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Green Left: NSW Civil Liberties Council celebrates 60 years of defending progressive activists

On September 20th, NSW Council for Civil Liberties celebrated its 60th birthday, with over 250 people in attendence including NSW Supreme Court judges, solicitors and barristers in the community sector and private firms, journalists and activists.

The event was MCed by Meredith Burgmann, a former Labor president of the New South Wales Legislative Council, and featured keynote speaker Craig Foster, a former Socceroo captain, former SBS journalist and author of Fighting for Hakeem, who criticised Australia’s growing inequality. “We cannot open any more coal and gas projects if we want to save our planet,” Foster said. “We need a just transition and we need it now. Our governments are not listening to us, so we need mass civil disobedience to stop them. Who will take part in this?”

The documentary Sixty Years Strong, remembering the councils history and honouring the activists who founded the Council, was also launched.

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Announcing our winners of the 2023 Excellence in Civil Liberties Journalism Awards

Journalism matters, a healthy and trusted press is an essential pillar to any democracy. Since 2019 we have recognised journalists working in Australia who produce excellent work promoting civil liberties, calling out human rights abuses and holding governments and corporations to account.

Last night, emerging from an incredibly strong field, we honoured three outstanding journalists in our Young Journalist and Open Journalist categories for Excellence in Civil Liberties Journalism.

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The Hon. Cameron Murphy AM, MLC Honours the Council in its 60th Year

Yesterday, Past President and Life Member of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, the Hon. Cameron Murphy AM, MLC recogonised the Councils 60th anniversay celebrations.

"I recognise the important work of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, which will celebrate its sixtieth anniversary tonight with a gala dinner in Sydney. The anniversary event will be hosted by Dr Meredith Burgmann, AM, who is a former President of this House. The guest speaker will be Craig Foster, AM, who is the current chair of the Australian Republic Movement. He will be discussing the need for an Australian republic and a strong and independent Australia. It is a cause that I have a deep and abiding interest in.

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News.com.au: Controversial rule to give ICAC power to obtain illegal recordings fails disallowance motion

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Josh Pallas: Statement on the Voice Referendum #VoteYes

Six years ago, in the heart of this nation, a proclamation was made. Over 250 delegates representing First Nations joined to deliver the Uluru Statement from the Heart, inviting Australians to enshrine an Indigenous Voice within the constitution and to advance truth telling and treaty making.

We are mere weeks until the referendum day on the 14th October when Australians will vote on whether to enshrine a Voice in the Constitution. I take this moment to reiterate our support for a First Nations Voice to Parliament. We strive, in this moment, to be the best allies we can. I note that the discourse surrounding the referendum campaign has reified intergenerational trauma and unearthed historic injustices and the Voice is only one vehicle through which First Nations’ justice may be achieved in Australia.

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Sydney Criminal Lawyers: NSW Premier Says No to Drug Decriminalisation, as the ACT Embarks on Bold Health Approach

This week, drug decriminalisation laws passed by a Labor Greens government in the ACT came into effect. This will mean less drug-related deaths, less normally law-abiding citizens arrested, and more time for police to see to real crime.

Yet, on the same day these laws were passed, NSW Labor premier Chris Minns told the Murdoch press that his government isn’t contemplating drug decriminalisation at present, but if he is voted in again, it might contemplate it some time after that.

A number of NSW Labor MPs, however, are likely disappointed with this decision, as they’ve spoken out about drug law reform in the past. Minns told the Daily Telegraph on Monday that there’s “no mandate” for his government to follow the ACT. But this is pretty obvious, because as state leader, he’s supposed to set the agenda. And the ongoing deaths and overpolicing of First Nations people in regard to drugs, seems to be his mandate.

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SMH: Labor misinformation law ‘a dangerous proposition for society’

Human rights and civil liberties groups, including NSW Council for Civil Liberties, have expressed serious doubts about Labor’s move to minimise misinformation, claiming its proposed law threatens free speech and democratic rights.

The rights groups join a growing coalition of voices criticising the Albanese government’s bid to give the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) powers to penalise groups like Meta if they fail to remove misinformation and disinformation.

NSW and Queensland’s peak civil liberties bodies have both revealed their opposition to sections of Labor’s draft bill, arguing it gives the government body too much power to police speech.

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Sydney Criminal Lawyers: The Political Climate Is Ripe for a Human Rights Act in New South Wales

Australia remains the only liberal democracy globally without rights protections enshrined in federal law. Indeed, until not so long ago, no bill of rights or Human Rights Act (HRA) existed at any level of government: that was until the often-pioneering ACT Legislative Assembly passed one in 2002.

And while the stalemate has continued at the federal level, other states have followed the ACT’s lead, with Victoria enacting a charter of rights in 2004 and Queensland passing its Human Rights Act in 2019, which still leaves the people of NSW unprotected at all levels.

But this looks likely to change, as members of the 40-odd NSW legal and civil society organisations, including NSW Council for Civil Liberties, running the Human Rights Act for NSW campaign (HRA4NSW) hosted a recent event that saw the NSW attorney general Michael Daley confirm he is open to enacting one.

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Queensland premier defends decision to fast-track proposed changes allowing police watch houses to detain children.

Yesterday the Queensland Government led by Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk changed the law to allow children to be indefinitely detained in Police watch houses usually reserved for adults[1]. To accomplish this an amendment was snuck into an unrelated Child Protection bill[2], the alteration itself required a separate vote to suspend the states Human Rights Act as detaining children is a violation of this act[3]. The state government claims this shocking law change is necessary due to Youth Detention centres reaching dangerous levels of overcrowding, with Labor MPs arguing that housing Children in watchhouses amongst adult detainees is “safer”. Such a law change comes after the Supreme Court deemed the detention of children in watchhouses illegal[4], with the solicitor-general advising the government to legislate to ensure no legal ramifications. Thus, the law change is a way for the government to legalise an already existing process.

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Submission: Consultation regarding the exposure draft of the Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communication and the Arts (the Department) in regard to the exposure draft of the Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023 (the Draft Bill).

The NSWCCL acknowledges the harms caused by misinformation and disinformation, particularly as they relate to: the erosion of trust in democratic processes; the weakening of trust generally between and among public and private entities; and, the undermining of an informed populace.

However, the NSWCCL is concerned that the Draft Bill does not sufficiently consider freedoms of expression and assembly, nor take into account the potential for misinformation to be spread by means and entities that are outside the Draft Bill's scope.

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The Post: Home Affairs interfered with damning report

Max Opray reports: Department of Home Affairs officials demanded that independent researchers water down a report critical of counterterrorism powers allowing individuals to be imprisoned for a crime they had yet to commit, newly revealed documents show. In 2018, the Home Affairs Department engaged leading researchers at the Australian National University to review the accuracy of tools designed to assess the risk of someone committing a future terrorism offence. Australia’s preventive detention regime for terrorism offenders allows individuals to be imprisoned for up to three years to prevent a future crime.

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The Guardian: NSW gay conversion opponents may have to be careful what they say under new anti-discrimination law

Opponents of gay conversion practices may need to be careful of critising the institutions that promote it due to the new anti-discrimination laws that passed in New South Wales parliament on Thursday, legal experts have said.

The Minns government’s religious vilification bill, with backing from the opposition, amended the existing Anti-Discrimination Act to make it unlawful to vilify people or organisations on the grounds of their religion.

Alastair Lawrie, an expert in anti-discrimination law at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said that “It would be disappointing if this bill passes in its current form,” ahead of the bill being passed. Lawrie expressed that the changes being made were too broad and could lead to restrictions in freedom of speech. 

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Submission: Review of post-sentence terrorism orders: Division 105A of the Criminal Code Act 1995

Liberty Victoria and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) thank the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) for the opportunity to contribute to this Review of postsentence terrorism orders: Division 105A of the Criminal Code Act 1995.

Liberty Victoria and the NSWCCL acknowledge the importance of protecting the community from acts of terrorism. Terrorism and the threat of terrorism violate the rights to life and security of innocent people. Terrorism is regarded as a crime apart from others as it threatens the very fabric of liberal democracy by utilising violence and fear to further, often fundamentally illiberal, political, religious or ideological goals.

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The West Australian: Religious vilification bill passes NSW parliament

Legislation making it illegal to publicly ridicule someone due to their religious beliefs has passed NSW Parliament.

The amendment to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 makes it unlawful to "by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons, because of their religious belief, affiliation or activity".

Civil Liberties Council president Josh Pallas expressed concern at the time it could become illegal to criticise religious institutions such as the Catholic Church, Hillsong or the Church of Scientology as it could be seen as vilifying individual followers.

For more information, read the full article

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Submission: Safe and Responsible AI in Australia

In our submission we highlight that the proliferation of Artificial Intelligence, AI, could pose significant risks to the civil rights of the Australian public. As it stands, Australia’s regulatory system fails to fully address these risks – an issue that will grow with increased use of these technologies.

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Submission: Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Prohibited Hate Symbols and Other Measures) Bill 2023

We support the Government’s ambition to reduce hate speech, violence and threats against diversity in Australia. However, we hold concerns about the Bill in its present form.

The amendments to the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth), in the Bill offer in part a symbolic solution to the risk posed by neo-Nazi and other extremist groups in Australia, and in part over-reach by over-generalised application. Criminalisation of harmful ideologies can only be part of the response – what is required is an appropriately resourced whole of government response to extremism and radicalisation. Whilst the criminal law may be the bluntest instrument at the disposal of the State, it is one of the least useful.

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Star Observer: LGBT Activists Oppose NSW Religious Vilification Bill

Queer activist groups and human rights organisations have come out in opposition to the proposed NSW religious vilification bill, citing its failure to adequately protect LGBTQI communities.

The bill amends the Anti-Discrimination Act to make it “unlawful to, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons, because of their religious belief, affiliation or activity.”

In a statement, President of NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) Josh Pallas called on the Bill to either “address all discrimination now” or be withdrawn until the review of the Anti-Discrimination Act by the NSW Law Reform Commission is complete.

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QNews: Protest the NSW Religious Discrimination Bill this Saturday

Activist are planning to gather at the Sydney Town Hall from 1pm on Saturday, 5 August to protest proposed changes to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act that would see “religious vilification” become a criminal offense.\

There is concern that the definition of “religious vilification” in the bill is too vague and that it could be used to protect hate speech against LGBTIQA+ people or practices like conversion therapy.

There is also concern that the proposed bill could further entrench religious exemptions in NSW’s anti-discrimination laws that allow religious groups and businesses they own to legally discriminate against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties have been vocal about it’s disappointment over what it says is flawed legislation.
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Umbrella News: Australian Digital Identity: Six Simple Questions

A national digital identity is being prepared for all Australians for use at the end of next year which poses one of the biggest changes to Australia in its recent history and yet most people seem unaware, unconcerned, overwhelmed or distracted, Umbrella News' Sebastian Salt reports. 

This bill presents to the public claims to safety and convenience, while human rights and civil liberties groups are saying that the new digital identity system will have a catastrophic impact upon our basic freedoms.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties Assistant Secretary, Michelle Falstein, made comments to Umbrella News, saying that the system suffers from an unacceptable lack of enforceable definition.

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Guardian Aus: NSW Council for Civil Liberties says religious vilification bill allows organisations ‘to discriminate against others’

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) opposes the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Vilification) Bill 2023 in its current form. The bill should just get on with it and address all discrimination now or be withdrawn and wait for the ongoing NSW Law Reform Commission Review into the Act to be completed so that all changes that need to be made are made at once.

Anti-discrimination law reform is long overdue and necessary. NSWCCL is not opposed, in principle, to reforms that protect people from vilification for their religious expression or affiliation, however, the Bill does more than this and fails to address other necessary issues, especially aspects of discrimination against LGBTQI+ people.

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