NSWCCL notes with concern a request from NSW police for support from the Australian Defence Force to enforce COVID-19 restrictions. While the army has previously been used to enforce border restrictions and hotel quarantine, the use of the army to control citizens as they go about their daily lives is an unprecedented escalation.
This is a health crisis, not a national security crisis, and it must be approached as such. As noted by NSWCCL committee member Lydia Shelly in an article in the Guardian, the disproportionate policing of lower socio-economic areas that historically have a strained relationship with police is not the answer.
The NSWCCL is calling for the disallowance of proposed regulations could that could prevent charities from engaging in important advocacy work.
The regulations would allow the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) to deregister an organisation if it “reasonably believes” its members are likely to commit a summary offence.
We echo concerns expressed by many charities that the regulations could empower the regulator to deregister a charity for attending or promoting protests where minor offences are committed without the charity's knowledge or involvement.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is deeply concerned by the escalation in legal sanctions faced by journalists in the course of their work, as highlighted by the recent high profile Friendlyjordies case.
Friendlyjordies, or Jordan Shanks-Markovina, is a well known YouTuber and online commentator. In a number of videos, Shanks-Markovina is deeply critical of the Deputy Premier, John Barliaro, leading to a defamation case over two videos that John Barilaro alleged were part of a smear campaign against him.
In itself, this was troubling enough: a politician in an uncomfortable position may find that a defamation case provides a convenient shield against having to answer any further awkward questions. Meanwhile, defending such cases can be an extremely costly and time-consuming exercise, giving publications significant pause for thought before publishing strong critiques of people who might be inclined to sue. (For more, see NSWCCL on politicians and defamation).
But what came next was extraordinary.
Prompted by a complaint to police by Barilaro, Friendlyjordies producer Kristo Langker was arrested by the NSW Fixated Persons Investigations Unit (FPIU) and charged with stalking Barilaro.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is deeply concerned by the tendency of Australian politicians to employ defamation law against journalists and critics. This behaviour has a significant potential chilling effect on freedom of expression, undermining our ability to hold politicians to account.