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


Resources for those in mandatory COVID-19 quarantine

Resources for those in mandatory quarantine

As many of those who have been in mandatory quarantine are coming to the end of their periods of isolation, many in city hotels, there are others returning from overseas and entering mandatory quarantine.  NSW Health describes mandatory detention as an “inconvenience”. It is more than that. Yet, those corresponding with NSWCCL have not complained about the fact of having to be quarantined. They did not mind being inconvenienced. They had other concerns about it.

Policy about quarantine was announced without sufficient time and briefing and understanding by those who were required to provide and enforce it. It has been unnecessary for those quarantined to be the subject of arbitrary and, often, meaningless rules, seemingly made on the run, uncertain and inconsistently applied. If the government expects voluntary compliance with its policies, those policies have to be perceived as fair.

The NSW Government says that it is “determined to make the 14-day period as comfortable as possible”.[1] However, many are not being treated respectfully and with consideration and compassion. Many have no ability to have access to fresh air and daily exercise, appropriate meals and cleaning supplies. Special dietary requirements are not being met and physical and mental health needs are not being addressed appropriately. In some cases, packages are not allowed to be delivered by family and friends or arbitrary limits are placed on what they may contain. Others complain that there is no easy access to medical services or other simple requirements that have no bearing on one’s ability to be quarantined.

If you have any issues:

  1. Ensure that you take advantage of the facilities that you are entitled to according to the NSW Health page on quarantine. There are a number of resources listed in that website. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/hotel-quarantine.aspx

The website states that “Each hotel is being staffed with experienced doctors, nurses and mental health professionals. Every day travellers will have access to:

  • registered nurses
  • assistant nurses
  • a general practitioner (doctor) will do a daily round of the hotel
  • medical practitioners are on-call 24/7 with the same doctor for continuity.”
  1. Contact your local Federal and State Members of Parliament and make them aware of your situation.
  2. Contact the Attorney General, Health Minister and the Police Minister in the State or Territory in which you are quarantined.
  3. Publicise your complaint to Australian media outlets.
  4. Report your complaint to websites, such as https://covidpolicing.org.au/.

[1] https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/hotel-quarantine.aspx

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United Nations Universal Periodic Review: Australian NGO Report 2020

More than 200 not-for-profit and community organisations have backed a major report calling on the Australian Government to strengthen its commitment to human rights in its laws, policies and practices.

The report has been prepared ahead of a United Nations Human Rights Council review of Australia in a process known as the Universal Periodic Review, which each member of the UN must undergo every four years.

Edwina MacDonald, a Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre and one of the report coordinators, said it offers a comprehensive insight into the state of human rights in Australia, at a crucial time with the COVID-19 crisis set to exacerbate existing inequalities and create a host of new human rights challenges.

“The human rights that many Australians have taken for granted are suddenly front and centre in public consciousness – essential rights like healthcare and education are coming under enormous strain and structural economic inequalities will hit disadvantaged communities hard. This report provides a snapshot of the existing problems and is a stark reminder that Australians will not face this pandemic on equal footings,” said MacDonald.

Read/Download Australia’s Human Rights Scorecard: Australia’s 2020 UN UPR NGO Coalition Report.


Australia’s Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council will take place early 2021. The NGO Report was coordinated by the Human Rights Law Centre, the Kingsford Legal Centre and the Caxton Legal Centre, working with an Advisory Group comprised of 16 NGOs, and authors from 57 NGOs. 

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Senate establishes Committee to scrutinise responses to COVID -19 crisis

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the unanimous decision by the Senate to establish a Select Committee on COVID -19 matters.

The Committee has a wide scope. It is empowered “to inquire into and report on:

  1. a) the Australian Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  2. b) any related matters.”

It has strong powers to gain information, hold public or private hearings,  publish evidence, findings and recommendations and a direction that it be “provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources and be empowered to appoint persons with specialist knowledge for the purposes of the committee with the approval of the President”.

It will have a core membership of 7 being: 3 nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate; 2 nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate; 1 nominated by the Leader of the Australian Greens; and Senator Jacqui Lambie. Other Senators will be able to be nominated as participating – but not voting - members.

On the face of it, this new Select Committee should be able to make a significant contribution to democracy in oversighting the Government’s responses to the COVID -19 pandemic.  In so doing it will hopefully provide some much-needed scrutiny of Government decisions and their implementation to fill an astonishing accountability vacuum created by the closure of the Australian Parliament until 11 August 2020.

The Government’s continued refusal to amend the Parliament’s sitting schedule to provide for sittings over the intervening months is a betrayal of the people’s rights to transparency and accountability in government.

 

NSWCCL public statement


Previous statement: 6 April 2020, Call for senate committee scrutiny of government responses to COVID-19

Previous statement: 30 March 2020, Statement: COVID-19 and Government oversight - Prolonged Parliamentary Adjournment unacceptable and Dangerous for Democracy

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Call for senate committee scrutiny of government responses to covid-19

NSWCCL is engaging with the fast moving covid-19 crisis on a number of fronts. The maintenance of core democratic processes to ensure adequate parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s responses to the crisis is a high priority for us and other civil society organisations. Our intention is not to hinder the Government’s capacity to act with necessary speed in the face of the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. Rather, our aim is to give confidence to the community that government responses are being scrutinised for lawfulness, proportionality and fairness through transparent parliamentary processes. Without this confidence public trust in the Government over this period is likely to be weakened. 

Like many others, we have urged both the NSW and the Australian Governments to rethink their decisions to close down their parliaments over the next crucial months. The NSW Parliament is not scheduled to resume until 15th September and the Australian Parliament not until 11th August. The Australian Parliament will sit for one day next Wednesday (8th April) to approve the latest tranche of emergency spending.

We have also called for the establishment of a strong, bipartisan Senate Select Committee to scrutinise and report on the Government’s responses to the pandemic crisis. NSWCCL joined 7 other legal and civil society groups in a public call for such a committee to approved when the Parliament sits on Wednesday:

The Senate must establish the Select Senate Committee when it reconvenes, for potentially just one day, next Wednesday. A Select Senate Committee will provide a vital avenue to business, civil society groups and individuals to provide information to inform Government decision-making and feedback on the impact of those decisions, so that no one is left behind and no one is left in the dark. 

The NSW and New Zealand Governments have already established committees to oversee their Governments’ response to COVID-19.

A Select Senate Committee is just a part of the solution – Australians also need regular parliamentary processes to continue. It is vital that our Parliament sit, in a way that is safe, so it can make decisions rapidly as the pandemic unfolds. 

Participating groups in addition to NSWCCL were Human Rights Law Centre, Centre for Public Integrity, Amnesty International, National Aboriginal  and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, People with Disability Australia, GRATA Fund and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

Other groups – including eminent ex judges -  have made similar calls for such a committee. 

At this point of time we are hopeful that the Senate will set up such a Committee next  Wednesday to provide the much-needed and focused scrutiny on Government actions over this extraordinarily challenging and scary period in Australia’s history.

Joint media statement 

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COVID-19 resources


The pandemic has seen a raft of health orders, restrictions and emergency powers.

While some changes are required to keep us safe during this extraordinary time, NSWCCL is deeply concerned that not all measures have been proportionate or necessary.

The risk of temporary measures becoming permanent, and police power creep, is significant. 

Resources

Actions and campaigns

NSWCCL COVID-19 statements and submissions

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Concerns re conditions for citizens held in enforced COVID-19 quarantine in Sydney

April 2, 2020

No fresh air, no exercise, no access to mental health professionals - concerns about conditions for citizens held in enforced quarantine in Sydney

NSWCCL is greatly concerned about the experiences and conditions of those in enforced quarantine in NSW. The Council advocates for measures that, at the very least, maintain individuals access to daily fresh air for a certain period per day, and the ability to exercise. 

The Council acknowledges the importance of containment and understands the necessity to quarantine Australians returning from overseas. However, those in quarantine should have access to fresh air, exercise and mental health professionals. The conditions of quarantine should be compassionate and respectful rather than arbitrary.

NSWCCL has been contacted by a Victorian resident Stephen, and his wife, who are being held in quarantine in a Sydney Hotel. The couple recently returned from Peru (31st March), where they had already been held in lockdown there for 14 days after the Peru government imposed a state of emergency on 16 March.

Stephen contacted NSWCCL for assistance in ‘advocating for all those others in enforced quarantine in Sydney to ensure that our basic human rights and civil liberties are not being infringed in such an arbitrary and inhumane way.’

Stephen goes on to add, “I am not disputing the government’s right to force us into quarantine. What I am disputing is the conditions they have imposed on us.  We are not convicted criminals, we just had the misfortune to be overseas at the time the world went into crisis.”

Stephen informed the NSWCCL about the conditions under which they were being quarantined;

  • We are literally locked in our room for 24 hours per day. We do not even have a key for our room.
  • Police and army patrol our floor to ensure our compliance.
  • We have no access to fresh air.  We are in a room on the 26th floor with no window that can be opened.
  • We have no ability to exercise.
  • We are being denied access to alcohol.
  • I have my wife with me, but many people are on their own – they are essentially in solitary confinement. 

“There are no support services for us. Nobody is checking on us as regards are physical or mental wellbeing,” Stephen said.

“Yesterday one of our friends in Sydney bought us some fruit, muesli, milk, tea and a couple of 6 packs of beer. The police stopped her leaving the alcohol.  Apparently those in quarantine are banned from having alcohol.”

The police quoted legislation in the NSW Government Gazette, Number 62, Saturday, 28 March 2020, apparently telling Stephen that the Police Commissioner has authority under clause 6(2) to determine what those in quarantine can/cannot eat and drink.

Today Stephen and his wife received a delivery of prescription medicine from a local pharmacist. The police opened and inspected the package before giving it to the recipients. Stephen said her felt this was ‘a gross breach of privacy and completely unwarranted – the package was clearly from a pharmacy and contained nothing but medicine’.

 Stephen and his wife are seeking:

  • Access every day to fresh air for a minimum 30 minutes
  • Access to an area we can exercise in for a minimum of 30 minutes each day
  • Access to moderate amounts of alcohol (which of course we pay for ourselves)
  • Daily checks on our health and mental wellbeing.

 “Surely this is not too much to ask for people who have committed no crimes and are otherwise complying with the draconian conditions imposed on us,” Stephen added.


 NSW Council for Civil Liberties - email: [email protected]

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CCL calls for parliament to continue sitting during covid-19 crisis

March 30, 2020

PUBLIC STATEMENT

PROLONGED PARLIAMENTARY ADJOURNMENT UNACCEPTABLE AND DANGEROUS FOR DEMOCRACY

For the duration of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, NSWCCL calls upon the Commonwealth and NSW Governments to accord full respect to the principles of parliamentary supremacy and responsible and representative government, which are fundamental features of Australia’s democratic and constitutional arrangements.

To this end, we urge the State and Commonwealth Governments to act through parliamentary processes and to continue to exercise legislative powers to the fullest practicable extent for the duration of this crisis. We urge them to reconsider parliamentary adjournment until September[1] and August[2] respectively. The NSW Parliament should also update its committee processes to enable NSW parliamentary committees to operate virtually, similarly to the way committees at the Commonwealth level are able to operate.

Adherence to these principles will ensure that Australians continue to enjoy full democracy, accountability and transparency from their leaders, and therefore maximum protection of their civil liberties during these challenging times.

The consequence of these parliamentary shutdowns, in the words of constitutional law expert Anne Twomey from the University of Sydney, is that there will be very little parliamentary scrutiny of the government for nearly five months, a critical period during which extreme powers may be exercised.[3]

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Review: National Inquiry into Sexual Assault in Australian Workplaces

[email protected]: NATIONAL INQUIRY INTO SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN AUSTRALIAN WORKPLACES

In the past 5 years, 1 in 3 people has experienced sexual harassment at work. The 2018 National Survey highlighted that 2 in 5 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced this situation. Moreover, 53% of the victims are Aboriginals.

In June 2018, against the backdrop of the momentum of the #MeToo movement and recognition of the prevalence of, and immense harm caused by sexual harassment in Australian, and global, workplaces, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, and the then Minister for Women, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer, announced the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (Inquiry).

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Media statement: NSW emergency legislation COVID-19

March 24, 2020

MEDIA RELEASE

COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020 doesn’t do enough to protect human rights

The NSW government has now passed the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill 2020. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) appreciates the government’s rapid response in introducing emergency public health measures, at this time. The government has a broad range of public health and emergency response powers available under current legislation, for responding to public health emergencies. Although some elements of individual liberty and equity may be overridden to protect the wider community, when exercising those powers, the government must remain vigilant to avoid the grave human rights violations likely to affect the most vulnerable in our society. Those vulnerable include those who are unable, because of disability; poverty; their migrant status; or incarceration, to access emergency economic or health services. If unprecedented numbers of job losses ensue, as predicted, then the number of vulnerable in our society will swell.

It is for these reasons that the NSWCCL wishes to highlight a number of disturbing aspects of and omissions from the Bill:

  1. Pre-recorded evidence in criminal trials does not give the opportunity for the defence to cross-examine the prosecution witness which is an essential component of criminal justice process. While acceptable, in some limited specific special circumstances, this provides for a much broader range of witnesses, if the class of persons is revised by regulation.
  2. Evidence given from a remote location, by video link, would provide the same protections, in terms of disease, but would have the benefit of allowing cross-examination. If it is considered that this cannot be achieved, due to a lack of resources, that is not a sufficient reason, where the integrity of the justice system in achieving fair trials is at risk.
  3. The possibility of a 12 month, or longer period, for the emergency measures to be determined by the Attorney-General, is not satisfactory.  There should a be a firm sunset date, so that parliamentary approval is required, for any extension.
  4. The Bill invokes powers, in s747B of the Local Government Act, that allow legislation to be amended or repealed without going back to Parliament for consideration. Although emergency situations may be a valid exception to the principle, the NSWCCL generally opposes these as they produce less scrutiny and Parliamentary control over legislation. This is not considered a necessary measure in these circumstances.
  5. The Bill should include strong whistleblower protection for health workers. In a health crisis of this kind, it is more important, than ever, to ensure that the public can have access to accurate information, in a timely way. Health workers are obviously in a position where they will often be first to know, and they should be protected from persecution, and prosecution, if they genuinely see a need for public disclosure of information.

Finally, NSWCCL has released a statement specifically addressing COVID-19 and prisons which can be accessed at the following link https://www.nswccl.org.au/statement_covid_19_and_prisons

 

ENDS


PDF version

NSWCCL contact: [email protected] or Michelle Falstein 0412 980 540

About NSW Council for Civil Liberties

NSWCCL is one of Australia’s leading human rights and civil liberties organisations, founded in 1963. We are a non-political, non-religious and non-sectarian organisation that champions the rights of all to express their views and beliefs without suppression. We also listen to individual complaints and, through volunteer efforts; attempt to help members of the public with civil liberties problems. We prepare submissions to government, conduct court cases defending infringements of civil liberties, engage regularly in public debates, produce publications, and conduct many other activities.

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Climate Change Bill 2020

Australia’s recent bushfire season of unprecedented scale, foreseen years ago by climate scientists as a likely result of a warming planet, lays bare the urgent need for climate justice. With this context in mind, NSWCCL wishes to affirm its support for the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020 (“the Bill”), to be introduced to Parliament by the independent MP for Warringah Zali Steggall.

Modelled on similar legislation passed by several developed nations, including the UK, Germany and France, the Bill attempts to provide policy certainty, transparency and accountability in relation to emissions reduction targets and climate adaptation. Amongst other innovations, the Bill:

  • creates an independent Climate Change Commission (CCC) to help prepare emissions reduction plans and budgets, report on progress, conduct climate change risk assessments, and advise the government in relation to climate adaptation;
  • sets a statutory emissions reduction target of zero net emissions by 2050 which cannot be varied without the consent of the CCC;
  • institutes five-yearly whole-of-economy emissions budgets; and
  • establishes a number of guiding principles which administrative decision-makers, as well as the CCC itself, must consider.
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