NSWCCL News

Concerns re conditions for citizens held in enforced COVID-19 quarantine in Sydney

April 2, 2020

No fresh air, no exercise, no access to mental health professionals - concerns about conditions for citizens held in enforced quarantine in Sydney

NSWCCL is greatly concerned about the experiences and conditions of those in enforced quarantine in NSW. The Council advocates for measures that, at the very least, maintain individuals access to daily fresh air for a certain period per day, and the ability to exercise. 

The Council acknowledges the importance of containment and understands the necessity to quarantine Australians returning from overseas. However, those in quarantine should have access to fresh air, exercise and mental health professionals. The conditions of quarantine should be compassionate and respectful rather than arbitrary.

NSWCCL has been contacted by a Victorian resident Stephen, and his wife, who are being held in quarantine in a Sydney Hotel. The couple recently returned from Peru (31st March), where they had already been held in lockdown there for 14 days after the Peru government imposed a state of emergency on 16 March.

Stephen contacted NSWCCL for assistance in ‘advocating for all those others in enforced quarantine in Sydney to ensure that our basic human rights and civil liberties are not being infringed in such an arbitrary and inhumane way.’

Stephen goes on to add, “I am not disputing the government’s right to force us into quarantine. What I am disputing is the conditions they have imposed on us.  We are not convicted criminals, we just had the misfortune to be overseas at the time the world went into crisis.”

Stephen informed the NSWCCL about the conditions under which they were being quarantined;

  • We are literally locked in our room for 24 hours per day. We do not even have a key for our room.
  • Police and army patrol our floor to ensure our compliance.
  • We have no access to fresh air.  We are in a room on the 26th floor with no window that can be opened.
  • We have no ability to exercise.
  • We are being denied access to alcohol.
  • I have my wife with me, but many people are on their own – they are essentially in solitary confinement. 

“There are no support services for us. Nobody is checking on us as regards are physical or mental wellbeing,” Stephen said.

“Yesterday one of our friends in Sydney bought us some fruit, muesli, milk, tea and a couple of 6 packs of beer. The police stopped her leaving the alcohol.  Apparently those in quarantine are banned from having alcohol.”

The police quoted legislation in the NSW Government Gazette, Number 62, Saturday, 28 March 2020, apparently telling Stephen that the Police Commissioner has authority under clause 6(2) to determine what those in quarantine can/cannot eat and drink.

Today Stephen and his wife received a delivery of prescription medicine from a local pharmacist. The police opened and inspected the package before giving it to the recipients. Stephen said her felt this was ‘a gross breach of privacy and completely unwarranted – the package was clearly from a pharmacy and contained nothing but medicine’.

 Stephen and his wife are seeking:

  • Access every day to fresh air for a minimum 30 minutes
  • Access to an area we can exercise in for a minimum of 30 minutes each day
  • Access to moderate amounts of alcohol (which of course we pay for ourselves)
  • Daily checks on our health and mental wellbeing.

 “Surely this is not too much to ask for people who have committed no crimes and are otherwise complying with the draconian conditions imposed on us,” Stephen added.


 NSW Council for Civil Liberties - email: office@nswccl.org.au

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Parliament's COVID-19 adjournment 'unacceptable, dangerous for democracy'

Media coverage: The Guardian

The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, has called for parliament to continue to sit and scrutinise government emergency powers to deal with coronavirus, as concerns about unchecked executive power in Australia grow.

The call on Wednesday comes as the bipartisan delegated legislation committee resolved to establish an inquiry into non-disallowable instruments including new Covid-19 public health orders, citing research by the legal expert Andrew Edgar that they are putting federal government actions beyond the reach of parliament.

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties president, Nicholas Cowdery, has urged the commonwealth and NSW parliaments to resume before August and September, warning the current extended adjournments are “unacceptable and dangerous for democracy”.

Cowdery wrote to the federal and NSW governments and opposition, warning that the current adjournments of parliament were “unacceptable and dangerous for democracy”.

He cited the constitutional law expert Anne Twomey, from the University of Sydney, who has warned that “there will be very little parliamentary scrutiny of the government for nearly five months, a critical period during which extreme powers may be exercised”.

“Even the darkest days of the world wars did not force parliament to close for extended periods,” Cowdery said.

“NSWCCL believes Australia needs more democracy and accountability in these difficult months, not less.”

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NSWCCL President on democracy and accountability during COVID-19

Media coverage: Sydney Morning Herald/Brisbane Times

The president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery: "Even the darkest days of the World Wars did not force parliament to close for extended periods."

He called on the federal and NSW parliaments to make use of their committee processes for "more democracy and accountability in these difficult months, not less".

A group of former judges is also urging Australia's parliament to set up a bipartisan committee to scrutinise the government's epidemic responses as it faces one of the longest shutdowns on record.

The six judges, including former High Court justice Mary Gaudron, have proposed Canberra adopt New Zealand's approach of setting up an all-party select committee of parliament to scrutinise the government's epidemic responses.

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NSWCCL's Stephen Blanks on COVID-19 restrictions, rights and police powers

Media coverage: SBS News

What are your rights as Australia goes into stage three lockdown and authorities begin enforcing stricter social distancing restrictions?

Rights groups have called for Australians to understand their rights as social distancing restrictions ramp up and new penalties are introduced to enforce them.

The message from authorities is don't leave your home unless absolutely necessary - that means going to work or school if you can't do it remotely, buying essentials, seeking medical care or exercise.

Breaking the rules will now carry stiff financial penalties across state jurisdictions as police warn they are not afraid to enforce the measures.

NSW Council of Civil Liberties spokesperson Stephen Blanks told SBS News the measures are set to have a “most serious impact” on people's freedoms and fundamentally change the public’s relationship with police.  

“The way in which they’re enforced is going to have a huge impact on whether the community continues to support these laws,” he said. 

“The issuing of the fines must really be a last resort where compliance cannot be achieved any other way."

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Statement: Mobile device tracking of COVID-19 infected persons

April 1, 2020

PUBLIC STATEMENT

Mobile device tracking of COVID-19 infected persons

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that the Commonwealth government is progressing with Singapore-style digital options for contact tracing: the identification, contacting and monitoring of those who may be infected with COVID-19, and their contacts.[1] In addition, the Australian government has now launched a Coronavirus Australia app and WhatsApp group, to provide Australians with information, and advice, about the pandemic. The Coronavirus Australia app permits the voluntary registration of a person’s self-isolation but does not, currently, provide for contact tracing.[2] At present, in Australia, contact tracing is conducted manually and directly with the affected person.[3]

NSWCCL supports the appropriate and generalised use of aggregated, anonymised map data for tracking people’s movements; to assist health services and determine where to target critical medical resources. Contact tracing is essential. However, any collection or use of a person’s sensitive personal data for digital contact tracing must come with the imposition of strict limitations.

The move to monitor citizens’ movements may set a dangerous precedent. Contact tracing and the wider application of mobile device tracking would enable the Australian government to assemble a person’s location history into a single, searchable database. Mobile device tracking, in Australia, could involve tracking infected persons to ensure compliance with self-quarantine, as in Israel (see below). South Korean authorities publicly share details of the age, gender and location of persons infected with COVID-19, by mobile phone alert and on the government’s health website.[4] Often that information is sufficient to identify the infected person.

NSWCCL calls for complete transparency from the Australian government of its development and use of any mobile device tracking technology in this emergency.

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What Australia’s ‘extreme’ new coronavirus laws and police powers mean for civil liberties

Media coverage: The New Daily

Civil liberties experts have raised concerns over draconian new laws that heavily limit freedom of movement in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Stephen Banks described the restrictions as “extraordinary” and “obviously extreme”.

“We’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetimes,” he said.

The idea of making it illegal to leave your own home except with a reasonable excuse is the most severe kind of restriction that could be imagined.’’

Although the coronavirus pandemic is a valid reason for the restrictions, Mr Banks said that governments and police must “do everything that they can to maintain community support … because if the community ceases to support it, then it becomes unworkable”.

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NSWCCL on amending Bail Act and protecting prison communities, COVID-19

Media coverage: 7 News

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties wants the Bail Act amended to ensure courts take into account the fact that the pandemic has caused major delays in finalising cases.

"An express provision ... which provides that the court must take into account the risks posed by COVID-19 to inmates, correctional staff and other gaol workers, their families and the community more broadly, would send a clear message to police and the courts," council president Nicholas Cowdery QC said in a statement.

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Trump urged to release prisoners vulnerable to covid-19

Over 400 Former US Attorneys, DOJ Leaders and Attorneys, and Judges Urge President Trump to Release Vulnerable Individuals from Federal Custody to Avoid Deadly Outbreak of COVID-19

In a letter from 405 former DOJ leaders, attorneys, and federal judges , including 35 U.S. Attorneys, these criminal justice leaders urge President Trump to take rapid action to release medically at risk individuals from federal custody to protect them and our communities from the catastrophic spread of COVID-19 in federal facilities. The letter calls on President Trump to use his executive power to commute sentences for vulnerable individuals, urge policies to limit the number of new people entering federal custody, and secure emergency funding for reentry services and support of state and local efforts to similarly address the spread of COVID-19 in custodial settings. For more, read the release and letter.

The signatories to the letter, like other criminal justice leaders in recent weeks, came together in response to the current public health emergency. These former prosecutors, attorneys, judges and law enforcement leaders stressed the immense vulnerability of incarcerated and detained populations to the deadly COVID-19 virus due to dense living conditions, poor access to quality healthcare, and the increasing elderly population behind bars.

In the letter, they urge the President to support efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among those held in federal custody – as well as the many individuals who work in these facilities and return to their community at the end of each shift – by:

  • Using his executive power to sensibly commute sentences for the elderly, those who are medically vulnerable and individuals who have already served most of their sentence, provided that they do not pose a serious risk to public safety;
  • Encouraging and establishing policies to promote the limitation of new custody to only individuals who present a serious and demonstrable risk to public safety;
  • Creating a bipartisan emergency advisory group to quickly guide this process and ensure the most vulnerable are protected;
  • Urging the Bureau of Prisons to take measures to ensure correctional staff receive regular testing as well as health care support, including full pay if they become sick with the virus; and
  • Supporting emergency funding for prevention, treatment, reentry support, and incentivising state and local governments to address the public health concerns in their own jails and prisons. 

“We, as former United States Attorneys, federal judges, Assistant United States Attorneys, and DOJ lawyers and leaders, understand the obligation to protect the safety and wellbeing of everyone in our community….To prevent the rapid spread of COVID-19 in facilities under your federal control, we urge you to start commuting sentences immediately.”

From: fairandjustprosecution.org/


NSWCCL recently issued statements regarding COVID-19 concerns and the NSW prison/detention population -

Statement: Strong Leadership by NSW Attorney General on parole, steps needed for remand population


Reducing the risk of COVID-19: reducing the number of people in custody

 

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CCL calls for parliament to continue sitting during covid-19 crisis

March 30, 2020

PUBLIC STATEMENT

PROLONGED PARLIAMENTARY ADJOURNMENT UNACCEPTABLE AND DANGEROUS FOR DEMOCRACY

For the duration of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, NSWCCL calls upon the Commonwealth and NSW Governments to accord full respect to the principles of parliamentary supremacy and responsible and representative government, which are fundamental features of Australia’s democratic and constitutional arrangements.

To this end, we urge the State and Commonwealth Governments to act through parliamentary processes and to continue to exercise legislative powers to the fullest practicable extent for the duration of this crisis. We urge them to reconsider parliamentary adjournment until September[1] and August[2] respectively. The NSW Parliament should also update its committee processes to enable NSW parliamentary committees to operate virtually, similarly to the way committees at the Commonwealth level are able to operate.

Adherence to these principles will ensure that Australians continue to enjoy full democracy, accountability and transparency from their leaders, and therefore maximum protection of their civil liberties during these challenging times.

The consequence of these parliamentary shutdowns, in the words of constitutional law expert Anne Twomey from the University of Sydney, is that there will be very little parliamentary scrutiny of the government for nearly five months, a critical period during which extreme powers may be exercised.[3]

The emergency circumstances in which we find ourselves render it difficult to overstate the potential for the dramatic overreach of unreviewable executive power. Decisions of the High Court since 2009 make this problem even more serious.[4]

This is not merely an academic point. Limiting the power of the executive to act without parliamentary scrutiny – that is, without the scrutiny of ‘the people’ – can seriously endanger our civil liberties. As Chief Justice Owen Dixon once wrote, “history and not only ancient history, shows that in countries where democratic institutions have been unconstitutionally superseded, it has been done not seldom by those holding the executive power. Forms of government may need protection from dangers likely to arise from within the institutions to be protected.”[5] Government must be responsible and be held responsible to the people through the people’s house insofar as possible.

Arguments to the effect that the country does not need ‘political infighting’ during a crisis should be rejected as a justification for closing down Parliament.  Parliament can sit without descending into a circus, and there has been a high degree of bipartisanship throughout the crisis so far as evidenced by the sittings on 23 March 2020. Those concerned about the legality of virtual sittings of the Commonwealth Parliament should be comforted by research showing that there are no serious legal barriers to this solution.[6]

Even the darkest days of the World Wars did not force Parliament to close for extended periods. NSWCCL believes Australia needs more democracy and accountability in these difficult months, not less.

 

Nicholas Cowdery AO QC

President, NSW Council for Civil Liberties

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  PDF copy of statement 

 

Contact: Jared Wilk Convenor, Civil Liberties and Human Rights Group

Email: office@nswccl.org.au

Sent to:
Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Attorney General Christian Porter, Leader of the House
Leader Opposition Anthony Albanese
Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus
President of the Senate Scott Ryan
Leader of the Government in the Senate Mathias Cormann
Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Penny Wong
Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives Tony Bourke
Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate Katy Gallagher
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian
NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman
NSW Leader of the Opposition Jodi McKay

Copies to: All Federal MPs/Senators, all NSW MPs/MLCs


[1] https://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/breaking-news/nsw-parliament-works-to-pass-virus-bills/news-story/b5aa536f2dcef0abd32d946a3a5217b6

[2] https://www.sbs.com.au/news/federal-parliament-to-shut-until-august-as-coronavirus-causes-revised-schedule

[3] https://theconversation.com/a-virtual-australian-parliament-is-possible-and-may-be-needed-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-134540

[4] See e.g. Pape v Commissioner of Taxation (2009) 238 CLR 1.

[5] Communist Party Case (1951) 83 CLR 1 [87].

[6] https://theconversation.com/a-virtual-australian-parliament-is-possible-and-may-be-needed-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-134540

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Review: National Inquiry into Sexual Assault in Australian Workplaces

RESPECT@WORK: NATIONAL INQUIRY INTO SEXUAL HARASSMENT IN AUSTRALIAN WORKPLACES

In the past 5 years, 1 in 3 people has experienced sexual harassment at work. The 2018 National Survey highlighted that 2 in 5 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced this situation. Moreover, 53% of the victims are Aboriginals.

In June 2018, against the backdrop of the momentum of the #MeToo movement and recognition of the prevalence of, and immense harm caused by sexual harassment in Australian, and global, workplaces, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, and the then Minister for Women, the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer, announced the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (Inquiry).

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