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: Call for Inputs from the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of human rights in the context of climate change

Ian Fry, Australian National University Professor and Tuvalu’s former ambassador for Climate Change for over 21 years, was appointed in May 2022 by the UN Human Rights Council, as the first Special Rapporteur on climate, following the overwhelming vote to recognize the Right to a Healthy Environment, in 2021.

Recently the Special Rapporteur called for inputs on the promotion of human rights in the context of climate change.The NSW Council for Civil Liberties welcomed the opportunity to make a submission.

Climate change is an urgent threat to humanity and to the full enjoyment of fundamental human rights. Threats to the environment are threats to everyone, and collaborative efforts at national, regional, and global levels are required for effective climate action.

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Report: Review of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act 2018

NSWCCL made a submission to the Modern Slavery Review Team in November 2022 outlining four key recommendations to the legislative framework. 

On 25 May 2023, the government tabled the Review of the Modern Slavery Act in Parliament which considers the current legislation and the operation of the Act in the first three years of implementation. The Act and its administrative implementation were considered as part of this review.

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NSWCCL calls on the Australian Government to exercise compassion for Rohingya refugees

Australia’s decision in November 2022 to prioritise Myanmar nationals for humanitarian visas sends a clear signal that Australia recognises the humanitarian disaster in post-coup Myanmar and we welcome this decision. However, we believe the Australian Government should seize this moment to also include the Rohingya in this arrangement.

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Submission: Criminal Code Amendment (Prohibition of Nazi Symbols) Bill 2023

The New South Wales 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 Criminal Code Amendment (Prohibition of Nazi Symbols) Bill 2023 (the Bill).

Freedom of expression does not give licence to individuals to engage in expression which engenders hate and incites violence. To that end, we support the principles underpinning the bill. However, the council believes it is the promotion of Nazi ideology which should be criminalised. To the extent that this Bill falls short of that objective, it is inadequate.  It seeks to criminalise only one aspect of the promotion of Nazi ideology – the display of Nazi symbols.  That does not go to the heart of the problem.  Careful consideration of how to prevent the promotion of Nazi ideology is required – the criminal law is only one of the required tools; other tools are required – education, engagement, diversion – and the criminalised conduct should be the core of the offensive conduct, not a superficial aspect.  


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Submission: COVID-19 Vaccination Status (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill 2022 (Cth) (Discrimination Bill) and the Fair Work Amendment (Prohibiting COVID-19 Vaccine Discrimination) Bill 2023 (Cth) (FW Amendment Bill)

NSWCCL supports the right to decide whether or not to receive a vaccine. We acknowledge that people have valid reasons for choosing to refuse a vaccination (including medical and religious reasons). NSWCCL also supports the objective that the broader community is deserving of the greatest level of health and wellbeing available to them.  This includes employers and business providing a safe work environment and complying with state and federal work health and safety laws, employees and other workers having the right to a safe work environment, and vulnerable and at-risk members of society who are susceptible to the effects of COVID-19 (e.g. the immunocompromised) being safe in the community.

In our view, the Bills in question, unreasonably and disproportionately protect the unvaccinated at the expense of the rights of other members of the community. Based on the generally accepted medical science, the Bills are incompatible with human rights.

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2023 NSW Election Scorecard: Comprehensive fail for both major parties

The 25 March NSW state election comes at a time when civil liberties in this state are under siege. Our right to protest and freedom of speech have been assaulted by both major parties with their joint support for the now infamous Roads and Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2022. The laws criminalise even brief obstruction of a road, train station, port or other piece of public or private infrastructure. The penalty is up to two years imprisonment and or a fine of up to $22,000. Freedom of assembly, political participation and freedom of expression should be core values and beliefs of our political leaders, instead we have leaders who are determined to shut down peaceful protest.

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Submission: Inquiry into Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws

This consultation paper, produced by the ALRC is in response to a referral from the Attorney-General
Mark Dreyfus, in November 2022, for the ALRC to review the exception provisions in the Sex
Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) and the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) that apply to religious educational

These provisions have been of concern to NSWCCL and many other community, civil liberties, human
rights and legal groups for a long time. Calls for their review are correspondingly longstanding. The
ALRC previously commenced a review of the provisions which was regrettably suspended by a
previous Government. NSWCCL commends the current Attorney-General for moving quickly to
establish this review. It is a very significant law reform initiative of great importance particularly to
children and young people, in particular, who are connected with in religious educational institutions.

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Policy: LGBTQI+ rights

Adopted at the 2022 AGM


Since 1963, NSWCCL has been at the forefront of arguments to advance the human rights and civil liberties of all. While NSWCCL has strongly supported LGBTQI+ rights in its advocacy, it does not have an updated formal policy. The purpose of this policy is to set out the framework for our advocacy in that regard.

This policy adopts the acronym LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and others) for ease, but recognises that there are a myriad of other sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions to which this policy also relates.

Our first recorded policy on the issue was passed on 6 May 1970, which stated ‘That the policy of the Council for Civil Liberties be that sex relations between adults in private shall not be a criminal offence.’ In October 1973, NSWCCL reasserted that policy and further added, amongst other things, ‘there should be no discrimination against homosexuals on the basis of their homosexuality and that State and Commonwealth governments should act to ensure full and substantive equality to homosexuals’. NSWCCL also made submissions in support of marriage equality in both 2009 and 2017.

On 26 October 1994, the AGM passed a resolution which stated ‘That [ NSWCCL] calls on the Department of School Education to develop and implement a component of the curriculum on the social and cultural constructions of gender within a framework of Gender Studies’.

NSWCCL has also consistently made submissions which opposed attempts to further protect religious rights at the expense of LGBTQI+ rights. This included submissions to federal inquiries in 2019, 2020 and 2021 and state inquiries in 2020 and 2021.

Healthcare and education continue to be pressure points for the LGBTQI+ community where discrimination is particularly felt. As Sydney hosts World Pride in 2023, it is past time NSWCCL reaffirm support for the LGBTQI+ community.


That NSWCCL supports the LGBTQI+ community in their demands for equal rights and substantive equality. NSWCCL strongly opposes the privileging of other rights, including religious rights, so as to erode or deny the rights of LGBTQI+ persons. NSWCCL reaffirms our commitment to advocate for a human rights act or charter at both a NSW and Commonwealth level which conclusively resolves conflicts of rights.

In particular NSWCCL:

  • Supports a ban on LGBTQI+ conversion practices. These are practices which attempt to ‘suppress, cure or change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. For example ‘gay cure therapy’ or gay exorcism.[1]
  • Strongly opposes recent attempts by religious groups and some governments to unwarrantedly privilege religious rights at the expense of LGBTQI+ rights.
  • Opposes any discrimination against LGBTQI+ people in healthcare and educational settings.
  • Supports a ban on the performance of unnecessary medical procedures on people born with innate variations of sex characteristics without their consent.
  • Supports calls for an LGBTQI+ Commissioner being appointed to the Australian Human Rights Commission.
  • Recognises conflicts of human rights must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis using the framework of international human rights law as a best practice guide.


[1] The Cooper Report 2021 - Ozanne Foundation


Submission: Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Climate Trigger) Bill 2022

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) is grateful for the opportunity to make a submission to the Committee's Inquiry into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Climate Trigger) Bill 2022 [No.2].

  1. NSWCCL supports laws that strengthen Australia’s mitigation efforts as a crucial step towards protecting human rights from the impacts of climate change.
  2. We believe the Bill fills an important gap in Australia’s climate change framework which currently leaves the Commonwealth unable to properly manage the development of emissions intensive activities. By giving the Minister the power to ensure further development of such activities occurs in line with a carbon budget, the Bill provides a way towards ensuring Australia’s newly legislated emissions target is achievable.
  3. While we welcome the Bill as an improvement on the current state of affairs, this submission contains six recommendations which we believe will further its aims.
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Submission: United Nations Committee against Torture

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) in regard to the Sixth Periodic Report of Australia.

Under Article 19 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Convention) the CAT is mandated to examine reports on the measures that State parties are taking to implement the provisions of the Convention. The CAT has a dual mandate:

  1. To undertake confidential inquiries when reliable information is received with well-
    founded indication that torture is being systemically practiced in a State party is received
    (Article 20, the Convention).
  2. To consider individual complaints in relation to the implementation of the Convention
    (Article 22, the Convention).
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