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Letter: COVID check-in and personal data

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has concerns with the potential for sharing of personal and health information collected using the ServiceNSW check in tool.

The following correspondence, addressing our concerns, was sent to Minister Dominello, Department Customer Services. Similar letters were sent to Minister Hazzard and Minister Elliott.

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Submission: Inquiry into Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020

NSWCCL made a Submission to this Inquiry

Executive Summary:

  1. The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Education Committee concerning the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 (“The Bill”). 
  2. NSWCCL considers that the Bill should not be passed. Not a single aspect of the Bill improves upon the law as it currently stands in NSW. Moreover, the Bill is an appalling contribution to public debate and education policy in this State.
  3. In this submission, NSWCCL will argue that the Bill should not be passed for the following compelling reasons. The Bill:
    a. is plainly bigoted, discriminatory and cruel;
    b. is likely unconstitutional;
    c. is injurious to fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression;
    d. would harm education in NSW;
    e. is unnecessary; and
    f. violates the principle of coherence.
  4. This is a remarkable combination of defects. Residents of NSW deserve better from their lawmakers.
  5. We are happy to expand upon our submission if invited to provide evidence before the Committee.

Recommendation 1: NSWCCL recommends that the Committee and the NSW Parliament reject the Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 in its entirety.

More information: 

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Statement: Fee increase on visa matters

25 February 2021 

PUBLIC STATEMENT

Asylum seekers who are denied visas by Mr. Dutton, the Minister for Home Affairs, will now face fees of $3,330 to appeal to the Federal Circuit Court to have his decisions reviewed and overturned.  This is a clear, deliberate and unconscionable action by the Morrison Government to deny asylum seekers access to the Courts and to justice.  

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NSWCCL on unprecedented new powers for law enforcement

Media coverage: Innovation Aus

The government-funded cybersecurity research centre has thrown its support behind the proposed “extraordinary” new hacking powers for the Australian Federal Police, its position that is at odds with human rights, civil liberties and digital rights groups, as well as a group of Senators who have all raised significant concerns about the new laws.

In a submission to government, the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre (CSCRC) said the Identify and Disrupt Bill, which hands sweeping new powers to the AFP and the Australian Crime and Intelligence Commission (ACIC) to hack into the devices and networks of suspected criminals, is proportionate, appropriate and safe.

The NSWCCL said that the new powers are “next in an accelerating wave, strengthening the powers of the state without any humility about the cumulative erosion of democratic freedoms they entail”.

“This bill builds on this ominous trend and takes it to a new level, providing unprecedented new powers for law enforcement to interfere and ‘disrupt’ communications of citizens without effective restraint. The abuse of power this bill enables will happen. Enough is enough,” the NSWCCL submission said.

A coalition of digital rights and civil liberties organisations said that the powers amount to “state-authorised hacking”.

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NSWCCL on Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020

Media Coverage: iTWire

'The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has slammed the proposed authorisation of coercive search powers for the Australian Federal Police and Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission in a current bill — the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020 — saying the warrants sought are not traditional evidence gathering tools, but effectively tools to prevent crime before it took place.

"We cannot accept a new species of warrant that is based on the notion that the role of law enforcement is to stop possible future offences from being committed where the breadth of their application is so wide," NSWCCL secretary Michelle Falstein said in a submission to an inquiry into the bill, being conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

"The minister’s focus on the need to, for example, delete online child abuse material, distracts from the real implications of this bill and pretends law enforcement agencies are not already taking appropriate action against such material." The submission was one among 13 released on Monday.

The bill, introduced on 3 December 2020, seeks to give the AFP and the ACIC three new warrants in order that they can handle serious criminal acts online.'

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New powers like science-fiction movie Minority Report, NSWCCL says

Media coverage: Innovation Aus

'The federal government’s proposed new hacking powers for the Australian Federal Police are a “catch-all formula for abuse” and resemble something from the Hollywood film Minority Report, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties says.

The federal government late last year quietly introduced legislation to Parliament handing broad new powers to the AFP and Australian Crime and Intelligence Commission (ACIC) to hack into the computers and networks of suspected criminals.

In its submission, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) said it was time to draw a line in the sand over increasing laws that erode privacy under the guise of preventing “serious crime”.

The council said the latest legislation is the “next in an accelerating wave, strengthening the powers of the state without any humility about the cumulative erosion of democratic freedoms they entail”.

“This bill builds on this ominous trend and takes it to a new level, providing unprecedented new powers for law enforcement to interfere and ‘disrupt’ communications of citizens without effective restraint,” the NSWCCL submission said.

“The abuse of power this bill enables will happen. Enough is enough.”

The NSWCCL said that the data disruption warrants and account takeover warrants are “crime prevention” tools that resemble something from the science-fiction movie Minority Report.

The powers will apply to a wide range of potential crimes – any carrying at least three years of jail time – not just those referenced by the government in announcing the laws, the submission said.

“This is an extraordinary catch-all encompassing fauna importation, fraud and importantly, such vaguely worded offences as ‘communication and other dealings with inherently harmful information by current and former Commonwealth officers’,” the NSWCCL said.

“These secrecy provisions have already been used to intimidate whistleblowers in several high-profile cases over the last few years. They are framed in a way that prevents vital information regarding government wrongdoing from ever coming to the attention of the public.”

The NSWCLL said that the data disruption warrants, and account takeover warrants, are “crime prevention” tools that resemble something from the science-fiction movie Minority Report.

“We cannot accept a new species of warrant that is based on the notion that the role of law enforcement is to stop possible future offences from being committed where the breadth of their application is so wide,” the NSWCCL said.'

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Submission: Review of the Surveillance Legislation Amendment (Identify and Disrupt) Bill 2020

Update 4 September 2021:

NSWCCL is disappointed that once again Government and Opposition have caved to unnecessary additional powers demanded by law enforcement. By passing the Identify and Disrupt Bill, the two major parties have introduced an unprecedented incursion onto civil liberties, giving law enforcement agencies the power to take over, copy, alter and delete the social media and other online accounts of ordinary people without proper oversight.

While justified under the guise of fighting child sexual abuse, the powers can be used to "disrupt" a broad range of offences including minor offences and to investigate whistleblowers.

The once science fiction notion ("Minority Report') that law enforcement should have extraordinary powers with a new type of "warrant" in order to prevent possible future crimes from being committed is now a reality in Australia - the latest in a two decades long process of expanding powers of law enforcement and spy agencies.

The Identify and Disrupt Bill hands sweeping new powers to the AFP and the Australian Crime and Intelligence Commission (ACIC) to hack into the devices and networks of suspected criminals. 

NSWCCL made a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) review into the Bill, in which we argued that the Bill is a catch-all formula for abuse of power without demonstrated need or regard for proportionality. 

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NSWCCL at House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy hearing, Climate Change Bill 2020

On 1st February 2021, NSWCCL Vice-President and Convenor of the Civil and Human Rights Action Group, Jared Wilk, appeared at the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy hearing on the Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020 and Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2020.

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From the 2021 President

It is a great honour to be stepping back into the role of President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties for 2021 and I look forward to continuing the important work that was achieved by CCL during 2020, a year that refocused the attention of all Australians on the vital importance of our rights and freedoms and threw into sharp relief their fragility. The State and Federal Governments’ emergency responses to the COVID-19 pandemic graphically illustrated the need for CCL and like-minded organisations in civil society to remain vigilant in protecting our civil liberties and human rights.

Thanks to Nicholas Cowdery AO QC FAAL

But before I go on to outline some of the priorities we will pursue in 2021, I would like to thank Nicholas Cowdery for his exemplary work as President of CCL from November 2019 until January 2021. He has been an exceptional spokesperson for the organisation and has advocated on many issues including drug law reform, the inadequacy of police responses to survivors of sexual assault, a coherent government drug and alcohol policy based on health and social foundations rather than criminal law, the over-use of strip-searching, laws to enable voluntary assisted dying, truth in political advertising, the need for a national integrity commission, raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 and justice for First Nations Australians. 

His advocacy for the balanced use of emergency powers during the pandemic was outstanding and his concerns about the lack of parliamentary oversight of those powers during periods of suspension were apt. He rightly observed at the time that 'even the darkest days of the world wars did not force parliament to close for extended periods'.

These are only a few of the issues through which he so effectively led CCL. I’m sure you will join me in thanking him for his remarkable achievement. It is a great privilege to be taking on the role after his inspiring term as President.

You can read Nicholas Cowdery's Outgoing President's report HERE.

Priorities for 2021

The extraordinary year of 2020, which saw the dramatic curtailment of our freedom of movement, tracing of our movement and other restrictions by governments grappling with a health crisis, threw into sharp relief the need for a Human Rights Act in NSW, and a Federal Charter of Rights. Our advocacy for these will remain a priority in 2021.

The inequities faced by First Nations people in the justice system, and society more broadly will be a major focus of CCL in 2021, as we support the implementation of the Statement from the Heart and work with members of First Nations peoples to advocate for solutions that are community-led and aligned with principles of self-determination.

We will continue our dogged advocacy for a better system for people seeking asylum in Australia, for an improved visa system for refugees and for community solutions rather than detention, which is unjustifiably costly both in financial and human terms.

In the age of big data, it is essential that we continue our effective work on data retention and privacy, freedom of speech and censorship, open government and whistle-blower protection. 

We must also remain vigilant to secure fundamental rights in the face of ever-greater powers being sought and granted to Australian authorities in the name of national security and counter-terrorism.

The importance of the right to protest also came into sharp focus in 2020, with Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the globe. Police responses to demonstrators is of continuing concern as is the over-use of strip searching, including of minors, and the inappropriate use of sniffer dogs. Our work in these important areas will be ongoing.

Other priority issues will include women's rights, climate justice, LGBTIQ rights including limiting the ability of schools to discriminate against students and teachers and resisting pressure to weaken anti-discrimination laws.

So, we certainly have our work cut out for us in 2021. I am looking forward to the challenge!

Pauline Wright
President NSWCCL

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Nicholas Cowdery AO QC FAAL passes the baton to Pauline Wright

Outgoing President’s Report, 27 January 2021

Nicholas Cowdery AO QC FAAL

It has been a great privilege to serve as President of the NSWCCL from the AGM on 23 October 2019 until today (with re-election at the AGM on 21 October 2020). I agreed to nomination to the position on condition that I would serve for 12 months (and the minutes of the AGM bear me out). Pauline Wright was then not standing for customary re-election after one term because of her Law Council of Australia presidency in 2020; but she has graciously agreed to return as President now that her Law Council duties have ended.

Those 15 months have been a disruptive time for everybody and no less for the NSWCCL. The first few months were routine enough, but face-to-face activities were unable to proceed after the pandemic was declared and new challenges were thrown up for NSWCCL. Our meetings since March 2020 have been by Zoom or by telephone and we have been unable to hold any gatherings that normally bring members together and facilitate networking and the exchange of ideas in areas of interest.

Our highly successful annual dinners of the past and the Marsden Memorial Lecture have had to be suspended. Instead, on 11 September 2020 we held a very successful online panel discussion focused on Indigenous issues, with the Award for Excellence in Civil Liberties Journalism being announced at the end. We also joined with the Affinity Intercultural Association for a webinar on 2 September 2020. I hope there will be scope for more online events as we continue in the COVIDsafe mode.

Alongside these events the customary work of NSWCCL has proceeded. We have responded to the novel civil liberties challenges of SARS-CoV-2, made many media appearances on that and other issues, met with key players in the human rights and law enforcement areas and made many submissions to parliamentary inquiries and statements for publication on the website. We have continued to liaise with other civil liberties groups around the country. We have not taken a virus-induced holiday.

I give thanks to all who have been active in our campaigns and in the ongoing administration of NSWCCL. I particularly thank our Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Treasurer and Executive Officer who have done mighty work to keep NSWCCL relevant and effective. Many members of the Committee also deserve our thanks – they know who they are.

When I accepted nomination for President I issued a challenge for the next generation to come into leadership positions. I said the organisation needs to be rejuvenated by those at the top, to reflect the increasing interest and involvement of young people in a world where human rights challenges continue to emerge.

I am pleased to say that after some inertia, that message may have got through. The Committee and general membership have been augmented by much younger, smart and committed people, and that is excellent.

I am willing to accept appointment to the Committee and remain until the next AGM; but the future of NSWCCL belongs to all of you who accept the challenges to actively maintain, preserve and protect fundamental civil liberties in Australian society.

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NSWCCL on One Nation Education Bill 'reject this unnecessary and harmful bill'.

Media coverage: The Star Observer

The New South Wales Parliament has permitted One Nations leader Mark Latham to lead an inquiry into his own controversial Bill.

The Parliament committee headed by Mark Latham is inviting submissions through an online questionnaire and LGBTQI advocacy organisations are asking the community to register their protest against the Bill. 

The Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 says its aim is to give parents, not schools, the primary responsibility “for the moral, ethical, political and social development of their children.” The Bill allows parents to object to the teaching of anything related to gender identity and sexuality in schools if it contradicts their values. 

The danger from the Bill is not just to the LGBTQI community. The NSW Council For Civil Liberties said that if the Bill is enacted, “parents could object to curriculum that covers Australian Indigenous history, the Stolen Generations, climate change, immunisation, evolution, LGBTIQ+ people, different cultures and religions, science, refugees and people seeking asylum.”

The Council said it was important to ensure the NSW Parliament “rejects this unnecessary and harmful bill.”

The submissions to the inquiry into Mark Latham’s Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 can be made by filling the online questionnaire here. 

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NSWCCL on Australians stranded overseas due to COVID caps

Media coverage: Brisbane Times

The Morrison government is under pressure from within to increase the caps on the number of Australians allowed back into the country after Emirates abruptly suspended flights and cut off a major option for stranded travellers trying to get home.

Stephen Blanks, a spokesman for the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, said it was extraordinary that Australian citizens were unable to return to Australia because of quotas on the number of arrivals.

"The quotas have been set at a level where Australian citizens are left in distressing situations," he said. "There should be a scheme for ameliorating the hardship that Australian citizens face overseas as a result of this government policy."

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Statement: NSW Auditor General's Report on privacy, Service NSW

On 18 December 2020, the Auditor-General for New South Wales, Margaret Crawford, released a report criticising the effectiveness of Service NSW’s handling of customers’ personal information to ensure privacy. NSWCCL has long held concerns over the manner of the use, collection, and storage of personal information of NSW citizens by the NSW government. The damning report highlights the lack of understanding and commitment to proper privacy practices in the NSW public service.

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COVID-19 regulations for compliance, rather than criminalising mistakes

Media coverage: Daily Mail

'Heavy-handed fines should be reserved for people who deliberately, flagrantly
and dangerously flout the rules, not for people who are confused and make
an innocent mistake.'

- NSWCCL Spokesperson Stephen Blanks

A young couple accused of 'fleeing' quarantine at Melbourne Airport on New Year's Day could sue Victoria's Health Minister for defamation if found innocent, experts claim.

The couple, from Goulburn in NSW, have apologised for leaving the airport but said they had a green zone permit and made an innocent mistake due to the confusion caused by the rapidly changing regulations.

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said on Saturday that the pair would each be fined at least $19,000 for breaching Victoria's public health state of emergency. 

But both Victoria Police and Victoria's Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to Daily Mail Australia that their organisations were still investigating.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Stephen Blanks said the pair may have an action for defamation when outed as being guilty despite ongoing investigations. 

'Government ministers need to be careful to ensure not to accuse people of being guilty until all the relevant investigations have been carried out,' he told Daily Mail Australia on Sunday.

Mr Blanks said while it was possible Victoria could issue the pair on-the-spot fines, they still have the right to go to the courts and dispute the alleged offense - and that right had to be respected.

He said heavy-handed fines should be reserved for people who deliberately, flagrantly and dangerously flout the rules, not for people who are confused and make an innocent mistake.

'When these rules change day-by-day as they are at the moment, it's very onerous for people to know what they are and aren't allowed to do,' he said. 

'The objective here is to generate community compliance with the orders and criminalise people with heavy fines who may well have made an innocent mistake - if they made a mistake at all.

'It doesn't create the right environment in the community to create co-operation and compliance.' 

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NSW Police Force strip search practices, LECC Final Report

The Law Enforcement Conduct Commission furnished its report: Inquiry into NSW Police Force strip search practices to Parliament on Tuesday 15th December, 2020. 

It is the final report in the Commission’s ongoing inquiry into police strip search practices. The Inquiry represents a significant body of work, comprising a total of seven investigations, as well as analysis of NSW Police Force policies and training, and oversight of police investigations of complaints about strip searches.

 

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Senate Committee Interim Report - Oversight of emergency-related delegated legislation

Senate committee calls on Parliament and government to remove barriers to oversight of emergency-related delegated legislation

The Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation has today tabled the interim report of its ongoing inquiry into the exemption of delegated legislation from parliamentary oversight, repeatedly referencing the NSW Council for Civil Liberties submission.

The interim report makes 18 recommendations to government and the Parliament to address systemic barriers to parliamentary oversight of delegated legislation made in times of emergency.

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NSWCCL writes to Senators re filing fee increase for migration-related matters

NSWCCL wrote to ALP and Cross-bench Senators regarding the increase in filing fees in the Federal Circuit Court for migration-related matters. The fee will rise from $690.00 to $3,300.00. NSWCCL urged Senators to vote to disallow this instrument.


1 December 2020

Dear Senator,

Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court Amendment (Fees) Regulations 2020

On October 29 this year, the Government introduced a swingeing increase in filing fees in the Federal Circuit Court for migration-related matters. The fee will rise from $690.00 to $3,300.00 on January 1 next year.

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties is deeply concerned by this change, as it will prevent many people from obtaining a review and reversal of unlawful, unjust, adverse decisions.  It will prevent others from being able to afford legal representation too, thus lessening their chances of having mistakes exposed.

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Open letter to cross-bench Senators re Strengthening the Character Test Bill

Update 18 October 2021: with this legislation now listed for a second reading this week, we again wrote to all cross-bench senators reiterating our opposition to this bill and encouraging them to vote against it.

 

NSWCCL wrote to cross-bench Senators urging them to oppose the Strengthening the Character Test Bill.


1 December 2020

Dear Senator,

I am writing on behalf of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties, asking you to vote against the Strengthening the Character Test Bill, when, and if, that returns to Parliament.

Despite what has been said in the Explanatory Memorandum, this bill is not about outlaw motorcycle gangs, murderers, people who commit serious assaults, sexual assault of aggravated burglary. People who are convicted of such crimes do not receive sentences of less than a year, unless their actual offences are minor—and if so, they are known not to be a danger to the community.  People who receive sentences of a year or more are dealt with by the existing legislation.

 

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Moves for compulsory COVID travel vaccines should be government-led

Media coverage: 9News

NSWCCL spokesperson Stephen Blanks said any moves to make vaccines compulsory for travel should be government-led.'

"The Federal Government would need to regulate this to ensure that appropriate allowances are made for people who have legitimate reasons for not getting vaccinated," he said.

Those reasons could be health, religious or conscientious based, he said.'

The comments come after Qantas boss Alan Joyce told A Current Affair on Monday he foresaw a future where Australians must be COVID-19 vaccinated if they wish to board his airline's international jets.

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NSWCCL on COVID-19 vaccine

Media coverage: 7News

Could your boss make you get the COVID-19 vaccine?
The answer is more complicated than you think.

'NSW Council for Civil Liberties spokesperson Stephen Blanks agreed the issue was a complex one.

“[It] depends on the circumstances of the employment and the employee; there is no blanket rule for everyone,” he told 7NEWS.com.au.

“There could be more justification [for a mandatory jab] for staff working in a high-risk environment who have exposure to many members of the public, but there needs to be recognition that some employees may have a legitimate reason for not having the vaccine.

“These may range from religious belief through to personal health reasons, meaning a vaccine is not appropriate,” Blanks said.'

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