NSWCCL submission to the Joint Select Committee Inquiry into the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2020 - 22 August 2020
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties [NSWCCL] considers it is very important to respond in some detail to this Joint Select Committee’s inquiry into the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 [the Bill].
The issues encompassed by this Bill – religious freedoms and protection from discrimination on the grounds of religion - are of great significance in a democracy such as ours. They are also extremely complex and potentially deeply contentious issues. Legislation on human rights must always be carefully considered and balanced, and this is especially so in relation to religious rights and protections. If all rights are not considered in a fair and balanced way the outcome is likely to be discriminatory and harmful to some groups and individuals and to over-privilege the rights of others.
INQUIRY INTO THE EXEMPTION OF DELEGATED LEGISLATION FROM PARLIAMENTARY OVERSIGHT
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the opportunity to make submissions to the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation with respect to its Inquiry concerning the exemption of delegated legislation from parliamentary oversight.
NSWCCL commends the Committee’s resolve to meet regularly during the recent period of parliamentary adjournment to ensure its continued scrutiny of all delegated legislation, particularly disallowable executive-made COVID-19 instruments. There are significant constraints on the capacity of the Committee to scrutinise particular legislative instruments exempt from parliamentary disallowance, but it is nonetheless performing a very valuable role in flagging ‘framework’ issues.
The Australian government’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been enabled by the provision of extraordinary powers to Executive Government and Government agencies. This has been achieved largely through the mechanism of determinations under the expansive human biosecurity provisions of the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth). As of 6 July 2020, there were 199 specific COVID-19 ‘instruments’ and, of greatest concern, at least 42 of these are not disallowable, denying the Committee the ability to scrutinise them.
The Committee is empowered to scrutinise delegated legislation subject to parliamentary oversight against its 12 technical scrutiny principles (Senate Standing Order 23). These principles include whether the legislation unduly trespasses on personal rights and liberties. However, many of the determinations exempt from parliamentary disallowance are having a significant impact on individual rights and liberties, effectively contain serious offences and impose obligations to do or desist from certain activities. As we understand it, the Committee has no power to scrutinise whether particular pieces of delegated legislation should in fact be disallowable under the current standing orders.
The NSWCCL submission makes 7 recommendations to the Standing Committee.
NSWCCL made a detailed submission to the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 in June. We lobbied for the formation of this important Committee as a way of providing otherwise absent parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s huge response to the COVID crisis in the disturbing absence of regular parliamentary sittings.
We are pleased that the Committee, which has wide terms of reference, began its work immediately on its formation both by calling for this Inquiry and initiating public hearings – in the first month largely with Government agencies and ministers.Read more
The Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) thanks the Legal and Constitutional Committee (the Committee) for its invitation to make a submission concerning the Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 (the bill). The bill is a modified version of a bill that was introduced in 2017 (the 2017 bill).
NSWCCL would like to speak further to these arguments when the bill is considered by the Committee.
This bill should be rejected.
If the bill is to proceed, it should limit the general power to search for and seize things to those which are intrinsically harmful, such as guns, knives and unprescribed narcotics. It should stipulate that items that do not present inherent risks to safety and security should only be prohibited to specified individuals where there is evidence that the person has used or is reasonably likely to use the item in a manner that presents clear risks to safety or security, and where those risks cannot be managed in a less restrictive way.
If the bill is to proceed, dogs should not be able to be used for searches in immigration detention centres.
NSWCCL Statement to the 2020 ECOSOC High Level Segment for NGOs 26th April 2020
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) recognises that the human rights and civil liberties of all people cannot be fully realised unless, and until, the global community meets the targets set by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However we recognise that development, particularly economic, need not necessarily take place in a way that is human rights based.
In times of accelerated progress towards any goal, it is clear that states can sometimes all too quickly pursue acceleration at the expense of human rights and equality. This is not to say that acceleration is itself problematic. In line with the recommendations of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, acceleration of sustainable development in relation to climate change (SDGS 7, 11- 15) is vital to prevent the most catastrophic climactic changes. Climate change will only entrench vulnerability and marginalisation. We strongly endorse rapid acceleration of the response to climate change, particularly within Australia.
We emphasise the importance of attaining progress towards meeting the SDG targets in a way that centres human rights obligations at the core of development. The United Nations Human Rights Council has resolved that attainment of the SDGs and implementation of human rights obligations by states should be ‘mutually reinforcing’, and a state should implement the SDGs consistently with their pre-existing human rights obligations (A/HRC/RES/37/24). This is also recognised in SDG 10 and SDG 16.
Turning to an example from Australia, the longstanding inequality between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians is a deplorable stain on Australia’s history. The 2020 Closing the Gap report identifies that the child mortality rate for Indigenous Australians is slightly over double the child mortality rate for Non-Indigenous Australians (p. 15). Numeracy and literacy rates for Indigenous school students are well below national standards (p. 45). Whilst we acknowledge that some progress is being made, such progress is slow and does not comply with the spirit of the SDGs and should be accelerated alongside economic development.
To ensure that the crucial acceleration of progress responding to the SDG targets takes place in a way that advances human rights we call upon states to:
- Ensure that justice, integrity and accountability bodies within states are strengthened and properly resourced.
- Adopt domestic legislation which enshrines fundamental human rights and affords citizens with personal remedies to protect their rights.
- Ensure that the rights of marginalised and minority groups are given equal, if not greater, importance than the rights of others within society to remedy past injustices.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties Australia
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.
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).Read more
NSWCCL has endorsed the Human Rights for NSW Alliance's submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission's national conversation on human rights in Australia - Free and Equal. The submission makes a number of recommendations and builds the case for a Human Rights Act in NSW.
NSWCCL is a founding member of Human Rights for NSW Alliance. Human Rights for NSW is an alliance of community, legal, rights-based and civil society organisations campaigning to ensure that the human rights of NSW citizens are expressed and guaranteed by law so we are all treated fairly, and with dignity, equality and respect.
This submission is endorsed by 33 member organisations, including Australian Lawyers for Human Rights, Human Rights Law Centre, Community Legal Centres NSW, Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT and the NSW Bar Association.
Everyone in NSW deserves to be treated fairly and equally. NSWCCL supports the campaign for a Human Rights Act for NSW.
A NSW Parliamentary Committee has recommended the Legislative Council should proceed to consider the Transport Amendment (Mobile Phone Detection) Bill 2019, including any amendments in relation to the reverse onus of proof, the use of artificial intelligence and privacy.
NSWCCL agrees strongly that mobile phone use whilst driving is a serious issue which needs to be addressed to protect the safety of the community.
We do not, however, support this Bill on the basis that it unjustifiably reverses the onus of proof and fails to provide adequate protections to assure the public that the information captured by the cameras is used for the sole purpose of prosecuting mobile phone offences.
NSWCCL also has concerns about the inherent risks of using AI to identify criminal behaviour given the lack of transparency as to the underpinning algorithms driving the assessment.
We welcome the Committee’s recognition of these concerns in their report and single recommendation.
The Bill should be amended significantly to address these problems before the Legislative Council approves it.Read more
It is clearly important for Australia’s discrimination laws to work cohesively together and for no one right to be automatically privileged over another/others. The protection and balancing of human rights would be greatly assisted by the adoption of an Australian Charter of Human Rights and by a review of Australia’s state and federal human rights laws to ensure the appropriate coherence and consistency. The current Review by the Australian Law Reform Commission into The Framework of Religious Exemptions in Anti-Discrimination Legislation will contribute to this from the perspective of religious rights - but the broader exercise is necessary.
One of the major disappointments with this Bill is the failure to include much needed and explicitly promised protections for LGBTQI+ students in religious and private schools. This Bill has been hastily drawn up in advance of the report from the inquiry into The Framework of Religious Exemptions in Anti-Discrimination Legislation under way by the ALRC, but one of the most urgent and disturbing manifestations of inappropriate religious exemptions for otherwise unlawful discriminatory acts against children has deliberately not been addressed in the Bill and instead left to the ALRC review. Simultaneously the reporting date for the ALRC review has been pushed back to December 2020.