NSWCCL News

COVIDSafe Bill, Parliament must strengthen protections

The Australian Government has released the Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Bill 2020 (COVIDSafe Bill) which will be considered by Parliament this week. The COVIDSafe Bill largely reproduces the biosecurity orders which made it possible to begin to download and operate the COVIDSafe App (App).

The NSW, Queensland and South Australian Councils for Civil Liberties, along with the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, support the introduction of effective digital contact tracing if it is underpinned by robust privacy and transparency legislation.

The joint statement has been sent to the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and Opposition Leader, along with all MPs and Senators. 

In the statement we recommend that a number of issues should be considered by Parliament for incorporation into the Act – or for Government action - to more adequately protect the privacy of Australian citizens who have voluntarily participated in this tracking exercise.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the statement - 'The civil liberties groups want the government to change the design to ensure personal data is not stored on a central database, arguing this increases the danger from a single cyber attack.'

'More needs to be done to ensure that the app does not compromise data protection and thereby increase the risk of illegal and inappropriate use of data or surveillance of Australians.'

Read the full statement HERE. 

 

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NSWCCL raises new privacy concerns with COVIDSafe app

Media coverage: Sydney Morning Herald

The Councils for Civil Liberties in NSW, Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Council for Civil Liberties issued a joint statement that backed the case for digital contact tracing but called for stronger safeguards.

'"More needs to be done to ensure that the app does not compromise data protection and thereby increase the risk of illegal and inappropriate use of data or surveillance of Australians," they said.

"It is also disappointing that the government has opted for centralised data storage in a national COVIDSafe data store rather than adopting the widely supported and more privacy-friendly decentralised option.

"Cyber attacks and accidental and illegal data breaches will continue to occur on Australian government databases. This storage choice creates a real risk of such breaches and will undermine users' confidence as to the safety of their private data."'

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Landmark report finds police conduct of strip searches unlawful

Police officers who conducted strip searches of children hadn't been properly trained and didn't understand the law on what they were doing, a series of landmark watchdog reports has found.

The conduct of NSW Police officers in carrying out strip searches of teenagers at music festivals has been found to be unlawful in a series of landmark reports by the NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.

The reports also criticised the use of police discretion in finding appropriate grounds to justify a strip search; and then the subsequent conduct of the strip search as it applies to people under the age of 18. 

The NSW Law Enforcement Conduct Commission said police couldn't justify ordering people to strip naked on a general belief that some music festival patrons would conceal drugs.

NSWCCL Vice President, and convenor of CCL's Police Powers action group, Eugene Scofield-Georgeson, said the report confirms that strip searches of minors at festivals must end. 'These findings are further evidence for halting the practice of invasive police searches of children, led by drug dogs, at music festivals'. 

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The report comes only days from an announcement that police chief Mick Fuller is to receive an $87,000 pay rise at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, making him one of the state's highest paid public servants.

NSWCCL is alarmed by the recent $87,000 pay rise of the NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller, who is now the highest paid NSW public servant, well ahead of the pay of the NSW Chief Justice by more than $100,000 per year. This pay increase also comes at a time when pay for public servants has been capped at 2.5% per annum.

NSWCCL is crowdfunding for a podcast series, Strip Searches and the Law, that will address rights and privacy for festival goers, and those approached by drug dogs/police. Pre-production of the podcast has been postponed during the COVID-19 health emergency.

 

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NSWCCL amongst civil society groups calling on NSW Parliament to resume

Six civil society groups are today calling on the NSW State Parliament to immediately reconvene regular sittings, in a way that is safe, so it can debate and address important matters of public concern.  

The NSW community is looking to their State Government to guide them through the COVID-19 public health emergency. Issues including the impact the pandemic is having on people experiencing homelessness and domestic violence and on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must be open to parliamentary scrutiny. 

As NSW teachers prepare to go back to classrooms next week, NSW MPs will sit for just one day to pass rental relief measures and are then not scheduled to sit again until September. Only with regular parliamentary processes can the Government respond to the community’s needs rapidly. 

The use of the Upper House Public Accountability Committee to review the NSW Government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic was a step in the right direction. However, the Committee is yet to hold hearings since its inception in March, and is not accepting public submissions. The Committee has, so far, not put any measures in place to improve the transparency and accountability of executive decision-making. 

Nicholas Cowdery AO QC President of NSW Council for Civil Liberties:

“There is no legal impediment to the conduct of safe sittings of parliament in the coronavirus context. Accountable government is a requirement of democracy and without it, intrusive emergency measures may become manipulated and entrenched beyond this crisis.” 

Jonathon Hunyor, CEO of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre:

“In responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the NSW Government has been making major decisions with significant impact on our daily lives and fundamental rights. We need Parliament doing its job, ensuring oversight and accountability – it’s an essential part of our democracy.”

The Hon Anthony Whealy QC, Chair of The Centre for Public Integrity and former Judge of the NSW Court of Appeal:

"Parliament can and should sit during this crisis. Increased public spending and government intervention at this time calls for more scrutiny, not less. Australian Parliaments should follow examples set in the UK of MPs joining the chamber virtually to allow full representation across Parliament."

Alice Drury, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre:

“Now is the time for Parliament to shine, not shut down. We can have confidence in leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic only when decisions are transparent, open to constructive scrutiny, and responsive to the changing needs of our communities. We need regular Parliament processes back in place as soon as possible.”

See the original release from Human Rights Law Centre HERE

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Nominations open 2020 Awards for Civil Liberties Journalism

New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties announces that nominations are now open for two awards for excellence in civil liberties journalism for an article or series of articles, or a radio, television or podcast presentation, promoting civil liberties. The two awards are:

  • for young journalists under the age of 30 on 2 June 30, 2020, and
  • the open category.

Submissions are welcome, whether by self-nomination or third-party nomination. Submissions must include copies or links to the material that is the subject of the nomination. 

To be eligible, nominations must have been published or broadcast in Australia between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020, and must be received by the NSWCCL by 11:59pm, on 14th July 2020.

Nominations should be made online, to office@nswccl.org.au.

Nicholas Cowdery AO QC
President NSW Council for Civil Liberties

Read about last year's finalists and award winners HERE

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Supreme Court rules on VIC Government COVID-19 duty of care to person in prison

The Supreme Court of Victoria has found that the Victorian Government has prima facie breached their duty to take reasonable care for the health of a person behind bars during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The case, an urgent injunction brought by Fitzroy Legal Service and the Human Rights Law Centre, on behalf of a person in Port Phillip Prison with acute health needs, argued that people in prison are sitting ducks for COVID-19, and that it will only take one case to enter the prison for there to be an outbreak, which could not be stopped even if responsive measures are taken.

While the Court didn’t make any findings of fact given the case was heard as an interlocutory hearing, the Court did find that there was a prima facie case that the prison authorities breached their duty of care to safeguard the health of the person in prison, and that the Government must act compatibility with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights.

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This is an excerpt from a news article originally published by the Human Rights Law Centre, 2 May 2020.

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The right to protest should not be curtailed

4th May 2020

The right to protest should not be curtailed

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has grave concerns with the actions of the Victorian Police in the arrest of Chris Breen. To our understanding Mr Breen has been charged with incitement under section 321G of the Crimes Act 1958 for involvement in a protest car convoy. We are equally concerned with the issuing of infringement notices and fines of $1652 to 26 other participants.

On Good Friday the Refugee Action Collective planned a peaceful demonstration to highlight the living conditions for the refugees being held in the Mantra Hotel, Preston, The Mantra is being used as an Alternate Place of Detention (APOD). The purpose of the demonstration was to bring attention to the difficulties of maintaining social distancing and other hygiene concerns in the facility. NSWCCL has already voiced their concerns  with the conditions in APODs.

Acknowledging the social distancing laws in place at the time, the protestors organised a car convoy with no more than two people in each car. The previous day a similar convoy had been held by the United Voice Union and although there were threats made in the media by the Victorian Police, no arrests were made, as was appropriate for a peaceful protest

On Good Friday the Victorian Police acted otherwise, by arresting Refugee Action Collective member Chris Breen in his house, holding him for nine hours at Preston police station, seizing his electronic devices (including his son’s) and charging him with incitement under section 321G of the Crimes Act 1958 for involvement in the car convoy. Police also issued infringement notices and fines of $1652 to 26 participants in the convoy.

NSWCCL has a number of concerns with the actions of the Victorian Police.

We are concerned by the use of public health measures to respond to matters of political action.

We are concerned with the precedent these actions could have for future rallies, protests or picket lines.

In order to maintain the civil right to protest in Victoria we make the following demands:

  1. The charge against Chris Breen to be dropped.
  2. The infringement notices be revoked.
  3. The Victorian Police and Government approve future car convoys and other safe forms of political protest.

NSWCCL has also written to Victorian Police Commissioner, Graham Ashton AM regarding this matter. View the letter HERE.


Angela Catallo and Dr Martin Bibby, co-convenors, NSWCCL Asylum Seekers and Refugees Action Group

Media requests: Angela Catallo via email to office@nswccl.org.au.

 

See this statement as a PDF

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Police state or safety net? NSWCCL in LSJ

Media coverage: Law Society Journal

We may have flattened the curve; but have we squashed the rule of law in the process? Kate Allman, a finalist in the NSWCCL 2019 Award for Excellence in Civil Liberties Journalism (Young Journalists category), asks the question in this month's compelling cover story for Law Society Journal.

“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,” says Stephen Blanks, a spokesperson for the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

Blanks first relayed his concerns to LSJ on 31 March, the morning after the most restrictive public health order, which orders NSW citizens to stay home other than to carry out limited essential activities, was signed into law. 

“Today, being the first day of the new regulations which prohibit leaving home except with a reasonable excuse, marks an extraordinary day in our legal history,” Blanks said.

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Submission: 2020 ECOSOC High Level Segment for NGOs

NSWCCL Statement to the 2020 ECOSOC High Level Segment for NGOs 26th April 2020

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) recognises that the human rights and civil liberties of all people cannot be fully realised unless, and until, the global community meets the targets set by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However we recognise that development, particularly economic, need not necessarily take place in a way that is human rights based.

 In times of accelerated progress towards any goal, it is clear that states can sometimes all too quickly pursue acceleration at the expense of human rights and equality. This is not to say that acceleration is itself problematic. In line with the recommendations of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, acceleration of sustainable development in relation to climate change (SDGS 7, 11- 15) is vital to prevent the most catastrophic climactic changes. Climate change will only entrench vulnerability and marginalisation. We strongly endorse rapid acceleration of the response to climate change, particularly within Australia.

We emphasise the importance of attaining progress towards meeting the SDG targets in a way that centres human rights obligations at the core of development. The United Nations Human Rights Council has resolved that attainment of the SDGs and implementation of human rights obligations by states should be ‘mutually reinforcing’, and a state should implement the SDGs consistently with their pre-existing human rights obligations (A/HRC/RES/37/24). This is also recognised in SDG 10 and SDG 16.

Turning to an example from Australia, the longstanding inequality between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians is a deplorable stain on Australia’s history. The 2020 Closing the Gap report identifies that the child mortality rate for Indigenous Australians is slightly over double the child mortality rate for Non-Indigenous Australians (p. 15). Numeracy and literacy rates for Indigenous school students are well below national standards (p. 45). Whilst we acknowledge that some progress is being made, such progress is slow and does not comply with the spirit of the SDGs and should be accelerated alongside economic development.

To ensure that the crucial acceleration of progress responding to the SDG targets takes place in a way that advances human rights we call upon states to:

  • Ensure that justice, integrity and accountability bodies within states are strengthened and properly resourced.
  • Adopt domestic legislation which enshrines fundamental human rights and affords citizens with personal remedies to protect their rights.
  • Ensure that the rights of marginalised and minority groups are given equal, if not greater, importance than the rights of others within society to remedy past injustices.

 

Michelle Falstein

Secretary

NSW Council for Civil Liberties Australia

 

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NSWCCL calls for release of those in alternative places of detention (APOD)

NSWCCL are asking members and supporters to urgently write to a group of Federal Ministers warning them of the risks involved in keeping 100 refugees in the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel, an alternative place of detention (APOD) in Brisbane, and 50 in the Mantra Hotel APOD in Melbourne.  We are calling for their immediate release into safe places in the community as part of the public health response to the COVID-19 emergency.

The risk in APODs is that they are crowded, and social distancing is impossible. Moreover, guards, service staff and others go in and out, generally without personal protective equipment. 

There are 9,900 members of I Have a Room, who have declared their willingness to look after asylum seekers and refugees in their own homes.  In APODs and Detention Centres, here, in Nauru and Manus Island, there are a few more than 1,400 asylum seekers and refugees. 

It is true that cases have been trending down: in Queensland in particular there have been no new cases of the virus in the last few days.  However, as Professor Paul Kelly, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said on the ABC’s Coronacast podcast on Wednesday 22 April, there is a risk of a second wave of the virus, which would be worse than the first.   Moreover, there may be asymptomatic cases, with people who are not aware that they have the disease able to spread it to others, who may die of it.

We thank you for taking this action to help protect asylum seekers and refugees in Australian care during the COVID-19 health crisis.

- Angela Catallo and Dr Martin Bibby, co-convenors, NSWCCL Asylum Seekers and Refugees Action Group

Media requests: Angela Catallo via email to office@nswccl.org.au.

 

Please write in your own words, or copy and paste the example letter below into an email, and send to:

The Hon. Alan Tudge, Acting Minister for Immigration alan.tudge.mp@aph.gov.au

The Hon. Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs Peter.Dutton.MP@aph.gov.au

The Hon. Anne Ruston, Services Minister senator.ruston@aph.gov.au

The Hon. Greg Hunt, Minister for Health Greg.Hunt.MP@aph.gov.au

The Hon. David Coleman, Minister for  Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs. david.coleman.mp@aph.gov.au


Dear Ministers,

You will be aware of the concerns expressed by Mr. Ed. Santow about the COVID-19 health risk due to overcrowding inside two alternative places of detention (APODs) for refugees and asylum seekers - that is, in the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel in Brisbane and the Mantra Hotel in South Preston, Victoria.  According to Mr. Santow, social distancing is not possible while so many are detained there, and the lives of the detainees are at risk.

APODs are not isolated from the wider community--guards, service staff, cleaners and others go in and out.  They can carry infection in, and others will carry it out.  Mr. Santow's warning should be treated seriously and the response should be urgent.

I remind you of the consequences of Donald Trump's dismissal of warnings about the novel coronavirus as fear-mongering.

I am writing therefore to urge you to rescue the people detained in those two places from their almost inevitable infection with the SARS-2 virus if they stay there, and the likely deaths of some of them.   I urge you  to act swiftly and place them in community detention, or release them to safe places in the community. 

It is true that cases have been trending down: in Queensland in particular there have been no new cases of the virus in the last few days.  However, as Professor Paul Kelly, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said on the ABC’s Coronacast podcast on Wednesday 22 April, there is a risk of a second wave of the virus, which would be worse than the first.   Moreover, there may be asymptomatic cases, with people who are not aware that they have the disease able to spread it to others, who may die of it. 

There are 9,900 members of I Have a Room who have declared their willingness to take an asylum seeker or refugee each from detention into their own homes. 

I urge you to take up their offers, and act before it is too late

Yours sincerely,

 

(SIGN HERE)


Download the letter as a PDF to print, sign and scan/photograph and send via email.

 

 

 

 

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