As we prepare to say goodbye to 2020 – and good riddance! – I would like to reflect on this extraordinary year in all of our lives and remind us why we are here – at the NSWCCL, that is.
As our website tells you:
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) was founded in 1963 [that’s 57 years ago] with the aim of protecting the rights and liberties of persons in Australia and its Territories. It is now one of Australia's leading human rights and civil liberties organisations.
We monitor and fight against infringement of these rights and liberties and the abuse of power by government, its agencies and others. We advocate strengthening democratic rights and liberties.
We are non-sectarian and non-party political. We embrace all supporters of our Aims (set out in the Constitution) and our guide is the support and defence of human rights. We receive no funding from government at any level (other than a temporary federal COVID-19 provision made to NGOs generally in these exceptional times) and rely on financial support from members, the public and philanthropists. Membership fees and fundraising events are very important to our ability to fulfil our Aims and to take part in the discussions that need to be had.
Since the Public Health Orders started to be issued in March we have been approached by many citizens inquiring about hotel quarantine restrictions and relief from some of the harsh requirements, about obtaining permission to leave Australia, about the enforcement of social distancing laws and other novel matters that are quite apart from our usual diet of issues to be addressed. SARS-CoV-2 has brought new challenges. But we have had to keep up our usual work, too – so it has been a busy year.
That usual work consists of monitoring human rights issues, responding to those drawn to our attention, preparing letters, submissions and statements, appearing before parliamentary committees and combining with other civil liberties organisations on a range of matters including:
First Nations Justice; Asylum Seekers and Refugees; Climate Justice; Media Freedom and Whistleblowers; Privacy and Data Retention; proposed legislation that may impinge upon human rights; the defence of transparent and accountable democracy; Criminal Justice (including Police Powers and Mental Health Issues); and a Human Rights Act for NSW (and nationally). We assisted not long ago in the successful campaign to decriminalise abortion and we campaign for voluntary assisted dying, drug law reform and a change to our over-reliance upon imprisonment, especially for First Nations people.
I give my thanks to all those who enable the NSWCCL to operate. To the members; the Committee members; the Executive and the Convenors and members of Action Groups; the Executive Officer and administrative supporters. I also pay special thanks to many others whose regular contributions in support of our aims are so valued. NSWCCL relies on people to volunteer their talents and time and these have done so exceptionally in this trying year.
2021 will be another year with its own challenges. In preparation for the tasks ahead, I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season, however you observe it – virus-free and without the Black Summer fires we experienced last year.
All the best for 2021!
Nicholas Cowdery AO QC
President, NSW Council for Civil Liberties