Resources for those in mandatory quarantine
As many of those who have been in mandatory quarantine are coming to the end of their periods of isolation, many in city hotels, there are others returning from overseas and entering mandatory quarantine. NSW Health describes mandatory detention as an “inconvenience”. It is more than that. Yet, those corresponding with NSWCCL have not complained about the fact of having to be quarantined. They did not mind being inconvenienced. They had other concerns about it.
Policy about quarantine was announced without sufficient time and briefing and understanding by those who were required to provide and enforce it. It has been unnecessary for those quarantined to be the subject of arbitrary and, often, meaningless rules, seemingly made on the run, uncertain and inconsistently applied. If the government expects voluntary compliance with its policies, those policies have to be perceived as fair.
The NSW Government says that it is “determined to make the 14-day period as comfortable as possible”. However, many are not being treated respectfully and with consideration and compassion. Many have no ability to have access to fresh air and daily exercise, appropriate meals and cleaning supplies. Special dietary requirements are not being met and physical and mental health needs are not being addressed appropriately. In some cases, packages are not allowed to be delivered by family and friends or arbitrary limits are placed on what they may contain. Others complain that there is no easy access to medical services or other simple requirements that have no bearing on one’s ability to be quarantined.
If you have any issues:
- Ensure that you take advantage of the facilities that you are entitled to according to the NSW Health page on quarantine. There are a number of resources listed in that website. https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/Infectious/factsheets/Pages/hotel-quarantine.aspx
The website states that “Each hotel is being staffed with experienced doctors, nurses and mental health professionals. Every day travellers will have access to:
- registered nurses
- assistant nurses
- a general practitioner (doctor) will do a daily round of the hotel
- medical practitioners are on-call 24/7 with the same doctor for continuity.”
- Contact your local Federal and State Members of Parliament and make them aware of your situation.
- Contact the Attorney General, Health Minister and the Police Minister in the State or Territory in which you are quarantined.
- Publicise your complaint to Australian media outlets.
- Report your complaint to websites, such as https://covidpolicing.org.au/.
Media coverage: Straits Times/Sunday Times
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has called on police to be more restrained regarding COVID-19 restrictions. "There is widespread community observance of the laws," said a spokesman for the council, Mr Stephen Blanks.
"If the police are seen to be enforcing them in a heavy-handed way, it will result in a loss of community support," he added.
Australian police have come under criticism for being too heavy-handed in enforcing social distancing rules after officers targeted mothers with babies and individuals sitting alone in parks.
Despite the rules being quickly and readily accepted by most Australians, there are concerns that the overzealous approach by some officers risk jeopardising community support for the measures.
More than 200 not-for-profit and community organisations have backed a major report calling on the Australian Government to strengthen its commitment to human rights in its laws, policies and practices.
The report has been prepared ahead of a United Nations Human Rights Council review of Australia in a process known as the Universal Periodic Review, which each member of the UN must undergo every four years.
Edwina MacDonald, a Legal Director at the Human Rights Law Centre and one of the report coordinators, said it offers a comprehensive insight into the state of human rights in Australia, at a crucial time with the COVID-19 crisis set to exacerbate existing inequalities and create a host of new human rights challenges.
“The human rights that many Australians have taken for granted are suddenly front and centre in public consciousness – essential rights like healthcare and education are coming under enormous strain and structural economic inequalities will hit disadvantaged communities hard. This report provides a snapshot of the existing problems and is a stark reminder that Australians will not face this pandemic on equal footings,” said MacDonald.
Australia’s Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council will take place early 2021. The NGO Report was coordinated by the Human Rights Law Centre, the Kingsford Legal Centre and the Caxton Legal Centre, working with an Advisory Group comprised of 16 NGOs, and authors from 57 NGOs.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the unanimous decision by the Senate to establish a Select Committee on COVID -19 matters.
The Committee has a wide scope. It is empowered “to inquire into and report on:
- a) the Australian Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic; and
- b) any related matters.”
It has strong powers to gain information, hold public or private hearings, publish evidence, findings and recommendations and a direction that it be “provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources and be empowered to appoint persons with specialist knowledge for the purposes of the committee with the approval of the President”.
It will have a core membership of 7 being: 3 nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate; 2 nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate; 1 nominated by the Leader of the Australian Greens; and Senator Jacqui Lambie. Other Senators will be able to be nominated as participating – but not voting - members.
On the face of it, this new Select Committee should be able to make a significant contribution to democracy in oversighting the Government’s responses to the COVID -19 pandemic. In so doing it will hopefully provide some much-needed scrutiny of Government decisions and their implementation to fill an astonishing accountability vacuum created by the closure of the Australian Parliament until 11 August 2020.
The Government’s continued refusal to amend the Parliament’s sitting schedule to provide for sittings over the intervening months is a betrayal of the people’s rights to transparency and accountability in government.
Previous statement: 6 April 2020, Call for senate committee scrutiny of government responses to COVID-19
Previous statement: 30 March 2020, Statement: COVID-19 and Government oversight - Prolonged Parliamentary Adjournment unacceptable and Dangerous for Democracy
Media coverage: The Canberra Times
The NSW Council of Civil Liberties has called for the state's chief medical officer to be consulted about fines issued under extraordinary laws designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It follows concern that police may be issuing infringement notices to people who do not pose a risk of spreading the virus.
NSWCCL spokesman Stephen Blanks disputed whether going for a drive should be classified as an offence. "That activity has negligible community risk, of course there could be a risk if there was an accident, but it's very remote," he said.
"The experience of the past week suggests the commissioner should be getting some guidance from the chief medical officer of NSW as to whether particular activities involve community health risk."
Mr Blanks warned maintaining community support for the laws would be essential in the weeks and months ahead.
"It's unprecedented, the idea that everyone is confined to their homes unless they have a reasonable excuse to leave. The fact is there is widespread community observance of the laws, but the most important thing is the community support for them is maintained," he said.
"If the police are seen to be enforcing them in a heavy-handed way it will result in a loss of community support and will be counter-productive."
NSWCCL is engaging with the fast moving covid-19 crisis on a number of fronts. The maintenance of core democratic processes to ensure adequate parliamentary scrutiny of the government’s responses to the crisis is a high priority for us and other civil society organisations. Our intention is not to hinder the Government’s capacity to act with necessary speed in the face of the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. Rather, our aim is to give confidence to the community that government responses are being scrutinised for lawfulness, proportionality and fairness through transparent parliamentary processes. Without this confidence public trust in the Government over this period is likely to be weakened.
Like many others, we have urged both the NSW and the Australian Governments to rethink their decisions to close down their parliaments over the next crucial months. The NSW Parliament is not scheduled to resume until 15th September and the Australian Parliament not until 11th August. The Australian Parliament will sit for one day next Wednesday (8th April) to approve the latest tranche of emergency spending.
We have also called for the establishment of a strong, bipartisan Senate Select Committee to scrutinise and report on the Government’s responses to the pandemic crisis. NSWCCL joined 7 other legal and civil society groups in a public call for such a committee to approved when the Parliament sits on Wednesday:
The Senate must establish the Select Senate Committee when it reconvenes, for potentially just one day, next Wednesday. A Select Senate Committee will provide a vital avenue to business, civil society groups and individuals to provide information to inform Government decision-making and feedback on the impact of those decisions, so that no one is left behind and no one is left in the dark.
The NSW and New Zealand Governments have already established committees to oversee their Governments’ response to COVID-19.
A Select Senate Committee is just a part of the solution – Australians also need regular parliamentary processes to continue. It is vital that our Parliament sit, in a way that is safe, so it can make decisions rapidly as the pandemic unfolds.
Participating groups in addition to NSWCCL were Human Rights Law Centre, Centre for Public Integrity, Amnesty International, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, People with Disability Australia, GRATA Fund and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre.
Other groups – including eminent ex judges - have made similar calls for such a committee.
At this point of time we are hopeful that the Senate will set up such a Committee next Wednesday to provide the much-needed and focused scrutiny on Government actions over this extraordinarily challenging and scary period in Australia’s history.
Statements from NSWCCL on COVID-19 responses, links to up-to-date information and resources
For NSWCCL in the media visit THIS PAGE.
NSWCCL Statements on COVID-19
The right to protest should not be curtailed - statement re car convoy protesting COVID-19 risks to refugees held in detention
Actions and campaigns
NSWCCL recently signed on to support the #GameOver campaign by Craig Foster to get those held in offshore detention to safety, and endorsed the 'Open letter to Australian governments on COVID-19 and the criminal justice system’
National Coronavirus Helpline - Call this line if you are seeking information on coronavirus. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week - 1800 020 080
Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020 - Signed 10:20pm 30th March
Law Access NSW LawAccess NSW is available on 1300 888 529 between 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday to help with legal issues including those arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Policing COVID in Australia - Have you been stopped by police or had any interaction with police since the new public health rules were introduced in your area? Do you feel you have been treated unfairly? Do you know of an incident that concerns you? Visit the Policing COVID website.
Australian Women Against Violence Alliance - COVID-19 resources for a range of at-risk and minority communities
Australia at Home - A resource to bring together people from across Australian civil society. Hosting lunchtime briefings and online series of conversations with some of Australia’s most experienced and interesting thinkers.
Aboriginal Legal Service NSW ACT Free Our People - Petition: Stop COVID Aboriginal Deaths in Custody before it's too late
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre - Petition to protect people seeking asylum and refugees in COVID-19 crisis
NSWCCL supporter and esteemed retired physician, Dr Alex Wodak*, has called for the Commonwealth Government to immediately close all immigration detention centres and remove all non-violent inmates from prisons across the country or risk a major public health crisis of COVID-19.
"An outbreak of COVID-19 is many, many more times likely in a detention centre or prison than in the general population."
"You have overcrowding, outdated facilities, lack of readily available hand sanitiser, and a population prone to chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and asthma."
"We cannot afford an outbreak. We owe these people a duty of care".
Dr Wodak called for an immediate, high level meeting between the Prime Minister, Department of Home Affairs and state Ministers for Corrective Services with a view to facilitating the speedy transfer for detainees and inmates from these centres to the community.
Read Dr Wodak's statement HERE.
*Dr Wodak is Emeritas Consultant at the Alcohol and Drug Service, St Vincent's Hospital (he was Director of service from 1982-2012). Dr Wodak has been a fierce advocate for the prevention of HIV among people who inject drugs, prevention of alcohol problems and drug policy reform. He is President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation and was President of the International Harm Reduction Association (1996-2004). He helped establish the first needle syringe programme and the first supervised injecting centre in Australia when both were pre-legal and often works in developing countries on HIV control among among people who inject drugs. Dr Wodak helped establish the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, the Australian Society of HIV Medicine and the NSW Users AIDS Association.
Media coverage: Sydney Morning Herald
A lockdown restricting the movement of people is critical to stemming the spread of COVID-19. The virus jumps from person to person after close contact, while it can also live on surfaces for long periods. By temporarily changing behaviour through physical distancing, people can slow the rate of infection. The practice has worked against outbreaks in the past, including the Spanish Flu of 1918. While the curve is flattening, experts say the virus cannot be defeated without a vaccine, which could still be 18 months away. Until then, social distancing will save lives by preventing a surge of cases overwhelming the healthcare system.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Stephen Blanks said the restrictions were justified to keep the community safe from the pandemic, but that they should only be in place "so long as they are appropriate."
"These restrictions are extreme and extraordinary. We've certainly never had anything like this in our lifetime," he said. "When it is safe for them to be lifted, then they should be."
On Thursday (2nd April) Fuller said the NSW lockdown, supported by the enhanced police powers, would continue for 90 days, ending by June 30. He added that he would not seek to extend them. Berejiklian has confirmed the number of new cases has continued to stabilise, but said restrictions in NSW could be in place for as long as six months.
Media coverage - Kate Allman for Law Society Journal (LSJ)
At this early stage in Australia’s experience of the global pandemic, it is hard to tell whether laws that dramatically restrict our citizens’ freedom of movement will be proportionate to the impending health crisis. Most medical experts agree severe “social distancing” measures are justified – for now – to prevent the rapid spread and devastating loss of life that COVID-19 has caused in countries such as China, Italy, Spain and the US.
But their impact on civil liberties and the rule of law has advocacy groups concerned.
“I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime and I am not aware of any previous restriction on movement and basic freedoms, ever, such as we have seen today,” Stephen Blanks, a spokesperson for the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, told LSJ.
Blanks spoke to LSJ on Tuesday 31 March, the morning after the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order 2020 was signed into NSW law.
“There will be situations where people need to leave the home – not just to access services, but just to get out of the home,” Blanks said, indicating research by Women’s Safety NSW that has already reported a 40 per cent spike in calls for help to domestic and family violence services since the COVID-19 outbreak.
Blanks said he was also worried about the lack of oversight or accountability mechanisms for police enforcing the new orders.
“Am I concerned about police not enforcing the law appropriately? Yes, I am. There is a great danger when extraordinary powers are given in an unconstrained way to authorities. It will take great discipline on the part of the police, and great management by police of people on the ground, to try to minimise any abuse of these powers.”