Labor and the cross-bench found sufficient common ground to achieve a significant victory for decency and humanitarian values in the Australian Parliament yesterday. The medical evacuation amendment was further amended and then passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 75-74. It was also an historic victory in that it is the first time in 75 years that a Government has lost a substantive vote in the lower house.
This was achieved in the face of an extraordinary and increasingly desperate onslaught by the Government.
The saga is however ongoing. The Bill must return to the Senate today. It’s passage there is not guaranteed. The Government may repeat its December tactics and filibuster to block its consideration. Derryn Hinch is reported as ‘considering his position’ on the amendments. His vote is crucial.
It will be another tense day for supporters of the amendment.
The positives so far
Under extreme pressure the cross bench and Labor were sufficiently sure-footed to negotiate a workable amendment.
The agreed amendment remains strong enough to achieve speedy medical evacuation for those requiring urgent medical care which cannot be provided in Manus or Nauru – albeit with several caveats.
The amendment addresses the central scare-mongering Government claim- a renewed wave of asylum seeker boats – by restricting the provisions to persons on Manus and Nauru at the commencement of the legislation.
Tony Smith brought some dignity and propriety to the house and enhanced his status as a fair and non-partisan speaker by refusing what reads like an instruction from the Attorney General Christian Porter to block discussion of the amendment on constitutional grounds and by making this ‘instruction’- and the underpinning advice from the solicitor general - public despite a specific request from the AG to keep it private.
Minister Dutton retains greater discretionary power to exercise his veto on medical transfers than initially proposed in the cross-bench amendment which leaves open the possibility of misuse/abuse of the provisions.
The restriction of the provisions to only those detained at the commencement of the legislation leaves an obvious future problem if we continue with off- shore processing of asylum seekers.
We are also left with an ethical/moral issue in relation to those who will be excluded from the new provisions because they are deemed a threat to national security and have committed serious crimes. Do we think it is acceptable to allow them to die or suffer from serious illness?
Desperate government tactics
The Government ran an all-out attack on the amendment (in fact on any amendment to the existing legislation) and on Labor yesterday. There was little or no mention of the cross-benchers who were the initiators of the amendment. Though we are all familiar with disregard for truth or logic in parliamentary debates, the Government pushed the boundaries on such behaviour yesterday. Their tactics seemed to be driven both by increasing desperation about losing the vote and ‘smart’ forward thinking about effective election tactics.
As the commentators say, we are getting a preview of the pivotal role border protection will have in the forthcoming election- if the Government has its way.
The surprise of the day was the revelation by the speaker at the end of question time that he was in receipt of a letter from the AG - including advice from the solicitor general that there was an argument that the underlying amendment passed in December 2018 was unconstitutional and that the AG considered that on these grounds the speaker should not allow the amendment to be considered at this stage. And that he should keep the advice private.
The speaker’s calm rejection of both these requests was a high point in the parliamentary day.
The extreme scare-mongering rhetoric of the Government’s attack on the Labor Party for supporting any version of the medical evacuation bill is a disgraceful performance which will further damage the standing of the Australian Parliament.
Facts have been brushed aside in favour of absurd, illogical and totally fabricated threats to public safety allegedly posed by refugees. Wild and unfounded allegations about refugee murderers, rapists, pedophiles and bad characters abound, as do supposed threats to national security from the wave of refugee boats that temporary medical evacuations of seriously ill refugees will allegedly generate.
What a disappointment that Bill Shorten and Labor have again been spooked by a blatantly dishonest and scaremongering attack from the Government and are now seeking to water down the Bill they voted for in the Senate in December- when they know the Government’s arguments are ridiculous and dishonest.
Again they have failed to engage with and refute an absurd and extreme Government attack which, given its patent dishonesty, should not have been beyond their capacity. And do they never learn the futility of succumbing in this way? Caving in and agreeing to weaken the Bill will not make any difference to the Government’s ongoing attack - they will just amend the line of attack as they have already this morning.
Last minute negotiations continue between Labor and the cross bench including the Greens. Hopefully a position can be agreed which will gain the support of all without significantly weakening the Bill - which would be the case if Labor's initial amendments were incorporated.
If this Bill is defeated today and the constructive cross bench initiative comes to nothing, Labor may have future cause to regret their lack of fortitude.
Australians will be deeply disappointed if this Bill fails or is seriously weakened today.
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the threatened deportation of Aboriginal man Brendan Thoms. The ABC reports he is the second Aboriginal man since September to appeal to the High Court when threatened with deportation.
President of the CCL, Pauline Wright said, “It is unacceptable that the immigration authorities have the power to cancel a visa and deport someone, or condemn them to a life of detention, without proper accountability. Such decisions can ruin a person’s life, yet there is no merits review when the Minister considers whether to intervene in the decision-making. The threatened deportation of an Aboriginal man who happened to be born overseas but came to Australia as a child demonstrates anew the dangers of such oppressive visa cancellation powers.”
According to the Department of Home Affairs, visa cancellations have increased by over 1400 percent between 2013-14 and 2016-17 financial years. This is at least partially due to legislative amendments to the Migration Act that have given greater powers to the Department and Minister, who can cancel or refuse visas for minor offences. Wright said, "The Minister can even consider whether to refuse or cancel a visa, by ‘having regard to… the person’s past and present general conduct.’ No government official should have such broad discretion to ruin someone’s life.”Read more
Today Cathy McGowan (independent MP) succeeded in having her National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 read for the first time in the Lower House. Two hours later the House joined the Senate in calling on the Morrison Government “to establish a national anti-corruption commission.”
Even the Government appeared to give support to the broad concept.
This is the most positive stance we have had from our national politicians on this long overdue critical reform.
However, it was short lived.
Attorney General Christian Porter spent most of his ‘supporting’ speech trashing the model proposed by the cross-bench and warning of the dangers of such bodies.
By Question Time it was clear that the Government’s early support was nothing but a tactic to avoid being defeated on the McGowan Bill in the House.
The momentary prospect of a serious attempt to build a broad consensus within Parliament on this critical issue has been sadly and recklessly abandoned by the Government.
The establishment of a national integrity body is an urgent and necessary reform to restore trust in our democratic processes and politicians.
The NSWCCL urges the Australian Parliament to move forward on this issue quickly - building in the enormous amount of work already been done inside and outside of Parliament on an appropriately balanced model.
We urge the Government to accept the widespread support for a strong and broadly-based anti-corruption body and give serious support to the process.
This very important reform for the public good should – and could - be achieved before the next election.
Contacts in relation to this statement.
0418 292 656
0414 448 654
NSW Council for Civil Liberties is delighted to announce the election of a new
President, Pauline Wright, only the second woman to lead the organisation since its
inception in 1963. Carolyn Simpson QC, former Justice of the Supreme Court of
NSW, was the first female President, from 1975 to 1979.
Wright said “The civil liberties movement has been my life’s work. I’ve been
engaged with NSW Council for Civil Liberties for most of my adult life and I’m
deeply honoured to have been elected President. It has informed almost every aspect
of my professional career. NSWCCL is an increasingly important organisation and its
work is dear to my heart.”
There are rumours that the Australian Government is moving to refuse a visa to whistle-blower Chelsea Manning who is due to visit Australia soon for a speaking tour.
NSWCCL strongly opposes this as an unwarranted restriction of free speech and of the Australian community's entitlement to hear Chelsea Manning's views directly from her. We accept that Chelsea Manning fails the character test in s.501 of the Migration Act 1958 but dispute that this is adequate grounds to deny her visa. There can be no reasonable apprehension that her speaking tour would cause harm to Australian community or that she will engage in criminal activity while in Australia.
Her situation is entirely different from that of holocost denialists or advocates of violent misogyny who have been appropriately denied visas on character grounds. ,
We are disturbed at suggestions that the US Government may be pressuring the Australian Government to refuse her visa. If this is correct, it would represent foreign interference with Australia’s domestic affairs of a serious and unacceptable nature.
NSWCCL has distributed a public statement urging the Australian Government to defend and promote free speech and grant a visa allowing Chelsea Manning to come to Australia for her planned speaking tour.
On 16 July 2018 the Queensland Labor Government released the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) Review of Termination of Pregnancy Laws report. The report made a series of recommendations, including the draft of a bill that would decriminalise abortion in Queensland.
It is currently unlawful to terminate pregnancy in Queensland, due to sections 224 to 226 of the Criminal Code. As noted in the QLRC report, a termination may be “lawful” if it is “necessary to preserve the woman from a serious danger to her life or her physical or mental health (not being merely the normal dangers of pregnancy and childbirth) which the continuance of the pregnancy would entail, and in the circumstances not out of proportion to the danger to be averted.” There are currently between 10 000 and 14 000 abortions in Queensland every year. They are mostly performed in the first trimester, with later terminations “comparatively rare”.
Under the current provisions, a person who causes an abortion can be imprisoned for 14 years. A woman who takes something to cause herself a miscarriage can be imprisoned for seven years. Supplying drugs or other instruments used for the purpose of abortion can result in imprisonment for three years.Read more
Statement amended on 26 June: Following media interest, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has responded to criticisms from the NSW Government regarding the breadth of these regulations. CCL appreciates the government’s engagement with our concerns. This statement has been amended to incorporate the Government’s response, which is explained more fully in the final section of this statement. The regulations have also been provided at greater length, to explain other prescribed activities, and to set out penalties stipulated under the regulations. CCL remains opposed to the regulations in question.
On 1 July, new regulations will come into effect, granting the NSW State Government incredibly wide powers to disperse or ban protests, rallies, and virtually any public gathering across approximately half of all land across the state. CCL strongly opposes these regulations. As is explained in the final section, the NSW Government has responded to our criticisms by arguing that the new regulations are broadly the same as previous regulations. This argument is factually correct, although fines that may be imposed under the new regulations have been increased. However, this does not answer criticism of the merit of the regulations.Read more
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) welcomes the dismissal of anti-protesting law
charges against Bev Smiles, Bruce Hughes and Stephanie Luce in Mudgee Local Court on
The trio, known as the “Wollar Three”, attended a protest against the expansion of the
Wilpinjong mine in 2017. They blocked a road, and held up a banner. They faced two charges
under the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 2016, of which they were acquitted. They were also
charged with obstructing pedestrians and drivers. Magistrate David Day found them guilty of
obstructing the road, but did not record any convictions against them.
On Thursday, June 7, New South Wales Attorney-General Mark Speakman announced that the government would adopt the recommendations of a review of the Terrorism (Police Powers) Act 2002 by the Department of Justice. The report made 13 recommendations in relation to the legislation.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) notes with concern that the recommendations make little attempt to substantively change the laws, or to otherwise restore civil liberties. There is little attempt to reign in police powers in any meaningful way, which is why CCL opposed these laws in the first place.Read more