In a joint statement seven legal and human rights groups have condemned the approach of many Australian governments to recent Black Lives Matter and refugee rights protests, stating it is inconsistent with our democratic rights and freedoms.
The legal right to protest is fundamental to our democracy. Protests hold governments to account and make our country better. While the powerful few are able to write cheques or call their friends in high places, protests are how the invisible or ignored can become seen and heard by government. Only after tireless, sustained protest did Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people win the right to vote, did LGBT+ people achieve marriage equality, and did unions secure the eight hour work day.
Right now, the right to protest is vital for minority groups and supporters who continue to rally against state violence and injustice. Historically, overturning injustice of this kind requires incredible public momentum and visibility, which can only be sustained through protest. Since colonisation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have fearlessly fought for an end to police violence, discriminatory laws and the structural racism that locks them out of justice. The pressure is building on governments here in Australia to finally act on what First Nations people have been calling on for decades: an end to Black deaths in custody and an end to police violence.
Media coverage: NineNews, Sydney Morning Herald
NSWCCL President and former NSW DDP, Nicholas Cowdery AO QC, joins 29 prominent Australians as signatories to an open letter coordinated by The Australia Institute, calling for truth in political advertising laws that are nationally consistent, constitutional and uphold freedom of speech.
New polling by The Australia Institute released in conjunction with the open letter shows nine in 10 Australians (89%) say Australia should pass truth in political advertising laws.
Signatories to the open letter include former political party leaders and politicians, Dr John Hewson, Cheryl Kernot and Michael Beahan; former Supreme Court judges, The Hon Anthony Whealy QC, The Hon Paul Stein AM QC and The Hon David Harper AM QC, as well as barristers, community leaders, business people and other prominent Australians.
'Australians want advertising to be truthful and transparent. They expect the media to self-regulate, and want laws that would penalise misleading and deceptive political ads with fines, forced retractions or losing public funding. The lack of truth in political advertising regulation is leading to declining public trust in government, politicians and parliament.
Enough is enough: we need truth in political advertising before the next election.
Political advertisements that are deceptive and misleading interfere with the public’s ability to make informed decisions.
We need truth in political advertising laws that are nationally consistent, constitutional and uphold freedom of speech.'
Refugee Week June 14 - June 20, is Australia’s peak annual activity to raise awareness about the issues affecting refugees and celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society. Originally celebrated in 1986, Refugee Week coincides with World Refugee Day (20 June).
Refugee Week provides a platform where positive images of refugees can be promoted in order to create a culture of welcome throughout the country. The ultimate aim of the celebration is to create better understanding between different communities and to encourage successful integration enabling refugees to live in safety and to continue making a valuable contribution to Australia.
The aims of Refugee Week are:
- to educate the Australian public about who refugees are and why they have come to Australia;
- to help people understand the many challenges refugees face coming to Australia;
- to celebrate the contribution refugees make to our community;
to focus on how the community can provide a safe and welcoming environment for refugees;
- for community groups and individuals to do something positive for refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people, within Australia but also around the world; and
- for service providers to reflect on whether they are providing the best possible services to refugees.
Refugee Week is a unique opportunity for us all to experience and celebrate the rich diversity of refugee communities through theatre, music, dance, film and other events which take place all over Australia and highlight the aims of the Week, as outlined above. Refugee Week is an umbrella participatory festival which allows a wide range of refugee community organisations, voluntary and statutory organisations, local councils, schools, student groups and faith-based organisations to host events during the week.
Refugee Week aims to provide an important opportunity for asylum seekers and refugees to be seen, listened to and valued.
In light of the lack of Federally funded income support for those on temporary visas we encourage our members and supporters to contribute to the work done by organisations providing resources and services for refugees and asylum seekers.
- Founder of the Refugee Week Initiative, the Refugee Council of Australia, is a small, not-for-profit organisation and relies on public financial support to continue its vital work in research, education and advocacy.
- Bridge for Asylum Seekers Foundation
- Asylum Seekers Foundation
- Asylum Seekers Centre
Refugee Week hashtags - #RefugeeWeek #YearOfWelcome
Click on an image below to learn about these refugee's stories.
The Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) thanks the Legal and Constitutional Committee (the Committee) for its invitation to make a submission concerning the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 (the bill). The bill is a modified version of a bill that was introduced in 2017 (the 2017 bill).
NSWCCL would like to speak further to these arguments when the bill is considered by the Committee.
This bill should be rejected.
If the bill is to proceed, it should limit the general power to search for and seize things to those which are intrinsically harmful, such as guns, knives and unprescribed narcotics. It should stipulate that items that do not present inherent risks to safety and security should only be prohibited to specified individuals where there is evidence that the person has used or is reasonably likely to use the item in a manner that presents clear risks to safety or security, and where those risks cannot be managed in a less restrictive way.
If the bill is to proceed, dogs should not be able to be used for searches in immigration detention centres.
Media coverage: Byron Bay Echo
- Hans Lovejoy, editor
'With attention fixated on injustice, policing and black lives, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) is just one voice of sanity in a country awash with racism and bigotry.
Based in Sydney, they are a small group of lawyers committed to educating the public and advocating for the most vulnerable. NSWCCL said in statement regarding the marches, ‘There have been 432 Indigenous deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission – including the recent death of Tanya Day, which the coroner found to be preventable – and its recommendations have never been fully implemented.
‘To our knowledge, no one has ever been convicted in relation to those deaths. Indigenous peoples are over-policed and over-incarcerated, with adults 15 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous Australians and juveniles 26 times more likely to be incarcerated. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in December 2019 that while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up around three per cent of the total Australian population, they account for 29 per cent of the total adult prisoner population in Australia’.'
The NSWCCL has written to the Commissioner of Corrective Services NSW, the NSW Health Minister and the CEO of Justice Health to express concerns in relation to the health and safety of persons in custody in NSW in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The Council notes that there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the inmate population and that 23 have been isolated for testing. We note that there was a confirmed case of a healthcare employee at the Long Bay prison hospital in March 2020.
Whilst we are much relieved that NSW has not experienced an outbreak in our prisons to date, correctional centres remain a ‘high risk’ setting, as identified by the Australian Government Department of Health and we hold concerns in relation to:
- Issues impacting inmates’ capacity to social distance
- The impact on inmates’ mental health and wellbeing as a result of restrictions to visits, lockdowns and reduced access to program.
- Access to mental health care in this time
The letter raises the following questions -
- Could you please provide information as to how social distancing is being enforced and how contact with high risk items such as dishes and laundry is being managed?
- Could you please inform us in relation to how are visits currently being facilitated and are there sufficient facilities to cope with the demand for communication with family? Is there a plan to allow a return face to face visits and if so, what will be the restrictions associated with these visits? In relation to rehabilitation programs, could you please let us know the policy in relation to restrictions, in relation to what programs are currently restricted and if known, when/how will programs resume?
- Could you please let us know whether any inmates have been released early to parole by the Commissioner under the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 (and regulations relating to COVID-19) and whether there is an intention to reduce the prison population further through early release?
Read the full letter HERE.
Letter sent via email to:
The Hon Brad Hazzard - Minister for Health
Peter Severin - Commissioner, Corrective Services NSW
Gary Forrest - CEO, Justice Health
Media Coverage: Sydney Morning Herald
A former judge and top prosecutor says video footage of an Indigenous teenager falling face-first after being kicked off his feet by a NSW police officer is on its face "evidence of an assault".
Former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said the video raised questions about the lawfulness of the arrest because the risk the teenager would carry out his threat appeared "slight".
"Arrest is really only lawfully available to prevent further offending, to prevent flight or to ensure attendance at court," he said.
In Mr Cowdery's view, it was not reasonable to use a sweep kick when the teenager was "under restraint and standing calmly". He believed the officer should be "charged with assault and re-trained".
NSWCCL affirms our heartfelt support for the Black Lives Matter movement and its goals in seeking to eradicate systemic racism from our societies. We encourage all our members and those sympathetic to the cause of human rights and civil liberties to likewise support the BLM movement in any way reasonably possible.
NSWCCL has always acknowledged the pervasiveness of institutional racism in Australian society, ever present even 232 years after the brutal colonisation of this continent on racist terms. We strongly support all attempts to remedy this history of injustice and end the systemic disadvantage faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Foremost among the injustices committed against indigenous peoples are those perpetrated by the criminal justice system.
Discrimination and unreasonable violence at the hands of police is an ongoing concern, as the cases of David Dungay Jr and the incident in Surry Hills recently emphasised. There have been 434 indigenous deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission – including the recent death of Tanya Day, which the coroner found to be preventable – and its recommendations have never been fully implemented. To our knowledge, no one has ever been convicted in relation to those deaths. Indigenous peoples are over-policed and over-incarcerated, with adults 15 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous Australians and juveniles 26 times more likely to be incarcerated. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in December 2019 that while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up around 3 per cent of the total Australian population, they account for 29% of the total adult prisoner population in Australia.
NSWCCL calls for the implementation of the 1991 Royal Commission recommendations and the recommendations in the Uluru Statement from the Heart as a start in the ongoing struggle to end these shameful outcomes.
In relation to the protests on June 6, 2020, NSWCCL supported the right of people to rally in accordance with the decision of the NSW Court of Appeal authorising the assembly. It seems the protests were orderly and respected the public health imperative while remaining truly powerful. Police and protestor seemed largely to demonstrate appropriate respect and restraint. However, the worrying incident at Central Station involving the pepper spraying on protestors may raise serious questions.
Community anger and distress over the last-minute moves by the government and the police to prohibit the protest rally would not be so strong had it not been for the unexplained inconsistency in official responses. For example, a recent protest in Sydney boasted of thousands of attendees in clear contravention of the Public Health Orders and the government and police reacted very differently. There was also widespread confusion over the inconsistency between the response of the South Australian Government and Police to protests in Adelaide, which was to exempt that protest from the effect of the COVID-19 regulations, and the response in NSW.
We urge all parties to bring their attention to driving systemic changes to achieve much needed justice for Indigenous Australians and continue exercising the restraint called for in a liberal society governed by the rule of law.
Media coverage: Sydney Morning Herald
A NSW Supreme Court judge has condemned the treatment of a 35-year-old Indigenous man with a mild intellectual disability who has been subjected to a tough supervision order restricting his movements for more than a decade, saying he has not been a "truly free man" since his teens.
The five-year extended supervision order (ESO) made by the court in 2009 was "still current, 11 years later" because the clock stopped running every time he was imprisoned for even minor breaches of conditions.
Former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, who is now president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said the legislation introducing ESOs and other orders "was radical and controversial at the time" and was based on "a risk of future offending of a serious kind" that was difficult to predict.
"It is a form of punishment for future conduct that may not occur. Nevertheless, Parliament has the power to legislate this way in order to protect the community, but within limits," he said.
Mr Cowdery said the laws provided "a powerful rod for the backs of disadvantaged or excessively targeted groups in the community, including Indigenous people, who may be subject to such orders".
"They become an easy tool for law enforcement to use to unreasonably seek to control such people."
Media coverage: Canberra Times
Careful and sensitive law enforcement is vital as Australia continues its exit from COVID-19 restrictions, according to NSW Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Stephen Blanks.
As state governments ease restrictions to varying degrees, Mr Blanks said that similar principles needed to be applied to exiting self-isolation as going in.
"That is you need very, very careful, sensitive enforcement from the police," Mr Blanks said.
"The police have to perform their role in a way that does not undermine community support (of restrictions) because one thing which could lead to a very quick loss of community support is if the police are seen to be picking on people unfairly, imposing fines as a first line of response instead of a last line of response, and imposing fines in ways that are not really relevant to the community health control aspect."