It is a great honour to be stepping back into the role of President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties for 2021 and I look forward to continuing the important work that was achieved by CCL during 2020, a year that refocused the attention of all Australians on the vital importance of our rights and freedoms and threw into sharp relief their fragility. The State and Federal Governments’ emergency responses to the COVID-19 pandemic graphically illustrated the need for CCL and like-minded organisations in civil society to remain vigilant in protecting our civil liberties and human rights.
Thanks to Nicholas Cowdery AO QC FAAL
But before I go on to outline some of the priorities we will pursue in 2021, I would like to thank Nicholas Cowdery for his exemplary work as President of CCL from November 2019 until January 2021. He has been an exceptional spokesperson for the organisation and has advocated on many issues including drug law reform, the inadequacy of police responses to survivors of sexual assault, a coherent government drug and alcohol policy based on health and social foundations rather than criminal law, the over-use of strip-searching, laws to enable voluntary assisted dying, truth in political advertising, the need for a national integrity commission, raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 and justice for First Nations Australians.
His advocacy for the balanced use of emergency powers during the pandemic was outstanding and his concerns about the lack of parliamentary oversight of those powers during periods of suspension were apt. He rightly observed at the time that 'even the darkest days of the world wars did not force parliament to close for extended periods'.
These are only a few of the issues through which he so effectively led CCL. I’m sure you will join me in thanking him for his remarkable achievement. It is a great privilege to be taking on the role after his inspiring term as President.
You can read Nicholas Cowdery's Outgoing President's report HERE.
Priorities for 2021
The extraordinary year of 2020, which saw the dramatic curtailment of our freedom of movement, tracing of our movement and other restrictions by governments grappling with a health crisis, threw into sharp relief the need for a Human Rights Act in NSW, and a Federal Charter of Rights. Our advocacy for these will remain a priority in 2021.
The inequities faced by First Nations people in the justice system, and society more broadly will be a major focus of CCL in 2021, as we support the implementation of the Statement from the Heart and work with members of First Nations peoples to advocate for solutions that are community-led and aligned with principles of self-determination.
We will continue our dogged advocacy for a better system for people seeking asylum in Australia, for an improved visa system for refugees and for community solutions rather than detention, which is unjustifiably costly both in financial and human terms.
In the age of big data, it is essential that we continue our effective work on data retention and privacy, freedom of speech and censorship, open government and whistle-blower protection.
We must also remain vigilant to secure fundamental rights in the face of ever-greater powers being sought and granted to Australian authorities in the name of national security and counter-terrorism.
The importance of the right to protest also came into sharp focus in 2020, with Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the globe. Police responses to demonstrators is of continuing concern as is the over-use of strip searching, including of minors, and the inappropriate use of sniffer dogs. Our work in these important areas will be ongoing.
Other priority issues will include women's rights, climate justice, LGBTIQ rights including limiting the ability of schools to discriminate against students and teachers and resisting pressure to weaken anti-discrimination laws.
So, we certainly have our work cut out for us in 2021. I am looking forward to the challenge!