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NSWCCL President 'police strip search targets a political exercise'

Media coverage: The Saturday Paper

In New South Wales, police now have quotas to search people and move on others. They call these “proactive strategies”. This financial year, they will conduct 237,089 searches. Some will be strip-searches. Some will be conducted against minors. Few will turn up results.

Police set these targets. They hoped for 241,632 searches last financial year, but fell short by a couple of thousand. There is no evidence the targets reduce crime. If anything, they distract police and malign the community.

On Thursday, Nicholas Cowdery, QC, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the quotas created a “great potential for abuse of power”. The state’s former director of public prosecutions said the “natural human response will be to seek to meet the target by proper or improper means – by fudging, by exercising power where it is not properly warranted”.

Most potently, he said the targets were “a political exercise on the part of the police and, consequently, on the part of the government”.

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NSWCCL President says police strip search targets open to abuse of power

Media coverage: Sydney Morning Herald

NSW Police aimed to conduct almost a quarter of a million personal searches last financial year as part of a quota-driven system slammed as a politically motivated "numbers game" by the state's ex-top prosecutor.

Figures revealed under freedom-of-information laws show individual police area commands are set targets for the execution of powers such as searches and move-on orders, as well as addressing an array of crimes, with people in some areas targeted for searches at nearly 13 times the average rate.

Former director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, who is now the president of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, said the use of targets meant there was "great potential for abuse of power."

"If a target is set by superior officers, especially a target that will be relevant to performance assessment, natural human response will be to seek to meet the target by proper or improper means - by fudging, by exercising power where it is not properly warranted," he said.

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Walking together for a better future

In 2018, CCL endorsed the recommendations of the Final Report of the National Constitutional Convention, held at Uluru in 2017. CCL resolved to call on the Australian Government/Parliament to respect and act on the recommendations of the Report and to progress the Uluru Statement From The Heart recommendation for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations a Voice to the Commonwealth Parliament. The Convention also called for the establishment of a ‘Makaratta Commission’ to oversee the process of truthtelling and agreement making, referencing the notion, 'nothing about us, without us'. 

CCL also supports extra-constitutional recognition of the unique role played by First Nations communities in Australia. This would be a clear assertion of self-determination, with the potential to profoundly benefit First Nations Peoples.

In late 2019 we founded our First Nations Justice Action Group to plan and guide our work in this space.

CCL joins advocates and community leaders to talk First Nations Justice

Recently, CCL was invited to join a meeting at Australia Hall with advocates and First Nations community leaders to talk about paths forward for recognition of truth, for self-determination, and First Nations justice. Present were representatives from Reconciliation NSW, Change the RecordAustralians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR), Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, Aboriginal Catholic Ministry and the Jewish Board of Deputies. Also attending were community members who are passionate about progress on justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

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Strip search inquiry cut short

NSWCCL condemns the premature closure of the inquiry into potentially illegal strip searches conducted on minors by police in NSW. The Guardian has revealed that the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) confirmed it will no longer hold further hearings as part of the inquiry, which last year uncovered evidence of the widespread misuse of strip search powers by police in NSW.  

The LECC had been due to hold more public hearings in either late January or February into the psychological impacts of strip searching on minors, but in a brief statement a spokeswoman for the LECC said it now had “no intention to call further evidence at this stage”.

The decision to cut the inquiry short comes just a month after the NSW government announced it would not renew the term of its chief commissioner, Michael Adams QC, which prompted accusations his removal was a “cynical” attempt to cut the inquiry short.

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NSWCCL calls for withdrawal of revised religious discrimination bill

NSWCCL has made a submission on the Government's second exposure draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019. This follows our highly critical, but nonetheless, slightly hopeful submission on the first exposure draft of the Bill in October last year. We had been hopeful that the many problems civil liberties and human rights groups had identified in the Bill might be addressed, so that this second version would provide much needed protections against religious discrimination -particularly for minority religions - which are appropriately balanced with the rights of other groups in the Australian community. 

The draft Bill's up-front objectives are spot-on: to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religious belief; to ensure everyone has the same rights to equality before the law and that people can make statements of religious belief- all subject to reasonable restrictions. Most significantly they affirm the 'indivisibility and universality of human rights and their equal status in international law.' (Clause 3) 

However the new draft  Bill fails to deliver on these objectives - it dangerously expands the over-privileging of religious rights in relation to other rights, weakens existing protections available for other groups under current state and federal anti-discrimination laws.  If it becomes law, this Bill will increase  discrimination against and harm for many groups in the Australian community. 

It seems clear that the objects of the draft Bill have been distorted by the insertion of numerous provisions for the sole reason of conceding to the demands of major religious groups for both exceptionally broad rights and protections from discrimination by others and an extraordinary range of exemptions and exceptions amounting to an extensive right to discriminate against others with legal impunity.

In summary, NSWCCL considers this second exposure draft Bill privileges religious rights to the detriment of other rights and weakens existing anti-discrimination laws much more seriously than did the first exposure draft. We are firmly of the belief that the Government must withdraw the Bill and start again with a better and more cohesive process. 

 

 NSWCCL submission on the second exposure draft RDB

 

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Religious Discrimination Bill: a Trojan Horse

Media Coverage: The Guardian

- Article by NSWCCL Committee Member, Lydia Shelly, lawyer and student in terrorism and security studies.

'‘For Muslims, this bill is a Trojan horse. It will enshrine prejudice and discrimination into law."

This article brings to light the very real challenges that the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 raises for people of minority faiths and the LGBTQI community.

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Protesting the planet is not a crime

Freedom of speech and protest are fundamental to a democratic political process. NSWCCL affirms support for urgent action, at the federal and state levels, to combat the severe, climate change threat.

On January 31st, we joined climate defenders at the Downing Centre before they headed into court. They were arrested in December at Kirribilli House while protesting in favour of climate action. Those arrested included Greens MP David Shoebridge. He was charged with disobeying a police direction to move on.

NSWCCL Secretary Michelle Falstein spoke to those gathered saying that citizens of this state should not fear the police when exercising their constitutional rights and that, change in the policy of intimidation by the NSW police force, is clearly required.

David Shoebridge told the crowd, "Most of us will be pleading not guilty today because we refuse to bow to police and government pressure - they cannot police their way out of the climate crisis". 

We will keep you updated as to the date fixed for hearing of the charges.

 

 

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NSWCCL President on ABC The Drum

NSWCCL President Nick Cowdery AO QC appeared on ABC The Drum on 28th January 2020, speaking from his expertise as previous Director of Public Prosecutions. 

Adam Spencer joined Dr Ngiare Brown, Nicholas Cowdery and Erin Watson-Lynn to discuss the impact of coronavirus plus an ABC investigation revealed a pattern of failure by police to take action on sexual assault complaints.

Are police failing some survivors of sexual assault? New data reveals a significant lack of action on assault claims lodged.

"I’ve been told it took years for your researchers to get these figures, and it was very difficult, and in the Northern Territory they wouldn’t even play ball."

On the broader effects of #coronavirus in Australia:

"We must be very careful not to treat this as an ethnic issue. The virus doesn’t discriminate against different ethnicities and neither should we."

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Correspondence with the NSW AG

In August CCL wrote to the NSW Attorney General on a number of matters relating to the administration of justice. We recently received a response from the Attorney General

We remained deeply concerned that, despite the Government Commissioning reports to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody, the statistics remain shamefully high. We remain uninformed about the details of the specific additional funding/initiatives. It is important that these initiatives are detailed to the community so that the community, in particular the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, are in a position to evaluate government action in relation to this crucial issue.

We call upon the government, as a starting point to:

  • Fund the Walama Court (specific sentencing court for Aboriginal people); 
  • Fund residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres in a regional areas (noting many regional areas simply do not have a residential rehabilitation facility, making it difficult if not impossible for people to access the assistance they need thus leaving individuals, families and communities vulnerable to the devastating impacts of serious addiction)     
  • Establish a committee led by the advice and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice and health professionals to implement the recommendations of the ALRC pathways report (insert link). The committee should include Federal and State representatives to ensure there is a whole of government response to addressing this important issue.

 

NSWCCL letter to Mark Speakman, Attorney General (26th August 2019)

Return correspondence from the Attorney General (Dated January 2020)

 

NSWCCL Action Group Convenors, First Nations Justice - Rebecca McMahon, and Criminal justice, police powers and mental health, Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson

 

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Concerning additions to census collection topics

NSWCCL provided a submission to the Australian Treasury on the Census and Statistics Amendment (Statistical Information) Regulations 2019 (Regs) amending the Census and Statistics Regulation 2016. This amendment makes significant and concerning changes to the regulation which we oppose on privacy grounds.

Whilst NSWCCL supports the updating of the statistical information topics for inclusion in the census we oppose mandatory collection of sensitive health information and its storage for 4 years by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

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Australian doctors' plea for Assange

Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans has rallied a group of over 100 doctors who have written to the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Marise Payne asking that the Australian government meet its obligation to its citizen and intervene for wellbeing of Julian Assange.

The doctors' action follows warnings from medical and human rights experts that Mr Assange’s health is rapidly deteriorating and that he might die in a UK prison where he is being held pending US extradition hearings that begin in February.

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Civil Source December 2019

December 2019 Newsletter

In this issue -

  • Medevac - another shameful last week in the Australian Parliament
  • Major rethink on police strip search powers urgently needed
  • Religious Discrimination Bill – trouble ahead?
  • Government secrecy or a free media?
  • Meet the 2020 NSWCCL Committee
  • In the media

Read/Download the December Issue (PDF) HERE

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Medevac – another shameful last week in the Australian Parliament

This time last year we lamented the reckless proceedings in the last sitting day of the Australian Parliament as the ALP allowed the Government to force through the widely opposed encryption-breaking legislation without even discussing the amendments they and others in the Senate had put forward as essential  to reduce the excesses in the bill.

There was, however, one stunningly positive parliamentary act, brilliantly initiated by determined independents with the support of the ALP: the passage, against extreme warnings as to disastrous consequences by the Government, of the Medevac law.  A rare, compassionate intervention to remediate aspects of our shameful, ongoing off-shore incarceration of asylum seekers. 

This year we witnessed the shameful and gratuitous repeal of this legislation.

It had worked well. It had not led to an influx of asylum seekers. The Government had no motivation other than assertion of its power. The Government’s utter determination to repeal this one compassionate asylum seeker law reeks of vindictiveness.

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Religious Discrimination Bill – trouble ahead?

Like many others, NSWCCL scrambled to make a submission to the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department on the Religious Discrimination Exposure Draft Bill 2019 in early October.  The Department says it received around 6000 submissions – of which it has to date only published c100.

The Government had wanted to have the Bill brought before this sitting of Parliament. But following very soon after a joint letter from most church leaders indicating their strong opposition to the Bill, the Attorney General has now indicated the Government will release an amended version of the Bill before the end of the year but postpone Parliamentary consideration of the issue until next year.

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Australia's 'secret trials'

Media Coverage: ABC Radio The World Today

Are ‘secret trials’ happening in Australia more than we think?

The mysterious case of a man imprisoned in the ACT last year in a process which was hidden from the public, is raising questions over whether more such "secret trials" are taking place in Australia.

It is understood that the prisoner, given a pseudonym of Alan Johns, was a former intelligence official, but details about his crime and background have been kept suppressed.

Interview with: Stephen Blanks, spokesperson, New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Brian Toohey, author and Michael Shoebridge, defence director, Australian Strategic Policy Institute

Listen HERE.

 

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Submission: free and equal, a conversation on human rights

NSWCCL has endorsed the Human Rights for NSW Alliance's submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission's national conversation on human rights in Australia - Free and Equal. The submission makes a number of recommendations and builds the case for a Human Rights Act in NSW. 

NSWCCL is a founding member of Human Rights for NSW Alliance. Human Rights for NSW is an alliance of community, legal, rights-based and civil society organisations campaigning to ensure that the human rights of NSW citizens are expressed and guaranteed by law so we are all treated fairly, and with dignity, equality and respect.

This submission is endorsed by 33 member organisations, including Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, Human Rights Law Centre, Community Legal Centres NSW, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT and the NSW Bar Association. 

Everyone in NSW deserves to be treated fairly and equally. NSWCCL supports the campaign for a Human Rights Act for NSW.

View submission


 

 

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NSW mobile phone detection bill seriously flawed

A NSW Parliamentary Committee has recommended the Legislative Council should proceed to consider the Transport Amendment (Mobile Phone Detection) Bill 2019, including any amendments in relation to the reverse onus of proof, the use of artificial intelligence and privacy.

NSWCCL agrees strongly that mobile phone use whilst driving is a serious issue which needs to be addressed to protect the safety of the community.

We do not, however, support this Bill on the basis that it unjustifiably reverses the onus of proof and fails to provide adequate protections to assure the public that the information captured by the cameras is used for the sole purpose of prosecuting mobile phone offences.

NSWCCL also has concerns about the inherent risks of using AI to identify criminal behaviour given the lack of transparency as to the underpinning algorithms driving the assessment.

We welcome the Committee’s recognition of these concerns in their report and single recommendation.

The Bill should be amended significantly to address these problems before the Legislative Council approves it.                                                   

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Mobile phone detection cameras, 'there's no need to reverse the onus of proof' - NSWCCL's Stephen Blanks

Media coverage: The Guardian

Legislation that reverses onus of proof described as ‘a dangerous precedent’

NSW courts could be flooded with tens of thousands of cases every year if the NSW government moves ahead with plans to roll out cameras that use artificial intelligence to detect drivers using their mobile phones, a parliamentary committee has warned.

The NSW Council of Civil Liberties’ Stephen Blanks said there was no need to reverse the onus of proof if the quality of the photographs was high enough to rule out confusion about what was in a driver’s hand.

Read more HERE.

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NSW mandatory disease testing, frontline worker attacks

Media Coverage: 7 News

NSWCCL Treasurer, Stephen Blanks, spoke to 7NEWS Sydney in relation to the NSW Government's announcement to introduce a scheme for mandatory disease testing for people who expose frontline workers to bodily fluid. The proposed scheme would test for blood borne viruses including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. "Reasonable suspicion of a police officer doesn't really provide an evidence-based, medical reason for the action."

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Review: 2019 Annual General Meeting

The 56th Annual General Meeting of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) was held at the Sydney Town Hall Council Chamber, George Street Sydney on Wednesday 23rd October.

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