NSWCCL has made a submission on the Government's second exposure draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019. This follows our highly critical, but nonetheless, slightly hopeful submission on the first exposure draft of the Bill in October last year. We had been hopeful that the many problems civil liberties and human rights groups had identified in the Bill might be addressed, so that this second version would provide much needed protections against religious discrimination -particularly for minority religions - which are appropriately balanced with the rights of other groups in the Australian community.
The draft Bill's up-front objectives are spot-on: to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religious belief; to ensure everyone has the same rights to equality before the law and that people can make statements of religious belief- all subject to reasonable restrictions. Most significantly they affirm the 'indivisibility and universality of human rights and their equal status in international law.' (Clause 3)
However the new draft Bill fails to deliver on these objectives - it dangerously expands the over-privileging of religious rights in relation to other rights, weakens existing protections available for other groups under current state and federal anti-discrimination laws. If it becomes law, this Bill will increase discrimination against and harm for many groups in the Australian community.
It seems clear that the objects of the draft Bill have been distorted by the insertion of numerous provisions for the sole reason of conceding to the demands of major religious groups for both exceptionally broad rights and protections from discrimination by others and an extraordinary range of exemptions and exceptions amounting to an extensive right to discriminate against others with legal impunity.
In summary, NSWCCL considers this second exposure draft Bill privileges religious rights to the detriment of other rights and weakens existing anti-discrimination laws much more seriously than did the first exposure draft. We are firmly of the belief that the Government must withdraw the Bill and start again with a better and more cohesive process.
Media Coverage: The Guardian
- Article by NSWCCL Committee Member, Lydia Shelly, lawyer and student in terrorism and security studies.
'‘For Muslims, this bill is a Trojan horse. It will enshrine prejudice and discrimination into law."
This article brings to light the very real challenges that the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 raises for people of minority faiths and the LGBTQI community.Read more
Freedom of speech and protest are fundamental to a democratic political process. NSWCCL affirms support for urgent action, at the federal and state levels, to combat the severe, climate change threat.
On January 31st, we joined climate defenders at the Downing Centre before they headed into court. They were arrested in December at Kirribilli House while protesting in favour of climate action. Those arrested included Greens MP David Shoebridge. He was charged with disobeying a police direction to move on.
NSWCCL Secretary Michelle Falstein spoke to those gathered saying that citizens of this state should not fear the police when exercising their constitutional rights and that, change in the policy of intimidation by the NSW police force, is clearly required.
David Shoebridge told the crowd, "Most of us will be pleading not guilty today because we refuse to bow to police and government pressure - they cannot police their way out of the climate crisis".
We will keep you updated as to the date fixed for hearing of the charges.
NSWCCL President Nick Cowdery AO QC appeared on ABC The Drum on 28th January 2020, speaking from his expertise as previous Director of Public Prosecutions.
Adam Spencer joined Dr Ngiare Brown, Nicholas Cowdery and Erin Watson-Lynn to discuss the impact of coronavirus plus an ABC investigation revealed a pattern of failure by police to take action on sexual assault complaints.
Are police failing some survivors of sexual assault? New data reveals a significant lack of action on assault claims lodged.
"I’ve been told it took years for your researchers to get these figures, and it was very difficult, and in the Northern Territory they wouldn’t even play ball."
On the broader effects of #coronavirus in Australia:
"We must be very careful not to treat this as an ethnic issue. The virus doesn’t discriminate against different ethnicities and neither should we."
We remained deeply concerned that, despite the Government Commissioning reports to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody, the statistics remain shamefully high. We remain uninformed about the details of the specific additional funding/initiatives. It is important that these initiatives are detailed to the community so that the community, in particular the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, are in a position to evaluate government action in relation to this crucial issue.
We call upon the government, as a starting point to:
- Fund the Walama Court (specific sentencing court for Aboriginal people);
- Fund residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres in a regional areas (noting many regional areas simply do not have a residential rehabilitation facility, making it difficult if not impossible for people to access the assistance they need thus leaving individuals, families and communities vulnerable to the devastating impacts of serious addiction)
- Establish a committee led by the advice and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice and health professionals to implement the recommendations of the ALRC pathways report (insert link). The committee should include Federal and State representatives to ensure there is a whole of government response to addressing this important issue.
NSWCCL letter to Mark Speakman, Attorney General (26th August 2019)
Return correspondence from the Attorney General (Dated January 2020)
NSWCCL Action Group Convenors, First Nations Justice - Rebecca McMahon, and Criminal justice, police powers and mental health, Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson
NSWCCL provided a submission to the Australian Treasury on the Census and Statistics Amendment (Statistical Information) Regulations 2019 (Regs) amending the Census and Statistics Regulation 2016. This amendment makes significant and concerning changes to the regulation which we oppose on privacy grounds.
Whilst NSWCCL supports the updating of the statistical information topics for inclusion in the census we oppose mandatory collection of sensitive health information and its storage for 4 years by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
The amendment proposes the insertion of a new topic relating to health conditions diagnosed by a doctor or a nurse which must be answered by all respondents. The rationale is that this information will assist health service planning and delivery.
We oppose this proposal is given the retention of that information by the ABS.
In 2016 the Australian government reinstated a plan to retain names and addresses from the census, a move which leaves open the opportunity for a future government to access sensitive personal information. NSWCCL appreciates the need for longitudinal studies but considers these can be conducted on a sample basis. We continue to support the prior approach to the census which collected important census information but which was disassociated from the individual identification data.
As a minimum we recommend the ABS conduct an adequate, independent, publicly available, Privacy Impact Statement (PIA).
We also registered our objection to the timing of the consultation period which ended on 10th January to the Xmas/NY holiday period. This does not suggest a serious desire to generate community input to the review process.
Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans has rallied a group of over 100 doctors who have written to the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Marise Payne asking that the Australian government meet its obligation to its citizen and intervene for wellbeing of Julian Assange.
The doctors' action follows warnings from medical and human rights experts that Mr Assange’s health is rapidly deteriorating and that he might die in a UK prison where he is being held pending US extradition hearings that begin in February.
Extract from the #Doctors4Assange letter:
'We call upon you to intervene as a matter of urgency. As Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, you have an undeniable legal obligation to protect your citizen against the abuse of his fundamental human rights, stemming from US efforts to extradite Mr Assange for journalism and publishing that exposed US war crimes.
“The evidence is overwhelming and clear.. Mr. Assange has been deliberately exposed, for a period of several years, to progressively severe forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the cumulative effects of which can only be described as psychological torture.” - UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Professor Nils Melzer
On 1 November 2019, Professor Melzer was forced to intervene once more: “What we have seen from the UK Government's outright contempt for Mr Assange’s rights and integrity... Despite the medical urgency of my appeal, and the seriousness of the alleged violations, the UK has not undertaken any measures of investigation, prevention and redress required under international law.” He concluded: “Unless the UK urgently changes course and alleviates his inhumane situation, Mr Assange’s continued exposure to arbitrariness and abuse may soon end up costing his life.”
These are extraordinary and unprecedented statements by the world’s foremost authority on torture. The Australian government has shamefully been complicit by its refusal to act, over many years. Should Mr Assange die in a British prison, people will want to know what you, Minister, did to prevent his death.
We urge you to negotiate Julian Assange’s safe passage from Belmarsh Prison to an appropriate hospital setting in Australia, before it is too late.'
If you are a doctor and wish to join the campaign, please contact - firstname.lastname@example.org
December 2019 Newsletter
In this issue -
- Medevac - another shameful last week in the Australian Parliament
- Major rethink on police strip search powers urgently needed
- Religious Discrimination Bill – trouble ahead?
- Government secrecy or a free media?
- Meet the 2020 NSWCCL Committee
- In the media
Read/Download the December Issue (PDF) HERERead more
This time last year we lamented the reckless proceedings in the last sitting day of the Australian Parliament as the ALP allowed the Government to force through the widely opposed encryption-breaking legislation without even discussing the amendments they and others in the Senate had put forward as essential to reduce the excesses in the bill.
There was, however, one stunningly positive parliamentary act, brilliantly initiated by determined independents with the support of the ALP: the passage, against extreme warnings as to disastrous consequences by the Government, of the Medevac law. A rare, compassionate intervention to remediate aspects of our shameful, ongoing off-shore incarceration of asylum seekers.
This year we witnessed the shameful and gratuitous repeal of this legislation.
It had worked well. It had not led to an influx of asylum seekers. The Government had no motivation other than assertion of its power. The Government’s utter determination to repeal this one compassionate asylum seeker law reeks of vindictiveness.Read more
Like many others, NSWCCL scrambled to make a submission to the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department on the Religious Discrimination Exposure Draft Bill 2019 in early October. The Department says it received around 6000 submissions – of which it has to date only published c100.
The Government had wanted to have the Bill brought before this sitting of Parliament. But following very soon after a joint letter from most church leaders indicating their strong opposition to the Bill, the Attorney General has now indicated the Government will release an amended version of the Bill before the end of the year but postpone Parliamentary consideration of the issue until next year.Read more