Both s18c of the Race Discrimination Act and the Australian Human Rights Commission are again under serious attack from the Federal Government.
George Brandis’ attempt to weaken s18c in 2014 was soundly repudiated by the Australian people and the then PM (Abbott) wisely retreated and abandoned the amendment. NSWCCL strongly opposed the Brandis Bill and thought the Government unlikely to try again given the depth of community anger aroused by the proposal..
We were misguided. Emboldened by the recent rise of the far right here and overseas – and within the Liberal Party - the Government is now targeting not just the legal protections against racist abuse provided under s18C but also the processes of the AHRC which have served Australia well for 20 plus years.
This new push poses a serious threat to the protections currently provided by the RDA and to the AHRC. We have therefore again joined many others in arguing the case against weakening s18C and in supporting the overwhelmingly positive record of the AHRC in resolving the vast majority of complaints effectively through conciliation while dismissing those that are trivial or vexatious. We are not aware of any cases under the RDA which have unreasonably constrained freedom of speech in Australia.Read more
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.
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 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
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.
NSWCCL recently made a submission to the NSW Sentencing Council’s Review of proposals relating to sentencing provisions for alcohol and drug fuelled violence. The review was initiated by proposals made from the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation.
The Attorney General has asked the Sentencing Council to examine issues raised by the section 21A of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1999. NSWCCL's submission outlines a number of concerns relating to the proposed changes, including:
- There is no demonstrated need to introduce a mandatory aggravating factor where the offender was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. This should not be introduced since it would fetter the discretion of a sentencing judge, who can already take intoxication into account in sentencing, and the definition as proposed is unnecessarily broad.
- The concept of vulnerability should not be expanded as proposed with a new definition. This is unnecessary as CCL considers that vulnerabilities as defined in the proposal are already covered under the Act.
- In relation to any other sentencing measures that might be considered, CCL highlights that mandatory sentences for offences committed under the influence of alcohol already in place in the Northern Territory appear to have been unsuccessful in reducing their incidence.
Finally, NSWCCL urges the Government to provide a response to the recommendations made in the NSW Law Reform Commission 2013 Report on Sentencing given its relevance to the proposals in this review.
NSWCCL has made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee arguing that Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 – a ‘de facto’ internet filter – should not be passed. In CCL’s view, website blocking is not a proportionate response to copyright infringement, and has major implications for freedom of speech.
The submission identifies a number of key issues in the Bill, including procedural fairness, the broad scope of the proposed legislation, and the potential negative implications for virtual private networks (VPNs), cloud storage providers, and whistleblowers. CCL has provided a number of recommendations addressing these concerns should the Bill continue to proceed through Parliament against CCL’s recommendation.
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.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties has formally endorsed two separate Shadow Reports for the United Nations' 2015 Universal Periodic Review of Australia: firstly, a Joint NGO Submission together with a wide range of NGOs across Australia; and secondly, a submission specifically relating to Surveillance in Australia together with international and national surveillance groups.