The NSW Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the unanimous decision by the Senate to establish a Select Committee on COVID -19 matters.
The Committee has a wide scope. It is empowered “to inquire into and report on:
- a) the Australian Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic; and
- b) any related matters.”
It has strong powers to gain information, hold public or private hearings, publish evidence, findings and recommendations and a direction that it be “provided with all necessary staff, facilities and resources and be empowered to appoint persons with specialist knowledge for the purposes of the committee with the approval of the President”.
It will have a core membership of 7 being: 3 nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate; 2 nominated by the Leader of the Government in the Senate; 1 nominated by the Leader of the Australian Greens; and Senator Jacqui Lambie. Other Senators will be able to be nominated as participating – but not voting - members.
On the face of it, this new Select Committee should be able to make a significant contribution to democracy in oversighting the Government’s responses to the COVID -19 pandemic. In so doing it will hopefully provide some much-needed scrutiny of Government decisions and their implementation to fill an astonishing accountability vacuum created by the closure of the Australian Parliament until 11 August 2020.
The Government’s continued refusal to amend the Parliament’s sitting schedule to provide for sittings over the intervening months is a betrayal of the people’s rights to transparency and accountability in government.
Previous statement: 6 April 2020, Call for senate committee scrutiny of government responses to COVID-19
Previous statement: 30 March 2020, Statement: COVID-19 and Government oversight - Prolonged Parliamentary Adjournment unacceptable and Dangerous for Democracy
This time last year we lamented the reckless proceedings in the last sitting day of the Australian Parliament as the ALP allowed the Government to force through the widely opposed encryption-breaking legislation without even discussing the amendments they and others in the Senate had put forward as essential to reduce the excesses in the bill.
There was, however, one stunningly positive parliamentary act, brilliantly initiated by determined independents with the support of the ALP: the passage, against extreme warnings as to disastrous consequences by the Government, of the Medevac law. A rare, compassionate intervention to remediate aspects of our shameful, ongoing off-shore incarceration of asylum seekers.
This year we witnessed the shameful and gratuitous repeal of this legislation.
It had worked well. It had not led to an influx of asylum seekers. The Government had no motivation other than assertion of its power. The Government’s utter determination to repeal this one compassionate asylum seeker law reeks of vindictiveness.Read more
5 June 2019
NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) is disturbed by and condemns the prosecution of Australian Tax Office (ATO) whistleblower Richard Boyle.
In April 2018, Mr Boyle told the ABC that the ATO was inappropriately and excessively seizing the funds of people assessed as owing the ATO money, regardless of personal circumstances, in an attempt to raise money for the end of the financial year.Read more
Civil liberties and human rights priorities for the incoming government
The Federal Elections will be held on the 18th May 2019. In recent years civil liberties and human rights have come under unprecedented attack from federal governments in Australia. It is to be hoped that the incoming government will be more supportive of our liberties and rights and perhaps even give consideration to remedying some of these previous decisions.
In this spirit NSWCCL has conveyed to members of parliament and political parties our priorities for action by the elected Government and the new Parliament in the first term of the government.
We have focussed on 9 areas of action
- legislate a strong Human Rights Charter for Australia immediately
- establish a broad based National Integrity and Anti-Corruption Commission with strong powers and the right to hold public hearings when that is in the public interest
- halt the excessive flow of National Security and Counter-Terrorism legislation and review the cumulative impact of the very large body of these laws on civil liberties, human rights and democracy in Australia
- act to better protect a free and independent media - and especially the independence and viability of the ABC
- work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to achieve better outcomes on their priority issues including: enshrine an indigenous Voice in the constitution, establish a Makarrata Commission, implement the Pathways to Justice recommendations
- respect the rights of Asylum seekers: end off-shore detention, implement the medevac policy on the Australian mainland in the spirit of the legislation; accept the NZ settlement offer
- protect merit appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal
- shut down the Witness K and Bernard Collaery Conspiracy Case or, if it continues, ensure that the court is open to the public and the media
- ensure more robust and effective privacy practices in the digital era, remove exemptions for political parties from the Privacy Act, legislate the right to sue for invasion of privacy, set up an internet regulatory body,
You can read the detail of our analysis and recommendations in the NSWCCL Priorities for the Incoming Government public statement.
We will be contacting the new Government and relevant Ministers after the election to continue our advocacy on these matters.
We invite you to raise them directly with the new Government. We also invite you to join us in working on our campaigns on these issues – become a member and/or an active supporter.
9 May 2019
Interested in Asylum Seekers issues and wondering where to send your preferences?
This question led the NSWCCL Asylum Seekers Group to send the same five questions to all parties standing for NSW Senate Seats. The questions were:
- How will you support the implementation of the Medivac Bill to provide medical assistance to sick and injured Men currently in detention on Manus and Nauru?
- New Zealand had offered to settle up to 150 refugees currently in off shore detention. Will your party accept this offer? Why or Why not?
- Reports have been made of Australian Border Force Officers approaching single women travelling from Saudi Arabia. These women are then questioned about the whereabouts of their guardians under Saudi law. Do you agree or disagree with Australian Officers implementing Saudi law in our airports?
- At present it is easier to visit a prisoner in gaol than in immigration detention. What is your opinion on the strict rules placed on visitors to on shore detention centres such as Villawood.
- By reducing access to the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) in the second half of 2018, the Federal Government left many refugees without the support they needed to be able to access basics such as housing and food while they are settling into Australia. What plans do you have to support refugees as they strive to become part of our society?
We received no responses from the Labor, Liberal or National Parties as well as any other minor parties not mentioned below.
Some parties, Greens, Australian Democrats, Science Party and the Australian Workers Party returned detailed answers to the questions. To provide a couple of points from each:Read more
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties condemns the appalling act of terrorism that was inflicted last Friday upon people peacefully at prayer in Christchurch.
On Friday night, President of the Council, Pauline Wright, said “Our thoughts are with the people of Christchurch in all their diversity. NSW Council for Civil Liberties supports the rights of people of faith to observe their religions, no matter whether in a synagogue, temple, church or mosque. It is a dark day for our sisters and brothers across the Tasman and our hearts go out to them.”Read more
Labor and the cross-bench found sufficient common ground to achieve a significant victory for decency and humanitarian values in the Australian Parliament yesterday. The medical evacuation amendment was further amended and then passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 75-74. It was also an historic victory in that it is the first time in 75 years that a Government has lost a substantive vote in the lower house.
This was achieved in the face of an extraordinary and increasingly desperate onslaught by the Government.
The saga is however ongoing. The Bill must return to the Senate today. It’s passage there is not guaranteed. The Government may repeat its December tactics and filibuster to block its consideration. Derryn Hinch is reported as ‘considering his position’ on the amendments. His vote is crucial.
It will be another tense day for supporters of the amendment.
The positives so far
Under extreme pressure the cross bench and Labor were sufficiently sure-footed to negotiate a workable amendment.
The agreed amendment remains strong enough to achieve speedy medical evacuation for those requiring urgent medical care which cannot be provided in Manus or Nauru – albeit with several caveats.
The amendment addresses the central scare-mongering Government claim- a renewed wave of asylum seeker boats – by restricting the provisions to persons on Manus and Nauru at the commencement of the legislation.
Tony Smith brought some dignity and propriety to the house and enhanced his status as a fair and non-partisan speaker by refusing what reads like an instruction from the Attorney General Christian Porter to block discussion of the amendment on constitutional grounds and by making this ‘instruction’- and the underpinning advice from the solicitor general - public despite a specific request from the AG to keep it private.
Minister Dutton retains greater discretionary power to exercise his veto on medical transfers than initially proposed in the cross-bench amendment which leaves open the possibility of misuse/abuse of the provisions.
The restriction of the provisions to only those detained at the commencement of the legislation leaves an obvious future problem if we continue with off- shore processing of asylum seekers.
We are also left with an ethical/moral issue in relation to those who will be excluded from the new provisions because they are deemed a threat to national security and have committed serious crimes. Do we think it is acceptable to allow them to die or suffer from serious illness?
Desperate government tactics
The Government ran an all-out attack on the amendment (in fact on any amendment to the existing legislation) and on Labor yesterday. There was little or no mention of the cross-benchers who were the initiators of the amendment. Though we are all familiar with disregard for truth or logic in parliamentary debates, the Government pushed the boundaries on such behaviour yesterday. Their tactics seemed to be driven both by increasing desperation about losing the vote and ‘smart’ forward thinking about effective election tactics.
As the commentators say, we are getting a preview of the pivotal role border protection will have in the forthcoming election- if the Government has its way.
The surprise of the day was the revelation by the speaker at the end of question time that he was in receipt of a letter from the AG - including advice from the solicitor general that there was an argument that the underlying amendment passed in December 2018 was unconstitutional and that the AG considered that on these grounds the speaker should not allow the amendment to be considered at this stage. And that he should keep the advice private.
The speaker’s calm rejection of both these requests was a high point in the parliamentary day.
The extreme scare-mongering rhetoric of the Government’s attack on the Labor Party for supporting any version of the medical evacuation bill is a disgraceful performance which will further damage the standing of the Australian Parliament.
Facts have been brushed aside in favour of absurd, illogical and totally fabricated threats to public safety allegedly posed by refugees. Wild and unfounded allegations about refugee murderers, rapists, pedophiles and bad characters abound, as do supposed threats to national security from the wave of refugee boats that temporary medical evacuations of seriously ill refugees will allegedly generate.
What a disappointment that Bill Shorten and Labor have again been spooked by a blatantly dishonest and scaremongering attack from the Government and are now seeking to water down the Bill they voted for in the Senate in December- when they know the Government’s arguments are ridiculous and dishonest.
Again they have failed to engage with and refute an absurd and extreme Government attack which, given its patent dishonesty, should not have been beyond their capacity. And do they never learn the futility of succumbing in this way? Caving in and agreeing to weaken the Bill will not make any difference to the Government’s ongoing attack - they will just amend the line of attack as they have already this morning.
Last minute negotiations continue between Labor and the cross bench including the Greens. Hopefully a position can be agreed which will gain the support of all without significantly weakening the Bill - which would be the case if Labor's initial amendments were incorporated.
If this Bill is defeated today and the constructive cross bench initiative comes to nothing, Labor may have future cause to regret their lack of fortitude.
Australians will be deeply disappointed if this Bill fails or is seriously weakened today.
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has condemned the threatened deportation of Aboriginal man Brendan Thoms. The ABC reports he is the second Aboriginal man since September to appeal to the High Court when threatened with deportation.
President of the CCL, Pauline Wright said, “It is unacceptable that the immigration authorities have the power to cancel a visa and deport someone, or condemn them to a life of detention, without proper accountability. Such decisions can ruin a person’s life, yet there is no merits review when the Minister considers whether to intervene in the decision-making. The threatened deportation of an Aboriginal man who happened to be born overseas but came to Australia as a child demonstrates anew the dangers of such oppressive visa cancellation powers.”
According to the Department of Home Affairs, visa cancellations have increased by over 1400 percent between 2013-14 and 2016-17 financial years. This is at least partially due to legislative amendments to the Migration Act that have given greater powers to the Department and Minister, who can cancel or refuse visas for minor offences. Wright said, "The Minister can even consider whether to refuse or cancel a visa, by ‘having regard to… the person’s past and present general conduct.’ No government official should have such broad discretion to ruin someone’s life.”Read more
Today Cathy McGowan (independent MP) succeeded in having her National Integrity Commission Bill 2018 read for the first time in the Lower House. Two hours later the House joined the Senate in calling on the Morrison Government “to establish a national anti-corruption commission.”
Even the Government appeared to give support to the broad concept.
This is the most positive stance we have had from our national politicians on this long overdue critical reform.
However, it was short lived.
Attorney General Christian Porter spent most of his ‘supporting’ speech trashing the model proposed by the cross-bench and warning of the dangers of such bodies.
By Question Time it was clear that the Government’s early support was nothing but a tactic to avoid being defeated on the McGowan Bill in the House.
The momentary prospect of a serious attempt to build a broad consensus within Parliament on this critical issue has been sadly and recklessly abandoned by the Government.
The establishment of a national integrity body is an urgent and necessary reform to restore trust in our democratic processes and politicians.
The NSWCCL urges the Australian Parliament to move forward on this issue quickly - building in the enormous amount of work already been done inside and outside of Parliament on an appropriately balanced model.
We urge the Government to accept the widespread support for a strong and broadly-based anti-corruption body and give serious support to the process.
This very important reform for the public good should – and could - be achieved before the next election.
Contacts in relation to this statement.
0418 292 656
0414 448 654