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: Social Media and Australian Society

The advent of social media has had wide-ranging ramifications for Australian society. NSWCCL is particularly concerned about the corrosive effects that some social media content can have on the civil liberties that the Australian people deserve. Troublingly, this is a phenomenon which – due to its rapid development – is currently outpacing regulators. 

The default principle is that all Australians should have access to a wide array of information and ideas without restrictions unless there is good reason to limit this access. Not only is this principle an essential aspect of freedom of expression, it is also at the heart of Australia’s democratic ideal, in which people have access to the information and ideas that inform their vote. 

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Submission: Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association

The right to protest comes from the implied freedom of political communication found in the Australian Constitution. It means while Australians may not explicitly have a right to protest, governments are expressly forbidden from introducing any laws which might impede a person's right to express themselves or protest. Despite this, the NSW government (alongside state governments in other jurisdictions) has introduced some of the most draconian anti-protest legislation in Australia which is accompanied by a stigmatising narrative of fear and security risk against protestors.

The NSWCCL submits that in New South Wales, section 144G of the Roads Act 1993 (NSW) (‘Roads Act’) and section 214A of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (‘Crimes Act’) significantly infringe people’s rights to freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of political communication, and ought to be repealed. These restrictive and repressive laws create an environment where stigmatising narratives flourish in sections of politics, media and law enforcement in Australia. There's a prevalent narrative enabled by these laws emphasising security threats and perceptions of disruption associated with public protests.

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Submissions: Review of Part 4AF of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) and Review of Part 9, Division 7 in line with section 144H of the Roads Act 1993 (NSW)

We think these terrible laws should be repealed. The right to protest is a fundamental democratic right that allows us to express our views, shape our societies, and press for social change. In NSW, and nationally across Australia, it is under attack.

In April 2022, the NSW Parliament passed legislation to prevent “illegal protesting” on major roads, bridges, tunnels, public transport, and infrastructure facilities. The legislation amends section 144G the Roads Act 1993 which criminalises causing serious disruption by entering, remaining on or trespassing on prescribed major bridges and tunnels, to now include all “main roads”. Offences carry a maximum penalty of $22,000 or two years in gaol, or both.

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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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