The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) recently bestowed Honourary Life Memberships upon four exceptional individuals who have dedicated many decades to the relentless pursuit of civil liberties and human rights for all. This prestigious accolade serves as a testament to their unwavering commitment and invaluable contributions to the cause.
Defending civil liberties is not a luxury, it is a necessity. When our civil liberties are curtailed or dismissed, it impacts our ability to participate in our open and democratic country. Dr Martin Bibby, Stephen Blanks, Dr Lesley Lynch and Malcolm Ramage KC are all determined human rights activists who have dedicated their lives to challenging systemic injustices and advocating for the marginalised communities and individuals.
Dr Martin Bibby
Martin has a long and significant engagement with the civil liberties movement in Australia. Martin joined CCL with concerns about police violence and perjury, having observed both at first hand, anti-terrorist and secrecy legislation, the prejudices that had been deliberately created about refugees, their treatment, LGBTQI issues, ASIO and other security organisations.
Over the decades Martin has been a consistent intellectual force within the NSWCCL Committee and the author of many significant submissions to the NSW and Australian parliaments on a wide range of topics but most centrally on human rights legislation and policies.
Martin places high value on both logic and ethics. Martin has represented NSWCCL’s position directly to Parliamentary Committees through appearances before NSW and Federal Committees.
Martin has always been a diligent and generous Committee member. Apart from his significant personal contribution to Committee and Executive deliberations, he has gone out of his way to facilitate and mentor new members to the committee and the executive - including offering to stand aside to allow new expertise to come through the ranks.
As one of the longest serving and most diligent members of the NSWCCL committee Martin is well deserving of honorary life membership.
Stephen Blanks has been a solicitor since 1985 and has a legal practice located in Rozelle, Sydney. He has also been a high-profile member of NSWCCL for many years and has a significant profile in the media and amongst politicians as a civil libertarian. He joined NSWCCL in 1993. He was prompted to join when acting for a book publisher who had published a book about corruption and a NSW Government agency had written to all major booksellers demanding that they not sell the book. NSWCCL was vital in obtaining publicity for the publisher, which helped Stephen to arrange a small piece highlighting his client’s situation with the book in the Sydney Morning Herald, which then got picked up as a lead story by 7.30 on ABC, leading to a speedy withdrawal of the demands.
Stephen became a member of the Management Committee and has since held the executive roles of Secretary (2005 - 2013), President (2013-2018) and Treasurer (2018-now). In these roles he has been a key spokesperson on freedom of speech, privacy, racial vilification, the right to protest and is a passionate advocate for asylum seekers. Stephen has been critical in maintaining public recognition for CCL. An important part of Stephen’s involvement in civil liberties is supervising Australian and foreign students undertaking internships, many of whom have remained involved in CCL long after their internships due to Stephen’s enthusiastic mentorship.
He is a key contributor in the development of CCL policies and strategies, and provision of legal assistance around civil liberties issues through both CCL and his own legal practice. Stephen regularly represents NSWCCL as a witness before NSW and Australian parliamentary committees. Although Stephen’s legal practice is primarily commercially focussed, he has over the years taken on many legal cases involving civil liberties issues, including unpopular cases involving asylum seekers, protesters.
Stephen recently has helped major demonstrations and protests proceed in Sydney recently protesting again the war in Palestine. His intervention was pivotal in ensuring these important protests could proceed.
Dr Lesley Lynch
Dr Lesley Lynch is an expert in the field of national security, her knowledge providing a valuable resource on the development of laws relating to national security, over a long period of time. Lesley joined NSWCCL in 2006 because the escalating attacks on civil liberties post 9/11 made it the obvious site for renewed activism. Lesley was elected Assistant Secretary in 2007, Secretary in 2013 and Vice President 2015 - October 2019 and again in 2023.
Lesley has a history of political activism in anti-war and anti-apartheid campaigns, gay liberation and the women’s liberation movement. Within CCL has written many CCL policies including national security counter-terrorism and the surveillance state, electoral processes, protest rights, effective anti-corruption bodies at state and federal levels and decriminalisation of abortion. She has been convenor of the Privacy and Freedom of Information and the Justice group and, from 2012-14, the National ASIO Campaign. Lesley provided significant leadership and drove the work of the National Security and Counter Terrorism Action Group and collaborated with civil liberties bodies across Australia on national responses to the veritable tsunami of national security/counter terrorism laws and other national issues.
Lesley is always an enthusiastic mentor of young CCL members and generous host of many convivial social events in her home (together with her wonderful partner Susan).
Lesley is responsible for ensuring the history of CCL and has archived CCL books, records, and important documents in Mitchell library for safe keeping. Lesley drove our video project ’60 Years Strong’ to compile key personal histories of CCL on video. She has also been a diligent supporter of staff and organiser of the CCL office and administration.
A thoughtful and principled defender of governance principles, ensuring best practice is followed in CCL governance relating to conduct of meetings and appropriate governance policies. Lesley has kept our organisation on track and on time and we thank and acknowledge Lesley for her substantial contribution.
Malcolm Ramage KC
Malcolm Ramage KC has been an active and influential member of the NSWCCL from its very early days. He has been a committee member from c1970, to the present day. - with the exception of a 12 month break to take up a judicial role in PNG. During that time he held various executive positions including Treasurer and President for three terms (1979-1982).
Malcolm is also a highly respected member of the legal profession with over 50 years’ experience – having been admitted to the bar in 1971 and appointed QC in 1990.
Malcolm was heavily engaged in building CCL’s hugely significant role in providing pro bono legal representation for those arrested for participating in the many anti-war and other demonstrations around civil liberties and human rights issues in the 70s and 80s. He was the Chair of CCLs Legal Aid Panel from 1976.
Largely as a result of lobbying from CCL (and Labor lawyers) this legal aid work was supported by NSW Government grants until 1984 when an extraordinary confrontation with the NSW Premier (and then CCL member) Neville Wran led to CCL refusing to accept further state government funding.
The provision of legal aid over these early decades was an immensely successful and well regarded CCL activity. Though Government funded legal aid centres substantially took over this role from the 1980s, Malcolm remained Convenor of the NSWCCL Legal Panel until recently to provide aid for those not covered by the Government centres.
Malcolm was President of the NSWCCL during some of its most turbulent years in the 1980s as the organisation grappled with competing views both as to what issues it should champion and tension between the moderate and radical perspectives. These were difficult years and Malcolm played an important role in holding the organisation together.
In more recent times Malcolm has been a respected legal elder constantly available to provide considered and astute advice to committee members on a wide range of civil liberties issues. His input was always available on request and always valuable.
Apart from his legal input Malcolm has over the years been an extremely generous supporter of CCL through both donations of money and the donation of valuable art works from his considerable personal collection for CCL to auction at its annual dinners.
The NSWCCL Committee has been enriched by his constant presence over almost half a century.
As we celebrated the Honourary Life Memberships awarded to these four stalwarts, it was a moment to reflect on the enduring significance of their contributions to the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. Their unwavering dedication, passion, and tenacity have not only shaped our organisation but have also left an indelible impact on the broader landscape of civil liberties in Australia.