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


Is Australia failing children accused of crimes?

27 May 2019

On Monday 13 May, ABC’s Four Corners aired a harrowing exposé about the detention in Queensland of youths suspected of criminal wrongdoing in watch houses. Watch houses are adult maximum security facilities, which are used to hold a range of offenders who have been charged with offences ranging from minor street offences to the most series offences, such as paedophilia, and murder.

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Was systemic racism a factor in the death of Aboriginal woman Tanya Day?

24 May 2019

Yorta Yorta woman Ms Day died in hospital on 22 December 2017. Around 3pm on 5 December 2017, she was arrested for allegedly being intoxicated on a train in Castlemaine, Victoria. There is conflicting evidence about the charge. The conductor said Ms Day was unruly, and called police, further alleging she did not have a ticket. The Guardian reported that Ms Day did have a ticket. Other witnesses said Ms Day did not appear intoxicated, though CCTV suggested Ms Day was slightly unsteady on her feet.

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NSWCCL submission to Productivity Commission on Mental Health

The Productivity Commission is currently conducting an inquiry into mental health. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) submission to this inquiry is now online.

Our submission focuses on two issues. First, it addresses features of the justice system, and Aboriginal people with disabilities. It then turns to considering the social security systems, and how these contribute to mental health issues in Australia.

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New and coordinated push for abortion law reform in NSW

A major coordinated campaign to decriminalise abortion in NSW was launched today by a new advocacy coalition - the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance. 

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is a foundation member of this new broad-based Alliance and will continue our half century of advocacy for abortion law reform through active participation in the Alliance campaign.

The formation of this Alliance around a renewed campaign to achieve the long overdue decriminalisation of abortion in NSW is an exciting and significant development.

There is reason to hope this alliance of over 60 organisations will be able to persuade members of the NSW Parliament across political divisions to remove the current archaic and cruel law criminalising abortion and allow the women of NSW the right to make their own decisions about their reproductive health.

After all, this is a right which is available to women in every other state and is supported by a clear majority of the community in NSW.

Pro-Choice goals 

The NSW Pro-­Choice Alliance represents expert legal, health and community voices across NSW. We are campaigning to remove abortion from the NSW Crimes Act and to ensure that abortion is regulated like any other health procedure.

 We recommend the repeal of sections 82­-84 of the NSW Crimes Act 1900 and the implementation of legislation similar to Queensland’s Termination of Pregnancy Act 2018 and Victoria’s Abortion Law Reform Act 2008. 

We seek changes so that the law will:

  • Regulate abortion as a health procedure
  • Ensure consistency with contemporary clinical practice, and public health standards
  • Empower women with the right to choose what happens to their own bodies, and guarantee equal access to safe, high quality healthcare, and
  • Align with international human rights obligations

Next steps

The Alliance will be discussing the proposed reforms with the Government, Opposition and other members of Parliament as well as seeking further community support.

NSWCCL urges CCL members and supporters to contact their local members and members of the Legislative Council and discuss the urgent need for decriminalisation of abortion in NSW.  

 

PCA media statement 2/5/19

List of supporting organisations

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Supreme Court of Western Australia rules bottom pinching isn’t indecent assault

A controversial Local Court judgment in Western Australia in relation to indecent assault has been upheld by the Western Australia Supreme Court. The judgment turned on an agreed set of facts. After a charity wheelchair basketball event, members of the police team prepared to take a group photo. One of the men in the photo said something like “don’t take this the wrong way”, and as the photo was about to be taken, pinched a woman on the side of her right buttock. The woman accepted that this action was intended to be “in some way humorous" and was done "in order to provoke a startled reaction”.

It was agreed that there was an unlawful assault, however the prosecution needed to also show the assault was indecent. Indecent assault carries up to 5 years imprisonment, and a fine of $24,000. For an assault to be indecent, it must have a sexual connotation, and offend against prevailing contemporary community standards of decency and propriety. The Magistrate made a series of findings, concluding that touching a person’s bottom was not necessarily or inherently indecent and the pinch in this case was an example of unlawful but not indecent touching.

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The arrest and threatened extradition of Julian Assange

On Thursday 11 April 2019, Wikileaks founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange was arrested by British police after the Ecuadorian embassy withdrew Assange’s asylum. Assange is currently facing two charges – one concerns failing to surrender to the British courts in 2012. The other charge is at the behest of the United States government, which is seeking to extradite him in relation to an alleged conspiracy between Assange and Chelsea Manning over the leaking of secret documents in 2010.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties President, Pauline Wright, said “No matter what our personal views of Julian Assange may be, there are important matters of principle at stake that go beyond the personalities involved. We must condemn the decision of the United States to seek the extradition and prosecution of a non-citizen who published truthful information about US war crimes. This has clear implications for the protection of whistle-blowers into the future and the independence of the press.” She said “What is to stop more authoritarian regimes claiming a similar right to prosecute Australians in the future, including journalists exposing war crimes or corruption? The Australian government should urge the United Kingdom to block Assange’s extradition to the United States.”

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High Court upholds safe access zones for abortion clinics

High Court protects women’s safe access to abortion clinics

Today the High Court of Australia made a decision which maintains greatly needed legal protections for women seeking reproductive health care - including abortion- in Tasmania and Victoria.  NSWCCL welcomes this unanimous upholding of the current laws in these states.  

The provisions, which provide these protections within a 150-metre safe access zone, had been challenged by anti - abortion campaigners who argued they infringed their right to free speech and political protest.

In rejecting this line of argument, the High Court found that any impediment to free speech or political protest caused by its prohibition within this limited 150 metre zone was ‘negligible’.

This accords with the position NSWCCL took in supporting the passage of the NSW Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics legislation in 2018. We took this position as an organisation which has defended civil liberties for over 50 years and approaches any law which limits free speech or political freedom with great caution.  We considered the NSW legislation to be necessary and reasonable. 

The High Court decision today provides a very welcome level of certainty as to the constitutionality of the NSW safe access zone provisions.

The decision not only provides clarity as to the constitutionality of existing provisions it also provides a context which should facilitate the extension of these much-needed legal protections to women in Western Australia and South Australia.

We extend our thanks to the Human Rights Law Centre and the Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic for their submissions to the High Court in defence of the safe access zones.

In NSW we must now turn our attention to the achievement of abortion law reform in this term of government. 

 

NSWCCL Public Statement on HC decision 

Detailed analysis of HC judgement

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Hands off the ABC: Senate Inquiry finds political interference in ABC

5 April 2019

NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) condemns political interference in the ABC, in the wake of a Senate Report finding political interference in the ABC by the government.

On 1 April, on the eve of the Federal Budget, the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications published its report on “The allegations of political interference in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)”. The committee found that “political interference or the prospect of political interference, and all that that entails, is experienced to varying degrees throughout the ABC.” It also found that “the Coalition Government has been complicit in the events of 2018 and beyond, by using funding as a lever to exert political influence in the ABC.”

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Justice for Nasrin Sotoudeh: CCL urges the release of Iranian political prisoner

4 April 2019

NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has urged the Iranian authorities to release Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer.

Originally arrested in June last year, Sotoudeh has been sentenced to 38 years imprisonment and 148 lashes. The allegations against her include “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” membership in various human rights groups, “disturbing public peace and order” and “publishing falsehoods with the intent to disturb public opinion.” Amnesty International has adopted her as a prisoner of conscience.

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The High Court upholds the cultural value of Aboriginal land

21 March 2019

On 13 March, the High Court of Australia handed down what is widely considered one of the most significant cases on native title since the famous Mabo 2. The case considered the rights of the Ngaliwurru and Nungalli peoples to compensation in relation to their traditional lands in the Northern Territory.

The basic principle of native title is that where Aboriginal people can show that they have traditionally used land in a particular way, they have acquired a kind of right to that land to continue their usage. That right is called native title. Native title can be extinguished in various ways. An example of extinguishment is what happened in Timber Creek. Between 1980 and 1996, the Northern Territory government engaged in 53 acts, such as granting tenure to land, and constructing public works. These extinguishing acts occurred over 127 hectares, to which Aboriginal people up to that point had exercised their native title.

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