Policy statement (2017) - marriage equality

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties, consistent with its long-standing support for GLBT rights, strongly supports marriage equality and urges the Australian Government and/or the National Parliament to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to achieve this equality. 

The current same sex marriage statistical survey is an inappropriate, seriously flawed and undemocratic exercise intent on delaying Parliament addressing the issue and generating divisive and harmful debate. Nonetheless, NSWCCL strongly urges the community to register a “Yes” vote so that Government has no excuse to further delay legislative action on this matter.

Regardless of the outcome of the flawed survey, NSWCCL urges the Australian Government and/or Parliament to address the issue in this parliamentary term and introduce and pass a marriage equality amendment consistent with clear majority support within the Australian community.

CCL opposes any weakening of anti-discrimination laws in connection with the passage of the legislation.


Policy statement (2017) - defence of the union movement

NSWCCL affirms the role of unions as an essential part of the Australian democracy in the defence of workers’ rights and affirms their right to support other organisations whose activities accord with their own.



Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2017

Submission of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties to the Legal and Constitutional
Affairs Committee 

NSWCCL thanks the Senate Committee for the opportunity to comment on this Bill.


The Villawood Immigration Detention Centre is secured by a private company which provides public
services (Serco). In that regard, they have to follow the government rules and apply them to the
Centre. Similar arrangements apply at other Immigration Detention Facilities.

Asylum seekers who came by boat were prohibited from accessing mobile phones some time ago,
while those who came by plane had access until recently. The prohibition is the subject of a court
case brought by The National Justice Project in the Federal Court. In February this year the Court
issued a temporary injunction lifting this ban. An appeal concerning the competence of the court to
hear the case was overturned, and the case continues.

This Bill appears to be an attempt to pre-empt the Court’s finding,
The rules can be arbitrary, demeaning and unfair. Restrictions on what detainees may possess and
on what visitors may bring in with them have been the subject of abrupt changes recently.
A new requirement has been placed on visitors to have 100 points of identification a difficult task
for refugee families. Many former detainees and members of the families of detainees have only an
IMMI, which is worth only 70 points. They do not have drivers’ licences, nor other items to make up
the other 30 points. Since the identity cards are themselves issued by the Department of
Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), these should be sufficient for entry.

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Civil liberties ‘a luxury’ as premiers back Turnbull’s new anti-terror laws

Mr Turnbull has previously said the data could be used to identify people at airports but also other public venues such as sporting venues and shopping centres.

The state-held data is already available to federal authorities, Justice Minister Michael Keenan said, but can take between 7-10 days to process.

Civil liberties groups said it was a “sad day” for Australia, while privacy advocates warned that it was “inevitable” the data compiled nationally for the first time would eventually be used for purposes besides counter-terrorism.

“This is a sad day when the leaders of our country say that civil liberties are not as important as they were previously, and that freedoms are to be subordinated to national security,” Stephen Blanks, President of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, told The New Daily.

Australian Privacy Foundation chair David Vaile told The New Daily that there would eventually be “scope creep”.

Article: Civil liberties ‘a luxury’ as premiers back Turnbull’s new anti-terror laws

Source: The New Daily


Should You Be Worried About The Government’s Huge New Facial Recognition Database?

Why Are People Concerned?

Digital Rights Watch is an Australian organisation that was established last year to help protect the digital rights of citizens. According to the organisation’s chair, Tim Singleton Norton, the new national facial recognition database is “a gross overreach into the privacy of everyday Australian citizens”.

“There is a severe lack of strong oversight mechanisms and general enforcement for human rights and civil liberties in this country, which results in the public being understandably wary about giving government more powers in the first place,” he said.

Singleton Norton pointed to recent data breaches from the Australian Federal Police and the Department of Home Affairs as evidence that the government was “ill-equipped to properly protect citizen’s data”.

“When individuals enter into an agreement with a government agency that includes their personal information, they should have the right to understand, be informed and have a say in where that information is held and what it’s being used for,” he said.

“Whilst we of course must ensure that our law enforcement agencies have the tools necessary to undertake their important work, this should not come at the expense of citizens’ rights to privacy.”

The new system has also been criticised by the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. Their president, Stephen Blanks, said the proposal could undermine trust in government.

“It is quite alarming when information you have given to government for one purpose is then used for an entirely different purpose,” he said.

Article: Should You Be Worried About The Government’s Huge New Facial Recognition Database?

Source: Junkee


Civil liberties bodies reject massive facial recognition database

COAG has agreed to the establishment of a National Facial Biometric Matching Capability which will have access to all drivers licences in Australia - as well as visa, passport and citizenship photos. This massive biometric database will be available to state and federal security and law enforcement agencies. The rationale for this very significant increase in the capacity for real-time government surveillance of most Australian residents is, of course, to better protect us. 

We want governments to do all that is possible and proportionate to protect us and, as part of that, we support effective coordination between states and federal agencies. However, NSWCCL fears that this development in mass surveillance capacity will have- over time - significant implications that are not currently appreciated for the nature of our society and the robustness of our democracy. 

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Turnbull government’s new anti-terror laws labelled ‘draconian’

While NSW adopted a 14-day maximum pre-charge detention regime under former premier Mike Baird, the period is seven days in most states and only eight hours in South Australia.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties President Stephen Blanks told The New Daily the proposed pre-charge detention law was “draconian” and should not be nationalised.

“They are not consistent with fundamental freedoms and liberty,” he said.

But Deakin University terrorism expert Greg Barton said they would be “rarely used” because the Australian Federal Police was conscious of not losing the public’s confidence.

“As long as we see an approach that is cautious and measured, we should not be concerned,” Dr Barton told The New Daily

Australian Privacy Foundation chair David Vaile said using state and territory drivers’ licenses for facial recognition was “a full-frontal attack on the core ideas behind data protection and privacy”.

Mr Vaile told The New Daily people did not consent for their photo or other data to be used by the federal government when they applied for drivers’ licenses.

Article: Turnbull government’s new anti-terror laws labelled ‘draconian’

Source: The New Daily


'Nation's toughest terror laws': Berejiklian unveils 'drastic' plan

"NSW will be the first state in Australia to address this," Ms Berejiklian said. "We know these are tough laws but unfortunately these circumstances are here because of what we see around the world and around Australia."

The Premier said the policy was "drastic" but would be modelled on existing post-sentencing schemes for violent or sex offenders.

The Premier's comments come the day before the Council of Australian Governments, a meeting of Australian state and federal governments on Thursday where strengthened national security policies will be high on the agenda.

But the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said there was no need for any extension of post-sentencing policies.

"It can only be [a] political [measure]," said President Stephen Blanks. "It's just an abuse of what the courts are there for, which is to find truth.

"This is a regime which will result in the continued detention of people simply for what they say or think. It's fundamentally contrary to the idea of a free society".

The Premier said her government was still considering the details of a federal government proposal to grant its authorities access to states' databases to harvest licence photos that could track suspects using facial recognition technology and surveillance footage.

Article: 'Nation's toughest terror laws': Berejiklian unveils 'drastic' plan

Source: Daily Advertiser


NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian unveils plan to introduce 'nation's toughest terror laws'

The Premier's comments come the day before the Council of Australian Governments, a meeting of Australian state and federal governments on Thursday where strengthened national security policies will be high on the agenda.

But the NSW Council for Civil Liberties said there was no need for any extension of post-sentencing policies.

"It can only be [a] political [measure]," said President Stephen Blanks. "It's just an abuse of what the courts are there for, which is to find truth.

"This is a regime which will result in the continued detention of people simply for what they say or think. It's fundamentally contrary to the idea of a free society". 

The Premier said her government was still considering the details of a federal government proposal to grant its authorities access to states' databases to harvest licence photos that could track suspects using facial recognition technology and surveillance footage. 

But Ms Berejiklian said the NSW government generally supported strengthening national security protections. 

"All of us have to accept, from time to time, that our civil liberties aren't what they used to be," she said. "I'm keen to support any measure that supports public safety.

"I think all the community would expect us to have a no regrets policy; I don't want us to say what could we have done?

"Sometimes it means all of us have to give up a little bit of our civil liberties.

"It's not a 'maybe' threat; the threat in NSW is probable. When the threat is probable you need to look at what you're doing." Berejiklian said.

Article: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian unveils plan to introduce 'nation's toughest terror laws'

Source: Sydney Morning Herald


Civil liberties groups 'Alarmed' over National facial recognition database

The Prime Minister will use tomorrow's COAG national security summit to urge the Premiers to hand over the photos and information on state drivers' licences.

Malcolm Turnbull says the aim is to build a national facial recognition database for use by law enforcement agencies.

Stephen Blanks, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties says Australians should be very alarmed by such a proposal.

He's speaking to Cathy Bell.

Interview: Civil liberties groups 'Alarmed' over National facial recognition database The content we linked to is no longer available

Source: ABC News on Radio


Expanding facial recognition database in Australia not justified, watchdog warns

Australians should be gravely concerned about moves to add millions of people to a facial recognition database because of perceived terror threats, according to a leading civil liberties body.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will urge state and territory leaders to hand over license photos of all drivers at a special national security summit in Canberra on Thursday.

The federal database could be used, for example, to conduct surveillance at airports, sports stadia, shopping malls and other public places.

But the Turnbull strategy has been sharply criticised by Stephen Blanks, president of NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL).

He accused the federal government of "whipping up fear" and questioned if the likelihood of terror threats in Australia justified a marked increase in state surveillance.

"This proposal has a grave danger to it," Blanks told

He also claimed the move would undermine trust in government.

"It is quite alarming when information you have given to the government for one purpose … is then used for an entirely different purpose."

Government sources on Tuesday told 9NEWS that driver's license information was the "mother-load" it needed to build a powerful law enforcement tool.

On Wednesday, in front of media, Turnbull kept repeating "keeping Australia safe" was the relentless focus of any changes to legislation.

The prime minister talked about how facial recognition tools would help alert counter-terror agencies to incidents such as the recent alleged Etihad bomb plot at Sydney airport.


"The system was designed so that people who looked 50% or more similar to the wanted suspect were flagged as a possible match. This means that a vast number of 'possible matches' will be completely innocent people."

The technology also frequently misidentifies African-Americans, according to a recent US government hearing (The content we linked to is no longer available).

NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks questioned if there had been sufficient debate and community consultation about the issue.

Blanks said the media's focus on acts of terror taking place in other parts of the world made Australians feel unsafe in their own country.

"It's easy to whip up fear where we have media that gives big publicity to individual instances of terror but without the context of how much dangerous activity there really is in Australia.

"Totalitarian governments who want to abuse their position often find databases of this kind very useful to pursue unacceptable policies."

Last month, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller proclaimed crime rates in NSW were "at 20-year lows".

Blanks claimed it had probably never been a safer time to be an Australian.

He cautioned counter-terror laws, once passed, were rarely reversed.

"These proposals are going to be a permanent arrangement in the hands of good government and bad government," Blanks said.

It is unpopular and politically unacceptable to question if national security agencies are sufficiently empowered, Blanks added.

Article: Expanding facial recognition database in Australia not justified, watchdog warns

Source: 9 News


Turnbull defends proposed anti-terrorism laws as constitutional

The NSW Council of Civil Liberties president, Stephen Blanks, told Guardian Australia that plot was a “worst-case example” and police hadn’t needed the 14-day period, showing there was no need for “draconian” new laws.

“We don’t think detention without charge ought to be permitted at all … It’s just inappropriate in a free society for police to be able to detain people without charge,” he said.

Blanks questioned if hearings to extend detention would be conducted in secret and how detained persons, even if they were represented, could convince a judge to let them go. “It’s a misuse of the position of the courts to involve them in detaining people without due legal process,” he said.

Earlier Turnbull said the government worked with the AFP, state counterparts and legal advisers to “fine-tune and improve our national security laws”.

“Our primary, overwhelming responsibility is to keep Australians safe. We are relentless in that and we will always continue to improve and enhance the tools our agencies have to keep us safe.”

The Australian governments will also discuss improving access to existing databases of drivers’ licences to give federal police and security agencies national facial biometric matching capability.

Turnbull said about half of Australians already have their photo in a federal government system, but bringing together driver’s licence photos would help “build up a national system that will enable us … particularly to be able to identify people that are suspected of, or involved in, terrorist activities”.

Article: Turnbull defends proposed anti-terrorism laws as constitutional

Source: The Guardian


National Integrity Commission -committee report equivocates

There is  widespread and  well argued community and expert support for a national body to expose  and prevent serious and systemic corruption within, and relating to, public administration (including the electoral process and parliament including MPs and their staff).

In April this year, NSWCCL joined others in arguing strongly for the immediate establishment of such a body to a Senate Select Committee specially established to consider (yet again..) this longstanding and increasingly urgent issue. (see earlier post

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Why a Blackberry Will No Longer be a Criminal's Best Friend


Councils ‘spying’ on residents with tracking devices on bins

A small device has been fitted on bins around Sydney to see what's being thrown out but critics fear where personal information could end up.

NSWCCL Stephen Blanks contributed to this story with concern for what happens to the information collected by these devices.

"My concern is that Council is not being transparent about what is being done with the data that is being collected. The data could be valuable to data and could be something that Google, for example, is prepared to pay for. "

David Vaile from the Australian Privacy Foundation also questions the future use of data gathered. "The big question is, what else can they do with it later on? Can they tie it with other information and discriminate against you or maybe discriminate against your neighbourhood?"

Video: Sydney Councils ‘spying’ on residents with tracking devices on bins. The content we linked to is no longer available

Source: Channel 7 News


Panel Discussion: Bending the Rule of Law

NSWCCL President, Stephen Blanks, discussed 'Bending the Rule of Law' at the first session of the Thought Leadership Program 2017 hosted and run by The Law Society of New South Wales.

Stephen was accompanied by NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, UNSW Gordon Samuels Professor of Law and Social Theory Professor Martin Krygier and Barrister Peggy Dwyer as they discuss security, the rule of law and civil liberties.

For more information on upcoming discussions, visit the Law Society of NSW Thought Leadership page.

Photos below credited to: Jason McCormack 

Stephen Blanks, Mick Fuller and Tamara Kamien

(Left to right) NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller and Thought Leadership Program Manager Tamara Kamien


Stephen Blanks

NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks


Mick Fuller, Martin Krygier, Peggy Dwyer, Stephen Blanks, and Pauline Wright

(Left to right) NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, UNSW Professor Martin Krygier, Barrister Peggy Dwyer, NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks and Law Society President and NSWCCL VP Pauline Wright


Submission: Inquiry into the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Powers, Offences and Other Measures) Bill 2017

NSWCCL Calls on Commonwealth Government to Reform the Federal Custody Notification Service. The Custody Notification Service (CNS) is a legislative scheme requiring police to contact an Aboriginal legal service every time an Aboriginal person enters police custody. The scheme was designed and recommended by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991. Since its implementation in NSW around 17 years ago, the CNS has seen the rate of Aboriginal deaths in NSW Police custody plummet from around 18 per year, in the late 1980s, to zero for an unbroken period of over ten years.

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NSW Police say it is public fear, not police agenda behind new terrorism powers

Public perceptions about safety and the fear of terrorism are behind the push for tough new police powers in NSW, Police Commissioner Mick Fuller has said.

Speaking at a NSW Law Society forum, Commissioner Fuller said it was the public's belief they were unsafe that was driving legislative change, rather than an agenda by police.

Nevertheless, police do welcome the state's new anti-terrorism laws, Commissioner Fuller said, which include the "lethal force" powers.

"The fear of crime drives a lot of public policy, rather than the reality of crime," he said.

"I think if the community started the conversation about how safe they are, and we spoke more about how safe we are, then there would be less pressures perhaps on stronger, harsher legislation."

Commissioner Fuller said people need to start appreciating that they are safer than ever before.

"Why the doom and gloom — why are people so scared? What are we scared of?"

"I think if we could overcome that and say 'crime's down, it's the lowest it's been in 40 years and I feel safe' perhaps police don't need new powers."

The Commissioner did say however that the terrorism powers, which allow police to pre-emptively target terrorists with intentional kill shots, are needed to keep up with the realities of modern crime.

"When you talk about modern policing around organised crime and terrorism — they are new types of crimes," he said.

"It is very difficult to police new crimes with old laws … new types of crimes will often require new legislation for us to address it effectively."

'Maximum power with minimal accountability'

However, Commissioner Fuller was sharply criticised by the NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks, who told the forum the recent bolstering of anti-terrorism powers appeared to be the result of lobbying by the police force.

"NSW has engaged in a law-and-order auction where the tougher the law, the better," he said.

"The way in which these laws have been enacted look as though they've been pushed by a police agenda trying to get maximum power with minimal accountability."

The new "lethal force" powers passed State Parliament less than a month after they were announced by Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

But Commissioner Fuller defended the process, telling the forum the new laws had the same parliamentary oversight as other new legislation.

"Legislation may get rushed through but it still has to go through both sides of Parliament, there's a whole process that needs to occur," he said.

"Yes, sometimes police want new legislation for issues but our voice at the table is no greater than anyone else."

The NSW coroner recommended police be given greater legal protection to shoot terrorist suspects dead when he handed down his findings into the Lindt Cafe siege earlier this year.

Article: NSW Police say it is public fear, not police agenda behind new terrorism powers

Source: ABC News


UTS Law Students' Society Speaker Series: Protecting Our Rights

Date: Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Venue: UTS Building 5C, Level 1, Room 005. (Building 5C can be found further down Quay St, past the UTS Library) 

NSW CCL President, Stephen Blanks contributed as a panelist to Speaker Series II: Protecting our Rights hosted by the UTS LSS and Corrs Chambers Westgarth. 

The discussion, is set to focus on the protections of our rights in Australia. In particular, the panel will explain how our rights are currently protected, as well as present arguments for and against a Charter or Bill of Rights. Discussion will conclude with conceptualisations of the future. Specifically, if there are issues or legal matters that may have different outcomes under a binding Bill or Charter of Rights.


  • Mr. Stephen Blanks
  • Mr. Harry Hobbs (PhD Candidate & Lionel Murphy Postgraduate Scholar)
  • Ms. Hwei-See Kay

National human rights bill resurfaces in Australian Parliament!

Australians might be surprised to know there is a new Bill proposing an Australian Bill of Rights before the Australian Parliament.

There has not been much stomach for active campaigning in support of a national Bill of Rights in Australia since the bitter and crushing disappointment of the Rudd Government’s failure in 2010 to act on the recommendation of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee (the Brennan Report) for a federal human rights act.  This surprising and weak betrayal of community expectations, following a year of extensive consultation and clear public support for a human rights act - and the subsequent loss of the 2013 election to the Abbott Government – put a long term dampener on the enthusiasm of all but the most determined of campaigners. 

Australia remains alone among western democratic states in not having a human rights act or charter.

In recent years the Australian Parliament has enacted numerous new laws - and the Australian Government has enacted numerous new policies and programs - which unwarrantedly infringe individual liberties and rights and are in clear breach of our international human rights obligations.

Without the protections afforded by a Bill of Rights, strong and persistent opposition to these laws from many sections of the community has been powerless to stop their passage. Professor Gillian Triggs, the recently retired President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, repeatedly warned of the dangerous consequences for the rights and liberties of Australians of this situation – and was outrageously vilified by the Government and sections of the media for so doing.

So it is with tentative optimism that NSWCCL applauds the introduction of the Australian Bill of Rights Bill 2017 into the Federal Parliament by the independent MP Andrew Wilkie -  with the support of independent MP  Cathy McGowan.   

It is a wide ranging Bill which Wilkie says is closely modelled on an earlier private member’s Bill introduced in 2001 by Dr Theophanous which did not get past a first reading. (2R speech 14/8/17)


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