The NSW Parliament is this week considering two disturbing proposals for new laws creating ‘Serious Crime Prevention Orders’ and ‘Public Safety Orders’ to combat organized serious crime.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) has major concerns about both of these proposals.
The Serious Crime Prevention Orders (SCPO) regime is an extraordinary, unwarranted and dangerous proposal.
It imposes major controls on persons – including not only those who have not been charged or convicted of any criminal offence- but also persons who have been found NOT guilty or have had their convictions quashed.
The target group potentially caught up in this regime is huge and includes law-abiding citizens.
A CYCLIST has criticised New South Wales police for being heavy handed after an officer threatened to fine her under a law that doesn’t come into effect until next year.
Kingscliff local Heather Stewardson was riding along the shared bike and walking track near Wommin Bay Road on Monday when she was pulled over by a NSW Police Traffic and Highway Patrol Command.
The real estate agent, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, was asked to produce identification and claims the officer told her she would be fined for two offences.
Cyclists are required under NSW law to wear a helmet and to carry ID. However, fines for the ID offence don’t come into effect until March next year. The fine for not wearing a helmet rose this year from $71 to $319, an increase Ms Stewardson said could significantly affect the community atmosphere in the town.
She said she hadn’t been stopped for riding without a helmet for a decade.
New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties President Stephen Blanks said the community expected police to focus on more serious offences.
“There maybe good reason for encouraging cyclists to wear helmets but when police are imposing very large fines on people who don’t wear fines they are simply creating enemies in the community,” he said.
Article: Kingscliff cyclist slapped with fine for law that hasn’t come into effect
Source: Gold Coast Bulletin
Two protesters have been arrested in Haberfield while staging an occupation of a house slated for demolition as part of the WestConnex project.
As the WestConnex protests continue, the government has switched tactics to remove protesters by appealing to the revitalized Inclosed Land Act (1901), building a cage around protesters to "inclose" them and claiming that if they do not leave the area, they would be subject to arrests and fines.
Stephen Blanks from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties told City Hub that the use of the act raised an interesting question.
“There would appear to be a potential interesting legal question, about whether or not a charge under the enclosed lands act can be brought in circumstances where a fence was erected around the protestors was to enclose the protestors, and was not there for any purpose of enclosing land.”
The NSWCCL was vehemently opposed to recent amendments in the NSW parliament that bolstered the Inclosed Land Act.
Article: Concerns for heritage, the law, as WestConnex protests escalate
Source: Alt Media
Emotions have been running high following the passing of laws in NSW which will see political protesters fighting against the coal seam gas industry, even on their own properties, face large fines and up to seven years in jail.
Hundreds of people demonstrated outside NSW Parliament last week against the harshness of the new laws, which were specifically designed to quell protests against the actions of mining and coal seam gas companies.
Critics say the laws achieve little more than restricting free speech.
President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties Stephen Blanks told The New Daily: “There are reasons to regard Australia as a police state now. There are so many draconian powers that police have. It is completely oppressive. What is particularly concerning is that the NSW laws criminalise intent. If police form a view that you intend to do something, even if you have done no act towards illegal activity, police can charge you and the penalties are draconian.”
Article: Anti-protest laws ‘draconian’ and ‘oppressive’
Source: The New Daily
National issues | Senate voting reform | Fundamental Freedoms Report | Counter terrorism issues
NSW Issues | Anti-protest Bill | Privacy reform | Lock-out Laws
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The Senate electoral reform bill passed though all stages of Parliament on 18th March after a marathon sittings – including a 28 hour non-stop Senate session. This is a very good outcome for democracy in Australia. NSWCCL supports the new electoral process and is relieved Australia does not have to go to another election under the current broken and distorted system.
Sadly the Parliament is bitterly divided on this Bill which emerged from a unanimous Joint Committee on Electoral Reform (PJCEM) report over two years ago – though the only cross-bench representative on that Committee was Nick Xenophon.
Given the huge role that then Labor Senator John Faulkner had in supporting this reform, it is particularly disappointing that the ALP felt it had to oppose the Bill with such vehemence.
As indicated in our earlier report, NSWCCL understands the very real pressure of possible adverse electoral outcomes for individual parties in any changes to electoral processes.. Nonetheless, we had hoped that Parliament could have approached this vital legislative reform with much greater consensus about underlying electoral principles.
After all no-one, bar some of the cross-benchers, argues that the current electoral process is fair or democratic. Few (we hope!) would disagree that it is better for voters to be able to directly choose who they want to vote for rather than party machines and other backroom players. Few would disagree that the Senate electoral outcomes in 2013 were not a manifestation of democratic process and did not fully reflect voters’ wishes.
The failure of our Parliament to build on the consensus achieved by the PJCEM is in significant part because of the failure of the major parties to act on the report in a timely fashion. Then unavoidable tensions emerged when the Government determined to rush the reforms through Parliament with a very short timeline for examination of the Bill and in close proximity to an election – and even more perturbing for some- a possible double dissolution.
But the bottom line is a significant reform has been achieved.
The original Bill was amended to include partial optional preferential voting below the line (as well as above the line) following a recommendation from a very short review of the Bill by the PJCEM. This amendment addressed the one concern the NSWCCL had with the proposals.
NSWCCL submission to the JCEM - 29/02/16
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has been at the forefront of the Australian civil rights movement since 1963. Over the last 50 years, they’ve been tireless in their fight against censorship, abuse of authority, and injustice within the legal system. In 2010, the group played a pivotal role in passing legislation which banned the re-introduction of capital punishment across Australia.
It was an unexpected defamation threat, addressed to one of his clients, that led Stephen Blanks, the group’s current president, to cross paths with the group. His client, an author, was being pursued by a Government department over allegations he had made in a recent book.
“I had a eureka moment and thought of the Council for Civil Liberties,” he said. Days later, the threat was withdrawn: “It was an absolutely stunning victory. From that moment on I was hooked on the idea of being able to achieve outcomes through ways other than straight law.”
Mr Blanks sat down with Sydney Criminal Lawyers earlier this week, to discuss civil liberties, lockouts and the Government’s new anti-protest laws.
Read full article below
Article: Removal of Rights in NSW: An Exclusive Interview
Source: Sydney Criminal Lawyers Blog
Despite widespread opposition from the legal profession, anti- CSG and environmental groups, farmers, unions, concerned citizens and, of course, NSWCCL the Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016 was forced through Parliament on Tuesday.
NSW now has another set of laws which encroach on fundamental democratic rights – in this case the right to peaceful protest. It is unnecessary and disproportionate legislation. We will maintain our opposition and campaign for its repeal.
The Labor Party and the Greens made last ditch efforts to amend the Bill to remove its most disturbing provisions. Failing that they called for the referral of the Bill to a Parliamentary Committee for proper consideration and public consultation.
Not surprisingly the Government rejected all their amendments- with the support of the Shooters Party and the Christian Democrats. The latter was a surprise given that Fred Niles had addressed the protest rally against the Bill outside Parliament House on Tuesday assuring the crowd of his strong opposition to the Bill and his support for the right to protest in a democracy like Australia.
Amendments proposed by the Shooters and Fishers party were however accepted by the Government. One of these provides for a review of the operation of the legislation by the Minister after 3 years. Much will have happened in three years in this important community debate around CSG activities. An earlier review would have been preferable to provide some insight into the impact of the legislation on legitimate protest around this issue. It would also been far preferable if the review was to be done by someone in a more independent position than the Minister – eg parliamentary committee or the Ombudsman – and that community consultation be required as part of the review.
The other amendments were minor improvements. The most significant ensures that police directions given to protesters who obstruct traffic only refer to the individuals so doing and not to the whole gathering.
A sad few days in the NSW parliament.
Read more about this bill on our website:
Anti-Protest laws: What are they and who hates them?
Anti-Protest bill: Community outrage grows
A new Australian organisation aims to build a broader fight-back around digital civil liberties. Digital Rights Watch officially launched on Friday 11th March, 2016. The chair of the organisation, Tim Singleton Norton, said that DRW isn’t intended as a replacement for existing digital rights and privacy organisations.
Instead the intention is for it to act as an umbrella organisation that can link together and amplify the efforts of different sectors affected by legislation such as the data retention regime.
Singleton Norton said that 2015 was a “pretty horrific year”, citing the introduction of the data retention scheme, the government’s National Facial Biometric Matching Capability and theTrans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement inching closer.
“All of these things came through so rapidly and with very little public debate,” he said.
He said that although there have been some strong advocates on issues such as data retention, ultimately the government has managed to push through legislation with minimal public backlash.
The organisation has a range of what Singleton Norton describes as ‘foundation partners’ — organisations and individuals that have endorsed the general idea of the organisation and have contributed to its formation in some capacity or another.
Among them are Choice, Thoughtworks, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, the Australian Privacy Foundation, human rights lawyer Julian Burnside, broadcaster Mary Kostakidis, and iiNet founder Michael Malone.
Article 1: New digital rights org sets sights on data retention rollback
Source 1: Computerworld
Article 2: Digital Rights: A New Lobby Group Uniting the Greenies and the IPA. Article no longer available
Source 2: The New Matilda
In early 2016, a group of organisations and individuals formed and launched the Digital Rights Watch, an advocacy group whose mission is to ensure that Australian citizens are equipped, empowered and enabled to uphold their digital rights.
The coalition, which included representatives from NSWCCL, saw the need to form DRW in response to increasingly oppressive policy by the government in eroding the rights of its citizens online, such as mandatory data retention, website blocking legislation, industry code for online copyright infringement, and the constricting effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the digital rights of Australians.
The DRW is mobilising for various upcoming campaigns, and we are looking for any volunteers and supporters who are interested in joining with us to deliver a fairer, freer, internet for all Australians!
Join our action group to participate in the dialogue or check out the Digital Rights Watch website for more information on the initiative.
Got questions/comments on this exciting new campaign? Email us at [email protected]
On Tuesday 8th March, 2016, the Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016 was proposed in the NSW Parliament. The aim of the bill is to "amend and clarify the laws in relation to unlawful interference with mining and other businesses", however concern has been expressed over the expansive powers given to the police, with some commentators referring to it as the 'Anti-Protest' Bill.
The New Matilda reports that these proposed 'anti-protest laws' follow on from undertakings like those made by Premier Mike Baird at a mining industry dinner in late 2014, where he said his government would “crack down” on civil disobedience and “throw the book” at people who “unlawfully enter mining sites”.
In response to the media release of the proposed amendment, President of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks spoke to The New Matilda, and noted that what the state government is proposing appears to be “completely unnecessary and disproportionate” to the challenges thrown up by protests against big mining.
"If criminal activity does take place and miners or coal seam gas proponents suffer loss, then they’ve always got the ability to sue the protestors to claim damages. That should compensate them for whatever loss they’ve suffered. That’s a perfectly adequate remedy. It’s been pursued a number of times and there’s no reason to expose people to draconian fines in addition to claims for compensation,” he said.
“Where people are trespassing,” Blanks said, “the law concerning trespass is perfectly adequate to deal with any activity and there’s no need to change them.”
“Police powers which are based on their assessment of a person’s intention are very easily able to be abused and undoubtedly will be abused in many cases – police shouldn’t have those kinds of powers,” Blanks said.
With the full extent of the bill still uncertain, Blanks said that there’s a broader issue within that “police may be seen to be one-sidedly supporting mining interests where there is a legitimate protest going on, which is just going to cause the community to lose confidence in the police”.
He said that “the lessons of history are that very often protests which start this way generate a level of community attention to the issue which causes a complete change in community attitudes against the interests of miners and other commercial interests such as forestry”.
“Protest has on occasion involved civil disobedience and breaches of laws, and there are very, very many cases where the protestors – even though they’ve been engaged in illegal activities – have had widespread or overwhelming community support,” Blanks said.
Read More about this bill on our website:
Anti-protest Bill: community outrage grows
Government and conservative parties force through outrageous anti-protest law
A recent federal court prosecution over evidence to the Australian Crime Commission has revealed some of the practices that take place in its closed interrogations. It notes that the commission has the power to force people to give evidence against their friends and family in secret. This can later be used to help build criminal investigations.
The article in the The Guardian follows ZZ (pseudonym), who is just one of dozens of people being compelled to give evidence against their friends and family in relation to terrorism matters. His case is the latest in a string of people who are often described as “linked to” or “closely connected” to terrorism investigations – although they may have committed no offences themselves – brought before the commission or its state equivalent, the New South Wales Crime Commission.
“The Australian Crime Commission regime where they have very draconian powers to force people to give evidence is a great concern. These powers are now obviously being exercised frequently and regularly,” said Stephen Blanks, the president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.
“There is almost no scrutiny or accountability with how the ACC works. And it is entirely possible that its activities are a significant factor in deterring people in the Australian community from cooperating with law enforcement agencies because of the fear that draconian powers will be used against them.”
Article: ‘A form of intimidation’: inside Australia’s most secretive law enforcement body
Source: The Guardian
A woman whose privacy was breached in a NSW hospital said current laws hampered her from taking action after a nurse took explicit photographs of her while she was undergoing surgery at Norwest Private Hospital in late 2014.
A New South Wales parliamentary inquiry has been examining whether legislation was needed to deal with serious invasions of privacy.
It has handed down seven recommendations, which include introducing laws that allow victims to take legal action if an individual has recklessly or intentionally breached their privacy.
Stephen Blanks from the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties said any legislation needed to include provisions to ensure that there were not undue restrictions on matters that were in the public interest.
"If there are overriding public interest considerations then they have to be allowed for," he said. "So I think that it's a very important element of any scheme that is brought in."
Article:Victim of NSW hospital privacy breach calls for change to Government legislation
Source: ABC News Online
A 20-year-old Australian who alleged he was tortured by a foreign intelligence agency was forced to undergo a coercive interrogation before the Australian Crime Commission and questioned more than five times by Australian Security Intelligence Organisation operatives.
The ACC can compel people to attend hearings in secret and force them to answer questions.
After refusing to answer a series of inquiries to the ACC’s satisfaction, ZZ was charged and found guilty of contempt by the federal court and imprisoned for a month until he agreed to answer questions.
The president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, told Guardian Australia the “draconian powers” of the ACC were of great concern.
“There is almost no scrutiny or accountability with how the ACC works. And it is entirely possible that its activities are a significant factor in deterring people in the Australian community from cooperating with law enforcement agencies because of the fear that draconian powers will be used against them,” he said.
“We need to return to a system where people cannot be forced, against their will, to give evidence which incriminates themselves or their spouses, children or parents. The privilege against self-incrimination is a fundamental freedom. Any government concerned with fundamental freedoms would turn their attention to the operation of the ACC and reduce its powers.”
Article: Crime commission secretly interrogated Australian who was allegedly tortured by foreign agency
Source: The Guardian
The Australian Parliament is currently debating a Bill to reform the Senate electoral processes. It is very dismal listening: much abuse, much nonsense, and very little intelligent analysis. And all happening in a last-minute dash.
Not Parliament at its best.
NSWCCL supports immediate reform of the distorted and undemocratic Senate electoral processes. We have urged this since the 2013 elections so dramatically illustrated the undemocratic processes and outcomes of this broken system. We have made a submission to the Joint Committee on Electoral Matters supporting a Bill which, if amended on one key matter, will deliver that reform.
Culture guru Tyler Brûlé has doubled-down on his previous criticism of Australia's "nanny state" laws, arguing they sacrifice the sort of freedoms that terrorist groups like Islamic State want us to forgo.
Speaking to Fairfax Media for the launch of a special Australia edition of his lifestyle magazine Monocle, the influential editor and critic said regulations such as Sydney's 1.30am lockout and tough liquor laws were "curbing fun" in a similar way to ISIS.
But the president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Stephen Blanks, did not share Brûlé's degree of concern about nightlife. He said the style icon was focused on "entirely the wrong losses of freedoms" compared to the more serious issues of free speech and police overreach.
"It's not the thin edge of the wedge," Mr Blanks said. "The wedge is splitting up families and detaining people without charge, without reason, on national security grounds. That's scary.
"Having police come in to Paddington wine bars is bad and shouldn't happen, but it's not on the same scale."
Article: 'Nanny state' laws are what ISIS wants, says Tyler Brûlé
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald
COPS Database Forum: October 21st 2015
On October 21st 2015, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties in conjunction with the Law Society of New South Wales held a forum on the Computerised Operational Policing System (COPS) database.
The panel comprised Jackson Rogers, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties’ Convenor – Justice, Police & Mental Health Action Group (Chair); Camilla Pandolfini, Senior Solicitor at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre; David Porter, Senior Solicitor at the Redfern Legal Centre; and Chris Watson, barrister from Forbes Chambers.
The event was a great success, and discussion both within the panel and with the attending audience brought many issues to light about the functions and impacts of the COPS database including:
- Can a person access information held about them on the COPS Database?
- How do police make entries on the COPS database?
- Are COPS Database entries used in criminal trials?
- What about false entries in the Database?
- Is the COPS Database just proactive policing, and is that not a good thing
- What would be an appropriate oversight mechanism?
To read the full report and minutes of the event, please follow the links below. If you are interested in this forum, or others like it, subscribe to our newsletter for more information on upcoming events, become a supporter and tell us what you think, or join NSWCCL and help support the fight for civil liberties!
COPS Database Forum: Full Report
A Chinese-born, Australian passport holder, Zhao Nuo, has been prosecuted in China for the murder of his wife in Perth.
Zhao successfully managed to flee the country before police could prosecute and was then convicted in China. Zhao's conviction was hailed in Australian and Chinese media reports as a major breakthrough in cross-border law enforcement co-operation. But at what cost?
Zhao is an Australian citizen, who committed a crime, albeit a horrifically brutal one, in Australia before fleeing to China.
In the absence of an extradition treaty, he was tried and ultimately convicted in China, a country with little regard for legal niceties or judicial process. While Australian authorities were assured the death penalty would not be imposed, it's not clear what, if any, other safeguards were sought or received.
"There are some basic conditions on criminal prosecutions that should have been sought and apparently were not .... things like an open court trial, access to counsel and the right to challenge evidence," says Stephen Blanks, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.
"The question is whether we should co-operate with a system which does not afford defendants basic human rights."
Article: China sentence for Perth murder sets dangerous cross-border precedent
Source: Australian Financial Review
The report by the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor –Roger Gyles QC - on the controversial section 35P provisions of the ASIO Act was tabled in the Senate on 2nd February. These provisions created draconian offences with penalties of 5 and 10 years imprisonment for disclosure by any person of any information relating to ASIO ‘Special Intelligence Operations’ (SIO) at any time.
NSWCCL, along with the other councils for civil liberties, strongly opposed both the SIO regime and these provisions for their chilling effect on the media and on reasonable scrutiny of ASIO. The controversy around these offences forced the Prime Minister to ask the INSLM to review their impact on journalists.
The report is thorough and suggests the INSLM gave proper and serious consideration to the informed criticisms of the SIO regime and the obnoxious disclosure offences. His findings on the offences are consistent with our views. His recommendations remedy some of the worst aspects of the offences – but sadly fall short of repealing them.
The Government has said it will implement the INSLM’s recommendations in full.