NSWCCL Report on Juvenile Justice Legislation

Concerns over human rights standards in Australian juvenile justice centres were brought to national attention with Four Corners’ recent expose on Don Dale Detention Centre in the Northern Territory. However, these revelations were not unprecedented. After a two-year inquiry, Australian Law Reform Commission’s 1997 Seen and Heard report presented a number of proposals for reform of juvenile justice processes and detention facilities.

15 years later, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (‘UNCRC’) noted that Australia’s juvenile justice system ‘still requires substantial reforms for it to conform to international standards.’[1] In 2013, the Australian Human Rights Commission called for a review of the Australian Government’s reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It also recommended ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and better monitoring of juvenile justice legislation and policy.[2] These were echoed in a report published by Amnesty International last year, especially to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in detention.[3]

It follows that, while only a small proportion of Australia’s youth population has contact with the criminal justice system,[4] there remain serious, yet still unaddressed, concerns about protection of the rights of those who do. This report will evaluate juvenile justice legislation across Australian states and territories in relation to international human rights law. Those areas of law which do not comply with Australia’s human rights obligations include: the age of criminal responsibility for young people, mandatory sentencing, detention on remand, discipline, living conditions within detention centres and both national and international mechanisms for investigation of detention facilities. In doing so, the report will highlight how law reform and other practical initiatives may be necessary to better protect the civil liberties and human rights of children throughout all stages of the juvenile justice system; in particular, the right to protection from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, freedom from arbitrary detention and the right to a fair trial...

[1] Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties under Article 44 of the Convention, 60th sess, UN Doc CRC/C/AUS/CO/4 (28 August 2012) [82].

[2] Australian Human Rights Commission, Children’s Rights Report 2013 (2013)

[3] Amnesty International, A Brighter Tomorrow: Keeping Indigenous Kids in the Community and Out of Detention in Australia (2015) <>

[4] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Youth Justice in Australia 2014-15 (April 2016) Australian Government <> 2.


Should we sacrifice civil liberties to stay safe?

Recent polls show a large amount of Australians are in favour of increasing powers for government security agencies to defend against terrorism, but how much are we willing to sacrifice for this added 'protection'?

Interview with NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks, ANU researcher Dr. Jill Sheppard, and Counter Terrorism expert from Deakin University, Greg Barton.

Video Link: Should we sacrifice civil liberties to stay safe?

Source: Channel 7: Weekend Sunrise


ASIO wants power to detain family members of terror suspects without a judicial warrant

The national spy agency, ASIO, wants the power to arrest and detain family members of terror suspects for up to seven days without a judicial warrant.

At the moment, a judge has to sign off on this type of arrest and detention and be present for questioning. ASIO says that, in future, the Attorney-General's go-ahead should be sufficient authority.

Stephen Blanks, president of NSWCCL, outlines the Council's views on this important issue with Peter Lloyd on ABC Radio National PM. See below for full transcript.

Audio/Transcript: ASIO wants power to detain family members of terror suspects without a judicial warrant

Source: ABC PM (Radio)


HSU called before NSW Industrial Relations Commission to defend chalk

Political slogans scrawled on the side of ambulances have landed paramedics in court. The slogans criticise the Baird government's changes to death and disability insurance for paramedics.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, the Health Services union which represents ambulance officers was called before the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to explain the liquid chalk protest messages.

HSU Secretary Gerard Hayes appeared before the industrial commission to explain the "civil disobedience" and said that despite Health Minister Jillian Skinner saying she wants workers to speak out about problems in the health system, "yet when we make our voice heard, we have to explain it before the Industrial Relations Commission," Mr Hayes said.

He went on to say that he was "proud of the spirited, robust campaign being run by grass roots paramedics to make the public aware of the government's intention."

Many politicians and commentators including Green MP David Shoebridge and Stephen Blanks, president of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, said: "It is not unreasonable to use chalk to mark property in a way that does not permanently damage the property in order to make a political communication.

"The freedom to make political communication is a constitutionally protected freedom."

Article: HSU called before NSW Industrial Relations Commission to defend chalk

Source: The Courier


2016 Annual Fundraising Dinner

The 2016 NSW CCL Annual Dinner on 26 August was a huge success! We had an excellent number of supporters attending.

Uncle Chicka Madden gave a fascinating Welcome to Country, speaking about his times growing up in Redfern. Stephen Blanks, President of NSW CCL, gave an interesting, but somewhat disconcerting, summary of the erosion of civil liberties we have seen over the past year. Pauline Wright, Vice President NSW CCL, was our warm and lively MC.

Bernard Collaery gave the keynote address: Is the right to truth central to the rule of law in a democracy? Bernard has a long and distinguished career in the human rights field. Over decades, he has been part of many of the human rights issues which have arisen in our region. He highlighted the work he has done representing Witness K, an ex ASIS officer who became a whistleblower regarding the alleged bugging of the Timor-Leste Cabinet in negotiations in 2004 concerning the Oil and Gas Treaty between Australia and Timor-Leste. He made the point that not all of Australia’s actions in dealing with our neighbor have actually been in Australia’s national interest.

As well as mentioning the derogations from the rule of law that are becoming more and more common, Bernard emphasized the importance to a democratic society of the role of whistleblowers. He finished with a call to action – that we should support whistleblowers and give them the assistance they require to face up to the excesses of unrestrained Executive power.

The dinner was an opportunity for CCL friends and supporters to catch up, and also a fundraiser for NSW CCL. We are grateful for the generosity of our auction and raffle donors, as well as those who contributed to the raffle and auction. We made a healthy amount of profit to support us in our activities over the next year.

Thank you to all who helped with organization, made donations and all who attended.



See here for: Video of Speeches and Photos from the event


Opal Week: Location Tracking with Stephen Blanks

In a series on the changes to the Opal Card systems, NSWCCL Stephen Blanks about the privacy (or lack thereof) on the data gathering in the Opal system. 

Audio: Opal Week: Location Tracking with Stephen Blanks

Source: 2SER Breakfast Show


Jedi knights don't need protection from free speech

President of NSWCCL, Stephen Blanks, wrote an op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald in defense of the NSWCCL position to oppose religion being added to the racial vilification criteria in upcoming laws. 

Noting the important distinction of 'ethno-religious' groups and 'religion', for example the difference in being a Muslim and a Jedi, Mr. Blanks argues in favour of balance, whereby "Some beliefs which are claimed to be religious, and their adherents, ought to be open to ridicule, even severe ridicule" in the defense of free speech. 

For the full article, see below.

Article: Jedi knights don't need protection from free speech

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald


NSW Council for Civil Liberties opposes the inclusion of religion in racial vilification laws.

The Baird government's refusal to legislate against anti-Muslim hate speech is "playing into the hands" of terrorist groups such as Islamic State, as well as extreme right-wing groups, Muslim community leaders and counter-terrorism experts have warned.

The NSW government is formulating a long-awaited overhaul of racial vilification laws, promising to strengthen the legislation and streamline it to make prosecutions easier. Fairfax Media understands the government will not consider including religion in the Act, which outlaws inciting violence based on race, colour, descent or ethno-religious origin.

NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton would not say why religion would be omitted. However a spokeswoman pointed to the government's 2013 review of the Act, which made no recommendation to include religion.

In that review, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties was among those who opposed the inclusion of religion. The council's president Stephen Blanks told Fairfax Media that religion was "not an inherent characteristic of a person like race is ... and one should be free to criticise religion".

NSWCCL stands by this statement and continues to oppose the inclusion of religion in racial vilification laws.

Article: Anti-Muslim hate speech 'fuels extremism', experts say

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald


'Nauru Files' confirm inhumane conditions in Australian detention centres

From the GetUp site:

Guardian Australia has released 2000 leaked documents detailing horrifying levels of abuse on Nauru. Once again, all eyes are on the government to see how they respond to this proof of large-scale abuse, including of children. 

These abuses should never have occured. Now, they must end. The government must bring those in its abusive detention camps to safety immediately. 

The entire policy is falling apart - the legal permissions, and the political and corporate support for the camps, are all disappearing. But the government is pretending everything is fine, and the camps are still open. Now the human cost is again laid bare.

Whether it's Nauru or Manus Island, it's clear the Australian Government's abusive detention regime is in a state of complete and utter chaos – and it's harming people.

The Australia Government has been treading water, avoiding facing the reality of its own policy's failure. Now, we must show them the way forward. 

#LetThemStay showed that more people than ever supported allowing people seeking asylum already in Australia to move into our communities. Now, we must prove definitively that our shared compassion extends to those on Manus Island and Nauru – and that the governrment must follow the public, and bring those in its abusive camps to safety in Australia. 

Read more

Stephen Blanks talks about the 2016 Census

NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks chats with hosts of 2UE News Talk Radio Jon Stanley and Garry Linnell about the privacy issues around the 2016 Census. 

Audio: Stephen Blanks Chats with John and Garry 

Source: 2UE 954 Radio.


NSW Police announce plans to give former officers identity cards

Former police officers are to be issued with identity cards they can carry around in their wallet to acknowledge their service. New South Wales Police plans to hand out the first ID cards by the end of the year.

However, Stephen Blanks from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties described the plan as "extraordinary".

"The idea of issuing a card to former police officers is absolutely absurd. It is entirely predictable that it will be used by former police officers to get favours from shops and local businesses, who will feel intimidated into giving free goods and services because of a concern that putting a former police officer offside might cause them trouble."

He said such a card could also be used to fool people into thinking the holder still held a position of authority.

Article: NSW Police announce plans to give former officers identity cards

Source: ABC


Doctors high court challenge to secrecy regime in immigration centres

NSWCCL wholeheartedly supports the High Court challenge brought by Doctors for Refugees against the Commonwealth and the Minister for immigration and Border Protection in relation to the secrecy provisions of Border Force Act 2015.

 The Act contains provisions which allow for the imprisonment for up to 2 years of doctors, social workers and others who disclose ‘protected’ information regarding conditions in immigration detention centres.

 As a result these  people may be liable to imprisonment for complying with their professional standards and ethical obligation to report abuse, because such abuse occurs in an immigration detention centre. Reporting abuse outside immigration centres is required by legislation, but is criminalized in the context of immigration centres.

 There is no convincing justification for the introduction of such draconian provisions. We believe the only reason for these provisions is to silence those working in detention centres. This is contrary to the principles of transparency and open debate, which are fundamental in a democracy. How can people support government policy when they have no idea what is being done in their name?

 NSWCCL strongly opposed the introduction of the secrecy provisions of the Border Force Act, which were introduced with bipartisan support. These toxic and undemocratic provisions should be repealed immediately. 

Read more

Support for laws to keep terrorists in jail after sentence

The Federal Government received some crucial support today for its plan for a tough new anti-terrorism detention regime.

New laws would let convicted terrorists be kept in jail after finishing their sentences, if they were deemed still to be a risk to the community.

Civil libertarians have raised concerns. Outside wartime, Australian law does not usually allow for indefinite detention.

Stephen Blanks from the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties argues the intense surveillance available under control orders is enough.

STEPHEN BLANKS: What is the point of those halfway regimes if they aren't to keep the community safe within the principles of a free society? And remember, if we give up having a free society, we're creating incentives for terrorists to attack us. 

Article (with Audio): Support for laws to keep terrorists in jail after sentence

Source: ABC PM


Legal experts divided on Turnbull government's latest terrorism laws

Legal experts are divided on the need for the Turnbull government's latest swath of terrorism legislation that would allow convicted terrorists to be kept in jail once their sentence ended if they were deemed a risk to public safety.

The New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties president, Stephen Blanks, said the legislation was a distraction from the issue of dealing with the risk of terrorism.

"People who have been convicted of serious terrorism offences are in jail for many years to come. We're not being told who is about to be released that they're concerned about." Mr Blanks said.

"With the sex offender cases, there were particular individuals that we were told were about to be released that represented a danger. We're not being given that information now. I don't think there's anybody about to be released, this is possibly just window dressing."

Article: Legal experts divided on Turnbull government's latest terrorism laws

Source: Sydney Morning Herald


Turnbull says terrorist threat in Australia is real as he pushes for indefinite detention

Malcolm Turnbull has warned Australians that the threat of terrorism in Australia is real as the Coalition prepares to push ahead with new measures for indefinite detention of some convicted terrorists after attacks in Nice and Kabul.

His announcements follow his direction for a review by the counter-terrorism coordinator Greg Moriarty on the implications of the lone terrorists such as the attack in Nice, which killed 84 people.

But the president of the New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, said it was a fundamental principle of a free society people were “at liberty unless you’ve committed a criminal offence and been convicted”.

“The reality is that anybody leaving jail who the authorities think is not repentant will be subject to the most intensive monitoring that is imaginable,” Blanks told the ABC.

“Terrorism offences are so broad that planning an offence, thinking about planning an offence, attempting to plan an offence, doing any preparatory act is itself a criminal offence so the authorities will pick up anybody who reoffends, like that.”

Article: Turnbull says terrorist threat in Australia is real as he pushes for indefinite detention

Source: The Guardian


Terrorists may soon be detained indefinitely in Australia

The Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has proposed legislation that would allow for convicted terrorists to be held indefinitely in prison if considered a threat.

Australia has no Charter of Human Rights which would require the Parliament or the courts to consider whether counter-terrorism laws comply with human rights principles. Without this charter, the Australian Government can operate in a legal grey area.

The NSW Council of Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks told the outlet there is every possibility these proposals are just "window dressing," as the general public will not be told when terrorists the Government is concerned about are released.

Article: Terrorists may soon be detained indefinitely in Australia

Source: Mashable Australia


Laws to keep high-risk terror suspects behind bars an 'attack on a free society'

Proposed laws that would see high-risk terror suspects behind bars have been labelled an attack on freedom by civil liberty groups.

The federal government is reportedly considering fast-tracking laws to keep high-risk offenders locked away, even after their sentence is served.

But Stephen Blanks, president of the NSW council for civil liberties, told Neil Mitchell it wasn't the answer.

He said it undermined one of the key aspects of a free society.

"It's handing terrorists a victory," he said on 3AW Mornings.

Article (with Audio): Laws to keep high-risk terror suspects behind bars an 'attack on a free society'

Source: 3AW Mornings with Neil Mitchell


Census 2016: changes an "abuse" of public's trust

PRIVACY experts claim people may list false information on next month’s census because their names and addresses will be kept as part of the data.

Previously identifying information was destroyed once the other census data had been recorded but it will now be kept until 2020.

An Australian Bureau of Statistics spokesman yesterday said all personal information would be stored “securely and separate” but the NSW Council for Civil Liberties warned that some people’s concerns over how the government might use the information could cause a backlash of false information, from income bracket to religion.

“If people know their information will be identifiable and retained by the government, then it is very likely some people may chose not to answer all the questions honestly,” president Stephen Blanks said.

“We now have some politicians calling for discriminatory action against people of a particular faith, for example. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for them to think twice (before filling out the survey).”

Article: Census 2016: changes an "abuse" of public's trust

Source: The Daily Telegraph


'High Steaks' - Barbecue owners feel the heat

THE great Australian tradition of having friends over for a barbecue might get the chop for unit dwellers under changes to strata laws.

Tenants who create too much smoke when barbecuing their sausages on balconies could face fines of up to $2200 – double the penalty under old laws. It will also impact smokers, if the smoke from their cigarettes or cigars drifts into neighbouring units.

The new rules acknowledge that smoke drift, such as tobacco and barbecue, can be considered a “nuisance or hazard”.

NSW Council of Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks said it could be considered un-Australian but there was no civil right to smoke or to barbecue.

“It might be un Australian to try to stop people using their barbecue but problems between neighbours do arise and there needs to be mechanism in place to deal with it,” he said.

Article: Barbecue owners feel the heat (click here for offline version)

Source: Inner West Courier


Anti-protest laws under the spotlight at pub

NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) president will be guest speaker at New Politics in the Pub on Wednesday July 27 from 6.30pm at the Court House Hotel in Mullumbimby.

The topic of discussion by president Stephen Blanks will be the recently introduced anti-protest laws by the Baird Liberal/Nationals government that radically extends police powers against opponents of mining projects and heavily fines those who ‘lock on’ to mining equipment.

It’s called Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Act 2016 and only passed with votes from two crossbench parties: the Shooters and Fishers Party and Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party.

Article: Anti-protest laws under the spotlight at pub

Source: Echo Netdaily