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Green Left: What will NSW Labor’s drug summit discuss?

The NSW government has finally scheduled its long-promised Drug Summit, which will take place over four days, including regional sessions in October and hearings in Sydney in December. 

Announcing the summit on July 12, the government emphasised its aim to gather insights from medical professionals, law enforcement, individuals with personal experience, drug user organisations, families, and other stakeholders. This forum aims to foster a consensus on addressing drug use and its associated harms in NSW.

The summit raises hopes for progressive drug law reforms, echoing the precedent set by former Premier Bob Carr’s 1999 Drug Summit, which led to significant changes, including the establishment of the now-permanent medically supervised injecting room in Kings Cross.

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Green Left: Palestinian woman arrested at PM’s office asking for visa help

On July 18, Palestinian activist Sara Shaweesh was arrested at Prime Minister Anthony Albanese's electorate office in Marrickville. Shaweesh, who is a citizen and whose local member is the Prime Minister, has been part of a peaceful picket outside the office for almost six months, helping to initiate it.

The arrest occurred after she attempted to inquire about the denial of visas for her family members in Gaza. Police cited "trespass" as the reason for her arrest, confiscated her phone, and detained her at Newtown Police Station for more than three hours before charging her.

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Media Statement: Shameful situation outside Anthony Albanese's office

For nearly six months, a group of peaceful protestors have maintained a vigil outside Anthony Albanese’s electorate office in Marrickville. 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 the local electorate of Grayndler.

Six months on, they are still seeking a meeting with their local member of parliament to discuss Australia’s obligation in preventing the further suffering of Palestinians which includes forced starvation, mass displacement and the unprecedented violence in Occupied Territories of Palestine and Gaza.

Unfortunately, Mr Albanese has refused to meet with his constituents. Yesterday, Mr Albanese’s office issued a letter to the peaceful protestors, demanding that the peaceful vigil be conducted elsewhere.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties wrote to the Prime Minister in April urging him to meet with his constituents. We recognise this vigil as a legitimate exercise of democratic freedoms available in Australia. To date, no response has been received.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties position is unequivocal - the democratic rights of peaceful protestors must be protected and the Prime Minister has an obligation not only to uphold the right to protest, but to meet with his constituents.

We will always defend the right to protest and the protestors who choose to exercise this right.

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Guardian: Palestinian-Australian charged with trespass after allegedly refusing to leave Anthony Albanese’s electorate office

A Palestinian-Australian constituent of Anthony Albanese seeking visa help has been arrested and charged with trespassing, after she allegedly refused to leave the prime minister’s electorate office in the Sydney seat of Grayndler.

Sarah Shaweesh livestreamed her arrest on social media, saying she was a local constituent who lived in Marrickville, and the police had “threatened to arrest me because I went into the office to ask about my family’s declined visa applications”.

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Sydney Criminal Lawyers: NSW Drug Summit Agenda - Decriminalisation, Drug Detection Dogs and Deemed Supply

What sort of drug law reforms are likely to be on the agenda at the 2024 NSW Drug Summit?

The changes sought are focused on people who use drugs, not cultivators, manufacturers or suppliers, because it’s long been understood that illicit drug use should be treated as a health issue and not a crime.

Uniting’s Fair Treatment campaign has been calling for drug decriminalisation in NSW and the ACT since 2018, and so have the over 70 other organisations partnering with them, which include the NSW Bar Association, Community Legal Centres NSW and the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT.

Currently, in NSW, a person found with a quantity of an illegal drug deemed for personal use can be charged with drug possession, which is an offence under section 10 of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW) (DMT Act) that carries a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $2,200.

While section 12 of the DMT Act makes it a crime to self-administer an illicit substance, which too carries a maximum of 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $2,200.

Decriminalisation would see the revoking of the criminal sanctions relating to these laws, so that possession or use would no longer be a crime. Instead, people found in possession would rather be subject to a civil penalty, a small fine, or have the option of attending a counselling session.

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City Hub: NSW Premier announces Drug Summit to take place in December

NSW Premier Chris Minns last week announced a four-day Drug Summit to take place in December, comprising two days of regional forums in October 2024 and two days of forums in Sydney.

The announcement of the 2024 Drug Summit fulfils one of Labor’s election promises in a move that has been widely welcomed. 

Lydia Shelly, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL), commended the Premier for listening to the community and announcing the Drug Summit. 

“This Summit is crucial for changing the demonisation of drug use and users and addressing the over-policing of minority populations. The success of reform depends on changing the way we talk about drugs and those who use them,” she said. 

“Pill testing provides individuals with critical information about the substances they intend to consume, enabling them to make informed and safer choices. Pill testing saves lives and the Summit is an ideal environment to have the conversation.”

Read the full article here.

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City Hub: Second 21-year old activist receives prison sentence following Newcastle protests

Following the arrest and 3-month jail sentence of climate change protester Laura Davy, 21, a second protester has been given a one month custodial sentence after he suspended himself above a railway track in Newcastle.

Samuel Gribben, 21, received appeal bail on Friday following his sentence for his action as part of the coal port Blockade Australia protests.

Lydia Shelly, President, NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) called for NSW anti-protest laws to be immediately repealed. 

“There is no place for them in an open and democratic society. The right to protest is integral to democratic system of government and way of life,” she said. 

“In Australia, protest movements have historically been instrumental in holding governments to account and affecting real change. This has included disruptive protests that are considered ‘inconvenient.’”

Shelly adds that these anti-protest laws “not only criminalise protests, but they also cultivate an environment of fear and they have a chilling effect on organising peaceful movements that desire positive social change.”

Read the full article here.

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Media Release: We commend the Minns Government for announcing a 2024 Drug Summit

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) commends the Minns Government for today’s announcement of the 2024 Drug Summit and 12 new drug and alcohol hubs across state.

The 1999 Drug Summit held by Labor remains a significant and defining moment for drug law reform in Australia and globally. The 2024 Drug Summit gives New South Wales another chance to lead the conversation about drug use and harm minimisation.

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Submission: NSW Sentencing Council review of the common law that relate to the use of "good character" in sentencing.

‘Prior good character’ is a factor that has long been relevant to the sentencing exercise in appropriate cases (cf Section 21A(3)(e) and (f) of the Act and the common law). Its application must be understood in the context of the sentencing task, and our submission commences with a brief survey of the nature of the sentencing task with a focus on general principles of particular relevance to this submission. The submission then turns to briefly state the law governing the operation of good character as a mitigating factor. Next, the submission sketches existing limitations on good character as a mitigating factor in sentencing. The final two sections contain NSWCCL’s assessment of the continued importance of good character as a mitigating factor in sentencing, and its consequent recommendations.

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Media Release: Anti-protest laws must urgently 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.

In New South Wales, section 144G of the Roads Act 1993 (NSW) and section 214A of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)
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 laws are restrictive and repressive.

There's a prevalent narrative enabled by these laws emphasising security threats and perceptions of disruption
associated with public protests. This narrative emboldens law enforcement to use unnecessary force against
protestors and pursue disproportionate laws and actions against protestors in New South Wales and across
Australia.

In our recent submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of
Association, we recommended that the Special Rapporteur visit Australia to assess Australia’s Laws and legal
framework regarding their compliance of with right to peaceful assembly and of association.

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Statement: NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns Sydney University "Campus Access Policy"

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties opposes in the strongest terms the newly announced “Campus Access Policy 2024”.  We proudly stand beside students and staff at Sydney University in the fight to protect their right to protest.

We are astounded that Sydney University would join with state governments and large corporations in Australia who seek to encroach on the right of public assembly and to shut down free speech. The University, which can boast a proud history of facilitating free speech and protest on campus should not be part of problem.

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City Hub: Calls ramp up for NSW Premier to follow Victoria’s footsteps and implement pill testing

In response to the rise of a deadly drug and a string of overdoses, the Victorian Government announced on Monday, June 24, that they will conduct a pill testing trial for 18 months with plans to make the service permanent. Calls are now mounting for NSW Premier Chris Minns to step up and do the same. 

Nitazene is a potent substance 500 times stronger than heroin, according to NSW Health, and is continuously found in illegal drugs across the state. 

Yet despite rising pressure on the premier to follow the example of other states and implement pill testing, there was no funding in last week’s budget for the long-awaited Drug Summit.

Pill testing is a harm reduction strategy that allows a person to find out what the pill contains, preventing people from using “unusually strong or contaminated drugs”.  

Sign our petition here.

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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: The Impact of Climate Risk on Insurance Premiums and Availability

Australia is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rightswhich provides that adequate housing is a human right. If climate change makes insurance for housing unaffordable or unavailable for more people, the fulfilment of this right is made even more difficult in the context of a housing system already in crisis.

Our governments, at all levels, need to act. The climate emergency is accelerating with breathtaking speed. The frightening frequency of climate-related disasters further validate the concerns of NSWCCL as we continue to advocate for more ambitious climate action.

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Sydney Criminal Lawyers: NSW Police Watchdog is Toothless

The NSW Police Force is still the primary investigator of complaints against itself and its own critical incidents. The lack of independent oversight has sparked serious concerns for the integrity of these investigations. 

In 2016, the Baird government passed the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission Act 2016 (NSW). The Act established the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) as a body combining “the then various avenues of independent police oversight into the one watchdog.” The LECC is responsible for detecting, investigating and exposing “serious misconduct and serious maladministration in the NSW Police Force and the NSW Crime Commission.” 

However, the LECC often merely monitors the police as they investigate their own critical incidents – that is, incidents that involve officers causing “death or serious harm.” 

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CityHub: Calls ramp up for NSW Premier to follow Victoria’s footsteps and implement pill testing

In response to the rise of a deadly drug and a string of overdoses, the Victorian Government announced on Monday that they will conduct an 18-month pill testing trial with plans to make the service permanent.

Calls are now mounting for NSW Premier Chris Minns to follow suit.

Despite increasing pressure on the premier to implement pill testing, last week's budget included no funding for the long-awaited Drug Summit.

Pill testing is a harm reduction strategy that allows individuals to identify the contents of a pill, preventing the use of unusually strong or contaminated drugs.

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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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The Guardian view on the WikiLeaks plea deal: good for Julian Assange, not journalism

Julian Assange should never have been charged with espionage by the US. The release of the WikiLeaks founder from custody in the UK is good news, and it is especially welcome to his family and supporters. He is due to plead guilty to a single charge of conspiring to obtain and disclose classified US national defence documents at a hearing early on Wednesday, but is not expected to face further jail time. The court in Saipan, a remote Pacific island which is a US territory, is expected to approve the deal, crediting him for the five years he has already spent on remand in prison.

His opportunity to live with his young family comes thanks to Australian diplomacy under the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, who had made clear his desire for a resolution, and the Biden administration’s keenness to get a controversial case off its plate, particularly in an election year. Seventeen of the charges have been dropped. The one that remains, however, is cause for serious alarm. It was the Trump administration that brought this case. But while the Biden administration has dropped 17 of the 18 charges, it insisted on a charge under the 1917 Espionage Act, rather than the one first brought against him of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

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Vale The Honourable Paul Leon Stein AM KC

NSW Council for Civil Liberties joins the chorus of voices to pay our great respect to the Honourable Paul Stein AM KC who passed away on Saturday, 22 June 2024. 

Paul Stein was a longstanding and active contributor to NSWCCL over many decades. His contribution was enormous and will be sadly missed. As an environmental law expert, Mr Stein was a passionate environmentalist who held governments, corporations and lobbyists to account.

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City Hub: Australia should reconsider weak whistleblower protections, civil liberties council says

Civil liberties advocates are calling for stronger protections after Australian Taxation Office (ATO) whistleblower Richard Boyle lost his appeal to secure immunity from prosecution. 

The former debt collector accused the ATO of aggressively pursuing debts from small businesses, which he said was destroying lives and causing unnecessary trauma in order to meet revenue goals.

Boyle is accused of 24 offences, including using a mobile phone to take pictures of taxpayers’ information and secretly recording conversations with colleagues. He had sought to rely on the Public Interest Disclosure Act, the whistleblowing law for public servants, to shield him from a criminal trial.

The matter will likely now go back to the South Australian District Court, where Boyle is expected to face trial in September. If convicted, he could face up to 46 years in prison.

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