In the past few weeks, Christian leaders have decided to voice those fears from the pulpit in an attempt to reframe the public debate around same-sex marriage in Australia, most notably over the issue of 'religious freedom' where the archbishop cited the case of the Oregon bakers who were earlier this year ordered to pay almost $200,000 in damages after they refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.
To civil libertarians, the notion of accommodating prejudice towards same-sex couples in the name of religious observance is absurd.
"Can bakers refuse to supply weddings to Indigenous people on the grounds of their race? Can bakers refuse to supply cakes to Islamic people on the grounds of their race?" NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks said.
"I think it's an absolute misunderstanding of what cake suppliers do," he said. "They supply the cakes."
Mr Blanks said there were already exceptions to anti-discrimination laws to accommodate religious groups.
"In my view, the ability to apply to the Human Rights Commission for exemption from anti-discrimination laws is a suitable mechanism for giving service providers an opportunity to obtain exemptions in particular cases," he said.
"There may be some service providers who are closely associated with particular religious bodies that may merit exemption. Of course, I am left wondering why a religiously oriented wedding cake supplier would feel that it is necessary for faith-based reasons to discriminate on sexual orientation grounds, but not on the basis of whether or not the wedding couple had maintained celibacy."
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
Further proposed changes to the anti-terror laws by the Turnbull government have seen interest internationally from various groups pointing out Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government has seized on the tragic October 2 shooting in western Sydney of a police staff member by a 15-year-old boy to bring forward planned laws that will include imposing control orders on children as young as 14.
No evidence has been produced that the teenager, Farhad Jabar, shot and killed police accountant Curtis Cheng as an act of terrorism. Jabar himself was quickly gunned down by police and killed. No group, including Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has claimed responsibility for his action.
They note however, that there is already growing (domestic) public opposition to the new laws. NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks said they were “undoubtedly going to be in breach of human rights standards,” and condemned as “obviously unacceptable,” the “idea of detaining 14-year-old children for questioning without charge, and secretly for long periods of time.”
Provocatively, Sydney Muslim community leaders were not told about the latest measures when they met for “consultations” with Baird on Monday. Silma Ihram, from the Muslim Women’s Association said the laws would “feed straight into the narrative” of ISIS and “make things worse, unfortunately.”
Source: The World Socialist Web
The ACT government has expressed concern about a proposal to extend the reach of counter-terrorism control orders to youth as young as 14. Federal Attorney-General George Brandis said he would make the change after a request was made by NSW Premier Mike Baird. The request was prompted by the shooting of NSW Police accountant Curtis Cheng by a 15-year-old boy who has been linked to Islamic extremism.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has also criticised the proposed lowering of the control order age threshold.
"The proposed laws are undoubtedly going to be in breach of human rights standards," president Stephen Blanks told the ABC, "The idea of detaining 14-year-old children for questioning without charge, and secretly for long periods of time, should be obviously unacceptable to the whole community."
Source: The Canberra Times
In many people's estimation, NSW Premier Mike Baird is justified in making the case for tougher anti-terror laws in the wake of the October 2 jihadist murder outside Parramatta police station. In Monday’s letter to Malcolm Turnbull, Mr Baird restated the argument for lowering the threshold age for control orders from 16 to 14 and for law enforcement agencies to be allowed to hold terrorism suspects without charge for 28 days rather than the present 14.
However, Stephen Blanks, from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said the Baird proposal “undoubtedly” would breach human rights. “The idea of detaining 14-year-old children for questioning without charge, and secretly for long periods of time, should be obviously unacceptable to the whole community.”
Article: Tougher terror laws are needed
Source: The Australian
NSW premier Mike Baird's bid to allow police to hold terror suspects for four weeks without charge is "window dressing" and will not stop young people being radicalised, say civil libertarians. Mr Baird wants police to be given the power to keep suspects in custody for up to 28 days without charge and to lower the age from 16 to 14 years at which someone can be placed under a control order.
Stephen Blanks, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said the changes will not prevent future attacks.
"I don't think these proposed laws are a genuine attempt to make the community safer. They are simply window-dressing to give the appearance of doing something."
Mr Blanks said community programs, engagement and educational initiatives are the only way to ensure people do not become alienated.
Source: Channel 9 News
In the wake of the shooting of a Sydney Police accountant by a boy, terrorism suspects as young as 14 could have their movements restricted under new federal counter-terrorism laws. Attorney-General George Brandis has flagged the fifth tranche of Commonwealth anti-terror laws, less than two weeks after a 15-year-old boy shot dead Curtis Cheng outside NSW Police Headquarters.
However, Civil Liberty groups believe the existing laws are adequate.
The move, according to the President of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, will be draconian and counter-productive.
“Well, it is another knee jerk reaction to a problem that needs to be addressed in a different way,” he told ABC News Breakfast,"We need to have a conversation in Australia about how we deal with the threat of terrorism while at the same time maintaining human rights, and these laws are just going to be inconsistent with human rights protections.”
Article: Teen Control.. Tough New Terror Laws Proposed (article no longer available)
Source: The Huffington Post Australia
The Federal Government is set to introduce tough new anti-terror laws into Parliament.The legislation will include a proposal to lower the age at which a control order can be applied from 16 to 14. The New South Wales Government also wants changes that will allow terror suspects to be held for up to 28 days without charge.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties President says such laws would be draconian and ultimately counter-productive.
"The last thing we need is more laws. Australia has legislated more than any other country in response to terrorism and the legislation has been utterly counterproductive. What more extreme legislation does is alienate sections of the community. The proposed laws are undoubtedly going to be in breach of human rights standards."
Article/Radio Broadcast: Federal Government set to introduce new terror laws
Source: ABC AM Radio
Law changes requested by the New South Wales Government and agreed to by Senator Brandis could see young people closely monitored under potential laws aiming to lower the age of control orders from 16 to 14. The NSW Government also wants the legal time limits on holding suspects changed so that they could be held for up to four days (in place of four hours), with a court able to extend the detention period to 28 days (in place of 8 days).
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties said existing laws were adequate and the proposed changes would be excessive.
"The proposed laws are undoubtedly going to be in breach of human rights standards," council president Stephen Blanks said, "The idea of detaining 14-year-old children for questioning without charge, and secretly for long periods of time, should be obviously unacceptable to the whole community."
Source: ABC News
Tuesday (13 October) is the key date in data retention. From this day, most internet companies and telcos must start storing their customer's metadata and making it accessible to government agencies without a warrant.
The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015 requires telecommunications service providers to retain their customers' metadata for 2 years. Retained data will include the customer’s identity, and the date, time and form of communications. There is an exception if the Commonwealth decides that a service provider is allowed to delay implementation. The exception lasts for up to 18 months.
Government agencies tasked with enforcing criminal law such as the state and federal police will be able to access the retained data, if they consider it reasonably necessary for enforcing the criminal law. Other agencies tasked with imposing civil fines (such as the Australian Tax Office, Local Governments or the RSPCA) may also be given access to the data.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties considers mandatory data retention a core civil liberties issue. NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks said "the regime is indiscriminate and poorly regulated. There is a real risk the stored information might be misused by government agencies. It’s akin to banning everyone in the country from having blinds on their windows because a handful among us might be engaged in crime."
A teenager arrested during counter-terror raids in Sydney on Wednesday morning is still being held without being charged. Yesterday a court granted the Australian Federal Police (AFP) an additional 100 hours to question the 18-year-old male. Lawyers say they have grave concerns about allowing detention without charges, saying it amounts to a form of torture.
Similar laws have been enacted before, most notably with the example of a Queensland doctor, Mohammad Haneef, being detained in July 2007 for 12 days on suspicion of involvement in a terror attack on Glasgow airport.
The case against Dr Haneef ultimately fell apart, and he later won significant compensation from the Australian Government.The president of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, says the Haneef case exposed deep flaws in this legal provision.
"These are the types of laws that bring the authorities into disrepute and bring the law into disrepute. It's the kind of law which is so unfair that the community loses respect for the authorities when these kinds of detention powers are exercised and you only have to look at the Haneef case how that occurs."
Radio broadcast/transcript Concerns AFP detaining teenage terror suspect without charge
Source: ABC AM Radio
Police have charged a student after he was arrested on his way to Arthur Phillip High School - the same school attended by the 15-year-old who shot a man dead at Parramatta's police headquarters last week. At around 8.30am (Oct 6th), police approached the teenage boy about alleged posts on social media - which appeared to celebrate the shooting death of New South Wales police employee Curtis Cheng.
During the interaction, police allege the teenager threatened and intimidated police. But there have been questions about the circumstances of the arrest.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks says the actions were not appropriate and could be damaging to community relations.
"For all that's been said over the last few days about a new approach by the authorities towards the Muslim community, this incident shows that there is still some way to go before that community. Indeed the whole community is treated by police with the respect that the community is due," he said.
Mr Blanks says it will be interesting to see what the boy recorded of the police moments before his arrest.
"Police know that they don't have the right to access schools without going through the Department of Education's processes. The principal has to be notified and has to approve police being on school premises; parents have to be notified and given an opportunity to attend."
Source: SBS News
The NSWCCL, in partnership with the Law Society, is planning a forum on the recent COPS Database, and its implications for the public. Notable speakers from the police force and legal profession are expected to host a conversation on many of the matters associated with the program. One of these is the recent settlement awarded to a class-action lawsuit on behalf of young people whose information was incorrectly entered into the database and resulted in a wrongful arrest.
The parties to a class action on behalf of young people, run by The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and Maurice Blackburn, have reached a settlement of at least $1.85 million. The settlement is subject to final Court approval and paves the way for the young people affected to be properly compensated. The class action is on behalf of young people who were allegedly wrongfully imprisoned by NSW police as a result of problems with the NSW Police database.
You may be eligible for compensation if:
1. you faced charges in the Children’s Court of New South Wales; and
2. you were arrested before 20 May 2014 by the New South Wales police for a breach of bail conditions; and
3. you weren’t actually on bail at the time you were arrested, or you were on bail but not subject to the condition you were arrested for.
Find out more here: Public Interest Advocacy Centre
**And look out for further notices about our upcoming COPS Database Forum here**
For years alcohol was the main reason for police to draw their Tasers, but police use of the electric weapon against violent and aggressive drunks now ranks second behind mentally ill people which make up 36 per cent of all Taser use by police.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has called on NSW Police to improve training and find less confrontational ways to deal with mentally ill people.
“We really need to ask why police are using Tasers against people who are mentally ill,” Stephen Blanks, the organisation’s president, said.
“Surely there must be more appropriate ways to deal with noncompliant people who are suffering an episode.”
Article: Tasers now used by police to subdue more mentally ill people than drunks (article is no longer available)
Source: The Daily Telegraph
A Right to Know? NSW Council for Civil Liberties Calls out for Freedom of Information Requests
New South Wales is celebrating ‘Right to Know Week’ soon, and to celebrate, we’re helping you get access to information that you have the right to know.
The Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 gives you the right to access most information held by NSW government and public bodies.
The idea is that our democracy depends on a representative government that is transparent and accessible to its citizens.
However, some people have expressed concern that the system doesn’t work: that agencies over-charge, or don’t comply with the law. That means that the right to know isn’t as powerful in practice as it should be.
Our plan is to help you get access to information that you are legally entitled to access, and see how well the system works in the process.
So: what are you curious about? Tell us what information you’d like to know, and we’ll try to get it for you.
FYI, the Act applies to:
- All governments agencies
- Ministers and staff
- Local council
- State-owned corporations
- Public authorities, like universities
So get thinking!
We’ll track our progress on getting the information for you – from the application process to the outcome and whatever happens in between.
Send in your requests to [email protected] by 4 October 2015 and we’ll choose the five most interesting.
The rollout of 248 video cameras worn on police officers' uniforms across Sydney's eastern beaches started on Thursday and questions are being raised about their impact on the rights of individuals.
Council for Civil Liberties NSW president Stephen Blanks said there would be cause for suspicion in cases where an officer had a camera but did not use it.
"You should have a rule that where police have got a body camera and are giving evidence in court, they shouldn't be allowed to give evidence unless the body camera is on," he told AAP.
"The possibility that police are not being completely truthful about the evidence is too high."
Mr Blanks said instances where police misrepresented or misunderstood members of the public could be brought to light through video evidence.
"I think the public will have more confidence in police if they know that police are behaving in a thoroughly accountable way because they're being recorded," he said.
Mr Blanks suggested the camera be on at all times, saying having to manually turn it on and off meant officers could be selective about what to film.
Article: Civil Libertarians question police cameras (The content we linked to is no longer available) OR Civil libertarians question police cameras
Source(s): Sky news OR Channel 9 News
The National Health and Medical Research Council has published draft ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproduction technology in clinical practice and research.
Responding to an invitation to comment, the NSWCCL has made a submission that supports these draft guidelines, applauding the NHMRC for their support for the autonomy of all involved and their rights to detailed, accurate, contemporary and relevant information concerning the procedures, legal consequences and otherwise of their decisions.
Some questions for which further comment is requested of the NHMRC include, (1) Payment for the risks and labour involved in egg donation, (2) Sex selection on non-medical grounds, and (3) the potential establishment of an Australian egg bank.
Of the 36,000 drug tests police have administered to NSW drivers in 2015, Insp Blair said almost 12 percent returned positive readings; while an operation in the Shoalhaven, on the NSW south coast, over the weekend netted 27 drug-affected drivers. In August 2014, NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay said 11 percent of fatalities on NSW roads involved motorists with illicit drugs in their system.
Inspector Steve Blair, commander of the random drug testing unit, would not confirm exactly how many drug testing units would operate in NSW, but said by 2017 there would be "quite a large number out there" that are "portable and can radiate through the state."
Police claim drug driving offences are growing at an alarming rate, but the NSW Council for Civil Liberties does not support the further rollout of roadside drug testing technology. Stephen Blanks, president of the NSWCCL, said the strict liability offence was unfair to drivers.
"The testing only discloses prior drug usage, which may have no adverse impairment of driving ability. Cannabis can hang around in your system for days, maybe even a few weeks, but not have any impact on your ability to drive," he said.
"It is illegal to possess those drugs, but it's never been illegal to take them. It's a small point, but it's worth taking in mind."
Blanks said the absence of any threshold for drug use -- such as the 0.05 BAC for alcohol -- was a major reservation he held about drug testing.
"With alcohol, there is a threshold below which it is recognised that usage doesn't impair ability to drive. With drug tests, there is absolute zero tolerance," he said.
"The problem of drug driving are issues probably not best dealt with through random testing. Perhaps it should be other ways, like driver education or better laws around drug usage or possession. Society would get a better outcome if we took a health and harm minimisation approach, rather than a law enforcement approach."
Source: The Huffington Post Australia
Telco giant Vodafone Hutchison Australia has admitted that an employee illegally accessed the mobile phone records of Fairfax Media investigative journalist Natalie O'Brien.
Vodaphone head of fraud COlin Yates admitted in an email from 2012, "If the issue relating to breaching the reporter's privacy by searching her private call records and text messages gets into the public domain, this could have serious consequences given it is a breach of the Australian Telecommunications Act."
NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks called on the government to investigate the incident as a matter of priority.
"What's extraordinary is that the regulatory system is inefficient to find out about this blatant breach of law and one has to bear in mind that Vodafone's business is entirely dependent on a government license," Mr Blanks said. "It's very disturbing that one telecommunications carrier thinks nothing of breaching the privacy of its customers in order to find out information of commercial advantage to it."
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
The government's decision to take an additional 12,000 women, children and families, mostly from United Nations camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, has generally been well received...But a diverse group of refugee advocates, and Christian and Muslim representatives, have condemned suggestions Australia would favour members of persecuted minority groups, especially Christians.
Representatives of the Refugee Action Coalition, the NSW Council of Civil Liberties and the Lebanese Muslim Association issued a joint statement calling on the government "to be genuine with a humanitarian intention":
"In light of recent media reports regarding the discriminatory nature of the refugee intake, we are obliged to condemn in the strongest of terms the suggestion that priority should be given to people of one faith over another."
Article: PM seeks to smooth way for refugees
Source: Channel 9 News
Religious and community groups will join with councillors near Sydney's Lakemba mosque calling for a more constructive approach to the refugee crisis. On Wednesday the federal government announced Australia would increase its refugee and humanitarian intake by 12,000 permanent places and provide more than $40 million for United Nations efforts to deal with the Syrian crisis.
The Lebanese Muslim Association, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, the Refugee Action Coalition several church groups and Muslim media advocates are expected to meet near Lakemba mosque on Thursday afternoon and call for the government to welcome all refugees, regardless of religion.
Source: Channel 9 News