Civil and human rights

This Group covers a broad range of civil liberties and human rights issues, focussing on those that don’t naturally fall within the other groups. Priority areas in the last few years have included: a Human Rights Act for NSW, along with the ongoing campaign for an Australian Charter of Rights; climate justice; LGBTIQ+ rights, women’s rights; anti-discrimination law; freedom of expression; and achieving better and more democratic governance through balanced and effective anti-corruption bodies and reform of the framework for delegated legislation.

We also track Australia's human rights violations.

A current focus area is our right to protest

Submission: Regulatory framework for cannabis in NSW

Cannabis is criminalised in New South Wales (NSW) with use, possession, cultivation and supply being the key offences. Cannabis has long been the most widely used illicit drug in Australia. In 2022–2023, 11.5% of people in Australia had used cannabis in the previous 12 months, around 2.5 million people. In comparison, the next most common illicit drugs (cocaine and ecstasy) were used by around 3% of Australians.

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Letter to the Prime Minister: Please meet with your constituents

Dear Prime Minister,

I write in my capacity as the President of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, one of Australia’s leading human rights and civil liberties organisations. The Council is non-political, non-religious and non-sectarian. We are a Non-Government Organisation in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, by resolution 2006/221 (21 July 2006).

I have written to you on two earlier occasions on the issue of Australia’s position with respect to Palestine; including a joint letter issued with Liberty Victoria. To date, I have not received a response to the issues raised in those letters.

On this occasion I write in relation to the peaceful vigil that is being held outside your electorate office regarding the ongoing violence destroying the lives and futures of tens of thousands innocent civilians in Palestine.

We recognise this vigil as a legitimate exercise of democratic freedoms available in Australia. The vigil is noteworthy in that the organisers, their families and attendees are diverse in their religious beliefs and cultural heritage. Importantly, the organisers and many of the protestors live in your electorate – they are your constituents.

We understand that the primary purpose of the participants in the vigil is to achieve an occasion on which they can communicate directly to you, as their electoral representative and as Prime Minister of Australia, their views in relation to the events in Gaza and how they affect people in Australia.

Public confidence in our governmental and political institutions requires elected officials to engage with their constituents, particularly in relation to matters of international significance such as the current events in Palestine which directly affect so many people in Australia.  We strongly believe that an important part of a healthy democracy is constituent access to elected representatives. 

We are concerned that you are yet to meet with participants in the vigil and to give them the opportunity to share their concerns with you personally.

This could understandably be perceived as a breach of your obligations towards them and damaging to public confidence in Australia’s democracy.

We urge you to meet with your constituents and allow them to ventilate their concerns.

The Council remains available to you and your office if you require any further information with respect to the issues raised herein.

Yours faithfully,

Lydia Shelly


Read our letter here.





Letter: The Hon. Michael Daley structural change for domestic and family violence policy

Dear Attorney General

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties joins our community in mourning the intolerable rates of women being murdered in Australia. Eleven women have been murdered in the month of April alone. In 2024, the rate of murdered women has doubled compared to this time last year.

The rising rate of domestic violence has not abated in NSW, even after new laws and tougher penalties were introduced over the past six years. We strongly believe that this scourge cannot be solved by expanding of police powers.  If we are to reduce the occurrence of these types of horrendous crimes, we must ensure that structural failures within our criminal justice system and our communities are appropriately understood, addressed and funded. Without appropriate resourcing and funding, laws are rendered impotent.

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Submission: Jury Amendment Bill 2023

The NSWCCL recognises the importance of increasing the efficiency of jury empanelment, the provision of enhanced support for jurors to perform their role and reducing the expenditure of resources on trials that are ultimately aborted or result in hung juries. The NSWCCL also recognizes the validity of majority verdict legislation in criminal and coronial trials.

However, the NSWCCL is concerned that the proposed amendment to section 55F of the Jury Act 1977 (the Act) may compromise a jury’s ability to properly consider the guilt or innocence of an accused person, and that such a compromise is made in exchange for a speculative and nominal reduction in the expenditure of resources on trials and reduction in hung juries.

The NSWCCL is further concerned that the proposed amendment to section 73A(1) of the Act unnecessarily broadens the investigative power of the NSW Sheriff’s Office (Sheriff). The broadening of the investigative power is significant and not safeguarded or constrained by current legislation.

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Submission: Inquiry into Access to Australian Parliament House by Lobbyists

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Reference Committee about the Inquiry into access to Australian Parliament House by lobbyists.

Our full submission is below.

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Submission: Serious racial and religious vilification (review of s 93z).

Australia is a signatory to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). These instruments impose obligations to prohibit discrimination solely based on race, colour, sex, religion or social origin. The ICCPR also functions to protect individuals' freedom of expression, whilst acknowledging this freedom is not without limits.

While Australia's international obligations are not solely responsible for the NSW Government's decision to introduce offences intended to prohibit discrimination against individuals or groups based on special characteristics, key instruments (such as the ICCPR and ICERD) provide important social and political context to the legal background.

Section 93Z was introduced to the Crimes Act in 2018, creating an offence of publicly threatening or inciting violence on the grounds of certain characteristics held by a person or group of persons. These characteristics include a person's race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex or HIV/AIDS status.

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Submission: Administrative Review Tribunal Bill 2023 [Provisions] and Related Bills

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs in regard to the Administrative Review Tribunal Bill 2023 [Provisions] and related bills.

The NSWCCL endorses the sentiment and recommendations made by many of the other civil society and advocacy organisations who submitted to the Inquiry into the Administrative Review Tribunal Bill 2023 (ART Bill) and the Administrative Review Tribunal (Consequential and Transitional Provisions No.1) Bill 2023 (Consequential and Transitional Bill), including the Centre for Public Integrity, the Refugee Council of Australia, Liberty Victoria and The Australia Institute.

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Submission: Your Say on Outdoor Alcohol Restrictions

The NSWCCL opposes outdoor alcohol restrictions in public places, including alcohol-free zones and alcohol prohibited areas in parks and public spaces. We argue that these restrictions impede on freedom of movement and disproportionately affect marginalised individuals. Instead, we advocate for evidence-based harm minimisation programs and support services.

Our full submission is below. 

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Submission: COVID 19 Royal Commission

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) has submitted a statement to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee regarding the proposed COVID-19 Royal Commission. We highlighted existing efforts by a three-member panel appointed in 2023 to inquire into the government's response to COVID-19 and emphasized the need to prevent duplicative work. We recommended considering alternative methods to address misinformation without the need for a Royal Commission.

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Open letter: Civil Society demands an open review of Anti-Protest Laws

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has joined forces with 40 other advocacy and civil society organisations to send an open letter to Premier Chris Minns MP, demanding that he respect democratic process and conduct a public inquiry in the draconian NSW Anti-Protest Laws. Sign our Petition calling for an open and transarent reivew of these laws here.

To Premier Chris Minns, Attorney General Michael Daley and the Hon. John Graham:

We the undersigned call on you to address the vital issue of protecting the right to protest in our state. The right to protest is a fundamental democratic right that allows us to express our views, shape our societies, and press for social change. In NSW and nationally across Australia, it is under attack.

Two years on from the introduction of the draconian 2022 anti-protest laws, these laws are creating a chilling effect on civil movements and social progress. The barriers for a diverse range of groups to participate in protest action have been raised to an unattainable height due to risk of police interaction and escalated police violence, especially for groups such as First Nations people and individuals on temporary visas.

The review of these laws is scheduled to take place after 1 April 2024 and will be carried out by the Department of Roads and the Attorney-General’s Department. We call for the repeal of these anti-democratic laws - barring repeal, we call on you to ensure that this review will seek public submissions and be undertaken in a clear and transparent manner.

It is essential that members of the community, civil society organisations, legal experts, protesters and protest movements and other stakeholders are given the opportunity to publicly explain the grassroots impacts of these laws. We call on the government to commit to introducing a community consultation component into the statutory review of the 2022 amendments.

We would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you regarding the conduct of the legislative review and the opportunity for community consultation on the issue.


Australian Democracy Network Amnesty International Australia  Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
NSW Council for Civil Liberties Human Rights Law Centre Socialist Alliance
Community Legal Centres NSW Inner City Legal Centre City of Sydney for Palestine
Animal Liberation NSW National Justice Project Water for Rivers
Redfern Legal Centre Australia Palestine Advocacy Network Tomorrow Movement
Public Interest Advocacy Centre NSW Young Labor Left Muslim Women Australia
Sydney Knitting Nannas Australia National Imams Council Pride In Protest
Pittwater Knitting Nannas Tzedek Collective Trade Unionists for Palestine
Wage Peace Legal Observers NSW NSW Teachers Federation
Jews Against the Occupation ‘48 Human Rights Act for NSW Jewish Council of Australia
The Nature Conservation Council of NSW Australian Services Union NSW ACT Services Branch Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney Branch
Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union NSW Branch United Workers Union  Australasian Meat Industry Employees Union NSW Branch
Electrical Trades Union Finance Sector Union Hunter Workers
Construction & General Division of CFMEU NSW NSW Nurses and Midwives' Association Tamara Smith, Member for Ballina
Abigail Boyd MLC Amanda Cohn MLC Cate Faehrmann MLC
Sue Higginson MLC Jenny Leong, Member for Newtown Kobi Shetty, Member for Balmain



In April 2022, the NSW Parliament passed legislation to prevent ‘illegal protesting’ on major roads, bridges, tunnels, public transport and infrastructure facilities. The new legislation amends section 144G the Roads Act 1993 which criminalises causing serious disruption by entering, remaining on or trespassing on prescribed major bridges and tunnels, to now include all “main roads”. Offences carry a maximum penalty of $22,000 or two years in gaol, or both.

NSWCCL condemns these legislative changes in totality. Protest should not be confined to back roads.  We especially condemn the lack of proportionality of the punishment that can be imposed for offences committed by protesters. 

The review of these laws is scheduled to take place after 1 April 2024 and should consider the views of all stakelholders and community. Join us in the call for an open and transparent review!


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