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


On the use of sniffer dogs, and unacceptably broad police powers of exclusion at Sydney Olympic Park

NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the six-month bans handed out to patrons of the Above and Beyond music festival, on the basis of identification by drug sniffer dogs. NSW Police announced before the event that they would exclude patrons, regardless of whether any drugs were found after indications by the drug dogs.

CCL is deeply concerned by these bans. According to the NSW Ombudsman, when drug dogs indicate a person has drugs on them, those dogs are right about a quarter of the time. NSW Police have reportedly ripped up the tickets of people just because they were identified by drug dogs, even when no drugs were found. In effect, the police have declared a willingness to infringe on the rights of people who have done nothing wrong.

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NSW Parliament passes safe access to abortion clinics bill

At about 1:26am this morning (8th June 2018) the NSW Parliament passed the  Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2018.  It had been a long day and night. While there was little doubt that the Bill had majority support, its cross-party supporters had to fend off 19 separate amendments which would have in various ways undermined the object of and the effectiveness of the Bill. 

In the end all amendments were defeated and the Parliament did the right thing by women and endorsed the Bill  by 62 votes to 18 - a comfortable majority of 44.

This is a very significant and overdue win for women in NSW.  They are now protected by law from the distressing harassment and invasion of privacy that so many have had to endure when entering a reproductive clinic for an abortion or other medical support about their reproductive health. Staff working in these clinics will also be spared from both direct  harassment and the stress of receiving distressed clients who have had to run the gamut of such harassment.  

NSWCCL joined many others in supporting this Bill since it was introduced into Parliament by ALP MLC Penny Sharpe a year ago. In doing this, we were conscious that the effect would be to constrain some rights of anti-abortion protesters around  reproductive clinics offering abortion services.  However given the objective was the protection of women accessing lawful services from serious harassment and intimidation in a limited zone, we consider its provisions to be reasonable and necessary.

The Bill was successful because of cross party support that was achieved in recent weeks. The Labor Party and the Greens supported it - the Government allowed a conscience vote and National Party MLC Trevor Khan gave the Bill the needed extra support by co-sponsoring it with Penny Sharpe. 

It is a very welcome outcome.

Hopefully it is a prelude to the eventual decriminalization of abortion in NSW. 

 

Lesley Lynch

 

NSWCCL public statement safe access bill 2018

Safe Access Zone Bill 2018

 

 

 

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Safe access to abortion clinics - in with a chance!

One year after it was introduced into the Parliament by Labor MLC Penny Sharpe, a private  members bill to provide much needed protection and privacy for women accessing abortion clinics in NSW will return to Parliament for debate today. 

This time the bill - Public Health Amendment(Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill - will be co-sponsored by the National's MLC Trevor Khan as well as Penny Sharpe - a significant step towards cross party support from within the Government.  Both the Labor and Greens parties  have committed to support the bill so there is a definite chance that it might actually be passed before Parliament rises at the end of May.  

The bill seeks to provide effective legal protection for women from harassment and intimidation as they access reproductive health clinics for advice or a pregnancy termination.  The level of this intimidation and harassment that women regularly encounter outside these facilities is totally unacceptable. It generates distress, embarrassment - and sometimes fear  - and breaches the privacy of women seeking to access a legal medical procedure. 

Current NSW laws relating to harassment and intimidation are inadequate in this context - as was the case in other states and territories which have put into place similar specific safe access laws for women's access abortion centres.  

NSWCCL's policy has for many years been to campaign for the decriminalization of abortion. Last year such a bill was introduced by Green's MLC Mehreen Faruqi  only to fail in the Legislative Council. Nonetheless we are confident that the NSW Parliament will eventually have to accept women’s right to make their own reproductive choices and respond to the strong community support for this right to be reflected in the law. 

In the interim we give our full support to this necessary, sensible and proportionate Bill.  

Its sponsors are optimistic but we in recent times saw the euthanasia bill unexpectedly defeated in the Legislative Council. All who support this bill need to actively advocate for it over the next two weeks to encourage sympathetic coalition MPs to consider supporting it.   

 

NSWCCL Public Statement on safe Access Bill 2018

Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics Bill 2017  

 

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CCL opposes exclusion of criminal offenders from compensation scheme

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties calls on the Federal Government to provide compensation to victims of institutional child sexual abuse, whether or not they have subsequently been convicted of serious crimes. 

The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs has recently published its report on the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Institutional Child Sexual Abuse. The report notes that the Attorney General has indicated that a final position has not yet been determined on the proposed exclusion of criminal offendors, and that a discretionary approach to exclusions could be considered.

Although a discretionary approach is an improvement on the original exclusionary approach, we do not consider it to be the preferred option. 

Punishments for crimes are determined by the courts after carefully considering all the circumstances.  It is not appropriate for politicians to add to those penalties, especially when they do not consider the individual circumstances that may mitigate a victim’s guilt. 

The Council considers that the Government’s actions in excluding those who have been convicted of serious crimes from compensation serve no good purpose and fail to take into account the compelling evidence before the Senate inquiry that a history of childhood abuse is a significant causative factor for offending later in life. 

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Concern regarding disproportionate police response to peaceful bicycle helmet protest

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is concerned by the heavy handed response of the NSW Police to a peaceful protest on Saturday 17th March 2018 by people on bikes calling for reform to mandatory helmet laws.

While coordinated action in other cities across Australia and New Zealand passed without incident, in Sydney the police dispatched seven police cars to intercept and stop a planned "helmet optional" bike ride along the Grand Drive cycle lane in Centennial Park, threatening participants with $330 fines.

This action by police was grossly disproportionate to any conceivable safety concerns, a waste of public resources, and fails to respect the fundamental right to peaceful protest in a democratic society. Any fines issued during the protest should be immediately withdrawn.

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Electoral funding bill - reform or suppression of civil society voices

NSWCCL recently joined with other CCLs to oppose the deeply disturbing Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform Bill 2017.

This Bill will not deliver the reform to electoral funding that is urgently needed in Australia. It will however, deliver a devastating blow to civil society’s capacity to participate in political advocacy and to the broad freedom of political communication.  

In addition, it proposes a clumsy, heavy handed, costly and overly burdensome approach to regulation of the charity and political advocacy sectors. 

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Religious Freedom Review

NSWCCL Submission: Religious Freedom Review

There are four areas in which rights might be better dealt with in Australian law: freedom of speech, (for and against religions), freedom to practise, freedom from discrimination and protection against hate speech and incitement to violence.

This submission is in the way of a statement of the NSWCCL’s general views on the issue and 
areas we think are in need of attention:

  • Human rights and Australia’s obligations: International law
  • Australian Law—a summary.
  • Four areas in which rights might be better dealt with in Australian law
  • The relation between freedom of religion and other rights.
  • The functions of a bill of rights.
  • Relevant sections of Australian bills of rights.
  • Balancing principles.
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Submission to New South Wales Law Reform Commission: Review of Guardianship Act 1987 - February 2018

We acknowledge that persons without decision-making abilities, or a limitation thereof, are vulnerable members of society, and such persons should be supported to make decisions concerning crucial aspects of their lives in order to be afforded an opportunity to live as  comfortably and freely as others. Hence, insofar as the draft proposals of the New South Wales Law Reform Commission (‘NSWLRC’) on its review of the Guardianship Act 1987 (NSW) promote these individuals’ civil liberties in both the public and private domains, we support the proposed changes to the current arrangements existing under the Guardianship Act 1987 (NSW).

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NSWCCL Submission: The Role and Function of the Legislation Review Committee

The Legislation Review Committee (LRC) was created as an alternative to the adoption of a
Bill of Rights for New South Wales. It has not functioned well, and is no substitute for such a
bill.

 

 

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Policy statement (2017) - voluntary assisted dying

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has long supported the legalisation of Voluntary Assisted Dying measures.  While noting that, compared with existing VAD legislation in other jurisdictions, it is very conservative, the NSWCCL will actively campaign for the passage of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill currently before the NSW Parliament.

Stephen Blanks comments that what is not before the public is advanced legislation in NSW and it will come to the table 15 November or sometime later next month. We have a motion which is very timely and in reflection in our long support the bill before the NSW parliament.

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