Media Statement: Chris Minns Broken Promise & Backflip on Drug Law Reform

This week Chris Minns has broken his promise to the people of New South Wales. He has abandoned his commitment to the drug law reform agenda he spruiked pre-election.

In Tuesday's budget, there was no funding for the long-promised Drug Summit. There was no funding to support the harm reduction strategies our communities so desperately need.

It has now been 25 years since the last Drug Summit occurred, and each day without action puts our communities further at risk of harm.

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Media Statement: Australia should reconsider weak and ineffectual whistleblower protections

Former Australian Taxation Office debt collector Richard Boyle has lost his appeal against a finding that he was not immune from prosecution under existing whistleblower protections.

Boyle had sought to rely on the Public Interest Disclosure Act, the whistleblowing law for public servants, to shield him from a criminal trial. He applied for a declaration from the South Australian District Court that he was immune from prosecution.

The PID laws shield a person who makes a “public interest disclosure from any civil, criminal or administrative liability (including disciplinary action)” for making the disclosure.

The matter will likely now go back to the District Court where Mr Boyle is expected to face trial in September. 

If convicted, Mr Boyle could face up to 46 years in prison.

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Australia must recognise Palestine to promote peace

Such a move would support the peace efforts, not undermine them, as some have argued. By Fatima Payman, Labor Senator for Western Australia. 

Over the last eight months, we have witnessed the mass killing and displacement of Palestinians and the devastation and destruction of Gaza carried out by Israel under the guise of “self-defence”. As the Israeli government continues to disregard its obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and cease genocidal acts, it is imperative for influential nations to take a definitive stance.

Australia, with its global standing and democratic values, is in a strong position to facilitate peace. An important step in this direction is recognising a Palestinian state. It is also a moral and ethical imperative.

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Human Rights Law Centre: UK High Court upholds protest rights, finds amendments to Public Order Act unlawful

In May, The UK High Court ruled in favour of challenges to amendments to the Public Order Act of 1986 (POA Act) which would’ve enabled increased police intervention in protests. In doing so, the Court protected the crucial civil right to peaceful assembly, representing “a significant win for protest rights campaigners in England.” 

The POA Act is a UK law that regulates public order offences and allows the police to intervene in a public assembly if there is a “serious disruption to the life of the community.” 

The first amendments to the Act in 2022 granted the Secretary of State the power to amend the definition of “serious disruption,” colloquially regarded as the “Henry VIII power.” This meant that amendments would be “subject to less scrutiny than Bills and cannot be amended by either House of Parliament.” 

Then, two new public order offences were introduced: “locking on” and “tunnelling.” These new offences would bring on police action if they were regarded as “more than minor.” The definition of this phrase is “legally uncertain.” It facilitates greater police discretion and lowers the threshold for police intervention in protests. 

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Green Left: NSW Labor’s harmful juvenile bail laws

“Punitive approaches simply don’t work,” says Lydia Shelly, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

In March, the Minns government introduced harsh new bail laws. The Bail and Crimes Amendment Bill 2024 makes it more difficult for juveniles, between 14-18 years old, to get bail. But tougher bail laws are a “tried and failed” method of reducing crime.

The NSWCCL accused the Minns government of taking a reactive policy approach once again and ignoring consistent evidence that increasing incarceration of young people has damaging consequences. As Shelly commented, “When children this young are forced through a criminal legal process, their health, well-being and future are put at risk.”

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The Guardian: NSW knife laws allowing suspects to be scanned without a warrant could be ‘abused by police’

Legal experts have cautioned that proposed laws expanding police powers in New South Wales to randomly "wand" or "scan" individuals for knives without a warrant may be prone to abuse due to the ambiguous language of the legislation.

Jordyn Beazley reported on June 4, 2024, that the NSW legislation, scheduled for debate this week, was developed following stabbings in Bondi Junction, Wakeley, and Coffs Harbour. Despite a 20-year decline in knife crime according to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, the proposed laws aim to address public safety concerns.

The legislation mirrors Queensland's Jack's Law, implemented after a two-year trial on the Gold Coast following the 2019 death of 17-year-old Jack Beasley. However, Sam Lee, a senior solicitor at Redfern Legal Centre, argued that the NSW legislation lacks the explicit legal safeguards present in Queensland's law, potentially leading to misuse of power by police.

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Media Statement: Safety in Regional and Rural Communities Inquiry

The New South Wales Legislative Assembly Committee on community safety in regional and rural communities is focused on investigating drivers of youth crime in regional and rural NSW and how community safety can be improved.

Rather than empowering the Government to criminalise more conduct, increase sentences, and more permissively incarcerate people, we urge the Committee to look to solutions which focus on the causes of crime, harm minimisation and creating connected and inclusive communities where children can thrive.

Measures taken need to be proportionate to the need for concern. We should not pander to the public “law and order” demands by some politicians and sections of the media through tougher laws and policies which have historically had adverse consequences. The focus should be on addressing underlying issues that lead to harm.

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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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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.