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
Dr Lesley Lynch, co-convenor of the NSWCCL Civil and Human Rights Action Group spoke briefly on behalf of NSWCCL at the Assange rally on Monday 24th February 2020. The event was held in solidarity with global events in support of Julian Assange on the first day of his extradition hearing at Belmarsh Prison, London.
Speech Notes: Assange Rally Martin Place, Sydney
The NSWCCL across its 57 years has always fought to protect whistle-blowers and a free and independent press as fundamentals to democracy.
NSWCCL has long supported Assange: initially as a facilitator providing transformational protection for whistle-blowers - and then as a publisher/journalist (and a prize winning one at that) in his own right.Read more
Despite the rain, NSWCCL Committee member, Lydia Shelly (pictured) spoke at Sydney's No Right to Discriminate: Religious Discrimination Bill protest rally this month. Lydia spoke to the CCL position on the bill, how religious groups have been co-opted, and the implications of the proposed bill.
CCL supports the need for a law against religious discrimination, but this Bill subverts key principles as to the ‘indivisibility and equality’ of human rights. It grossly over-privileges religious rights to the detriment of other rights. It seriously weakens existing anti-discrimination laws. It will cause harm to many groups and generate dissension and ill-will in our community.
It is CCL's view that the Government must withdraw this Bill and start again with a better and more cohesive process. More detail on CCL position HERE.
*Lydia Shelly is a lawyer and student in terrorism and security studies, and a Committee Member, NSW Council for Civil Liberties.
Here we share the speech Lydia gave at the rally.
NSWCCL has made a submission on the Government's second exposure draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019. This follows our highly critical, but nonetheless, slightly hopeful submission on the first exposure draft of the Bill in October last year. We had been hopeful that the many problems civil liberties and human rights groups had identified in the Bill might be addressed, so that this second version would provide much needed protections against religious discrimination -particularly for minority religions - which are appropriately balanced with the rights of other groups in the Australian community.
The draft Bill's up-front objectives are spot-on: to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religious belief; to ensure everyone has the same rights to equality before the law and that people can make statements of religious belief- all subject to reasonable restrictions. Most significantly they affirm the 'indivisibility and universality of human rights and their equal status in international law.' (Clause 3)
However the new draft Bill fails to deliver on these objectives - it dangerously expands the over-privileging of religious rights in relation to other rights, weakens existing protections available for other groups under current state and federal anti-discrimination laws. If it becomes law, this Bill will increase discrimination against and harm for many groups in the Australian community.
It seems clear that the objects of the draft Bill have been distorted by the insertion of numerous provisions for the sole reason of conceding to the demands of major religious groups for both exceptionally broad rights and protections from discrimination by others and an extraordinary range of exemptions and exceptions amounting to an extensive right to discriminate against others with legal impunity.
In summary, NSWCCL considers this second exposure draft Bill privileges religious rights to the detriment of other rights and weakens existing anti-discrimination laws much more seriously than did the first exposure draft. We are firmly of the belief that the Government must withdraw the Bill and start again with a better and more cohesive process.
Freedom of speech and protest are fundamental to a democratic political process. NSWCCL affirms support for urgent action, at the federal and state levels, to combat the severe, climate change threat.
On January 31st, we joined climate defenders at the Downing Centre before they headed into court. They were arrested in December at Kirribilli House while protesting in favour of climate action. Those arrested included Greens MP David Shoebridge. He was charged with disobeying a police direction to move on.
NSWCCL Secretary Michelle Falstein spoke to those gathered saying that citizens of this state should not fear the police when exercising their constitutional rights and that, change in the policy of intimidation by the NSW police force, is clearly required.
David Shoebridge told the crowd, "Most of us will be pleading not guilty today because we refuse to bow to police and government pressure - they cannot police their way out of the climate crisis".
We will keep you updated as to the date fixed for hearing of the charges.
Like many others, NSWCCL scrambled to make a submission to the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department on the Religious Discrimination Exposure Draft Bill 2019 in early October. The Department says it received around 6000 submissions – of which it has to date only published c100.
The Government had wanted to have the Bill brought before this sitting of Parliament. But following very soon after a joint letter from most church leaders indicating their strong opposition to the Bill, the Attorney General has now indicated the Government will release an amended version of the Bill before the end of the year but postpone Parliamentary consideration of the issue until next year.Read more
NSWCCL has endorsed the Human Rights for NSW Alliance's submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission's national conversation on human rights in Australia - Free and Equal. The submission makes a number of recommendations and builds the case for a Human Rights Act in NSW.
NSWCCL is a founding member of Human Rights for NSW Alliance. Human Rights for NSW is an alliance of community, legal, rights-based and civil society organisations campaigning to ensure that the human rights of NSW citizens are expressed and guaranteed by law so we are all treated fairly, and with dignity, equality and respect.
This submission is endorsed by 33 member organisations, including Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, Human Rights Law Centre, Community Legal Centres NSW, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT and the NSW Bar Association.
Everyone in NSW deserves to be treated fairly and equally. NSWCCL supports the campaign for a Human Rights Act for NSW.
Religious Discrimination Bill 2019
Policy motion considered at the NSWCCL 2019 Annual General Meeting, 23rd October 2019
NSWCCL cannot support the Religious Discrimination Bill (the Bill) as currently drafted. It has too many negative aspects which will undermine current anti-discrimination protections and it fails to address pressing issues. NSWCCL strongly opposes the privileging of religious freedoms over other rights.Read more
It is clearly important for Australia’s discrimination laws to work cohesively together and for no one right to be automatically privileged over another/others. The protection and balancing of human rights would be greatly assisted by the adoption of an Australian Charter of Human Rights and by a review of Australia’s state and federal human rights laws to ensure the appropriate coherence and consistency. The current Review by the Australian Law Reform Commission into The Framework of Religious Exemptions in Anti-Discrimination Legislation will contribute to this from the perspective of religious rights - but the broader exercise is necessary.
One of the major disappointments with this Bill is the failure to include much needed and explicitly promised protections for LGBTQI+ students in religious and private schools. This Bill has been hastily drawn up in advance of the report from the inquiry into The Framework of Religious Exemptions in Anti-Discrimination Legislation under way by the ALRC, but one of the most urgent and disturbing manifestations of inappropriate religious exemptions for otherwise unlawful discriminatory acts against children has deliberately not been addressed in the Bill and instead left to the ALRC review. Simultaneously the reporting date for the ALRC review has been pushed back to December 2020.
CCL is concerned by what would appear to be a ‘crackdown’ against free speech and basic principles of democratic governance.
The proposed legislation is draconian and disproportionate and might be said to infringe at least two of the four core principles of criminal law –
- that the criminal law should only be used to censure people who have committed substantial wrongdoing, and
- that laws be enforced with respect for proportionality.
This bill appears to be designed to discourage lawful demonstrations and protest contrary to the implied constitutional right to peaceful protest and its constitutionality is for that reason questionable.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) joins with a number of other civil society organisations including unions, environment groups and civil liberties advocates in making the additional submission (set out in Annexure A).
On Thursday 26th September the NSW Parliament at long last acted to remove abortion from the criminal law and regulate it as a women’s health issue with the passage of the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 - (now called the Abortion Reform Law 2019). This is a big and very overdue historical moment for women.
Women in NSW can now legally access terminations up to 22 weeks into their pregnancy in consultation with their doctor. After 22 weeks they can access a termination in consultation with two medical practitioners.
Achieving this in NSW has required a very, very long campaign by numerous organisations and individuals with ups and many downs since the 1960s. This most recent and successful campaign push over several years was sustained by a broad and powerful alliance of organisations encompassing women’s, legal, health, civil liberties and human rights issues. Some of these -such as WEL and NSWCCL - were long term players for abortion reform of 50 years plus.
This campaign knew it had strong, majority support in the community. The challenge was to persuade enough members of the Parliament to act on the will of the people and in the interest of NSW women. This crucial and politically fraught task was led by an expanding cross-party group of parliamentarians. The Independent member for Sydney Alex Greenwich sponsored the Bill. He was initially supported by MLCs Penny Sharp (ALP) and Trevor Khan (National Party) and Jo Haylen (ALP) and the Health Minister Brad Hazzard. This cross-party support grew to 15 co-sponsors - which we suspect is the largest cross-party group supporting a private members bill in the history of the NSW Parliament.Read more