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


Defending s18C of RDA -AGAIN !

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.  

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Submission: Inquiry into Freedom of Speech in Australia

As one of the most racially and ethnically diverse nations in the world an effective statutory protection against race hatred is an essential safeguard for national harmony. NSWCCL believes the main issue with s18C centres on the lack of clarity of its terms. NSWCCL recommends only those amendments necessary to bring the section in line with its interpretation in case law and/or Australia’s international human rights obligations

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Policy statement (2016) - marriage equality

AGM, October 2016.

Resolution

NSWCCL supports amending the law on marriage so that no discrimination is made between prospective spouses on the basis of their sex; in particular, so that same sex couples can be married, and that those who have same sex marriages they have entered into overseas are recognised as married in Australia.

The arguments supporting this policy position are set out in the following submissions listed below:

2013
NSW Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on Social Issues Inquiry into Same Sex Marriage Law in NSW
2012
Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee concerning the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010
2009
Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee concerning the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009

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Abortion Law Reform - is it time to decriminalize abortion in NSW?

Abortion (administering or having) has been a criminal offence in NSW since colonization. However, since 1971 NSW case law has established that abortion is lawful in exceptional contexts where it can be established that it is necessary to preserve a woman from serious danger to her life or mental or physical health and it is not out of proportion to the danger to be averted.  

Having to rely on this limited defence is a deeply flawed and unsatisfactory legal position for both women and medical practitioners.  The right to lawful abortion remains uncertain and limited in NSW, which generates reluctance among many practitioners to perform abortions, with serious consequences for many women.

The decriminalization of abortion has long been CCL policy.

There has been recent reform of abortion laws in the ACT (2002) Victoria (2008) and – more limitedly in Tasmania (2013). In these jurisdictions, abortion has been decriminalized and is treated as primarily a health issue.

Many activists in NSW who support abortion law reform have been reluctant to campaign around the issue in recent times. This is because of the ever-present possibility that a very conservative NSW Parliament – especially Legislative Council – might react with stronger anti-abortion legislation removing the current lawful defences and thus make the situation far worse for women. 

The NSW Greens have decided to challenge this analysis and are attempting to revive a strong campaign for the decriminalization of abortion in NSW.  

Accordingly, Dr Mehreen Faruqi  (Greens MLC) has drafted an abortion law reform bill that abolishes all criminal offences relating to abortion in NSW, as well as introducing some other protections including the establishment of exclusion zones around abortion centres and requiring medical practitioners who conscientiously object to abortion to refer a woman to another practitioner who does not have such an objection. 

NSWCCL has met with  Dr Faruqui and discussed her strategy and made some technical suggestions for changes to the draft bill. We have agreed to support the campaign – although we are very aware of the hostile attitudes of some members of the NSW Parliament and think it likely that the campaign will be a long one.

The Greens are holding consultations about the bill.  They will be holding a public meeting in the Glebe Town Hall on Monday  6th June at 6pm.  We urge interested members and supporters to attend.  

Dr Lesley Lynch

Vice-President

 

 

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Senate electoral reform survives onslaught

The Senate electoral reform bill passed though all stages of Parliament on 18th March after a marathon sittings – including a 28 hour non-stop Senate session.  This is a very good outcome for democracy in Australia. NSWCCL supports the new electoral process and is relieved Australia does not have to go to another election under the current broken and distorted system.

Sadly the Parliament is bitterly divided on this Bill which emerged from a unanimous Joint Committee on Electoral Reform (PJCEM) report over two years ago  – though the only cross-bench representative on that Committee was Nick Xenophon.

Given the huge role that then Labor Senator John Faulkner had in supporting this reform, it is particularly disappointing that the ALP felt it had to oppose the Bill with such vehemence.

 As indicated in our earlier report, NSWCCL understands the very real pressure of possible adverse electoral outcomes for individual parties in any changes to electoral processes.. Nonetheless, we had hoped that Parliament could have approached this vital legislative reform with much greater consensus about underlying electoral principles. 

After all no-one, bar some of the cross-benchers, argues that the current electoral process is fair or democratic. Few (we hope!) would disagree that it is better for voters to be able to directly choose who they want to vote for rather than party machines and other backroom players. Few would disagree that the Senate electoral outcomes in 2013 were not a manifestation of democratic process and did not fully reflect voters’ wishes.

The failure of our Parliament to build on the consensus achieved by the PJCEM is in significant part because of the failure of the major parties to act on the report in a timely fashion. Then unavoidable tensions emerged when the Government determined to rush the reforms through Parliament with a very short timeline for examination of the Bill and in close proximity to an election – and even more perturbing for some- a possible double dissolution.

But the bottom line is a significant reform has been achieved.

Amendment update

The original Bill was amended to include  partial optional preferential voting below the line (as well as above the line) following a recommendation from a very short review of the Bill by the PJCEM. This amendment addressed the one concern the NSWCCL had with the proposals.   

Lesley Lynch 

 

Related posts:

NSWCCL submission to the JCEM - 29/02/16

 

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Submission: Inquiry into the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016

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.

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Submission: NHMRC draft ethical guidelines on assisted reproduction technology

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. 

Read the full submission here

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The Australian Parliament should legislate for same sex marriage

The last English speaking country remaining on the list.

 

 

The NSW CCL supports marriage equality and opposes holding a plebiscite or referendum on the issue. Peoples’ rights and freedoms must not be subject to a vote of a majority of citizens.

 

A cross party bill supporting the legalisation of same-sex marriage was brought to the Australian Parliament as it resumed this week, forcing us to consider the question of marriage equality. Sadly in a marathon party-room debate last Tuesday night, the Coalition decided against granting its members of parliament a free vote on marriage equality before the general election, postponing the debate. Again. Australia is indeed the only English speaking country which has not (yet) legalised marriage for same sex couples.

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Submission: Review of the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015

If enacted, the Bill would amend the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth) (“the Act”) in an untested and radical way. It presents a significant threat to the separation of powers and the rule of law. Indeed, the Bill is founded on a significant reconceptualisation of the relationship between the State and the citizen.

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CCL calls for continuation of Custody Notification Service (CNS) funding

NSWCCL this week has written to Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion and the Prime Minister Tony Abbott calling for the Federal Government to continue its funding of the Custody Notification Service (CNS).

The CNS is a telephone hotline providing personal and legal advice to indigenous people taken into custody. Under NSW legislation it is compulsory for the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) to be notified if an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is detained, and the CNS is the practical service that allows this to occur. Since its implementation, no indigenous deaths in custody have occurred in NSW/ACT.

CCL previously supported the campaign to 'Save the CNS' in 2013, and it is extremely disappointing that this essential notification service for indigenous people in custody is once again being threatened - particularly in the context of the recent report by Amnesty International that showed Australia incarcerates indigenous children at one of the highest rates in the developed world. It would reflect poorly on the Government's commitment to Closing the Gap and reversing the shameful over-representation of indigenous people in Australia's prisons if the CNS was to cease.

Letter to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs

See also: NSW ditches another protection for Indigenous people in custody, The Conversation, 10/06/2015 (Author: CCL member Eugene Schofield-Georgeson)

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