On the use of sniffer dogs, and unacceptably broad police powers of exclusion at Sydney Olympic Park
NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the six-month bans handed out to patrons of the Above and Beyond music festival, on the basis of identification by drug sniffer dogs. NSW Police announced before the event that they would exclude patrons, regardless of whether any drugs were found after indications by the drug dogs.
CCL is deeply concerned by these bans. According to the NSW Ombudsman, when drug dogs indicate a person has drugs on them, those dogs are right about a quarter of the time. NSW Police have reportedly ripped up the tickets of people just because they were identified by drug dogs, even when no drugs were found. In effect, the police have declared a willingness to infringe on the rights of people who have done nothing wrong.Read more
Rail strike 'unlawful'-in whose interest?
On Thursday (25/1/18) the Australian Fair Work Commission found the planned 24 hour strike and a ban on overtime by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union to be 'unlawful'. The decision to take strike action came after a lengthy period of negotiation with the employer in support of a pay and conditions claim, had failed to deliver an acceptable outcome.
Given the disturbing stagnation in workers’ wages in recent years, NSWCCL accepts that the Union's claim is justified and that this dispute will continue until satisfactorily resolved. Our main civil liberties concern is, however, the apparent broader implication of the judgement.
On face value-noting that more detailed reasons for the decision are yet to come from the Commission – the terms of the judgement appear to render future lawful strike action relating to major service delivery almost impossible.
The Commission found that the overtime ban and the proposed strike, separately and together, ‘threatens to endanger the welfare of a part of the population’ and ‘the industrial action threatens to cause significant damage to the economy of Sydney – the largest and most economically important city in Australia.’
The Commission’s ban is in force for 6 weeks. Hopefully in that period the Government might be more open to responding fairly to the Union’s claims. Otherwise, it is difficult to see – given the wording of the decision – that any future proposed strike by the union at a later date could be deemed lawful. (Or overtime ban, given that the actions were deemed separately certain to cause the specified harms).
The right to strike is a fundamental civil liberty and human right. This decision imposes unacceptable restrictions on the right of workers to withhold their labour to negotiate terms and conditions of their employment, without an agreement of just terms between the parties.
If the Fair Work Act allows this finding it should be amended.
NSWCCL has issued a public statement expressing its concern in relation to this decision.
MEDIA RELEASE - Physical Restraints Used Against Aboriginal People
This week, Aboriginal man, Eric Whittaker died in a Sydney hospital while in police custody. As he lay bedridden, he was placed in leg chains by police. This was the scene that greeted Mr Whittaker’s grieving relatives who came to visit their loved one during his final hours. The family were understandably appalled and insulted by this final indignity. The NSW CCL stands united with the family of the deceased in its condemnation of this corporal treatment which is vividly reminiscent of 19th Century colonial policing practice in this country.
The incident follows recent revelations that Aboriginal children were regularly restrained in the Northern Territory’s notorious, Don Dale Juvenile Centre, by the use of chemical injections. Referred to by prison authorities as, the ‘settlement needle’, the use of these restraints against children has been linked to developmental difficulties in children, including poor cognitive and neurological functioning and hormonal imbalances. A further side effect is suicidal ideation. Given existing rates of youth suicide in Aboriginal communities, the use of these chemicals against Aboriginal people, (against their will) is alarming to say the least. The NSW CCL condemns this practice.
Accordingly, the NSWCCL calls on both the NSW Police and the Northern Territory Department of Correctional Services to cease these damaging practices of corporal restraint against Aboriginal people immediately.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties
4 December 2017
Stephen Blanks – 0414 448 654 - President
MEDIA RELEASE - Inquest into the death of Scott Johnson
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) welcomes the findings of the Coroner into historic and ongoing police attitudes to LGBTIQ hate crimes and calls upon the NSW Police to implement the coronial recommendations wholly and completely. The Coroner today delivered findings from the third inquest into the death of Scott Johnson.
NSWCCL President Stephan Blanks said "this is a momentous occasion which provides closure for the families and communities that were affected by these poorly investigated crimes".
NSWCCL Vice President Josh Pallas said "recently there have been findings made by this Coronial Inquest and the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse which show that the NSW Police fails specific groups of society which require protection from targeted abuse and violence.”
NSWCCL Vice President Josh Pallas says that he “acknowledges the improvements made by NSW Police on LGBTIQ issues, especially with the establishments of the GLLOs, but these findings show that there is still much more to be done to ensure that LGBTIQ persons feel safe and trust the NSW Police to investigate hate crimes against them.
Josh Pallas - 0458 605 281 – Vice President
Stephen Blanks – 0414 448 654 - President
Civil liberties bodies reject massive facial recognition database
COAG has agreed to the establishment of a National Facial Biometric Matching Capability which will have access to all drivers licences in Australia - as well as visa, passport and citizenship photos. This massive biometric database will be available to state and federal security and law enforcement agencies. The rationale for this very significant increase in the capacity for real-time government surveillance of most Australian residents is, of course, to better protect us.
We want governments to do all that is possible and proportionate to protect us and, as part of that, we support effective coordination between states and federal agencies. However, NSWCCL fears that this development in mass surveillance capacity will have- over time - significant implications that are not currently appreciated for the nature of our society and the robustness of our democracy.Read more
NSWCCL opposes harsh law against homeless in Martin Place
NSWCCL PUBLIC STATEMENT
Sydney Public Reserves (Public Safety) Bill 2017 (NSW)
The NSWCCL calls for the withdrawal of this extraordinary Bill. It is unwarranted, unnecessary legislation.
It is a harsh response in a context which calls for more responsible, compassionate and sustainable remedies to the serious policy failures of Governments which have left so many people homeless in Sydney.
The existing powers that NSW Police have under LEPRA (Part 14) and ) and the Crown Lands Act (Sections 156, 157) are more than adequate to remove persons who present any danger or threat to the public or are engaged in any unlawful activity in Martin Place.
Homeless people sleeping in Martin Place- or other public place- are not acting unlawfully.
This Bill effectively criminalises homelessness. It is a retrograde step, contrary to the move to abolish the crime of vagrancy and other victimless crimes more than 30 years ago.
Homeless people may be causing some level of inconvenience to the public, but some level of inconvenience may be the cost we have to pay for the major homeless problem we have in Sydney.
Inconvenience can be managed more compassionately and responsibly than by rushing to force homeless people out of Martin Place when many will, of necessity, occupy other public space in inner Sydney.
NSWCCL urges the Government to abandon this rash Bill and re-engage with the City of Sydney Council and other agencies to find more sustainable solutions. Homeless people should not be forcibly removed from public spaces until alternative ongoing accommodation is available for them.
The reallocation of the purpose built Sirius building to the current inner city homeless is one obvious part of the longer term solution that could be implemented quickly.
Right to Political Protest
NSW Council for Civil Liberties calls for stronger protection of the right to political protest. The recent media statements by the Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Pru Goward and Tony Abbott concerning the homeless people camping in Martin Place highlight the need to protect our right to political protest.
Protection of civil liberties is weak in Australia. The Constitution contains a weak protection of the right to political protest. In NSW we do not have the protection of a bill of rights.
Peaceful political protest often involves disruption of public spaces. If we view the right to peaceful political protest as worth upholding, the community may need to tolerate some inconvenience.
Public statements by politicians to the effect that the police should be required to dismantle peaceful political protests occurring in public spaces ignore the fact that the right to political protest is a fundamental right in a mature democracy.
Now is the time to revisit the need for a bill of rights – visit Human Rights for NSW
NSWCCL Media Release Right to Political Protest
'Shoot to kill' bill rushed through NSW parliament.
As part of its response to the Coroner's Report on the Lindt Cafe seige and other recent terrorist events in Australia the NSW Government has flagged a package of new counter-terrorism laws which it will implement. Much of this legislation will be part of a new national counter-terrorism package which is to be more thoroughly considered by a special COAG meeting in the near future.
Today however, the question of careful consideration was not on the agenda when the NSW Government introduced the TERRORISM LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (POLICE POWERS AND PAROLE) BILL 2017 with the intention of forcing it through Parlaiment in one or two days.
This Bill extends police powers to use lethal force in a declared terrorist incident as well as mandating a presumption against parole for people who have demonstrated support for or links to terrorist activity.
NSWCCL is deeply concerned about aspects of this Bill -especially the proposed broader trigger for the use by police of lethal powers (shoot to kill powers) in a declared terrorist incident- or a likely terrorist incident.
We do not consider it necessary- police have adequate and appropriate powers to use lethal force now when there is an imminent or immediate threat to life or of serious injury.
We consider it likely to have unintended and potentially dangerous consequences.
We are appalled that this Bill is being pushed through the NSW Parliament without reasonable time for consideration of the detailed drafting by the Parliament itself or the legal community.
The Bill was passed by the Legilsative Assembly this morning after a short and perfunctory debate. Only the Greens opposed it. No doubt it will be pushed through the Legislative Council this afternoon.
NSWCCL registers its concern at this hasty process and our opposition to the Bill in its current form.
Read NSWCCL's Statement on the Bill
Citizenship-stripping bill should be abandoned
NSWCCL has issued a media release opposing the Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Bill 2015.
We recognise that the amended Bill is significantly improved and less dangerous than the initial extremely flawed version.
We welcome these changes, but remain disturbed by, and opposed to, expanding citizenship-stripping laws. Australian citizens who are alleged to have engaged in terrorist related activities should be charged, taken to trial and, if found guilty, punished and imprisoned in Australia. CCL argues the Bill should not be passed by Parliament.
Should the Bill proceed, CCL opposes the inclusion of the retrospectivity provision- even though it is limited to a very small number of people. It is a breach of a fundamental rule of law and natural justice principle. Retrospective application of punitive legislation is never acceptable.
NSWCCL welcomes the inclusion of a minimum age for persons caught by the Bill’s provisions. However, that minimum age should be 18 not 14 as is proposed for conduct related provisions. We welcome the removal of the provision allowing children to have their citizenship revoked if a parent had their citizenship revoked.
We urge the membership of the influential PJCIS which is to be given an expanded oversight role in relation to the operation of this legislation, be amended to be more fully representative of the Parliament.
The Border Force Act seeks to block public scrutiny of Australia's dark detention network
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is gravely concerned that doctors, teachers and social workers employed in Australia’s immigration detention network could face jail for speaking out about their experiences.
With the Border Force Act 2015 coming into effect, employees working in various capacities face a two year sentence for recording or disclosing “protected information” they come into contact with as a result of their work.
As the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have noted, this restriction on free speech will prevent doctors from following their professional and ethical obligations to advocate on behalf of their patients.
“This legislation is particularly troubling given the history of poor care in immigration detention,” says NSWCCL President Stephen Blanks.
“It is telling that doctors who have worked in these centres at the highest level have previously decided to go public with their concerns. Systemic failures have led to gross human rights violations.
“These public disclosures have put pressure on governments to improve conditions in the centres.”
A steady flow of leaks to the media about sexual assaults in the Nauru detention centre eventually forced the Department of Immigration to order an independent review in October 2014. It found credible evidence of sexual assaults, which the government has now been forced to acknowledge and act upon.
“While forcing government action is one important outcome of such disclosures, it must also be remembered that the public has a right to know what is done in their name,” says Blanks.
Detention centres have always been places lacking in public scrutiny where civil liberties are overlooked. Successive governments have made sure to keep the people detained out of public view, hiding the trauma and lasting damage indefinite detention inflicts.
While the CCL notes the assurances that the new Border Force Act will not cancel out existing safeguards in the Public Interest Disclosure Act, we are unconvinced this legislation is sufficient. It sets too high a bar for whistleblowers, and circumscribes too tightly the situations in which they may share information with the public.
Furthermore, the existence of this legislation is a danger even before any doctor, teacher, or humanitarian worker is dragged before a court. Its mere existence is a threat to would-be whistleblowers, an attempt to intimidate Australian workers who see something wrong into staying quiet about it.
We know that this government has a particularly ugly tendency to target those who try to bring abuses in detention centres to the public’s attention, as seen by the unrelenting attacks on Australian Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs.
“Australia’s immigration detention network has been made a dark place,” says Stephen Blanks.
“With this new act, the government is trying to blot out the small rays of sunlight still getting in.”