News

Removal of Rights in NSW, An Exclusive Interview with Stephen Blanks

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has been at the forefront of the Australian civil rights movement since 1963. Over the last 50 years, they’ve been tireless in their fight against censorship, abuse of authority, and injustice within the legal system. In 2010, the group played a pivotal role in passing legislation which banned the re-introduction of capital punishment across Australia.

It was an unexpected defamation threat, addressed to one of his clients, that led Stephen Blanks, the group’s current president, to cross paths with the group. His client, an author, was being pursued by a Government department over allegations he had made in a recent book.

“I had a eureka moment and thought of the Council for Civil Liberties,” he said. Days later, the threat was withdrawn: “It was an absolutely stunning victory. From that moment on I was hooked on the idea of being able to achieve outcomes through ways other than straight law.”

Mr Blanks sat down with Sydney Criminal Lawyers earlier this week, to discuss civil liberties, lockouts and the Government’s new anti-protest laws.

Read full article below

Article: Removal of Rights in NSW: An Exclusive Interview

Source: Sydney Criminal Lawyers Blog

Share

Government and conservative parties force through outrageous anti-protest law

Despite widespread opposition from the legal profession, anti- CSG and environmental groups, farmers, unions, concerned citizens   and, of course,  NSWCCL the Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016 was forced through Parliament on Tuesday.

NSW now has another set of laws which encroach on fundamental democratic rights – in this case the right to peaceful protest. It is unnecessary and disproportionate legislation. We will maintain our opposition and campaign for its repeal.

The Labor Party and the Greens made last ditch efforts to amend the Bill to remove its most disturbing provisions. Failing that they called for the referral of the Bill to a Parliamentary Committee for proper consideration and public consultation. 

Not surprisingly the Government rejected all their amendments- with the support of the Shooters Party and the Christian Democrats. The latter was a surprise given that Fred Niles had addressed the protest rally  against the Bill outside Parliament House on Tuesday assuring the crowd of his strong opposition to the Bill and his support for the right to protest in a democracy like Australia.

Amendments proposed by the Shooters and Fishers party were however accepted by the Government. One of these provides for a review of the operation of the legislation  by the Minister after 3 years. Much will have happened in three years in this important community debate around CSG activities. An earlier review would have been preferable to provide some insight into the impact of the legislation on legitimate protest around this issue. It would also been far preferable if the review  was to be done by  someone in a more independent position than the Minister – eg parliamentary committee or the Ombudsman – and that community consultation  be required as part of the review.

The other amendments were minor improvements. The most significant ensures that police directions given to protesters who obstruct traffic only refer to the individuals so doing and not to the whole gathering.  

A sad few days in the NSW parliament.

 

Read more about this bill on our website:

Anti-Protest laws: What are they and who hates them?

Anti-Protest bill: Community outrage grows

Share

Anti-protest bill update - community outrage grows

The outrageous Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016– better know as the ‘anti-protest’ bill-  will be further debated in the NSW Legislative Council today.

This bill is a deliberate Government attack on the right to public assembly and public protest in NSW and proposes unwarranted and dangerous expansions of discretionary police powers.

Read more
Share

New Digital Rights organisation sets sights on data retention rollback

A new Australian organisation aims to build a broader fight-back around digital civil liberties. Digital Rights Watch officially launched on Friday 11th March, 2016. The chair of the organisation, Tim Singleton Norton, said that DRW isn’t intended as a replacement for existing digital rights and privacy organisations.

Instead the intention is for it to act as an umbrella organisation that can link together and amplify the efforts of different sectors affected by legislation such as the data retention regime.

Singleton Norton said that 2015 was a “pretty horrific year”, citing the introduction of the data retention scheme, the government’s National Facial Biometric Matching Capability and theTrans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement inching closer.

“All of these things came through so rapidly and with very little public debate,” he said.

He said that although there have been some strong advocates on issues such as data retention, ultimately the government has managed to push through legislation with minimal public backlash.

The organisation has a range of what Singleton Norton describes as ‘foundation partners’ — organisations and individuals that have endorsed the general idea of the organisation and have contributed to its formation in some capacity or another.

Among them are Choice, Thoughtworks, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, the Australian Privacy Foundation, human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, broadcaster Mary Kostakidis, and iiNet founder Michael Malone.

Article 1: New digital rights org sets sights on data retention rollback

Source 1: Computerworld

Article 2: Digital Rights: A New Lobby Group Uniting the Greenies and the IPA. Article no longer available

Source 2: The New Matilda

Share

Digital Rights Watch launched!

In early 2016, a group of organisations and individuals formed and launched the Digital Rights Watch, an advocacy group whose mission is to ensure that Australian citizens are equipped, empowered and enabled to uphold their digital rights.

The coalition, which included representatives from NSWCCL, saw the need to form DRW in response to increasingly oppressive policy by the government in eroding the rights of its citizens online, such as mandatory data retention, website blocking legislation, industry code for online copyright infringement, and the constricting effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the digital rights of Australians.

The DRW is mobilising for various upcoming campaigns, and we are looking for any volunteers and supporters who are interested in joining with us to deliver a fairer, freer, internet for all Australians!

Join our action group to participate in the dialogue or check out the Digital Rights Watch website for more information on the initiative.

Got questions/comments on this exciting new campaign? Email us at [email protected] 

 

Share

Mike Baird’s anti-protest laws – what are they and who hates them

On Tuesday 8th March, 2016, the Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016 was proposed in the NSW Parliament. The aim of the bill is to "amend and clarify the laws in relation to unlawful interference with mining and other businesses", however concern has been expressed over the expansive powers given to the police, with some commentators referring to it as the 'Anti-Protest' Bill. 

The New Matilda reports that these proposed 'anti-protest laws' follow on from undertakings like those made by Premier Mike Baird at a mining industry dinner in late 2014, where he said his government would “crack down” on civil disobedience and “throw the book” at people who “unlawfully enter mining sites”.

In response to the media release of the proposed amendment, President of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks spoke to The New Matilda, and noted that what the state government is proposing appears to be “completely unnecessary and disproportionate” to the challenges thrown up by protests against big mining.

"If criminal activity does take place and miners or coal seam gas proponents suffer loss, then they’ve always got the ability to sue the protestors to claim damages. That should compensate them for whatever loss they’ve suffered. That’s a perfectly adequate remedy. It’s been pursued a number of times and there’s no reason to expose people to draconian fines in addition to claims for compensation,” he said.

“Where people are trespassing,” Blanks said, “the law concerning trespass is perfectly adequate to deal with any activity and there’s no need to change them.”

“Police powers which are based on their assessment of a person’s intention are very easily able to be abused and undoubtedly will be abused in many cases – police shouldn’t have those kinds of powers,” Blanks said.

With the full extent of the bill still uncertain, Blanks said that there’s a broader issue within that “police may be seen to be one-sidedly supporting mining interests where there is a legitimate protest going on, which is just going to cause the community to lose confidence in the police”.

He said that “the lessons of history are that very often protests which start this way generate a level of community attention to the issue which causes a complete change in community attitudes against the interests of miners and other commercial interests such as forestry”.

“Protest has on occasion involved civil disobedience and breaches of laws, and there are very, very many cases where the protestors – even though they’ve been engaged in illegal activities – have had widespread or overwhelming community support,” Blanks said.

 

Read More about this bill on our website:

Anti-protest Bill: community outrage grows

Government and conservative parties force through outrageous anti-protest law

Share

‘A form of intimidation’: inside Australia’s most secretive law enforcement body

A recent federal court prosecution over evidence to the Australian Crime Commission has revealed some of the practices that take place in its closed interrogations. It notes that the commission has the power to force people to give evidence against their friends and family in secret. This can later be used to help build criminal investigations.

The article in the The Guardian follows ZZ (pseudonym), who is just one of dozens of people being compelled to give evidence against their friends and family in relation to terrorism matters. His case is the latest in a string of people who are often described as “linked to” or “closely connected” to terrorism investigations – although they may have committed no offences themselves – brought before the commission or its state equivalent, the New South Wales Crime Commission.

“The Australian Crime Commission regime where they have very draconian powers to force people to give evidence is a great concern. These powers are now obviously being exercised frequently and regularly,” said Stephen Blanks, the president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

“There is almost no scrutiny or accountability with how the ACC works. And it is entirely possible that its activities are a significant factor in deterring people in the Australian community from cooperating with law enforcement agencies because of the fear that draconian powers will be used against them.”

Article: ‘A form of intimidation’: inside Australia’s most secretive law enforcement body

Source: The Guardian

Share

Victim of NSW hospital privacy breach calls for change to Government legislation

A woman whose privacy was breached in a NSW hospital said current laws hampered her from taking action after a nurse took explicit photographs of her while she was undergoing surgery at Norwest Private Hospital in late 2014.

A New South Wales parliamentary inquiry has been examining whether legislation was needed to deal with serious invasions of privacy.

It has handed down seven recommendations, which include introducing laws that allow victims to take legal action if an individual has recklessly or intentionally breached their privacy.

Stephen Blanks from the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties said any legislation needed to include provisions to ensure that there were not undue restrictions on matters that were in the public interest.

"If there are overriding public interest considerations then they have to be allowed for," he said. "So I think that it's a very important element of any scheme that is brought in."

Article:Victim of NSW hospital privacy breach calls for change to Government legislation

Source: ABC News Online

Share

Crime commission secretly interrogated Australian who was allegedly tortured by foreign agency

A 20-year-old Australian who alleged he was tortured by a foreign intelligence agency was forced to undergo a coercive interrogation before the Australian Crime Commission and questioned more than five times by Australian Security Intelligence Organisation operatives.

The ACC can compel people to attend hearings in secret and force them to answer questions.

After refusing to answer a series of inquiries to the ACC’s satisfaction, ZZ was charged and found guilty of contempt by the federal court and imprisoned for a month until he agreed to answer questions.

The president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, told Guardian Australia the “draconian powers” of the ACC were of great concern.

“There is almost no scrutiny or accountability with how the ACC works. And it is entirely possible that its activities are a significant factor in deterring people in the Australian community from cooperating with law enforcement agencies because of the fear that draconian powers will be used against them,” he said.

“We need to return to a system where people cannot be forced, against their will, to give evidence which incriminates themselves or their spouses, children or parents. The privilege against self-incrimination is a fundamental freedom. Any government concerned with fundamental freedoms would turn their attention to the operation of the ACC and reduce its powers.”

Article: Crime commission secretly interrogated Australian who was allegedly tortured by foreign agency

Source: The Guardian

Share

Submission: Inquiry into the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill 2016

The Australian Parliament is currently debating a Bill to reform the Senate electoral processes. It is very dismal listening: much abuse, much nonsense, and very little intelligent analysis.  And all happening in a last-minute dash.  

Not Parliament at its best.

NSWCCL supports immediate reform of the distorted and undemocratic Senate electoral processes. We have urged this since the 2013 elections so dramatically illustrated the undemocratic processes and outcomes of this broken system.  We have made a submission to the Joint Committee on Electoral Matters supporting a Bill which, if amended on one key matter, will deliver that reform.

Read more
Share

'Nanny state' laws are what ISIS wants, says Tyler Brûlé

Culture guru Tyler Brûlé has doubled-down on his previous criticism of Australia's "nanny state" laws, arguing they sacrifice the sort of freedoms that terrorist groups like Islamic State want us to forgo.

Speaking to Fairfax Media for the launch of a special Australia edition of his lifestyle magazine Monocle, the influential editor and critic said regulations such as Sydney's 1.30am lockout and tough liquor laws were "curbing fun" in a similar way to ISIS.

But the president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, did not share Brûlé's degree of concern about nightlife. He said the style icon was focused on "entirely the wrong losses of freedoms" compared to the more serious issues of free speech and police overreach.

"It's not the thin edge of the wedge," Mr Blanks said. "The wedge is splitting up families and detaining people without charge, without reason, on national security grounds. That's scary.

"Having police come in to Paddington wine bars is bad and shouldn't happen, but it's not on the same scale."

Article:  'Nanny state' laws are what ISIS wants, says Tyler Brûlé

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Share

COPS database forum: final report

photo.JPG

 COPS Database Forum: October 21st 2015

On October 21st 2015, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties in conjunction with the Law Society of New South Wales held a forum on the Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) database.

The panel comprised  Jackson Rogers, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties’ Convenor – Justice, Police & Mental Health Action Group (Chair);  Camilla Pandolfini, Senior Solicitor at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre;  David Porter, Senior Solicitor at the Redfern Legal Centre;  and Chris Watson, barrister from Forbes Chambers.

The event was a great success, and discussion both within the panel and with the attending audience brought many issues to light about the functions and impacts of the COPS database including:

  • Can a person access information held about them on the COPS Database?
  • How do police make entries on the COPS database?
  • Are COPS Database entries used in criminal trials?
  • What about false entries in the Database? 
  • Is the COPS Database just proactive policing, and is that not a good thing
  • What would be an appropriate oversight mechanism? 

To read the full report and minutes of the event, please follow the links below. If you are interested in this forum, or others like it, subscribe to our newsletter for more information on upcoming events, become a supporter and tell us what you think, or join NSWCCL and help support the fight for civil liberties!

COPS Database Forum: Full Report

 

Share

China sentence for Perth murder sets dangerous cross-border precedent

A Chinese-born, Australian passport holder, Zhao Nuo, has been prosecuted in China for the murder of his wife in Perth.

Zhao successfully managed to flee the country before police could prosecute and was then convicted in China. Zhao's conviction was hailed in Australian and Chinese media reports as a major breakthrough in cross-border law enforcement co-operation. But at what cost?

Zhao is an Australian citizen, who committed a crime, albeit a horrifically brutal one, in Australia before fleeing to China.

In the absence of an extradition treaty, he was tried and ultimately convicted in China, a country with little regard for legal niceties or judicial process. While Australian authorities were assured the death penalty would not be imposed, it's not clear what, if any, other safeguards were sought or received.

"There are some basic conditions on criminal prosecutions that should have been sought and apparently were not .... things like an open court trial, access to counsel and the right to challenge evidence," says Stephen Blanks, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

"The question is whether we should co-operate with a system which does not afford defendants basic human rights."

Article: China sentence for Perth murder sets dangerous cross-border precedent

Source: Australian Financial Review

Share

Independent monitor finds major flaws in s35P disclosure offences

The report by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor –Roger Gyles QC - on the controversial section 35P provisions of the ASIO Act was tabled in the Senate on 2nd February.   These provisions created draconian offences with penalties of 5 and 10 years imprisonment for disclosure by any person of any  information relating to ASIO ‘Special Intelligence Operations’ (SIO) at any time.  

NSWCCL, along with the other councils for civil liberties, strongly opposed both the SIO regime and these provisions for their chilling effect on the media and on reasonable scrutiny of ASIO.  The controversy around these offences forced the Prime Minister to ask the INSLM to review their impact on journalists.  

The report is thorough and suggests the INSLM gave proper and serious consideration to the informed criticisms of the SIO regime and the obnoxious disclosure offences.   His findings on the offences are consistent with our views. His recommendations remedy some of the worst aspects of the offences – but sadly fall short of repealing them.

The Government has said it will implement the INSLM’s recommendations in full. 

Read more
Share

'Legal rape' group leader announces he will come to Australia

Daryush "Roosh" Valizadeh, founder of the self-styled men's advocacy group Return of Kings, a "neomasculinist" group, announced on Twitter on Monday evening that he had booked a ticket on a flight to Australia. The move appears to be in response to online outcry over news that Mr Valizadeh's supporters would host face-to-face "tribal meetings" in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane on Saturday. A representative of City of Sydney Council said the council "are making sure the police know about the meeting".

Solicitor Stephen Blanks, the President of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, said there may be grounds for police to disrupt the meeting.

"If the organisers of the assembly don't give one week's notice to the police then the police may enforce the law about unlawful assembly and obstruction against the people who participate," Mr Blanks said.

"Defending the right of free speech involves providing opportunities to people to express opinions which society appals and rejects. The right to free speech does not include the right to advocate violence in any way that may encourage actual violence against women or anyone else.

"If this group is stepping over that boundary, they have no right to assembly."

Article:'Legal rape' group Return of Kings leader Daryush 'Roosh' Valizadeh announces he will come to Australia

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

Share

Drug testing ‘undermines work ethic’

The Advertiser revealed a staggering half of an entire Wagga work crew was walked offsite this week after testing positive to drugs. 

Despite the incident acting as a damning reminder of how entrenched the drug scourge is in Wagga, civil libertarians have dubbed the growing reality of compulsory work site drug testing as “ludicrous” and “farcical”. 

NSW Council for Civil Liberties president, Stephen Blanks, said a worker could return a positive reading days, weeks and even months after using, but that their ability to work may not be impaired.

“Employers have a responsibility to make sure the workplace is safe and machinery is operated safely, but drug testing is not a satisfactory way of ensuring that and can operate to the extreme prejudice of workers,” Mr Blanks said. “Detection of drugs in blood or saliva is not a real indication of impairment.”

Article: Drug testing 'undermines work ethic'

Source: The Daily Advertiser

Share

December 2015 Newsletter

National issues | 800 year anniversary of signing of Magna Carta |Counter-terrorism

NSW Issues | Police Oversight reform in NSW

CCL Issues | Submissions | Action Group Profile: Free Speech, Privacy and Open Government | Join an Action Group

Download December 2015 Newsletter

Share

Dr Harry Melkonian and Stephen Blanks on Gun Control

This Benchmark Television broadcast is with Dr Harry Melkonian who practises in New York, California and Australia with NSW Council for Civil Liberties President Stephen Blanks on USA and Australian gun laws.

Video: Dr Harry Melkonian and Stephen Blanks on Gun Control in USA and Australia (link no longer available)

Source: Benchmark TV

Share

Protesters fed up with ‘the wealthy always winning’

Thousands of protesters are expected to picket the streets of Newtown on December 12, blocking traffic as a “demonstration of the gridlock the WestConnex will cause” and to demand a “liveable city for all”.

The protest will double as a street party, with a ‘multi-stage mobile protest festival’ starring local bands and DJs filling the streets of Newtown.

“The common issue is that the State Government is more interested in looking after lobby groups that have given them money than the interests of the average citizen,” Mr Loch said. “Take the lockout laws, for example. We saw a bunch of property developers smashing up our old venues and putting in plans to build massive apartment blocks on them.”

Stephen Blanks, the president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, told City Hub that the lockout laws limited individual freedom.

“While the lockout laws represent a restriction of civil liberties, one can’t say there haven’t been corresponding benefits,” Mr Blank told City Hub.

“There are competing civil liberties involved in licensing laws: one is the ability to obtain services at licensed premises at whatever time of day suits you, versus the ability to walk the streets safely,” he said. “There are choices to be made about where to draw the line, and balance competing interests, and those should be regularly looked at.”

Article: Protestors fed up with ‘the wealthy always winning

Source: Alt Media 

Share

Australia Passes Law To Strip Terror Convicts Of Citizenship

Australia's parliament has passed legislation to strip dual nationals of their citizenship if they are convicted of terrorism offences or found to have fought with banned groups overseas, despite concerns about deporting jihadists.

Attorney-General George Brandis said the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill, passed late Thursday, updated existing law to reflect "the new age of terrorism".

Stephen Blanks, president of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, said Australia would be breaching its international obligations if it sent people back to countries where they faced torture.

"It's not going to have any real impact on solving the problem," he told AFP on Friday.

Article: Australia passes anti-terrorism law to strip citizenship

Source: AFP

Share