This is not our preferred position which is that democracy is about
representing people not property.
In the context of the current Bill, we register our strong opposition to the profoundly undemocratic
proposal to increase the current entitlements for corporations owning, leasing or occupying rateable
land in the City of Sydney from one to two votes.
This is a move in precisely the wrong direction for democratic government. The notion of the
property franchise should be being rejected in the interest of effective democracy- not strengthened
as proposed in the Borsak Bill.
NSWCCL urges the NSW Parliament to reject the City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014
(the ‘Borsak Bill’)
We note the alternative private members bill has been introduced into Parliament by the
independent MP Alex Greenwich: City of Sydney Amendment (Business Voting and Council Elections)
Bill 2014 (the Greenwich Bill). This Bill is preferable in that it maintains the current entitlements for
eligible corporations and businesses to one vote.
If the parliament considers improvements are necessary to the current arrangements for registration on the electoral roll then the Greenwich Bill is acceptable in that it does not further offend against the fundamental democratic principle at stake.
The NSW Parliament has today resumed debate on the Government's Bail Amendment Bill 2014. NSWCCL strongly opposes the Bill.
The Government’s decision to respond to a narrow section of the media and hastily and prematurely review the new Bail Act is now history. It acted with indecent and unwise haste in the face of widespread professional and expert advice that review of the Bail Act was seriously premature and would have to reach conclusions without access to meaningful operational data.
This unsound process has produced a Bill which should be rejected by Parliament as unwarranted and retrograde draft legislation. If the amendments to the Act are passed, the effect will be to graft onto a coherent, unified, clearly grounded and eminently workable system under the 2013 Act a number of qualifications of the kind that wrecked the original 1978 Act.
NSWCCL has two major principled objections to the Bill.
The creation of so-called “show cause” offences constitutes a reintroduction of presumptions against bail for prescribed offences by the back door. The presumption scheme was soundly criticised in the revamp of the Bail Act and this grafts presumptions against bail, with all their faults, back onto the scheme of the 2013 Act. It introduces complications for no clearly discernible legitimate benefit. The effect will be to transfer more power to the police, by their selection of charges before the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has a chance to exercise independent judgment in charge selection.
Further – and more seriously – the onus of proof has been reversed in relation to those offences. Article 9 of the ICCPR states (in effect) that remand in custody is not to be the default position for people – any people – charged with offences, yet this creates such a position and imposes upon the accused to prove that it should not apply.
If one’s right to liberty is to be taken away, then the onus has always been on the party that seeks to remove it to establish lawful grounds for doing so. This will no longer be so in respect of these offences. The mischief done by these provisions is tacitly acknowledged by the exemption of juveniles from the scheme.
NSWCCL has recommended the Bill be withdrawn by the Government or failing that rejected by Parliament. If the Bill is to proceed we have further recommended it should be referred to a Parliamentary Committee for consideration of its implications in relation to the reversal of the onus of proof and the reintroduction of ‘show cause ‘offences and to allow proper public consideration of the BillRead more