Free speech, media freedoms, privacy & whistleblowing

Core concerns for this group are protecting free speech and free media from unwarranted censorship and constraint and promoting open government and whistle-blower protection.


Submission: AI technologies in Australia

The NSW Council of Civil Liberties submits that the proliferation Artificial Intelligence (AI) poses significant risks to the civil rights of the Australian public, despite providing many new social and economic opportunities. As it stands, Australia’s regulatory system fails to fully address and balance these risks against the wealth of opportunities – an issue that will grow with increased use of these technologies.

Our submission responds to two issues arising out of the Terms of Reference presented by the Select Committee on Adopting AI: (e) opportunities to foster a responsible AI industry in Australia; and (f) potential threats to democracy in institutions from generative AI.

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Joint letter to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus urging freedom of information reform

Dear Attorney-General,

Freedom of information reform is long overdue.

We write to urge the Government to act on the recommendations made in the recent report of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee’s inquiry into the operation of the Commonwealth Freedom of Information (‘FOI’) laws.

As you will be aware, the Committee unanimously acknowledged the need for urgent reform to the FOI system. The Committee’s report describes a highly dysfunctional, under-resourced FOI regime, citing multi-year delays, excessive use of exemptions, problematic interpretations of FOI laws, prohibitive expenses, and cultural issues within the Australian Public Service (‘APS’) and at the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (‘OAIC’).

While in opposition, Labor rightly decried a culture of secrecy and impunity that thrived under the Morrison Government. Now in government, your department has taken positive steps toward remedying this, including establishing the National Anti-Corruption Commission and introducing legislation to establish the new Administrative Review Tribunal.

While we welcome these reforms, we note that the Albanese Government has continued to under-resource and under-prioritise the reform of FOI— a core transparency function, vital for restoring integrity and public trust in government.

The recommendations contained in the Senate Committee’s report represent a comprehensive, actionable blueprint for reform, and an opportunity for the Albanese Government to demonstrate its election commitment to open government and a strong democracy.

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Submission: Access to Australian Parliament House by lobbyists

At present in Australia we rely on a public lobbyist Register and a Code of Conduct that does not cover the majority of lobbyists. Third party, or commercial lobbyists are paid professionals who are engaged by clients to make representations to influence public officials on their behalf, while in-house lobbyists are those that seek to influence public officials on behalf of their employer. Industries hire professional in-house lobbyists and former politicians for their connections, paying fees well outside the budget of non-corporate actors. This is simply NOT good enough!

Fossil fuel industry lobbyists have included former Liberal Party, National Party and ALP ministers. We know that lobbying by the fossil fuel industry to hinder effective climate action has been successful in slowing down Australia’s response to the Climate Crisis. Recent history shows us that relentless lobbying knocked out Australia’s chance to have an effective emissions trading scheme, a mining tax and price on carbon. If the halls of Parliament are saturated by industry lobbyists and not counterbalanced by community voices, politicians’ views will be skewed to favour industry.

Safeguarding our democracy from the pressures of big money and big influence will improve the functioning of government and ensure that political outcomes are in the public’s best interests. The Australian public deserve those who they have elected to serve their interests – and their interests alone.

Australians are at risk of further losing faith and trust in our civil institutions, our political institutions and our elected politicians if Governments do not embrace transparency and accountability advocated in our submission.

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Submission: Inquiry into the administration of the 2023 NSW state election & other matters

Misinformation and disinformation in political advertising is a widespread problem in Australia. We think, that NSW should have truth in political advertising laws for NSW state elections and believe that such laws would enhance the integrity and transparency of the electoral system. Misleading political advertising can cause serious societal harms including:

  • the erosion of trust in democratic processes;
  • the weakening of trust between and among public and private entities;
  • the weakening legitimacy of the social contract between voters and elected representatives; and
  • the undermining of an informed populace.

In our submission to Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (Committee) regarding the administration of the 2023 NSW state election and other matters. We express views in respect of:

  • political donations from property developers, including through shell companies and charities;
  • truth in political advertising;
  • the timeliness of political donation disclosures; and
  • electoral participation and enfranchisement, particularly regarding imprisoned persons and people living with disability.

Read our submission here.

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Submission: Future foundations for giving draft report

NSWCCL endorses the draft recommendations of the Commission which will bring reforms to the Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) system, making it more transparent, simpler, fairer and more consistent. The current DGR system is complex legislation and operates under outdated categories that do not capture the diversity of modern Australian charities. In our submission we comment specifically on areas that require further action to ensure a more democratic process and that align more consistently with civil rights. Our submission also concentrates on the system that determines which entities in Australia can receive tax deductable donations rather than tax incentives encouraging donation.  

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Submission: Digital ID Bill 2023

In our submission about the Australian Government Digital Identity System (AGDIS) we have underscored our commitment to safeguarding civil liberties in the face of evolving digital identity systems.

While NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) endorses the codification of AGDIS, which includes the Document Verification Service and facial verification technology, concerns persist regarding the lack of an effective legal framework. Recent high-profile data breaches underscore the urgency of regulation and enforcement in identity protection. The impetus for the swift introduction of this legislation is the imperative to address cybercrime, but recent amendments fall short in addressing crucial issues.

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the introduction today of the #CleanUpPoliticsAct

NSW Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the introduction today of the Clean Up Politics Act to improve the transparency and honesty in dealings between lobbyists and Government representatives.

The Clean Up Politics Act has been driven by the hard work and determination of Independent Member for Kooyong, Dr Monique Ryan. The Council thanks and acknowledges Dr Ryan’s consistent advocacy in this space.

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Policy: The Right to Protest

2023 NSWCCL AGM

Item 7.1 The Right to Protest

Under Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to peaceful assembly shall be recognised. No restrictions may be imposed unless the protest is an imposition to national security, public safety, public order, the protection of public health, morals or the rights and freedoms of others. Australia has ratified this international agreement and therefore laws should not be passed that are inconsistent with this right. 

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Open Letter: Peak Bodies & Trade Unions call on Premier to affirm support for the right to protest

Today NSW Council for Civil Liberties joined with Trade Unions, Civil and Human Rights Organisations calling on the NSW Premier to publicly affirm the government’s support for the right to protest.

  • NTEU NSW Division
  • Amnesty International Australia
  • Australian Centre for International Justice
  • Public Interest Advocacy Centre
  • Community Legal Centres Australia
  • Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
  • Australian Democracy Network
  • Human Rights Law Centre
  • Maritime Union of Australia Sydney Branch
  • Australian Services Union
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NSWCCL Sticks up for Yes 23 Campaigners in Sydney's CBD

Yesterday the Council wrote to Hon Paul Scully MP,  Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, to stand up for Yes23 campaigners who have been moved along by Council Rangers while handing out information relating to the referendum to change the Australian Constitution.

It is a fundamental part of our democratic system of government that people can freely associate, distribute material, and communicate with others about changes to the Australian Constitution. We were alarmed by these actions on behalf of the State which are fundamentally undemocratic and a draconian breach of civil liberties.

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