NSWCCL in the media

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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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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NSWCCL calls for sunset clauses and strict oversight on COVID-19 powers

Media coverage: The Weekend Australian

NSW Council for Civil Liberties spokesman Stephen Blanks says any extraordinary powers used by health officials to curb the COVID-19 contagion must be subject to 'clear, short sunset clauses'.

"These tracking powers have been effective in other countries,” Blanks told The Weekend Australian. “This is an extreme situation. “I think it’s appropriate for this data to be used, provided it’s used only for this purpose and subject to strict oversight.”

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NSWCCL calls for clarity around policing and COVID-19 restrictions

Media coverage: SBS News

"Police should be trying to promote understanding of the new regulations and new restrictions and doing everything they can to get voluntary compliance," spokesperson for the NSW Council for Civil Liberties Stephen Blanks told SBS News.

"It shouldn't be a revenue-raising exercise for the government," Mr Blanks said.

"And it's so important that when restrictions are imposed, that proper notice is given to a community, that restrictions are clearly available on government websites. So people can see what it is that they are allowed and not allowed to do."

But he said in this instance, officials "have been struggling to achieve clarity".

"This confusion makes it hard for members of the public to know what they are allowed to do," he said.

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NSWCCL: Overcrowded detention centres are ripe for the spread of infectious diseases

Media coverage: 9 News

Staff at a detention centre in NSW are ignoring fears cramped conditions will aid the spread of coronavirus, detainees and advocates say. 

Issa Andrwas, a detainee at Sydney's Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, says social distancing rules are not being enforced by the home affairs department. "We are not supposed to be gathered together but two or three people are sleeping in one room," Mr Adrwas told AAP from inside Villawood.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties says overcrowded detention centres are ripe for the spread of infectious diseases.

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Privacy advocates warnings on metadata laws

Media coverage: Information Age, Australian Computer Society

Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton has once again invoked the spectre of paedophiles and terrorists in calling for an expansion of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD)’s powers that would allow the foreign-focused agency to conduct domestic investigations for the first time.

A long-simmering policy change, the ABC reports, would allow the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to enlist the services of the ASD – the government’s overseas surveillance and signals-intelligence unit, which “operates in the slim area between the difficult and the impossible”, as its Web site puts it – to investigate certain matters within Australia’s borders.

Privacy advocates such as the Law Council of Australia and NSW Council for Civil Liberties, labelled metadata laws “indiscriminate and excessive” warned about the “cumulative chilling and intimidatory impact of the Government’s expanded surveillance powers and secrecy offences”.

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NSWCCL Vice President on invasive searches and drug testing at Sydney festival

Media coverage: Sydney Morning Herald

One in 10 children at a Sydney under-age music festival faced random drug testing that has been labelled by legal experts "potentially unlawful" and an infringement on civil liberties.

Samantha Lee, police accountability solicitor at the Redfern Legal Centre, said the measures were "potentially unlawful" and jeopardised the safety of young people.

"This weekend, young people still considered minors under the law – and without a parent or guardian present – are about to be subjected to invasive drug and alcohol testing usually restricted to roadside use or conducted on people operating dangerous workplace machinery," she said.

"Upon entry to the festival, these young people will be confronted by drug dogs, police and security with no understanding of their legal rights, and no one present to advocate on their behalf."

Rebecca McMahon, vice-president of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, said the measures adopted by festival organisers were a concerning infringement on civil liberties and personal integrity.

"Young people especially should have the freedom to enjoy music without being subjected to unreasonable restrictions on their possessions, oppressive searches and invasive drug testing," she said.

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NSWCCL concerned LECC Inquiry into strip searches effectively 'scrapped'

Media coverage: 9 News
The NSW police watchdog will hear further evidence regarding strip searches, its acting boss says, following concerns the inquiry had effectively been "scrapped" by the state government.
Concerns were raised over the future of the inquiry after the coalition revealed in December that the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission's then-chief commissioner, Michael Adams QC, would not have his appointment renewed.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties vice president Dr Eugene Schofield-Georgeson on the weekend expressed concern the inquiry was effectively being "scrapped" by the government because it "stands to be embarrassed by the commission's findings".

He said the commission had been poised to hear "some of the most damning and dramatic evidence against routinised strip-searches" before Mr Adams was let go.

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NSWCCL also joined calls to re-instate Commissioner Adams

"The commission has been shut down at precisely the moment when it was poised to hear some of the most damning and dramatic evidence against routinised strip-searches," Dr Schofield-Georgeson told AAP.
"What we would like in an ideal world is for Mr Adams QC to be reappointed as the commissioner.

 

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