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Submission: Regulatory framework for cannabis in NSW

Cannabis is criminalised in New South Wales (NSW) with use, possession, cultivation and supply being the key offences. Cannabis has long been the most widely used illicit drug in Australia. In 2022–2023, 11.5% of people in Australia had used cannabis in the previous 12 months, around 2.5 million people. In comparison, the next most common illicit drugs (cocaine and ecstasy) were used by around 3% of Australians.

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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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The Guardian: ‘We should all be furious’: Aboriginal people make up record 31% of adult prison population in NSW

New figures released on Tuesday show that the number of Aboriginal adults and young people in NSW prisons is the highest on record.

In March, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Bocsar) reported that the number of Aboriginal adults in prison had hit a record high. Aboriginal adults now make up 31% of the prison population.

“To put that in perspective, in NSW, 3.2% of adults are Aboriginal, and one in 29 Aboriginal men in NSW are currently incarcerated,” said Bocsar executive director Jackie Fitzgerald.

“Alarmingly, NSW is no longer on track to meet its Close the Gap target to reduce the rate of Aboriginal adults in prison.” The goal was to decrease the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults held in custody by at least 15% by 2031.

Of the 12,456 adults in prison in March, 3,841 were Indigenous. This rise is not limited to adults, Fitzgerald noted.

Aboriginal young people now account for two-thirds (66.4%) of the youth detention population, which is also a new record in NSW. The overwhelming majority of Aboriginal youth in detention are on remand (78.4%), mainly for offenses like break and enter (29.3%) and car theft (22.4%).

“This is a crisis we should all be outraged about,” said Nadine Miles, principal legal officer of the Aboriginal Legal Service.

“The mass incarceration of Aboriginal people in NSW is the direct result of government policies developed without community input, which allow continued discrimination against Aboriginal people in the legal system.” NSW Premier Chris Minns acknowledged the statistics as a “major issue” facing the state.

“We want to work with Capo [the NSW Coalition of Aboriginal Peak Organisations] and other peak Indigenous organisations to reduce the rate of incarceration,” Minns said.

“That means addressing the underlying causes of crime in our communities.”

When asked if the state’s proposed knife-wanding laws would increase the number of Aboriginal people in custody, he said it was “difficult to say” but expressed hope that it would lead to a cultural change.

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SIGN OUR PETITION: OPPOSE THE KNIFE AND BAIL LAWS

It is time that Premier Minns and the Labor Government tell the people of New South Wales the truth:

  • These newly announced “Knife and Bail laws” will not make communities safer. We know from the independent research that the opposite is true.
  • These laws evidence the substantial lengths the current Government will go to distract communities from the abysmal and chronic underfunding of mental health and frontline services that go to the heart of crime prevention.T
  • These laws allow the police to have extraordinary and unprecedented search powers that will allow members of the public to be subject to a police search without reasonable suspicion and will disproportionately target young people, First Nations and CALD people and LGBTQI+ communities.
  • These laws cement Labor’s role in being part of the problem and not part of the solution.
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Media Statement: A weak government will always make weak laws

We call on the Minns Government to abandon these reckless, and ill-conceived laws and instead, convene a meeting of the Government, the Opposition and main stakeholders within the criminal justice system and civil liberties community to chart a way forward with respect to bail and criminal law reform.

We call on the Minns Government to stop their reckless and reactive policy announcements and commit, like the previous Liberal Government did, to utilise the established State Government law reform bodies such as the Law Reform Commission and the Sentencing Council, to drive evidence based policy solutions.

New South Wales now has the highest rate of adults on remand on record, as well as the number of Aboriginal adults on record on remand. We have officially abandoned the Close the Gap target. The Premier has introduced changes to bail that will see our prison populations explode for people charged with offences but who have not been convicted of any criminal offence.

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Media Statement: It is not books that Cumberland Council should fear – it is their own prejudice

We are aware that the Cumberland Councillors are meeting tomorrow to vote on whether they should overturn their discriminatory decision to ban Holly Duhig’s book “A Focus on Same-Sex Parents”.

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties calls on the Cumberland Councillors to overturn their motion and publicly affirm that they will abide by their own Code of Conduct, but the values of equality, diversity, and freedom of expression. 

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Guardian: Labor councillor stands by vote to ban same-sex parenting books in Sydney council libraries – as it happened

Book banning does not ‘bode well for social cohesion’, civil liberties council says

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties says the decision of a Sydney council to ban a book on same-sex parenting is “out of step with Australian values and is discriminatory”.

NSWCCL president Lydia Shelly said that banning books is the “polar opposite” of what public libraries are intended for – to provide “essential repositories of knowledge and information [with] spaces for learning, exploration, and intellectual freedom”.

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Media Statement: Happy birthday to the Kings Cross Medically Supervised Injecting Centre

This month marks twenty-three years since the opening of the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre in King's Cross. With no deaths from drug overdose on the premises since the beginning of operation, this is an incredible milestone, delivering decades of lifesaving, compassionate and evidence-based care to some of the most vulnerable people in our community.

In 1999, the Carr Government hosted a NSW Drug Summit that recommended the establishment of a medically supervised injecting centre.

In the years since, the Centre has provided supervision for over 1.28 million injections, provided clinical support during 11,371 overdoses without a single death, and made nearly 23,000 health and welfare referrals. The Centre has become a model of care for harm reduction across the globe.

The Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre is a story of evidence-based harm reduction policy in action. Yet, the current NSW Government has seemingly stalled on the further progress it promised.

Last week NSW Council for Civil Liberties came together with leaders in the sector including Uniting, ACON, Unharm, Drug Offender Program and USYD to talk about what’s driving this inaction and what can, and should, happen to reform NSW Drug Laws.

The promised Drug Summit is an election commitment that has not yet been delivered. It should be an opportunity to recast the problematic use of drugs as a matter of public health policy with whole of government implications, but we are yet to have a date. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Uniting, ACON, Unharm and the Drug Offender Program call on the Minns Government to commit to a date and to a community inclusive agenda for the 2024 Drug Summit.

SIGN OUR PETITION HERE calling on all NSW Parliamentarians to support a 2024 NSW Drug Summit which takes an all of government approach, and the program includes public forums, regional and rural engagement, diverse and multicultural communities; meaningful engagement with stakeholders across festivals, nightlife venues, community groups, legal and justice stakeholders, the education sector and the health sector.

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AAP: 'Leave the knife at home': new laws to keep people safe

Jack Gramenz and Samantha Lock: NSW police will be able to stop and search people for a weapon without reasonable suspicion or a warrant under new laws designed to make the public feel safer and deter people from carrying knives.

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Media Statement: NSWCCL Condemns Cumberland Council's decision to ban books

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is disappointed in Cumberland council's decision which propagates a harmful prejudice that children need to be 'protected' from LGBTQI+ families.

What is actually true is that LGBTQI+ families and their children are greater at risk of harm from discrimination and exclusion arising from these prejudices. 

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The Mandarin: The social impact of digital ID

A national, government-regulated digital ID scheme certainly presents advantages. It simplifies the process of verifying our identities online and reduces the number of organizations with which we must share our personal information. However, Human Rights groups have begun considering the long-term implications of such a system, calling for greater protection of peoples rights. 

Michelle Falstein, a lawyer and an executive member of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL), has some concerns.

“By linking personal identities across federal, state and local governments and the private sector, the federal government will have complete oversight of the lives of Australians,” Falstein says.

“The COVID pandemic ushered in a period of rapid normalisation of the sharing of personal information by Australians. Australians surrendered, and continue to surrender, their data, enabling mass collection, linking and storage of sensitive data by Australian governments and other online organisations … 

“Australians will now have to trust that government will use that information wisely and for their benefit.”

Falstein describes the digital ID scheme as a part of a broader trend of increasing ‘datafication’ of Australians’ lives.

“This trend raises concerns about the concentration of power and information in the hands of government or corporate entities, with potential implications for democracy, autonomy and individual rights. 

“The NSWCCL emphasises the need for responsible data governance frameworks that prioritise privacy, security and ethical use of data.”

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Honi Soit: NSW Anti-protest laws under departmental review: open letter demands transparency.

In an open letter, civil rights groups have demanded the government either repeal the "anti-democratic" anti-protest laws in NSW or include a community consultation component in the ongoing review of the 2022 amendments. The review of these controversial laws, which criminalize protesting on major roads with penalties of up to $22,000 and/or two years in prison, has been conducted behind closed doors since April 1. These amendments to section 144G of the Roads Act 1993 have significantly intensified the stakes for protestors accross NSW.

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Letter: Proposed increased police powers will only do more harm

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties has serious concerns with respect to the recently announced “wanding” laws set to be introduced in New South Wales.

We understand that these laws would allow New South Wales police officers (of all ranks) to approach members of the public and to subject them to a search (without reasonable suspicion) under the guise that they may be carrying a knife.

We are concerned that the expansion of police powers will result in young people from low socioeconomic regions, particularly those from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities (CALD), First Nations communities and people without fixed address, being subject to increased surveillance, harassment and intervention. It may also lead to an increase in people being charged for drug possession and other public order offences. We do not believe that these laws will have the same impact on communities in more affluent areas of Sydney and will disproportionately impact already vulnerable communities with poor relationships with the police.

These laws do not reflect the policies that the NSW Labor Government promised the public prior to the election, particularly around drug law reform and civil liberties.  With knife crime rates declining, and the penalty already having increased, as one of the first actions of the Minns government after the election last year, there is no reason for further action. Proactive policing does not serve as a deterrent for crime, nor does criminalisation and increased penalties.

The people of New South Wales deserve to have their government invest in evidence based, frontline youth services and community-led initiatives that strike at the heart of crime prevention, mental health illness and are centred on strengthening social cohesion and our civil liberties.

Read our letter to the NSW Attorney General here.

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Joint Media Statement: Support for the Gaza Solidarity Encampment

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Letter to the Prime Minister: Please meet with your constituents

Dear Prime Minister,

I write in my capacity as the President of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, one of Australia’s leading human rights and civil liberties organisations. The Council is non-political, non-religious and non-sectarian. We are a Non-Government Organisation in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, by resolution 2006/221 (21 July 2006).

I have written to you on two earlier occasions on the issue of Australia’s position with respect to Palestine; including a joint letter issued with Liberty Victoria. To date, I have not received a response to the issues raised in those letters.

On this occasion I write in relation to the peaceful vigil that is being held outside your electorate office regarding the ongoing violence destroying the lives and futures of tens of thousands innocent civilians in Palestine.

We recognise this vigil as a legitimate exercise of democratic freedoms available in Australia. The vigil is noteworthy in that the organisers, their families and attendees are diverse in their religious beliefs and cultural heritage. Importantly, the organisers and many of the protestors live in your electorate – they are your constituents.

We understand that the primary purpose of the participants in the vigil is to achieve an occasion on which they can communicate directly to you, as their electoral representative and as Prime Minister of Australia, their views in relation to the events in Gaza and how they affect people in Australia.

Public confidence in our governmental and political institutions requires elected officials to engage with their constituents, particularly in relation to matters of international significance such as the current events in Palestine which directly affect so many people in Australia.  We strongly believe that an important part of a healthy democracy is constituent access to elected representatives. 

We are concerned that you are yet to meet with participants in the vigil and to give them the opportunity to share their concerns with you personally.

This could understandably be perceived as a breach of your obligations towards them and damaging to public confidence in Australia’s democracy.

We urge you to meet with your constituents and allow them to ventilate their concerns.

The Council remains available to you and your office if you require any further information with respect to the issues raised herein.

Yours faithfully,

Lydia Shelly

President

Read our letter here.

 

 

 

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GlobeEcho: Two additional men arrested for involvement in Wakeley church disturbance

A 28-year-old man has been arrested and charged with threatening violence and causing fear after a riot at Horningsea Park.

This resulted in injuries to over 50 police officers and forced paramedics to take shelter in a church for more than three hours while managing the crowd. In response to the violence, Premier Chris Minns underscored his confidence in religious leaders' denouncement of violence and warned that any further unrest would undermine their authority.

The first count appearance was 19-year-old Dani Mansour who was granted bail and admitted that his participation in the riot was a mistake. Additionally, an assault on a 53-year-old religious leader during the incident has been officially classified as a terrorist act by the police. The 16-year-old suspected of this attack is currently hospitalized under police supervision and is set to be evaluated by a forensic psychologist. His attorney has indicated that the teenager has longstanding mental health issues that could have influenced his behavior.

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Media Statement: Kneejerk law and order responses will continue to make women at risk of being harmed and murdered

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties joins our community in mourning the intolerable rates of women being murdered in Australia. Eleven women have been murdered in the month of April alone. In 2024, the rate of murdered women has doubled compared to this time last year. 

The Council supports the rallies occurring across the country over the weekend demanding an end to gendered violence.

We are also aware of the most recent alleged murder of a young mother in Forbes and support the recently announced inquiry into the alleged murder. 

The rising rate of domestic violence has not abated in NSW, even after new laws and tougher penalties were introduced over the past six years. This scourge will not be solved by kneejerk legislative responses (including expanding police powers and restricting bail) under the guise of making women safer. 

We have written to the NSW Attorney General with respect to the structural and cultural changes that need to be made as a matter of urgency. Importantly, we echo the sentiments expressed by the former NSW Magistrate, David Heilpern. 

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Letter: The Hon. Michael Daley structural change for domestic and family violence policy

Dear Attorney General

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties joins our community in mourning the intolerable rates of women being murdered in Australia. Eleven women have been murdered in the month of April alone. In 2024, the rate of murdered women has doubled compared to this time last year.

The rising rate of domestic violence has not abated in NSW, even after new laws and tougher penalties were introduced over the past six years. We strongly believe that this scourge cannot be solved by expanding of police powers.  If we are to reduce the occurrence of these types of horrendous crimes, we must ensure that structural failures within our criminal justice system and our communities are appropriately understood, addressed and funded. Without appropriate resourcing and funding, laws are rendered impotent.

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Submission: Jury Amendment Bill 2023

The NSWCCL recognises the importance of increasing the efficiency of jury empanelment, the provision of enhanced support for jurors to perform their role and reducing the expenditure of resources on trials that are ultimately aborted or result in hung juries. The NSWCCL also recognizes the validity of majority verdict legislation in criminal and coronial trials.

However, the NSWCCL is concerned that the proposed amendment to section 55F of the Jury Act 1977 (the Act) may compromise a jury’s ability to properly consider the guilt or innocence of an accused person, and that such a compromise is made in exchange for a speculative and nominal reduction in the expenditure of resources on trials and reduction in hung juries.

The NSWCCL is further concerned that the proposed amendment to section 73A(1) of the Act unnecessarily broadens the investigative power of the NSW Sheriff’s Office (Sheriff). The broadening of the investigative power is significant and not safeguarded or constrained by current legislation.

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NSWCCL Media Statement: Freedom Flotilla must have safe passage

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties is aware that there is a freedom flotilla that will shortly be departing Turkiye with 5,500 tonnes of humanitarian aid including food and medical supplies for the citizens of Palestine.

We are aware that international human rights observers will be accompanying the volunteers aboard the Freedom Flotilla, including Australian citizens.

The Council recognises the Freedom Flotilla as both a form of protest and as a humanitarian relief campaign with the focus on abating the extreme conditions being experienced by the innocent civilians in Palestine. We note that this includes starvation, mass displacement, lack of access to medical assistance, psychological trauma and death.

We are calling on the Australian Government to ensure that they do everything within their power to safeguard the Freedom Flotilla. This includes ensuring, to the fullest extent possible, that it is not intercepted by any foreign States and that their safe passage as a humanitarian convey is respected.

We have witnessed aid workers and those delivering humanitarian assistance in Palestine dying in the most tragic of circumstances, including Australian citizens. It is concerning that the death of aid workers, including Australian citizens, has not resulted in any meaningful action being undertaken on behalf of the Australian Government.

We call upon the Australian Government to do all that they can, both publicly and through diplomatic means, to ensure that the Freedom Flotilla is provided safe passage to Palestine and that the humanitarian assistance is permitted to be supplied to Palestinian civilians.

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