Australia marked down on human rights by Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2015, comments on the Australian government’s human rights record in 2014, stating that the government's failure to respect international standards protecting asylum seekers and refugees continues to take a heavy human toll and undermines Australia’s ability to call for stronger human rights protections abroad. HRW reports on the introduction of new counterterrorism measures, describing them as 'overboard,' stating that the measures would infringe on freedoms of expression and movement. The report also highlights the government's failure to take action to address indigenous rights and disability rights.Read more
Never releasing terrorists from jail a 'scorched earth policy'
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks has responded to the suggestion made by a former judge that terrorists should be kept in prison after their sentences expire if they still hold extreme religious views. Speaking to ABC Radio Current Affairs AM, Stephen characterised these comments as "a scorched earth policy":
"What a dangerous suggestion it is that people should be kept locked up just because of their opinions, and what a terrible indictment on our system that we can't, through a process of programs in prison, deradicalise these individuals."
Listen: Stephen Blanks stunned by suggestion of not releasing terrorist from jail. The content we linked to is no longer available
Source: ABC Radio Current Affairs, AM, 29/01/15
See also: Prison radicalisation expert Clarke Jones says segregation only strengthening terrorists' beliefs, Sydney Morning Herald, 29/01/15
Judge's call to keep terrorists in prison indefinitely stuns civil liberties campaigners, ABC Radio, The World Today, 29/01/15
Aussies on death row part of a grim line to have faced possible death sentence
Death row inmates Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan stand in a grim line of nearly 90 Australians who have faced a possible death sentence overseas in the past 30 years.
NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks stated "Every criminal is entitled – even the worst murderers, the worst drug dealers – to the opportunity to reform themselves."
Article: Aussies on death row part of a grim line to have faced possible death sentence
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 25/1/2015
Joint Submission: Telecommunications (intercept and access) amendment (data retention) Bill 2014
Last year civil liberties and human rights groups resisted, with limited success, the worst elements of the veritable tsunami of new counter-terrorism laws the Abbot Government brought in swift succession to the Parliament. Now we are fast approaching a decision point in the highly significant and contentious debate as to whether the Australian Parliament will legislate the mandatory collection and retention of mass telecommunications data for the bulk of the population to enable retrospective access by authorities.
It would be a major negative step for a democratic system. It will be a major intrusion on every citizen’s right to privacy - including those not suspected of any unlawful activity. This will have major flow-on implications for other freedoms and democratic values. In particular, it will undermine a robust and free press and constrain legitimate whistle-blowers by removing any confidentiality from all phone and internet communications.
The combined CCLS consider it to be a step too far. We strongly oppose the policy concept and urge the Parliament to reject it.Read more
Sydney siege aftermath: stop paid interviews going to air, says former coroner
Paid interviews with Sydney siege hostages should be prevented from going to air because they risk tainting future evidence and weakening the coronial process, former state coroner John Abernethy says.
Former Director of Public Prosecutions and NSWCCL committee member Nicholas Cowdery AM QC also fears hostages involved in exclusive cash-for-comment deals may give colourful, definitive accounts to satisfy a television audience, then feel compelled to repeat the same accounts in court, even if their views have shifted.
Article: Sydney siege aftermath: stop paid interviews going to air, says former coroner
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 22/1/2015
Sydney siege interviews 'could prejudice'
A number of Sydney siege survivors have reportedly signed six-figure deals to tell their stories to television networks, however legal experts have raised concerns about impacting the inquests into the deaths which are currently underway.
Former Director of Public Prosecutions and NSWCCL committee member Nicholas Cowdery AM QC raised concerns saying it could lead to the victims exaggerating their accounts to make good TV.
"There are a lot of areas of concern - moral, ethical, freedom of the press, and so on," he told AAP on Thursday.
"The part of it I'm particularly interested in is the integrity of the formal legal processes to run their course without being hampered by the sale of stories beforehand."
Article: Sydney siege interviews 'could prejudice'
Source: SBS, 22/01/2015
'Outrage' if Bali Nine executions proceed
Bali Nine death row inmates Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are on a list of 26 prisoners Indonesia says will be executed this year, including six who will be killed this Sunday.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks said the Australian government should be making it clear to Indonesia that the Australian public "regards these executions as unacceptable and unjustifiable".
Mr Blanks said it was "reprehensible" that Indonesia was resuming executions.
"The death penalty is wrong in all countries and in all circumstances," Mr Blanks said.
Article: 'Outrage' if Bali Nine executions proceed. The content we linked to is no longer available
Source: Yahoo 7, 16/11/2014
Giving Bigots More Rights Is The Wrong Response To Charlie Hebdo Massacre
In response to the rekindled debate around section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, NSW Council for Civil Liberties Committee Member Lydia Shelley writes about Islamophobia and freedom of speech. She argues that the greater threat to Australians’ civil liberties comes from the lack of legal protections in the form of a Bill of Rights:
"Not all those who pose a threat to civil liberties and freedoms stand behind a foreign flag and hold Kalashnikovs. Some stand behind the Australian flag and promote the myth that civil liberties and freedoms need to be sacrificed in order to obtain security.
They can be persons in positions of power who seek to use freedoms and civil liberties as tools to maintain their power. They draft, and then pass, draconian legislation that strikes at the heart of democracy and the very same freedoms they are purporting to protect."
Article: Giving Bigots More Rights Is The Wrong Response To Charlie Hebdo Massacre. Article no longer available.
Source: New Matilda, 14/01/2015
Proposed laws could ban smoking on private balconies
Proposed laws could ban Queenslanders from smoking on their balconies in apartment buildings, following on from similar tightened laws in NSW. President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, spoke to The Project:
"An owners corporation for a block of flats can regulate smoking on balconies, and perhaps should where it’s detrimentally affecting other residents who don’t want it."
Watch video: The Project, Tuesday 13 January (story from minute 3:40)
Source: The Project, Channel 10, 13/01/15
Taser death in Bowral highlights need for independent police investigations
A man died in police custody in Bowral after a taser was used to subdue him. An investigation into his death will be overseen by the Police Professional Standards Command. President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, discussed the incident on Sunrise.
Blanks emphasised the need for police investigations to be overseen by an independent authority, and highlighted problems with the use of tasers by police.
He said: "The community cannot be satisfied with the police investigating themselves. We’ve seen too many cases where the police twist the facts to exonerate themselves in situations like this."
"The problem with tasers is that there is misunderstanding about their potential lethality. Police can tend to use them in circumstances not realising what the consequences could be."
Watch video: 37yr old dies after tasing
Source: Sunrise, Yahoo!7, 13/01/2014
Kep Enderby remembered
NSW Council for Civil Liberties co-founder Kep Enderby QC died on 8 January 2015. Media reports credited the “lifelong civil libertarian” with his contributions to politics, the law and civil liberties in Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald remembered his political and legal achievements through the words of his peers: “Gifted, ebullient, imaginative, well dressed, with a razor sharp mind, gaunt face and beautiful speaking voice, Enderby cut a confident figure.”
“Enderby was one of Australia's most significant and interesting left liberal intellectuals, who was widely respected, despite disagreements, for the passion and honesty he brought to his convictions.”
Article: Former federal Attorney General Kep Enderby remembered among his peers (Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 14/1/2015)
As well as his political and legal career, The Australian highlighted Enderby’s work as the head of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of NSW, as President of the World Esperanto Association, and his support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
“Mr Enderby was a lifelong champion of human rights, civil liberties and the underdog; a romantic idealist who learnt Esperanto out of a belief that if the world spoke a single language it would lessen conflict.”
Article: Enderby a man of achievement, from the cockpit to the bench (Source: The Australian, 9/1/2015)
“Age did not weary this crusader. Right up until his later years, Kep Enderby remained a vocal proponent of civil liberties, unafraid to write and speak on controversial issues such as the rights of prisoners. Thanks to the changes Enderby brought about, Australians now suffer less discrimination than they did before his time in politics.”
Article: Vale Kep Enderby (Source: City News Canberra, 12/1/15)
Article: Former Whitlam minister Kep Enderby dies aged 88 (Source: ABC News, 9/1/15)
Refugees kept in detention despite being told they had security clearance
Two men, who were part of a group of seven told they would be released after Asio reversed its negative security assessment, are still in detention
The head of the New South Wales Council of Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, said Australia had made security determinations about Tamil asylum seekers based on its close relationship with the Sri Lankan government.
Sri Lanka’s outgoing president Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose government was unexpectedly defeated in last week’s election, has been accused of committing war crimes against the Tamil minority in the dying days of the civil war.
“Given the election result in Sri Lanka, it is time for Asio to reassess whether assessments made of Tamils are still relevant,” Blanks told Guardian Australia.
He said he hoped Dutton would take a “fresh look” at the refugees who were still in limbo following adverse security assessments.
“It was never appropriate to lock these people up,” he said.
Blanks said the fact that the refugees had been released quietly over the past few years meant it was likely they were never a real threat to in the first place, but he said the secrecy around the issue meant the public would never know for sure.
Article: Refugees kept in detention despite being told they had security clearance
Source: The Guardian, 12/1/2015
ASIO reverses finding refugees pose a threat
A group of 10 refugees assessed by ASIO as threats to national security have been freed to live in the Australian community after the agency quietly reversed its decision.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Stephen Blanks said it was good ASIO had cases under review but the lack of transparency was "completely unsatisfactory".Read more
Vale Kep Enderby
It is with great sadness that we learnt of the passing of one of NSWCCL’s founding members, Kep Enderby QC, on 8 January 2015. Kep was lifelong advocate for civil liberties and an active progressive force in Australian politics for decades.Read more
Brother escapes one-punch laws
A 'one-punch' incident involving two Irish brothers will not be subject to the new mandatory minimum sentencing laws as the accused had a blood-alcohol reading of below 0.15, the minimum threshold for the law to apply.
President Stephen Blanks spoke to Channel 7 News about the case, reaffirming NSWCCL's opposition to arbitrary mandatory minimum sentencing laws:
"Mandatory minimum sentencing is a bad idea because it inherently results in the court being unable to take into account all of the unusual circumstances of a particular case"
Watch video: Brother escapes one-punch laws. The content we linked to is no longer available
Source: 7 News, 4/1/2015
Asylum seeker in Darwin 'would rather starve to death than return to Iran'
The 33-year-old man, who is being held in the Wickham Point Immigration Detention Centre near Darwin, refused to eat after being denied refugee status.
Human rights lawyer Steven Blanks said there was legislation in place that would allow authorities to save the man's life.
"It authorises the Department of Immigration to direct doctors to provide medical treatment against the consent of asylum seekers where that medical treatment is necessary to preserve their life or health," he said.
The Iranian man has given written instruction that he must not be revived if he loses consciousness.
But Mr Blanks said international standards specify medical treatment should be used, even if an asylum seeker had refused it.
Article: Asylum seeker in Darwin 'would rather starve to death than return to Iran' (article no longer available).
Source: Yahoo 7 News, 20/12/15
NSWCCL endorses Law Council of Australia Asylum Seeker Policy
NSWCCL has endorsed the Law Council of Australia’s Asylum Seeker Policy released in November 2014. The Law Council highlights the importance of respecting international human rights principles in the development and implementation of asylum seeker policy in Australia.
The Law Council calls on the Australian government to treat asylum seekers in a dignified and humane manner. The Council stresses the fact that all asylum seekers (regardless of mode of arrival) have a legal right to seek asylum from persecution according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Furthermore, the Council emphasizes the importance of adherence to the principle of non-refoulement. Non-refoulement prohibits States who are signatory to the Refugee Convention from expelling or returning refugees to States where their life or freedom would be threatened. Accordingly, Australia must respect the internationally recognised right to asylum by enacting legal safeguards to protect refugees from refoulement.
The Law Council advocates for the clear legal processes for determining whether an asylum seeker invokes Australia's protection obligations. The Policy also calls for publicly funded legal and migration advice for asylum seekers.
Nicholas Cowdery SC talks to media on bail in light of Sydney siege
Nicholas Cowdery SC, former Director of Public Prosecutions in NSW and NSWCCL Committee member, has been prominent in the media speaking on bail law in relation to Sydney siege gunman, Man Haron Monis.
Cowdery has said to the Sydney Morning Herald that the changes to bail law, due to commence in January, would not have made any difference in Monis' case as judicial officers and police were not aware of his "dark and evil" thoughts.
"You can't legislate to deal with that. It doesn't matter how much you muck around with the laws, there are still going to be occasions - hopefully rare - where the justice system cannot see into the deep psyche of such a person."
Article: Man Monis granted bail six days after controversial bail laws bought in (Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 16/12/14)
Speaking on the 7.30 Report last night, Cowdery told Leigh Sales in relation to the way forward from this tragedy: "I don't think we need any changes to the law, I think we have the laws that [police and other agencies] can work with quite effectively, and I think that politicians need to accept that."
Watch: Sydney siege: criticism of judicial and police officers over bail 'unfair' says former DPP (Source: 7.30 Report, ABC, 16/12/14)
He also told ABC radio:
"With the benefit of hindsight all of us can be geniuses and make the right decisions.
But the fact is that when it comes to matters of bail or sentencing, or any orders that are made by a court in the course of a criminal justice process, the judicial officer can act only on the information of the evidence that is then known and made available for that purpose.
So it's a matter of a proper presentation of the facts and the evidence to the court, it's a matter of the court making, striking an appropriate balance between the freedom on the individual, which we do take very seriously in our society, and the protection of the community."
Listen: Lawyers defend releasing Man Haron Monis on bail (Source: The World Today, ABC Radio 16/12/14)
Cowdery further noted in the Australian that the incident highlights the need for better resourcing of the justice system.
Article: Sydney siege: Risks of playing politics with law (Source: The Australian, 17/12/14)
Listen: Did Man Haron Monis slip through legal cracks? (Source: RN Drive, ABC Radio, 16/12/14)
Listen: Questions asked about why Sydney gunman was on bail (Source: PM, ABC Radio, 16/12/14)
Article: Sydney siege: Gunman Man Haron Monis would have been in custody if Bail Act changes had been in place, NSW Attorney-General says (Source: 7 News, 17/12/14)
Listen: Former Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery discusses why Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis was on bail and allowed to walk free (Source: ABC Radio, 17/12/14). The content we linked to is no longer available
Article: Sydney siege: Aberrant case not an argument for tougher bail laws (Source: WA Today, 17/12/14)
Muslim community leaders join mourners to pay respects to Sydney siege victims
NSWCCL Committee Member Lydia Shelley speaks to ABC radio:
"Coming down here today was a very important personal choice to me, but it's also indicative of the overwhelming feelings coming from the Muslim community as well," Ms Shelly said.
"We wanted to pay our respects for the lives that have been lost and to pay our respects to those who were injured in the experience that they went through.
"I'm just incredibly sad ... every single other Australian today is feeling the exact same thing."
Ms Shelly said the focus today should be on the victims rather than a potential backlash against the Muslim community.
"Our overwhelming focus has been on those who have lost their lives and our thoughts and prayers and condolences go out to the family members," she said.
"I don't even feel like it's right to speak about any potential blowback on a day like this because obviously that's not our focus at all.
"I would hope that the overwhelming messages of support that we've received is indicative of Australians rising up, reaching out to each other, strengthening our bonds.
"We're not going to give into fear and mistrust of each other."
Ms Shelly has denied claims the man responsible for the attack, Man Haron Monis, was an Islamic cleric. She said he was a sick man who was not representative of Muslim Australia.
"This man was not an Islamic cleric at all," she said.
"He was a self styled sheik, that's the name that he gave himself. He was not known to preach in our mosques or anything like that.
"These are the actions of somebody who is incredibly sick and very disturbed. It is not a reflection on our sheiks, on our faith at all, on our community and I think the majority of Australians and the support that we've received understand that message."
Read the full story and listen: Muslim community leaders join mourners to pay respects to Sydney siege victims
Source: The World Today, ABC Radio 16/12/14
NSWCCL welcomes A-G's commitment to release children from immigration detention
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the Attorney-General’s announcement tonight, on International Human Rights Day, that all children in immigration detention, including those held on Christmas Island, will be released into the community within the next 2 or 3 months.
This announcement shows the government is listening to the Australian community. The community rejects punitive treatment of asylum seeker children.
The number of children in immigration detention should be zero.
The 2014 winner of the Human Rights Medal, Dorothy Hoddinott AO, shows what can be achieved when we treat children with dignity.
Let’s hope that there will be more positive announcements from the government in relation to asylum seekers that shows that Australia is truly are a country of compassion, fairness and human rights.
Update: Sadly it has become clear that the Attorney-General was referring to the release of ONLY the children on Christmas Island. All others will remain in detention. Also doubts have also been raised as to whether the Christmas Island children will be released into the community when they arrive in Australia. The Attorney should clarify this immediately. Seems we still have a way to go before the number of children in immigration detention is zero.