NSWCCL News

Assange: Extradition hearings, freedom and democracy

The proposed extradition of Julian Assange
The extradition hearing for Julian Assange continues in London. Assange is currently being held in Belmarsh Prison, a category A jail on the outskirts of London, where men convicted of terrorism offences are held. He has limited access to his legal counsel, relegated to sit behind a glass window in the dock. For Assange and his family, the situation is dire. 

You can follow the hearing extradition updates, through the writings of Historian, Former Ambassador and Human Rights Activist, Craig Murray, 'Your Man in the Public Gallery', HERE.

Murray feels that the only possible conclusion from recent testimony (on 22nd September), is that 'the performance of the representative of the United States Government was, in and of itself, full and sufficient evidence that there is no possibility that Julian Assange will receive fair consideration and treatment of his mental health issues within the United States system. The US government has just demonstrated that to us, in open court, to perfection.'

Public support for Assange
Every week day at Sydney's Town Hall from 4-6pm, Assange supporters hold a vigil/demonstration calling to "Free Julian Assange". For the past 43 weeks, supporters have gathered every Friday, but as momentum builds at the Old Bailey, so too supporters have ramped up their vigil to every weekday until the extradition trial ends in the UK. NSWCCL members/supporters have been invited to take part to show solidarity.

Numerous online petitions are circulating to Free Assange, Stop the Extradition and Bring Assange Home. A Change.org petition started by Brisbane resident Philip Adams in 2019, now has almost 525,000 signatures. 

A great number of notable journalists have spoken in support of Assange and confirmed what is at stake for free speech and for journalists across the world. Quentin Dempster notes;

'All the issues that so concern us about our democratic freedoms in this the age of pandemic, terror and mass cyber surveillance, and now,  additionally with a heightened fear of war: with China, with North Korea, with Iran, with Russia, are being tested through the extradition proceedings against Julian Paul Assange... And if at the Old Bailey, Julian Assange is extradited to the United States to be jailed for life for informing us about war crimes, misjudgements, incompetence and atrocities, we democracies will be destroying our own professed values.'

Bringing allies from across the spectrum together, the Parliamentary Friends of the Bring Julian Assange Home Group is chaired by Andrew Wilkie MP and George Christensen MP. Andrew Wilke states, "If we want to guarantee every Australian the right to a fair trial, and every journalist the right to report official misconduct, we must oppose this extradition and allow Assange to return to Australia." The Australian Assange campaign has a tool to help you write to your Federal Member to request their support for this Parliamentary group. 

NSWCCL advocacy for Assange
As we noted in April 2019, after Assange was arrested, the prosecution of Assange poses a threat to other journalists who encourage sources to leak information, and then help them protect their anonymity. In addition to the life of an Australian journalist, there is a great deal at stake.

In March this year, NSWCCL wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a public letter copied to all Members of Parliament.

NSWCCL calls on the Australian Government to intervene to protect the rights of Julian Assange who is facing the increasingly likely prospect of his extradition to the USA to face trial on 17 offences under the Espionage Act 1917 and one ‘conspiracy to commit computer intrusion’ charge and almost certain incarceration in a high security prison for the rest of his life.

Assange’s current position is desperate and dangerous. His mental and physical health have been seriously compromised. He is imprisoned in a high security London gaol with limited capacity to communicate with his legal team. His extradition proceedings in London give the appearance of bias and an almost certainly predetermined outcome. It appears that he has been, and will continue to be, unfairly treated within UK courts. If he is extradited to the USA, he will face charges which will cumulatively expose him to 175 years’ imprisonment.

The treatment of Assange by the US and the UK governments since 2010 has been unjust, cruel and clearly politically motivated. 

We also attended the Free Assange Rally in Sydney in February 2020, where Dr Lesley Lynch, Convenor of our National Security and Counter-Terrorism Action Group, spoke alongside journalists, activists and supporting organisations calling for an end to Assange's detainment and his return to Australia. 

Dr Lynch pointed out that in 2013, at the NSWCCL AGM, we formally recognised Assange (and Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden) as "courageous, global champions of democracy who have made, at great personal cost, extraordinary contributions to civil society by challenging the excessive secrecy of the state".

We condemned 'the unprecedented and ferocious attack on and relentless pursuit by the USA and other states of Assange and Manning and Snowdon as traitors and spies'. We noted: 'These attacks pose a global threat to the capacity of a free press to inform the people - and to the citizens’ right to know what governments are doing in their name.'


*In June 2017, Australian citizen James Ricketson, was sentenced to six years in prison in Cambodia for espionage. The Australian government intervened in Ricketson's case when it became clear, on the basis of evidence presented in court, that Ricketson was not a spy, but a filmmaker and journalist.

James has himself written to the 'Members of the Australian Parliament' urging them to speak out in support of Assange - 'If you believe that Assange is not a spy, will you speak out, as some of your fellow parliamentarians have?'

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2020 Winners NSWCCL Awards for Excellence in Civil Liberties Journalism

Congratulations to the winners of NSWCCL's 2020 Awards for Excellence in Civil Liberties Journalism. The standard of those nominated has been exceptionally high, which made the task of the judges so much more difficult.

From the nominees, the judges named shortlists of 3 in the Young Journalists category and 4 in the Open category. We compliment all entrants on their work and hope that you will continue in similar vein in the future.

The winner of the Young Journalist's category: Luke Henriques-Gomez of The Guardian for a series of articles on the Robodebt scheme.

'This young journalist’s articles on the Robodebt debacle exposed federal governmental policy inadequacy and ministerial failure regarding the use of technology and data management in social support programs. They opened a window on current approaches to welfare policy and their failure to observe the principles of democratic governance by being evidence-based and according procedural fairness to affected persons. This failure and indifference led to official cruelty which the articles helped to change by opening up broad debate on the issues raised.'

Congratulations Luke.


 

The winner of the Open category is shared: Kate McClymont and Jacqueline Maley of the Sydney Morning Herald for their piece on the Dyson Heydon affair.

'These journalists’ exclusive article on the Dyson Heydon affair demonstrated how deeply entrenched attitudes towards the abuse of women remain in our social and employment structures. They also raised wider critical questions concerning professional transparency, governance and power in the legal profession. This was courageous reporting that was respectful of sources and affirmed freedom of the press in Australia.'

Congratulations to Kate and Jacqueline.

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NSWCCL 2020 Fundraiser: First Nations justice webinar

NSWCCL’s online First Nations justice panel discussion was held on 11 September 2020, and featured Judge Myers AM, Sarah Hopkins, Teela Reid and NSWCCL President Nicholas Cowdery AO QC. Our panelists generously shared their knowledge, expertise and heart in speaking about over-incarceration of Indigenous Australians, systemic racism, 'just' policing, the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the black lives matter movement.

The panel discussion was a call to action in relation to the implementation of the recommendations of the ALRC’s report “Pathways to Justice”, including a focus on the crucial need for a commitment to justice reinvestment and specialty courts (such as the Walama Court in NSW).

The NSWCCL First Nations Justice panelists:
- Nicholas Cowdery AO, QC, President of the NSWCCL
- Judge Myers AM, lead Commissioner of the ALRC’s inquiry into Incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
- Sarah Hopkins, Co-Chair of Just Reinvest NSW and the Managing Solicitor of Justice Projects at the Aboriginal Legal Service ACT/NSW
- Teela Reid, Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman, lawyer and human rights activist

The webinar discussion was moderated by the 2019 winner of the NSWCCL Award for Excellence in Civil Liberties Journalism, Richard Ackland AM. The 2020 NSWCCL Awards for Excellence in Civil Liberties Journalism were also announced.

Watch the panel discussion with the President's speech below or a trimmed version for educational institutions HERE:

Some useful links following the panel discussion -

Just Reinvest NSW

Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT

Justice Reform Initiative


Not a member of NSWCCL?

A strong membership adds credibility to our advocacy on civil liberties issues and as a determinedly independent organisation, NSWCCL relies heavily on membership fees to fund our activities. Become a member of NSWCCL.

If you would like to make a donation to NSWCCL you can do so HERE.

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Systemic racism and the over-incarceration of Indigenous people must be addressed

 8 September 2020

 Systemic racism and the over-incarceration of Indigenous people must be addressed.

NSWCCL’s upcoming online panel discussion, on 11 September 2020 at 6:30pm, featuring Judge Myers AM, Sarah Hopkins, Teela Reid and NSWCCL President Nicholas Cowdery AO QC is a call to action in relation to the implementation of the recommendations of the ALRC’s report “Pathways to Justice”, including a focus on the crucial need for a commitment to justice reinvestment and specialty courts (such as the Walama Court in NSW).

In 2018 the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) was asked to consider laws and legal frameworks that contribute to the incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults make up around 2% of the national population, but constitute 27% of the national prison population. The ALRC Report was released in March 2018 and includes 35 recommendations, most of which have simply not been addressed.

His Honour Judge Matthew Myers AM, Commissioner in charge of the ALRC Inquiry, said that while the problems leading to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in prisons are complex, they can be solved,

“Law reform is an important part of that solution. Reduced incarceration, and greater support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in contact with the criminal justice system, will  improve health, social and economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and lead to a safer society for all.”

Since 2011 Just Reinvest NSW has been working to support communities to explore and establish justice reinvestment initiatives, including in Bourke, NSW. The focus is to reduce imprisonment rates by directing resources into building strong and safe communities, rather than funding prisons.

Sarah Hopkins, Chair of Just Reinvest NSW, believes that what is required is a shift in the way we view prevention, intervention and justice:

“If we are real about this, what is needed is not just a shift in funding out of prisons and the criminal justice system into crime prevention and early intervention, but a more fundamental shift in power from government to communities, including power over resources. This is about community aspirations and resilience.”

Teela Reid, Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman, lawyer and human rights activist, says that if NSW is serious about protecting civil liberties, then it is time to get very uncomfortable with the status quo.

“The truth is Australia is a colony built on racism, it is written into the laws and operates within its institutions.  Systemic racism requires systemic change. If you deny racism exists, then you are part of the problem. This land always was, always will be sovereign Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land, sky and sea.”

Ms Reid asks if we are all prepared to confront our own power and privilege to dismantle the systemic racism that continues to oppress. She states that the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Walama Court ‘are radical attempts to change systems in our search for truth and justice.’

In considering the journey of Australia’s First Nations peoples, NSWCCL President Nicholas Cowdery AO QC believes we need to understand the history of colonialism and dispossession that has led to the disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. In order to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders ‘in a movement of the Australian people for a better future’ as the Uluru Statement invites, then we also must acknowledge the resilience of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Mr Cowdery commented:

”Australia’s First Nations peoples constitute the world’s oldest living culture - over 65,000 years. Colonisation took away their land, languages and many traditions and has left them almost without a voice to power. That process has created social disadvantage leading directly to over-representation in prisons around the country.

…This panel will discuss how we reached this disgraceful situation, why now is the time to recognise the resilience of First Nations peoples and to do something about it – and what can be done, drawing upon a huge body of knowledge already assembled.”

2020 has been a challenging year for many individuals and communities. For those who have experienced financial hardship, or are not in a position to pay for a registration, NSWCCL is offering free registration.

“We want to share this important panel discussion with as many of our members and supporters, and beyond, as we can,” says Mr Cowdery.


Registrations - https://www.nswccl.org.au/tickets_2020_nswccl_fundraiser
Free invitation - https://www.nswccl.org.au/invitation_nswccl_2020_panel_discussion

The NSWCCL First Nations Justice panelists:

  • Nicholas Cowdery AO, QC, President of the NSWCCL
  • Judge Myers AM, lead Commissioner of the ALRC’s inquiry into Incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
  • Sarah Hopkins, Co-Chair of Just Reinvest NSW and the Managing Solicitor of Justice Projects at the Aboriginal Legal Service ACT/NSW
  • Teela Reid, Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman, lawyer and human rights activist

The webinar discussion will be held on Friday 11th September at 6:30pm and will be moderated by the 2019 winner of the NSWCCL Award for Excellence in Civil Liberties Journalism, Richard Ackland AM. The 2020 NSWCCL Awards for Excellence in Civil Liberties Journalism will also be announced.

Download this statement as a PDF.

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NSWCCL joins public statement opposing NSW One Nation Education Bill

PUBLIC STATEMENT

We represent a vast group of community and civil society partners and leaders in New South Wales (NSW) who place on the public record our strongest opposition to NSW One Nation’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020. This legislation, introduced to the NSW Parliament by One Nations Mark Latham, aims to outlaw the teaching of gender diversity and the acknowledgement of trans and gender-diverse students and their families and seeks to strip professional accreditation from any teachers and school staff breaking such a law.

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Submission: Senate Committee, Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) welcomes the opportunity to make submissions to the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation (Committee) with respect to its Inquiry concerning the exemption of delegated legislation from parliamentary oversight (Inquiry).

NSWCCL commends the Committee’s resolve to meet regularly during the recent period of parliamentary adjournment to ensure its continued scrutiny of all delegated legislation, particularly disallowable executive-made COVID-19 instruments. There are significant constraints on the capacity of the Committee to scrutinise particular legislative instruments exempt from parliamentary disallowance, but it is nonetheless performing a very valuable role in flagging ‘framework’ issues.

The Australian government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been enabled by the provision of extraordinary powers to Executive Government and Government agencies. This has been achieved largely through the mechanism of determinations under the expansive human biosecurity provisions of the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth). As of 6 July 2020, there were 199 specific COVID-19 ‘instruments’ and, of greatest concern, at least 42 of these are not disallowable, denying the Committee the ability to scrutinise them.[1]

The Committee is empowered to scrutinise delegated legislation subject to parliamentary oversight against its 12 technical scrutiny principles (Senate Standing Order 23). These principles include whether the legislation unduly trespasses on personal rights and liberties. However, many of the determinations exempt from parliamentary disallowance are having a significant impact on individual rights and liberties, effectively contain serious offences and impose obligations to do or desist from certain activities. As we understand it, the Committee has no power to scrutinise whether particular pieces of delegated legislation should in fact be disallowable under the current standing orders.

The NSWCCL submission makes 7 recommendations to the Standing Committee.

View submission

 

[1] Scrutiny of COVID-19 instruments, List of COVID-19 related delegated legislation, Parliament of Australia <https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Scrutiny_of_Delegated_Legislation/Scrutiny_of_COVID-19_instruments>

 

 

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Statement: Exemptions to Hotel Quarantine, COVID-19

10th July 2020

PUBLIC STATEMENT

NSWCCL has concerns regarding claims that a critically ill man from the New South Wales South Coast has twice been denied an exemption from undergoing hotel quarantine in Sydney, despite medical advice he self-isolate at home. 

The ABC reported (8th July) that Stephen Evans, diagnosed with stage four oesophageal cancer in 2018, recently returned from Germany where he had a highly specialised lung procedure. NSW Health has twice refused Mr Evans’ request to self-isolate at home, stating that personal health circumstances must be balanced with ‘the requirement to implement the Public Health (COVID-19 Air Transportation Quarantine) Order 2020.’

The Orders allow for NSW Health and/or the Health Minister, to grant an exemption to permit self-isolation at home under strict conditions. 

NSWCCL acknowledges the importance of adherence to the Public Health Orders relating to COVID-19 containment efforts. However, there must be an ability to protect the wider population, at the same time as catering for those in our community with particular medical needs and requirements. In the spirit of protecting the general public under the Order, we must not lose the capacity to protect individuals.

Mr Evans’ oncologist and another of his doctors have written letters in support of an exemption from hotel quarantine, outlining their patient’s specific conditions and requirements, including a customised bed and strict dietary requirements. The request specified that ‘Without doubt, it is in Stephen's medical interests to be self-isolating at his home… in order to be in proximity to his supports and local medical team, and to be distanced from others who may be at risk of COVID-19 infection.’

The doctors’ letters reference the medical benefits of Stephen being granted an exemption and their faith in his ability to fulfil requirements made of him, were he to be granted permission to serve the remainder of the compulsory quarantine period in home isolation.

In regard to granting exemptions, where circumstances permit, NSWCCL supports an individualised, compassionate approach, particularly in regard to someone such as Mr Evans, who is already suffering serious health complications and a medical condition that is not communicable to others.

NSWCCL supports urgent requests for further consideration to be given to Mr Evans’ circumstances and specialised medical needs. Mr Evans has a right to seek positive health outcomes in a way that doesn’t endanger others and a solution is available that satisfies the requests and advice from his doctors while protecting the broader community.


MEDIA ENQUIRES:

Michelle Falstein - Secretary, NSW Council for Civil Liberties

michelle.falstein@nswccl.org.au

M: 0412 980 540

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Submission: COVID-19 Senate Committee

NSWCCL made a detailed submission to the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 in June. We lobbied for the formation of this important Committee as a way of providing otherwise absent parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s huge response to the COVID crisis in the disturbing absence of regular parliamentary sittings.

We are pleased that the Committee, which has wide terms of reference, began its work immediately on its formation both by calling for this Inquiry and initiating public hearings – in the first month largely with Government agencies and ministers. The chair of the Committee made some promising commitments in her opening statements for the first public hearing:

This committee is a key vehicle to provide accountability, transparency and scrutiny of the Australian government's response to the pandemic for the Australian people.

This is not your typical Senate committee. We will demand a lot of witnesses in terms of a cooperative approach that is based on working together in the national interest to ensure all aspects of our response are the best they can be. Political grandstanding will be kept to a minimum. (Senator Gallagher 23 April 2020) 

There are already disturbing signs that some ministers and key agencies may not be as open in the provision of information to the Committee as is necessary if it is to fulfil its scrutiny and accountability roles. 

Our submission focussed on 4 key areas:

  • the fairness and inclusiveness of emergency support programs;
  • the need to shape the Australian economy post-COVID towards the creation of a fairer, more just and environmentally sustainable society;
  • ensuring the extraordinary powers given to ministers and agencies to restrict Australians’ normal freedoms and rights are necessary and proportionate for the protection of public health and safety, and that we have a process to ensure they will be repealed when no longer necessary;
  • the enhanced imperative to put in place governance structures an to effectively scrutinise the integrity of the allocation of the vast public resources that will be expended in response to and in the aftermath of the COVID emergency.

 

* This submission will be published on the NSWCCL website after it has been posted to the Senate Select Committee's website. 

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Submission: Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Detention Facilities) Bill 2020

NSWCCL would like to speak further to these arguments when the bill is considered by the Committee.

Recommendations:

This bill should be rejected.

If the bill is to proceed, it should limit the general power to search for and seize things to those which are intrinsically harmful, such as guns, knives and unprescribed narcotics. It should stipulate that items that do not present inherent risks to safety and security should only be prohibited to specified individuals where there is evidence that the person has used or is reasonably likely to use the item in a manner that presents clear risks to safety or security, and where those risks cannot be managed in a less restrictive way.

If the bill is to proceed, dogs should not be able to be used for searches in immigration detention centres.

View submission

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NSWCCL meets with NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller

Last month, 23 June 2020, three members of the NSWCCL Committee, President Nicholas Cowdery AO, QC, Vice-President Dr. Eugene Schofield-Georgeson and committee member Jared Wilk (co-Convenor of Human Rights and Civil Liberties Action Group), met with NSW Commissioner for Police Mick Fuller and Deputy Commissioner Jeff Loy. Law and policy issues relating to strip searching, drugs, protests and policing of Indigenous people were discussed.

The NSWCCL is grateful that the Commissioner and his deputy were willing to engage in meaningful and open dialogue with us. We consider this meeting and the willingness of the Commissioner to engage in future dialogue to be a positive development and an opportunity for constructive discussion in relation to the issues which are important to the Council’s principles and values.

We will continue to advocate strongly for improvements and reform in relation to law, policy and internal policies and guidelines which are relevant to policing and to work with the community to strengthen and protect civil liberties and human rights in NSW.

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