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Six things you need to know about Police and Immigration Officer powers

In a recent announcement, the Australian Border Force (ABF) announced it was conducting a massive joint operation in the Melbourne CBD with police and transit officers. Th dramatic release from the ABF and Victoria police has raised serious questions about the extent of policing in the city.

The prospect of immigration officers conducting large scale operations to check visas around cities raises serious privacy and civil liberties concerns note the president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks.

“Police forces generally speaking are not allowed to simply stop people and ask for ID. No state government has gone so far as to say that police will have a power to stop a person who has not engaged in any criminal activity to demand identity details, let alone any other information such as citizenship and visa details. One wouldn’t expect immigration officers would be roaming the streets of Melbourne, and if that were to occur it would make people very uneasy.”

Follow the link below to learn more about your rights and the true extent of power of the police and border patrol.

Article: Stopped on the street by border force? Six things you need to know

Source: The Guardian

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The Australian Parliament should legislate for same sex marriage

The last English speaking country remaining on the list.

 

 

The NSW CCL supports marriage equality and opposes holding a plebiscite or referendum on the issue. Peoples’ rights and freedoms must not be subject to a vote of a majority of citizens.

 

A cross party bill supporting the legalisation of same-sex marriage was brought to the Australian Parliament as it resumed this week, forcing us to consider the question of marriage equality. Sadly in a marathon party-room debate last Tuesday night, the Coalition decided against granting its members of parliament a free vote on marriage equality before the general election, postponing the debate. Again. Australia is indeed the only English speaking country which has not (yet) legalised marriage for same sex couples.

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Maximum security for preacher "unfair and unjust"

Junaid Thorne, a self-styled preacher who has been supportive of IS, was jailed last week by a NSW court of appeal for flying under a false ID and buying tickets with a false ID. After a few days in Sydney’s Silverwater jail his lawyer Lydia Shelly said her client was moved to Australia’s highest security correctional facility, Goulburn Correctional Centre. 

Stephen Blanks, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said Thorne had not been convicted of any terrorism offences and should not be placed under maximum security. He went further to note that "The whole community should be alarmed because this could happen to anyone."

Article: Maximum security for preacher "unfair and unjust"

Source: SBS

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NSW public school plans for student prayer group register

Recent attempts by one NSW public school to initiate a prayer group register have been revealed alongside premier Mike Baird's proposed audit of school prayer groups, causing concern amoung parents and the public at large over government encroachment on religious freedom.

President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, called the move "thoroughly alarming". 

"There are many people in the Australian community that will have personal experience, or whose parents had personal experience, of adverse consequences that flow from registration of religious affiliation. That a NSW school principal can even suggest such a scheme suggests an appalling lack of knowledge of history, or a terrible insensitivity to the experiences of many in the community.  Religious freedom is protected under the Australian constitution, and that includes the right to practice religion privately. If religious activities are to be permitted in public schools, then they must be managed in a way that does not impinge on fundamental freedoms."

Article: NSW public school floated plan for student prayer group register

Source: The Guardian

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2015 Annual Fundraising Dinner

The 2015 NSWCCL dinner last Friday was the largest such gathering in living memory – and certainly one of largest in our 52 years of dinners

The huge attendance (and the numbers turned away) reflects the intense public interest in hearing Professor Gillian Triggs speak about current threats to human rights, the rule of law in Australia and the AHRC’s  ‘ year of living dangerously'.   It also reflects the determination within the community to defend the AHRC and its President from the unwarranted and extreme attacks by the Coalition Government and some members of the media throughout this year.  

Professor Triggs did not disappoint. She gave a powerful and chilling analysis of executive government overreach and encroachment on fundamental rights and freedoms over recent years.

Probably even more disturbing was her critique of the recent failures of Parliament to protect these fundamental liberties, leading her to pose two very large questions for Australians:

What then are the safeguards of democratic liberties if Parliament itself is compliant and complicit in expanding executive power to the detriment of the judiciary and ultimately of all Australian citizens? 

and 

What are the options for democracy when both major parties, in government and opposition, agree upon laws that explicitly violate fundamental freedoms under the common law and breach Australia’s obligations under international treaties?

Part of Gillian’s address focussed on the controversial issue of the moment- the Government’s proposal to strip dual citizens of their Australian Citizenship for certain actions deemed to justify such extreme punishment.  she described this  proposal as  striking 'at the heart of Australia’s successful migrant and multi-cultural nation and threatens social cohesion.’

(The deeply flawed Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015 is currently before Parliament.   NSWCCL, with many others, opposes this bill and will,  over coming weeks, continue our advocacy to members of parliament to reject the bill.)

The 429 people crammed into the restaurant made their appreciation of Gillian’s speech clear both by applause and the hugely positive vibe for the rest of the evening.  In summary, it was a tremendous evening and for the moment at least, there was a perverse mood of optimism within the very crowded room.

Ray Davison - a Gadigal man – opened the dinner with a warm and interesting ‘welcome to country’.

Apart from the key note address, the gathering was treated to a lively summary of the state of affairs of civil liberties and the NSWCCL by President Stephen Blanks.   

A welcome side benefit of the crowd and the mood was that our fundraising efforts were very successful- facilitated by a host of volunteers moving round the room and by a few very generous donors of auction and raffle items.  

 

Speeches

Professor Gillian Triggs keynote
President Stephen Blanks
MC and NSWCCL VP Pauline Wright welcome

 

Photos

Browse Photos here

 

Video of Speeches

Watch film of speakers here

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Steep rise in gun ownership concerns lawmakers

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of guns across New South Wales, with currently greater than 850,000 registered firearms, averaging at about 1 gun for every 9 people. 

This recent trend has concerned lawmakers such as NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge, who has announced plans to introduce legislation to curb the steep increase in gun ownership. While Senator Shoebridge does not yet have the support of other parties, he does have support from Stephen Blanks, the president of the New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties.

"The Council of Civil Liberties has never been supportive of a right to bear arms or to own as many guns as a person wishes," he said. "You have to take into account the community interest in safety and there is a very, very strong, overwhelming interest in the community to be safe from gun crime, inappropriate gun use and the risk of guns being stolen and used illegally."

Article: Gun ownership figures for NSW show more than 850,000 firearms in private hands

Source: ABC News

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Mining industry's noise pollution monitors listening to citizens

Noise pollution monitors set up to track noise pollution from coal mining in the Hunter Valley have been found to be listening in on citizens' private conversations, intruding on privacy rights. 

"President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties Stephen Blanks said the use of a monitor to record a private conversation was not only a breach of the NSW surveillance act but the Commonwealth privacy act. Mr Blanks said he believed the recent incident was worthy of investigation by the federal privacy commissioner."

Source: The Newcastle Herald

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NSWCCL Annual Fundraising Dinner 2015

NSWCCL invites you to

The NSWCCL Annual Fundraising Dinner 2015

Date: Friday 31 July, 6:30pm for 7pm sit down
Venue: Sky Phoenix Restaurant, Westfield Plaza, Sydney
Ticket prices: $110 for members, $120 for non-members, $1320 for a table of 12 people

 

We are delighted that the 2015 key note civil liberties address will be given by

Professor Gillian Triggs

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

In her current role Professor Triggs has been a strong and fearless advocate for human rights in an extraordinarily challenging context.

She has had a stellar academic career - including Dean of the Faculty of Law and Challis Professor of International Law at the University of Sydney; Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law and a Governor of the College of Law. She was formerly a Barrister with Seven Wentworth Chambers.

She has combined her academic career with international commercial legal practice and extensive work with governments and international organisations. Her longstanding commitment to legal education has in recent time been focussed on the Commissions' education programs to inform Australians – and especially children – about their fundamental human rights.

Gillian comes well qualified to speak with conviction and passion on current civil liberties and human rights issues.

NOTE  Ticket prices exclude alcoholic drinks, bar will be operating

 

Not able to attend or want to show your support?
Consider sponsoring a place.


Every year we seek sponsorship for Annual Dinner tickets for students, young lawyers and other interested supporters who might otherwise not be able to afford to attend this important civil liberties event. Show your support by donating to sponsor a place at our Annual Dinner. 

 

 

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Abuse of power by Australian customs agents

NSW CCL President Stephen Blanks condemns the abuse of power by an Australian customs agent through his 'inappropriate' use of a confiscated mobile phone for personal texting last November. 

"The Australian people should be frightened that a public official in a position of apparent authority can illegally access people's phones and send messages and then the department thinks that is not a matter of public interest. That is the kind of secrecy a police state relies on to damage the reputation of people who are being targeted," Mr Blanks said.

Article: Customs officer confiscates passenger's phone and then uses it to secretly text

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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The Border Force Act seeks to block public scrutiny of Australia's dark detention network

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is gravely concerned that doctors, teachers and social workers employed in Australia’s immigration detention network could face jail for speaking out about their experiences.

With the Border Force Act 2015 coming into effect, employees working in various capacities face a two year sentence for recording or disclosing “protected information” they come into contact with as a result of their work.

As the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have noted, this restriction on free speech will prevent doctors from following their professional and ethical obligations to advocate on behalf of their patients.

“This legislation is particularly troubling given the history of poor care in immigration detention,” says NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks.

“It is telling that doctors who have worked in these centres at the highest level have previously decided to go public with their concerns. Systemic failures have led to gross human rights violations.

“These public disclosures have put pressure on governments to improve conditions in the centres.”

A steady flow of leaks to the media about sexual assaults in the Nauru detention centre eventually forced the Department of Immigration to order an independent review in October 2014. It found credible evidence of sexual assaults, which the government has now been forced to acknowledge and act upon.

“While forcing government action is one important outcome of such disclosures, it must also be remembered that the public has a right to know what is done in their name,” says Blanks.

Detention centres have always been places lacking in public scrutiny where civil liberties are overlooked. Successive governments have made sure to keep the people detained out of public view, hiding the trauma and lasting damage indefinite detention inflicts.

While the CCL notes the assurances that the new Border Force Act will not cancel out existing safeguards in the Public Interest Disclosure Act, we are unconvinced this legislation is sufficient. It sets too high a bar for whistleblowers, and circumscribes too tightly the situations in which they may share information with the public.

Furthermore, the existence of this legislation is a danger even before any doctor, teacher, or humanitarian worker is dragged before a court. Its mere existence is a threat to would-be whistleblowers, an attempt to intimidate Australian workers who see something wrong into staying quiet about it.

We know that this government has a particularly ugly tendency to target those who try to bring abuses in detention centres to the public’s attention, as seen by the unrelenting attacks on Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs.

“Australia’s immigration detention network has been made a dark place,” says Stephen Blanks.

“With this new act, the government is trying to blot out the small rays of sunlight still getting in.”

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Submission: Review of the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015

If enacted, the Bill would amend the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth) (“the Act”) in an untested and radical way. It presents a significant threat to the separation of powers and the rule of law. Indeed, the Bill is founded on a significant reconceptualisation of the relationship between the State and the citizen.

View submission

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Scapegoating minorities may reap a bitter harvest

NSWCCL committee member Lydia Shelly has expressed deep concerns following a consultation on the Government’s plans to remove Australian citizenship for citizens found guilty of terrorist related activities.

"As lawyers, mothers and Australian Muslims we are committed to the rule of law, civil liberties and social cohesion. We do not believe the proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act are necessary, proportionate or productive. Existing legislation gives the government many ways to tackle terrorism," Lydia argues in her article co-written with Mariam Veiszadeh.

Article: Scapegoating minorities may reap a bitter harvest

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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Sharrouf's children should be allowed to return: NSWCCL

NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks recently appeared on ABC radio's PM program, condemning the Australian government's reluctance to admit Khaled Sharrouf's wife and children back into Australian society. He suggested that turning a cold shoulder toward vulnerable children, who have been exposed to traumatic events, may lead to further alienation.

"It's very important that we don't make these children the next generation of terrorists. We have to bring these children into our society and show them through our actions that they are part of our society and should be proud to be," Stephen said. 

Audio: Sydney's Muslim community reacts to news of Sharrouf/Elomar deaths

Source: ABC Radio

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Vague internet piracy legislation may result in an Australian internet filter: NSWCCL

NSWCCL's Hannah Ryan recently spoke to FBi radio's Backchat program, expressing concerns over the Government’s Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill that passed the senate last week. It is feared that the vague wording of these laws may result in an "internet filter" and blanket bans on Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

"Our concern, from a civil liberties point of view, is that (the Government's Copyright Amendment) is a really disproportionate response (to internet piracy). The way that the legislation is phrased means that any overseas site, with the primary purpose of facilitating copyright infringement, might be blocked. Our concern is that this could lead to a lot of collateral damage," Hannah stated.

Audio: Hannah Ryan on this week’s new internet piracy laws

Source: FBi Radio

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CCL labels Abbott government more secretive than its predecessors

NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks has argued that the Abbott government is withholding more information from the public than previous administrations. He has suggested that its attempts to prevent the flow of information about key internal decisions and proceedings are more pervasive than the previous Coalition government and its more recent Labor predecessor.

He told the Saturday paper, “This government is building a multi-level approach to stifle the ability for people to know what is really going on. Hand in hand with being secretive is a set of other measures designed to stifle free speech and stop people speaking out.”

Article: Abbott government weakens FOI and public service disclosure

Source: The Saturday Paper, 20/06/2015

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Law enforcement drone use must have clear guidelines: NSWCCL

NSWCCL has warned that use of drones by law enforcement, including NSW Police, must have clear guidelines about how the information collected will be used, and who has access.

While acknowledging the benefits for criminal investigations, President Stephen Blanks drew attention to the 'grey area' around privacy issues in relation to drones, and that individuals who may be unrelated to investigations could have their images and activities captured by these kind of devices and stored. 

"There are obvious benefits for crime investigation as long as guidelines are in place which clearly say how the information is going to be used and how inappropriate access is going to be prevented," Stephen said.

Article: Drones may be future of law enforcement but will they compromise civilian privacy?

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 17/06/2015

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NSWCCL opposes appalling proposal for warrantless access to bank records

The proposal by NSW Police to have warrantless access to bank records is another example of the pervasive creep of law enforcement powers, NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks has told CNET, calling it "appalling". 

"One of the terrible aspects of the anti-terrorism laws that have been introduced is we just see them creeping and creeping into every other field of criminal investigation," Blanks said. "What was justified originally as extraordinary powers for investigating the very worse of crimes which threaten national security...[are now] to be used for financial matters and investigations of all kinds. 

"That is one of the great dangers of giving executive agencies extraordinary powers."

He also continued: "I think it's terrifying to think that law enforcement can have access to banking information, which can be hugely revealing, without any independent oversight. Traditionally, this is through the warrant system -- if police want access to information, they have to persuade a judge to give them permission.

"That's a very important safeguard to ensure that police are not making indiscriminate requests to access data and that they're having to promptly justify the requests which they do make."

Article: Critics shocked as NSW Police push for bank data access

Source: CNET, 17/06/2015

 

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CCL calls for continuation of Custody Notification Service (CNS) funding

NSWCCL this week has written to Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion and the Prime Minister Tony Abbott calling for the Federal Government to continue its funding of the Custody Notification Service (CNS).

The CNS is a telephone hotline providing personal and legal advice to indigenous people taken into custody. Under NSW legislation it is compulsory for the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) to be notified if an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is detained, and the CNS is the practical service that allows this to occur. Since its implementation, no indigenous deaths in custody have occurred in NSW/ACT.

CCL previously supported the campaign to 'Save the CNS' in 2013, and it is extremely disappointing that this essential notification service for indigenous people in custody is once again being threatened - particularly in the context of the recent report by Amnesty International that showed Australia incarcerates indigenous children at one of the highest rates in the developed world. It would reflect poorly on the Government's commitment to Closing the Gap and reversing the shameful over-representation of indigenous people in Australia's prisons if the CNS was to cease.

Letter to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs

See also: NSW ditches another protection for Indigenous people in custody, The Conversation, 10/06/2015 (Author: CCL member Eugene Schofield-Georgeson)

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NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns secrecy around TPP

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has condemned the secrecy surrounding negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement and the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA), and called on governments involved in the negotiations to release the full draft texts of the deals.

CCL President Stephen Blanks stated that “the draft agreements must be released immediately so that the Australian public can engage in a comprehensive debate about their proposals."

“The current generation of free trade agreements are being negotiated with a complete lack of democratic accountability, and have largely failed to consult non-corporate stakeholders,” Blanks said.

But for leaked drafts released by Wikileaks, the Australian and global public would have no knowledge of the contents of these two agreements.

Guardian Australia revealed on Tuesday that Australian politicians have been told that they can view the TPP text, but must sign a non-disclosure agreement before doing so. DFAT public servants involved in the TPP negotiations have also been made to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Some of the leaked proposals from the TPP, particularly investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses, as well as intellectual property and environmental regulatory changes, have provoked significant controversy in Australia and other countries involved in the negotiations.

The TISA documents, leaked on Thursday, show that the agreement would involve sweeping regulatory changes in the Australian finance, health, transport, telecommunications and e-commerce sectors.

Blanks said that the wide-reaching nature of the changes in the TPP and TISA made a rigorous public debate all the more important.

“We have serious concerns about the civil liberties implications of some of the specific measures in the TPP, like the potential criminalisation of copyright infringement,” he said.

"But the drastic nature of many of the measures, regardless of one's position on them, makes a thorough and transparent debate in the parliament and civil society absolutely crucial."

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Stripping citizenship proposal "unacceptable and outrageous": NSWCCL

NSWCCL has condemned the Government's proposal to strip citizenship from Australians involved in terrorism as against the rule of law, and a particularly cynical attack on fundamental principles of the due process of law given the 800 year anniversary of the Magna Carta this month. 

President Stephen Blanks spoke to The Wire, claiming that by stripping either dual national or sole Australian citizens of their citizenship will subject those individuals to arbitrary detention "without any trial, without any evidence being presented to a court, without any judicial decision". He labelled this an "unacceptable and outrageous idea that should be rejected firmly by the community". 

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