Letters

The pursuit of assange - politically motivated and unjust

NSWCCL recently joined other organisations and individuals in reaffirming our support for Julian Assange in the context of his fight against extradition to the USA. We spoke at the Assange rally in Sydney in February and subsequently sent a public letter to the Prime Minister urging the Australian Government to take effective action to support Assange in his fight against extradition and assist his return to Australia.

Assange’s situation is desperate and dangerous. His mental and physical health have been seriously compromised. He is imprisoned in a London gaol with limited capacity to communicate with his legal team. If he is extradited to the USA, he will face charges which will expose him to a likely outcome of life imprisonment in a high security gaol.

The relentless pursuit of Julian Assange over the last decade has been politically motivated, cruel and unjustifiable.  In our view he has not engaged in criminal activity. Assange and wikileaks published truthful information about shocking and wrongful activities - including war crimes - which had been kept secret. 

The public had an unquestionable right to know about these actions done in their name. Their publication constituted public interest journalism for which NSWCCL will continue to defend Assange.   

Wider implications

The implications of this pursuit of Assange go well beyond his personal fate. The determination of the USA to capture and severely punish Assange is a politically motivated enterprise aimed not only at him, but at warning off future whistle-blowers and journalists who might contemplate exposing secret US Government information in the public interest.

The calculated decision to charge Assange under the US Espionage Act 1917 is particularly disturbing.  If Assange is successfully prosecuted for these offences, it will have global implications for journalists and the free press and will challenge the strength of protection provided to journalists by the First Amendment’s prohibition of any US law ‘abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press’.

Read more

CCL calls for continuation of Custody Notification Service (CNS) funding

NSWCCL this week has written to Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion and the Prime Minister Tony Abbott calling for the Federal Government to continue its funding of the Custody Notification Service (CNS).

The CNS is a telephone hotline providing personal and legal advice to indigenous people taken into custody. Under NSW legislation it is compulsory for the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) to be notified if an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is detained, and the CNS is the practical service that allows this to occur. Since its implementation, no indigenous deaths in custody have occurred in NSW/ACT.

CCL previously supported the campaign to 'Save the CNS' in 2013, and it is extremely disappointing that this essential notification service for indigenous people in custody is once again being threatened - particularly in the context of the recent report by Amnesty International that showed Australia incarcerates indigenous children at one of the highest rates in the developed world. It would reflect poorly on the Government's commitment to Closing the Gap and reversing the shameful over-representation of indigenous people in Australia's prisons if the CNS was to cease.

Letter to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs

See also: NSW ditches another protection for Indigenous people in custody, The Conversation, 10/06/2015 (Author: CCL member Eugene Schofield-Georgeson)


NSWCCL joins call for moratorium on offshore detention centre transfers

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has joined with the Refugee Council of Australia and over 100 Australian organisations and community groups in urging the Australian Government for an immediate moratorium on offshore transfers to Nauru and Manus Island until all recommendations of the Moss Review and Cornall Report have been fully implemented, and the centres comply with minimum international standards.

The call follows the appalling case of a five year old girl who attempted suicide after prolonged detention on Nauru.

Conditions are similarly poor on Manus Island, where a majority of asylum seekers have still not had their applications processed after two years, and as on Nauru, limited health care is available.

Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council said: “No child should be sent there and certainly not sent to a situation while the environment remains so dangerous… [W]e call upon the Australian Government to immediately cease the transfer of vulnerable asylum seekers until all the recommendations of the Moss Review and the Cornall report are implemented.”

These reports highlighted sexual abuse, violence and the systematic failure to provide safety and security to detainees, particularly women and children. The Australian Government, by accepting all the recommendations of the Moss Review, has acknowledged that considerable changes are needed, yet continues to send asylum seekers into a fearful environment where their safety and security cannot be guaranteed. 

Read the full Press Release and Letter here or on the Refugee Council of Australia's website.


Letter to ALP members and senators on the Data Retention Bill

NSW Council for Civil Liberties recently wrote to all ALP members and all senators urging that the Data Retention Bill be delayed until key issues in the bill are resolved. 

Click here to read the full letter sent to all ALP members and Senators on 15 March.

Click here to read the full letter sent to all Senators on 24 March


Police powers - safeguards further weakened

Legislation amending police powers and responsibilities and related citizens' protections was introduced into the nsw parliament in late may through the  Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Amendment Bill 2014.  Many of the changes were about clarification of the law or improvements in operational efficiency for police with no negative impact on citizens' rights and protections. NSWCCL supported these.  However, some of the changes were less justifiable and had more worrying implications. 

Our most urgent concern was in relation to the weakening of the current  requirement that police must identify themselves when exercising their powers (eg arrest or move on) otherwise their exercise of the power is unlawful. The bill seeks to repeal the consequences provision.  Failure to identify oneself when making an arrest or exercising other law enforcement powers will not render the exercise of the power unlawful. This is a dangerous amendment as it removes what has been a powerful incentive for police to abide by this important safeguard and accountability requirement that they give their name and place of work when exercising their considerable powers over community members.

Read more

Premier urged to restore independence to attorney generals and police ministries

NSWCCL has strong concerns about the recent amalgamation of the attorney generals and justice portfolio into a single cluster with the police and emergency services portfolio. Initially this arrangement specified the police minster as the senior coordinating minister above the attorney general  and minister for justice. The cluster and the department were both named 'Police and Justice'. This appeared to subordinate the attorney general and senior law officer to the police minister and will erode confidence in the rule of law in nsw. 

The unexpected resignation of the police minister led to the ministerial  relationship being reversed so that the current attorney and minister for justice, Brad Hazzard, is now the senior minister. 

This is a welcome improvement of an embarrassing arrangement for the state's first law officer  but does not address the core problem with these new arrangements. 

The amalgamation of the attorney general, justice and police ministers, functions and agencies into a single cluster and a single department is totally inappropriate - regardless of nomenclature and relative status of ministers. In a democracy robust debate between these portfolios on matters of policy is to be expected. The new administrative arrangements are likely to have a constraining impact on such debate coming to public awareness.  

The Premier needs  to restore separate administrative arrangements to these  important  ministries immediately. 

Read more

Joint CCL's call for Attorney General to consult on racial vilification amendments

The Attorney General George Brandis has flagged his intention of repealing/amending s18c of the Racial Discrimination Act to better protect free speech.

Read more

NSWCCL asks for explanation for 'vexatious' charges against CSG protestors

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties has written to the Commissioner of Police and Minister for Police asking for an explanation for issuing a ‘trivial’, ‘weak’ and ‘vexatious’ charge against CSG demonstrators, and for assurance that no political purpose or pressure was involved. CCL has also asked the Ombudsman to investigate.

Read more

NSWCCL urges Premier and NSW Parliament to defer or amend Bill extending police 'arrest without warrant' powers

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties today wrote to the NSW Premier, Minister for Police and Attorney General urging the deferral and amendment of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Amendment (Arrest Without Warrant) Bill 2013. A copy of the letter was also sent to all NSW MPs.

Read more

NSWCCL urges NSW Parliament to reject Zoe's Law No. 2

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties has written to all NSW State MPs, urging them to heed to widespread concerns of civil society and reject the Crimes Amendment (Zoe's Law) Bill (No. 2) 2013.

Read more