NSWCCL in the media

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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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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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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NSWCCL on NSW Drug Supply Prohibition Order legislation

Media coverage: The Echo

'The Drug Supply Prohibition Order Pilot Scheme Bill 2020 [NSW] was recently introduced to parliament, which if passed, would allow a police officer ‘to stop, detain and search a person… who has been convicted of a serious drug offence, without the requirement for a warrant’.

As it’s a pilot scheme, the presumption of guilt and lack of basic civil rights would apply to those living in Bankstown Police Area Command and the Coffs-Clarence, Hunter Valley and Orana Mid-Western Police Districts.

The NSW Law Society told The Guardian that if passed, it could lead to people previously convicted of lower-level drug offences being harassed by police. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties said in their submission that the 10-year period within which police can apply for an order may, ‘have the unintended impact of interfering with rehabilitation efforts’.'

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Concerns about facial recognition inside every Australian 7-Eleven store

Media coverage: 7News

As individual cities such as Boston and San Francisco in the United States are banning the use of facial recognition technology as part of the #BLM response, 7-Eleven in Australia has launched the technology across all of its 700 Australian stores.

The convenience store chain will use the facial recognition software within its ‘Rate It’ customer service tablet, and “not for any other purpose”.

“The use of facial recognition within the Rate It tablet is to ensure that the feedback is accurate and valid, and given customer feedback is so important to us we don’t want the system being ‘gamed’.

It’s an assurance that doesn’t sit well with Stephen Blanks from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

“This kind of information gathering should be against the law. It’s certainly against good privacy practice and principles.”

Blanks said collecting the data of people trying to provide feedback made little sense.

“They are creating an incentive not to use the feedback tablet – which is contrary to what they’re wanting to achieve.”

7NEWS.com.au understands that an element of the software’s facial recognition is to discourage 7-Eleven staff from self-rating during a shift.

“That’s not an adequate justification for gathering the information,” Blanks said.

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NSWCCL President & 29 prominent Australians call for truth in political advertising laws

Media coverage: NineNews, Sydney Morning Herald

NSWCCL President and former NSW DDP, Nicholas Cowdery AO QC, joins 29 prominent Australians as signatories to an open letter coordinated by The Australia Institute, calling for truth in political advertising laws that are nationally consistent, constitutional and uphold freedom of speech.

New polling by The Australia Institute released in conjunction with the open letter shows nine in 10 Australians (89%) say Australia should pass truth in political advertising laws. 

Signatories to the open letter include former political party leaders and politicians, Dr John Hewson, Cheryl Kernot and Michael Beahan; former Supreme Court judges, The Hon Anthony Whealy QC, The Hon Paul Stein AM QC and The Hon David Harper AM QC, as well as barristers, community leaders, business people and other prominent Australians.

'Australians want advertising to be truthful and transparent. They expect the media to self-regulate, and want laws that would penalise misleading and deceptive political ads with fines, forced retractions or losing public funding. The lack of truth in political advertising regulation is leading to declining public trust in government, politicians and parliament.

Enough is enough: we need truth in political advertising before the next election.

Political advertisements that are deceptive and misleading interfere with the public’s ability to make informed decisions.

We need truth in political advertising laws that are nationally consistent, constitutional and uphold freedom of speech.'

Read more or see the letter as published in the SMH (17th June 2020)


Civil Liberties: Good or Bad?

Media coverage: Byron Bay Echo

- Hans Lovejoy, editor 

'With attention fixated on injustice, policing and black lives, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) is just one voice of sanity in a country awash with racism and bigotry.

Based in Sydney, they are a small group of lawyers committed to educating the public and advocating for the most vulnerable. NSWCCL said in statement regarding the marches, ‘There have been 432 Indigenous deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission – including the recent death of Tanya Day, which the coroner found to be preventable – and its recommendations have never been fully implemented.

‘To our knowledge, no one has ever been convicted in relation to those deaths. Indigenous peoples are over-policed and over-incarcerated, with adults 15 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous Australians and juveniles 26 times more likely to be incarcerated. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported in December 2019 that while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up around three per cent of the total Australian population, they account for 29 per cent of the total adult prisoner population in Australia’.'

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NSWCCL President on the arrest of an Indigenous teen

Media Coverage: Sydney Morning Herald

A former judge and top prosecutor says video footage of an Indigenous teenager falling face-first after being kicked off his feet by a NSW police officer is on its face "evidence of an assault".

Former NSW director of public prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said the video raised questions about the lawfulness of the arrest because the risk the teenager would carry out his threat appeared "slight".

"Arrest is really only lawfully available to prevent further offending, to prevent flight or to ensure attendance at court," he said.

In Mr Cowdery's view, it was not reasonable to use a sweep kick when the teenager was "under restraint and standing calmly". He believed the officer should be "charged with assault and re-trained".

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NSWCCL President on suspension order against Aboriginal man still in place after 11 years

Media coverage: Sydney Morning Herald

A NSW Supreme Court judge has condemned the treatment of a 35-year-old Indigenous man with a mild intellectual disability who has been subjected to a tough supervision order restricting his movements for more than a decade, saying he has not been a "truly free man" since his teens.

The five-year extended supervision order (ESO) made by the court in 2009 was "still current, 11 years later" because the clock stopped running every time he was imprisoned for even minor breaches of conditions.

Former NSW Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, QC, who is now president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said the legislation introducing ESOs and other orders "was radical and controversial at the time" and was based on "a risk of future offending of a serious kind" that was difficult to predict.

"It is a form of punishment for future conduct that may not occur. Nevertheless, Parliament has the power to legislate this way in order to protect the community, but within limits," he said.

Mr Cowdery said the laws provided "a powerful rod for the backs of disadvantaged or excessively targeted groups in the community, including Indigenous people, who may be subject to such orders".

"They become an easy tool for law enforcement to use to unreasonably seek to control such people."

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