NSW civil liberties crimped as police powers increase

Angela Catallo
Professional Support Officer

The new system is short on checks and balances, which leaves implementation in the hands of the police

Changes in legislation have increased the powers of police and reduced some of the fundamental freedoms of the NSW public.

A forum held in Parliament House on May 11 was told the Inclosed Lands, Crimes and Law Enforcement Legislation Amendment (Interference) Bill 2016 and The Terrorism (Police Powers) Amendment, (Investigative Detention) Bill 2016 remove rights from the public in NSW and the judiciary while increasing the rights of the police.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties President Steven Blanks argued that there should be honesty in legislation. It should be clear as to purpose and that there should be careful consideration and time for responses from the community well before any consideration of removal of individual human rights. Some of the rights breached by the latest legislation include fundamental freedoms such as freedom of speech, freedom of movement and freedom of association.

Greens MLA David Shoebridge provided details of how the present legislation could affect Federation members and our students.

Public Safety Orders can be initiated by a senior police officer and can ban a person from attending an event or visiting a certain place. The police do not need evidence, just a reasonable expectation that the person is “expected to present a serious threat to public safety or security”.

Such orders can be for up to 72 hours but they can be repeated, which could lead to a person being ordered, over a number of weeks or months, not to attend a place of worship or regular meeting.

Changes in the protest laws appear to be aimed at activists protesting against coal seam gas as the definition of a mine has been widened to include CSG sites. The police now have the right to search for and confiscate any object that could be used to “lock on” to mining equipment or sites.

A person suspected of being involved in planning a terrorist act that might be scheduled to take place over the next 14 days can be held without charge for that 14 days. Of concern to teachers is that this applies to people as young as 14 years of age who can then be questioned for up to 16 hours a day.

Greg Hirst, Sergeant-At-Arms for the Brotherhood Christian Motorcycle Club, said even older consorting laws were about control rather than justice, and described how people on the edges of society were targeted not for what they had done but for who they associated with. He described harassment based on clothing and tattoos as well as overzealous application of defect laws at bikie events.

His concern was that the introduction of Serious Crime Prevention Orders and Public Safety Orders would provide the police with more powers to exert control over individuals and groups in society.

David Porter, representing the Law Society of NSW, said the new legislation was short on details and checks and balances, which left implementation in the hands of the police. He said there had been a trend with current legislation to pass laws that allow decisions on “move on” orders, Public Safety Orders and detention related to possible terrorism to be put at the discretion of the police.

This could be seen as an intentional shift of powers from the Supreme Court to the legislature, where powers, previously made by the court, under the Attorney General, are now made by the police, under the Minister for Police and Justice.

Overall this was a sobering forum that outlined the extent of the powers being granted to NSW Police and how easily legislative change can affect the liberties and rights of the people of our state.

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Angela Catallo is Federation’s representative on the NSW Council for Civil Liberties. She was accompanied at the forum by TAFE Organiser Kathy Nicholson

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