Press Freedom and Whistleblowers
Policy motion considered at the NSWCCL 2019 Annual General Meeting, 23rd October 2019
NSWCCL has for many years defended the rights of a free and uncensored press to ensure the public is sufficiently informed and able to hold those in power to account.
We support the statements of Ita Buttrose at our 2019 annual dinner that there are storm clouds gathering around the ways that information is controlled. Whistleblowers who bring stories to light must not be subjected to a public show of prosecution under the guise of national security, or be censored because their story may cause embarrassment or cost to those in power.
We believe that whistleblowers are not adequately protected in Australia. Particularly in the absence of a bill or charter of rights, specific protection should be enacted.
The New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) welcomes the opportunity to make submissions to the Department of Health on the Health Legislation Amendment (Data- matching) Bill 2019 (Bill) and the Health Legislation Amendment (Permitted Information Disclosure) Regulations 2019.
NSWCCL supports the integrity of the Medicare health payments system provided that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect sensitive information and the privacy of Australians is respected.
NSWCCL objects to the sharing of sensitive health information with other Commonwealth entities and opposes the Bill in its current form. NSWCCL has a number of recommendations detailed in this submission.
NSWCCL has reproduced below the full statement made today by the Chair of the ABC in defence of the independent public broadcaster in response to the intimidating raids by the Australian Federal Police on the ABC and a News Corporation journalist.
We do so because of the profound threat to a free press, to legitimate whistle blowers and to the public's right to know posed by these extraordinary raids.
We do so also because we are greatly relieved that the independent broadcaster has a chair who appears to understand the significance of 'independent' in this context.
ABC Chair Ita Buttrose's statement in full
On behalf of the ABC, I have registered with the Federal Government my grave concern over this week's raid by the federal police on the national broadcaster.
An untrammelled media is important to the public discourse and to democracy.
It is the way in which Australian citizens are kept informed about the world and its impact on their daily lives.
Observance of this basic tenet of the community's right to know has driven my involvement in public life and my career in journalism for almost five decades.
The raid is unprecedented — both to the ABC and to me.
In a frank conversation with the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, yesterday, I said the raid, in its very public form and in the sweeping nature of the information sought, was clearly designed to intimidate.
It is impossible to ignore the seismic nature of this week's events: raids on two separate media outfits on consecutive days is a blunt signal of adverse consequences for news organisations who make life uncomfortable for policy makers and regulators by shining lights in dark corners and holding the powerful to account.
I also asked for assurances that the ABC not be subject to future raids of this sort. Mr Fletcher declined to provide such assurances, while noting the "substantial concern" registered by the Corporation.
There has been much reference in recent days to the need to observe the rule of law.
While there are legitimate matters of national security that the ABC will always respect, the ABC Act and Charter are explicit about the importance of an independent public broadcaster to Australian culture and democracy.
Public interest is best served by the ABC doing its job, asking difficult questions and dealing with genuine whistle-blowers who risk their livelihoods and reputations to bring matters of grave import to the surface.
Neither the journalists nor their sources should be treated as criminals.
In my view, legitimate journalistic endeavours that expose flawed decision-making or matters that policy makers and public servants would simply prefer were secret, should not automatically and conveniently be classed as issues of national security.
The onus must always be on the public's right to know.
If that is not reflected sufficiently in current law, then it must be corrected.
As ABC Chair, I will fight any attempts to muzzle the national broadcaster or interfere with its obligations to the Australian public.
Independence is not exercised by degrees.
It is absolute.
5 June 2019
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the raids on journalists by the Australian Federal Police.
NSW CCL President Pauline Wright said “Today, the Australian Federal Police raided the ABC office. Yesterday, they raided the office of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst. Two raids in two days cannot be a coincidence. We are witnessing what amounts to a state crackdown on journalism. It strikes at the heart of the freedom and independence of the press, which are a cornerstone of democracy."Read more
5 June 2019
NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) is disturbed by and condemns the prosecution of Australian Tax Office (ATO) whistleblower Richard Boyle.
In April 2018, Mr Boyle told the ABC that the ATO was inappropriately and excessively seizing the funds of people assessed as owing the ATO money, regardless of personal circumstances, in an attempt to raise money for the end of the financial year.Read more
1 April 2019
After upholding an application by the NSW Police Commissioner to prohibit a Stop Adani protest scheduled to take place in Newtown in February, the NSW Supreme Court rejected an application by the Police Commissioner that the organizer of the protest pay his legal costs for going to Court.
The Stop Adani protest was intended to proceed along King St, Newtown on 17 February, the same day as Fair Day organized by Mardi Gras in nearby Victoria Park. The Court considered that the level of disruption which would be caused by closing King St for the duration of the Stop Adani protest on the same day as Fair Day justified the making of a prohibition order.Read more
NSWCCL condemns government attempt to rush Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) condemns pressure from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) to rush its review into the Telecommunication and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018.
On 20 September, the Assistance and Access Bill was referred to PJCIS. Submissions to the Inquiry closed on 12 October, and public hearings into the bill are set to continue to 4 December. The purpose of the bill is to enable police and intelligence agencies to undermine the privacy protections of encryption. Media reports indicate that Dutton wrote to PJCIS, urging it to “accelerate its consideration of this vital piece of legislation to enable its passage by the parliament before it rises for the Christmas break."Read more
There are rumours that the Australian Government is moving to refuse a visa to whistle-blower Chelsea Manning who is due to visit Australia soon for a speaking tour.
NSWCCL strongly opposes this as an unwarranted restriction of free speech and of the Australian community's entitlement to hear Chelsea Manning's views directly from her. We accept that Chelsea Manning fails the character test in s.501 of the Migration Act 1958 but dispute that this is adequate grounds to deny her visa. There can be no reasonable apprehension that her speaking tour would cause harm to Australian community or that she will engage in criminal activity while in Australia.
Her situation is entirely different from that of holocost denialists or advocates of violent misogyny who have been appropriately denied visas on character grounds. ,
We are disturbed at suggestions that the US Government may be pressuring the Australian Government to refuse her visa. If this is correct, it would represent foreign interference with Australia’s domestic affairs of a serious and unacceptable nature.
NSWCCL has distributed a public statement urging the Australian Government to defend and promote free speech and grant a visa allowing Chelsea Manning to come to Australia for her planned speaking tour.
To increase participation by healthcare providers and patients, the health records of all Australians are being automatically uploaded onto the My Health Record database unless they opt out between 16 July and 15 October 2018. There will be ability to opt out after this date, but a My Health Record cannot be deleted, only deactivated and removed from view. Consent in an opt out model relies on apathy, rather than encouraging control by the patient. In practice, the opt out process is cumbersome to implement and, in many cases, patients do not have the capability or capacity to exercise the controls to opt out or implement access restrictions. NSWCCL recommends that, unless there are specific health reasons for not doing so, individuals opt out of the MHR.
Uploading of documents by a healthcare provider is permitted by “standing consent” until that consent is withdrawn by the patient. It is recommended that patients exercise their right to withdraw consent and advise their doctors when certain information is not to be uploaded. Audit measures include notification to the patient of first time use by a healthcare “organisation”. However, this and other privacy measures do not eliminate the risk of unauthorised access, unintentional breaches and unwarranted disclosure of patients’ health records, by individuals within or outside those organisations. Proper auditing needs to be specific and visible to the patient, permitting them to decide what level of notification is desired. Disclosure of records should be limited to the minimum number of persons necessary to perform a task.
The Federal “Framework to guide the secondary use of My Health Record system data” is being introduced in 2020. Patients will have to withdraw or opt out of future plans for very broad secondary use of health records, rather than being able to give explicit consent for each disclosure of medical or health data to a third party.
Read more here My Health Record Summary
Statement amended on 26 June: Following media interest, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has responded to criticisms from the NSW Government regarding the breadth of these regulations. CCL appreciates the government’s engagement with our concerns. This statement has been amended to incorporate the Government’s response, which is explained more fully in the final section of this statement. The regulations have also been provided at greater length, to explain other prescribed activities, and to set out penalties stipulated under the regulations. CCL remains opposed to the regulations in question.
On 1 July, new regulations will come into effect, granting the NSW State Government incredibly wide powers to disperse or ban protests, rallies, and virtually any public gathering across approximately half of all land across the state. CCL strongly opposes these regulations. As is explained in the final section, the NSW Government has responded to our criticisms by arguing that the new regulations are broadly the same as previous regulations. This argument is factually correct, although fines that may be imposed under the new regulations have been increased. However, this does not answer criticism of the merit of the regulations.Read more