Australian Government must re-build trust of civil society – UN human rights expert, CANBERRA / GENEVA (18 October 2016) – United Nations independent expert Michel Forst today called on the Government of Australia to urgently dispel civil society’s growing concerns about the combined ‘chilling effect’ of its recent laws, policies and actions constraining the rights of human rights defenders.
“I was astonished to observe mounting evidence of a range of cumulative measures that have concurrently levied enormous pressure on Australian civil society,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders at the end of his first fact-finding visit* to the country.
Recognizing Australia’s traditional safeguards of constitutional democracy, rule of law and free media, Mr Forst noted that his initial expectation from his official visit was to “encounter only laudable implementation of the State’s obligations under international human rights laws, aimed at ensuring a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders.”
Instead, the expert found a number of detrimental measures which include a growing body of statutory laws, both at the federal and state levels, constraining the rights of defenders. “They have ranged from intensifying secrecy laws to proliferating anti-protest laws, from the stifling Border Force Act to the ‘Standing’ bill shrinking environmental access to courts,” Mr. Forst specified.
“Those laws have not only accentuated the disparity between Government’s declared commitments at the international forums and their implementation within the country,” he noted. “They have also aggravated the situation following the drastic defunding of peak bodies by the Government, following their advocacy or litigation on such topical issues as immigration, security, environment and land rights protection.” Continue reading
Ministers push for laws to make it harder for greenies to mount environmental challenges on major developments, June 6, 2016 Steven Scott The Courier-Mail SENIOR Government ministers are planning to ramp up pressure on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to make it harder for green groups to challenge major developments.
The Courier-Mail can reveal several senior MPs have already canvassed options to discourage legal challenges to projects such as mines and dams, including by imposing time limits on appeals.
Mr Turnbull will face increased pressure from his own MPs should he win the July 2 election. Ministers have discussed ways to make it easier for courts to impose costs orders against funders of court cases, to prevent green groups using shelf organisations to limit their financial risk.
The move would revive former prime minister Tony Abbott’s controversial plans to restrict environmental challenges.
Mr Abbott wanted to change the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to limit green groups’ challenges after the Mackay Conservation Group last year used the law to hold up the approval of Adani’s central Queensland mine.
The plan is still Coalition policy but it has been quietly shelved because there was not enough support to pass the changes through the Senate and some ministers held concerns about the proposed changes……http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/ministers-push-for-laws-to-make-it-harder-for-greenies-to-mount-environmental-challenges-on-major-developments/news-story/9cf9f552fb112db47058f3f72d24cb9d
Federal election 2016: climate survey fires up green council of war Graham Lloyd THE AUSTRALIAN MAY 17, 2016 Peak environment groups have prepared a co-ordinated election blueprint on climate change, the Great Barrier Reef and fossil fuels, staring down threats to cut the charitable status of organisations that play politics.
The groups, including Greenpeace, WWF, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society, have spent the past fortnight planning a strategy against the background of a parliamentary report that set out a road map to punish critics of the government and resource industry.
Established by Environment Minister Greg Hunt, it recommended groups be required to spend 25 per cent of fundraising on tree planting and land repair or lose tax-deductible status. It also said organisations should be made liable for illegal actions of members, supporters or volunteers.
The lower house committee recommendations were not supported by Labor members and the report included a dissenting statement from Liberal member Jason Wood. Mr Wood listed potential casualties, including Beyond Zero Emissions, Great Barrier Reef Foundation, Environment Victoria, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace Australia, Australian Youth Climate Coalition, The Wilderness Society, EDOs of Australia, Australian Orangutan Project and Environmental Justice Australia.
Wilderness Society national campaign manager Lyndon Schneiders said: “They are also saying to a bunch of rednecks that they will deal with environment groups’ campaigns against controversial oil and gas projects.”
Former Greens leader Bob Brown said making groups responsible for the actions of members and volunteers “would be right at home in Vladimir Putin’s Russia”. Climate Change organisation 350.org said the recommendations were anti-democratic and “an unnecessary witch-hunt”.
The Wilderness Society said it made more sense to spend money lobbying to stop trees being cut down that to replant them……http://www.theaustralian.com.au/federal-election-2016/federal-election-2016-climate-survey-fires-up-green-council-of-war/news-story/b8af615de95a65ca71c609ae8990700b
here are environment ministers Groom and Hunt backing the arrest and punishment of Australians who make a modest stand for threatened species that they, the ministers, should be protecting.
In an age of the accelerating and irreversible destruction of our Earth’s biosphere, the untoward and often unseen influence of its exploiters is eroding Australia’s time-honoured rights to peaceful protest.
It was inevitable that somewhere, some time, some citizens would face the repressive Tasmanian laws. That stand has now been made among the stately ferns of Lapoinya and will move to the High Court of Australia where the consequences are enormous for every environmental, social, cultural and Indigenous issue in Australia’s future
Bob Brown’s arrest in Lapoinya under new anti-protestor laws, The Saturday Paper, BOB BROWN, 19 Mar 16 A follows their use to arrest conservationists in the Lapoinya forest. “…….The logging at Lapoinya torpedoed any hope Forestry Tasmania had of winning Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, the internationally recognised green accreditation increasingly sought by global markets. FSC depends on respectful relationships with local communities………
Through all of this, the nation’s most powerful potential guardians of Australia’s forests and threatened species, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the federal minister for the environment, Greg Hunt, failed to lift a finger.
In Australia, the option of choice for setting back conservation is the strangling of environmental protest. As the resource-extraction industries come under fire for increasing encroachments on farmland and places of high natural or cultural heritage value, a key strategy is to have governments outlaw effective political protest…….. Continue reading
Anti-protest laws giving police greater powers pass NSW parliament http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/mar/16/anti-protest-laws-giving-police-greater-powers-pass-nsw-parliament
Anti-coal seam gas protesters could be jailed for seven years under laws described as a ‘crackdown on democratic rights’ Trespassing anti-coal seam gas advocates face heavier fines and greater jail sentences with tough new anti-protest laws passing through NSW parliament.
With the support of the Shooters and Fishers party and Christian Democrat Fred Nile, the controversial legislation was passed 20-16 in the upper house on Wednesday after minor amendments to the original proposal.
The bill gives police greater powers to search without a warrant, seize items and move protesters on, while fines for illegal entry to mining and CSG sites have increased tenfold from $550 to $5500.
Anti-CSG protesters who interfere with gas sites – including those who chain themselves to machinery – will also be exposed to a maximum jail sentence of seven years.
The Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham, who along with Labor voted against the legislation, condemned the changes as a “jackboot police crackdown on democratic rights”.
The Labor MP Adam Searle also spoke out against the bill’s “sinister” provisions.
“This legislation strikes at the heart of a fundamental aspect of our society – the right to peacefully protest,” he told parliament during hours of fierce debate.
But the premier, Mike Baird, defended the legislation, saying he didn’t believe it was too harsh.
“It’s quite simple, peaceful protests are fine,” Baird said. “Anyone that wants to disrupt a business or ultimately act illegally and puts the lives of themselves and others at risk, well we’ve put these measures in and I think it’s appropriate.”
About 500 protesters shut down a part of Sydney’s CBD to rally against the proposed changes on Tuesday.
A Reachtel poll commissioned by the NSW Nature Conservation Council this week also showed 61.4% of people opposed increasing police powers and fines for protest action.
The NSW Law Society said lawyers were concerned the legislation could seriously interfere with people’s human rights liberties.
Meanwhile, the NSW Unions movement says it’s considering launching a high court challenge against the laws.
The proposed protest laws would give police new powers to break up protests, to search and destroy private property. If police say just one person obstructs traffic, they can shut down an entire peaceful assembly.
This is a slippery slope that gives police discretion to silence dissent and could turn NSW into a police state. Far from being a moderate, Baird is taking NSW down the sad road of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland.
The laws will allow police to arrest anyone carrying or operating anything the police think will be used in a protest. Police would be able to arrest you and confiscate and destroy your car, for example, if they think it will be used to disrupt business in a protest. What has happened to the presumption of innocence?
Protesters could be fined more for opposing illegal mining activity than miners could for operating illegally.
Mike Baird’s anti-protest laws risk turning NSW into Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland http://www.canberratimes.com.au/comment/mike-bairds-anti-protest-laws-risk-turning-nsw-into-bjelke-petersens-queensland-20160315-gnj4to.html March 15 2016 Naomi Hodgson
*Poll: More than 60 per cent of voters opposed Mining protesters could face seven years’ jail
*Freedom of speech and freedom of association are cornerstones of democracy. Continue reading
Bob Brown challenges Tasmania’s anti-protest laws in High Court ABC News 9 Mar 16 Former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown has issued a High Court challenge to the Tasmanian Government’s anti-protest laws.
The legislation which passed Parliament in 2014 allows for on-the-spot fines and tougher penatlities for repeat offenders.
Mr Brown and a number of others were arrested and charged in January, under the new laws, for protesting against the logging of Lapoinya Forest in Tasmania’s north west.
He issued the High Court challenge on the grounds the laws were contrary to the implied freedom of speech on government and political matters under the Australian constitution.
“I know that a challenge in the High Court can be a very expensive thing but I also know that a lot of people are worried about this legislation and the spread of it in other states,” he said.
“The laws will, if not challenged, trap everybody who wants to take a stand against something that’s manifestly wrong going on in our country.” Mr Brown said the Tasmanian Government promised the laws were not aimed at “mum and dad” protesters.
But he said “first up, they trapped a young mother and nurse who grew up in the Lapoinya area and a local grandfather”.
Hobart solicitor Roland Brown said the High Court challenge was a test case.
“This case is unusual because it’s seeking to have made invalid, or declared invalid, legislation that targets people’s political belief and their opinion in relation to environmental, social, cultural and economic factors,” he said………http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-10/bob-brown-flags-high-court-challenge-to-workplace-protest-laws/7236124
Federal Senate Urges WA Parliament To Drop Anti-Protest Law, New Matilda, By Thom Mitchell on February 24, 2016 The Federal Senate has passed a motion calling on the West Australian government to abandon “divisive and unnecessary” anti-protest laws which have been strongly condemned by the United Nations.
The motion, introduced by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert and passed on the voices, adds to a long list of institutions and individuals who are concerned about what Colin Barnett’s government is proposing.
Last week three separate United Nations Special Rapporteurs issued a joint statement condemning the anti-protest laws, saying it would have the “chilling affect of silencing dissenters”.
“It would go against Australia’s international obligations under international human rights law, including the rights to freedom of opinion and expression as well as peaceful assembly and association,” the three Special Rapporteurs said.
Hundreds of people protested against the bill at the West Australian Parliament yesterday, and a coalition of more than 80 community organisations, legal centres, and unions have signed an open letter opposing the bill. The Federal Senate this afternoon noted “the important role public protest and free speech have played, and continue to play in a healthy democratic society”. However that role may be dramatically curtailed by the time West Australia’s Parliament adjourns tonight.
The bill is being progressed in the lower house of the state Parliament this afternoon, having moved through the upper house last week.
The legislation will inevitably pass, because the Barnett Government controls both houses, but it faced nearly a year of staunch opposition from Labor and the Greens.
The anti-protest law creates two new criminal offences. Under the first, it will become illegal to physically and intentionally prevent a lawful activity being carried out. And under the second, it will become illegal to possess with the intent of using, or to use a “thing” to prevent a lawful activity.
On top of this extremely broad drafting, there is concern that the onus of proof is reversed for both new offences. The President of the West Australian Law Society, Mathew Keogh has previously said that the bill “may erode fundamental aspects of our criminal justice system”.
“The legislation is so broad that it is almost impossible to say how they may be applied down the track,” he said……..
Senator Siewart takes a different view, arguing “were it not for peaceful protest, awful projects such as James Price Point would have gone ahead”.
“The anti-protest laws that Colin Barnett is pushing through State Parliament attacks free speech, public protest and a healthy democratic society,” Siewart said.
“I urge Colin Barnett to consider the calls of the Senate, as well as the United Nations, and abandon these divisive and unnecessary laws,” she said. https://newmatilda.com/2016/02/24/federal-senate-urges-abandonment-of-anti-protest-law-as-wa-parliament-prepares-to-pass-it/
UN urges WA Government not to bring in anti-protest laws, ABC News, By Briana Shepherd, 16 Feb 16 The United Nations has called on the West Australian Government to withdraw controversial new legislation that imposes harsh penalties on protesters.
The proposed laws were first introduced into Parliament in March 2015, and the Government insists it will only target radical protesters using devices like chains or thumb locks to block or stop lawful activities.
But the UN said it would “result in criminalising lawful protests and silencing environmentalists and human rights defenders”.
“If the bill passes, it would go against Australia’s international obligations under international human rights law, including the rights to freedom of opinion and expression as well as peaceful assembly and association,” the UN Human Rights Office said in a statement.
“The bill would criminalise a wide range of legitimate conduct by creating criminal offences for the acts of physically preventing a lawful activity and possessing an object for the purpose of preventing a lawful activity.
If the offence was committed in circumstances of aggravation, the penalty could be as high as imprisonment for two years and a fine of $24,000. Continue reading
Acknowledging the attempt had little chance of success in the Liberal-dominated State Parliament, Greens leader Cassy O’Connor said the legislation needed to be overturned
Ms O’Connor said the legislation — which carries maximum fines of $10,000 and mandatory jail terms for repeat offenders — was being used against citizens protesting logging operations in the Lapoinya Forest — contrary to government promises about its intent.
“In recent weeks up at Lapoinya up in North West Tasmania, we’ve seen the Government’s draconian anti-protest legislation actually target the very people that Paul Harriss said it wouldn’t — mum and dad protesters.
“This Bill is not only highly political and draconian it is unnecessary — there is already legislation in Tasmania for trespass and public nuisance and we want to see this Bill banished from the statue books. “I believe this law will not remain on the statue books in Tasmania forever. It may be subject to a High Court challenge. It really has no place in a civil and democratic society like ours.”
Tasmanian spokesperson for Civil Liberties Australia. Rajan Venkataraman, said the Bill was a severe infringement on the right to peaceful protest. “The provisions in this Act are quite unique to Tasmania,” he said.
“Around most jurisdictions in Australia and indeed many countries around the world, they have provisions regarding trespass and public nuisance and certainly violent protest … but this kind of Act specifically targets protesters and specifically peaceful protesters. “The offences created by the Act and the penalties imposed are extreme and not in proportion to penalties imposed under other statutes, even for quite serious and violent offences.”
Resources Minister Paul Harriss dismissed opposition to the laws.
“It says a lot about the Greens that at a time when the state is a facing a number of serious challenges, they are most concerned about changing the law to allow their mates to try to stop others from lawfully harvesting a regrowth forest.”
Whether or not you believe Mr. Assange is guilty of a sexual offence, whether or not you think he is a self-publicist deliberately resisting arrest, the fact remains that the authorities could use less restrictive means without compromising the initial investigation into the allegations regarding his sexual conduct in Sweden
Liora Lazarus: Is the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Decision on Assange ‘So Wrong’? UK Constitutional Law Association 13 Feb 16 The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention handed down its decision on Julian Assange on Friday 5 February 2015 (A/HRC/WGAD/2015/54). It has been met with almost universal ridicule from a line of British officials, legal academics and the press. The decision has been described as ‘ridiculous’ by the UK Foreign Secretary, Phillip Hammond, and former Director of Public Prosecution Ken MacDonald argues that describing Assange’s conditions as ‘arbitrary detention’ is ‘ludicrous’. The press is equally incredulous. ………
Julian Assange UN Ruling – Geoffrey Robertson QC Joseph Kotrie-Monson interviewed
Mr. Assange is wanted for questioning in Sweden to answer allegations of sexual assault. The Swedish prosecutorial authorities have issued a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) which the UK authorities are bound to implement. Mr. Assange, after arrest of 10 days and house arrest thereafter, was granted asylum by Ecuador after his appeal against the EAW failed. This is when he took up residence in the Ecuadorian Embassy in 2012. Assange argues that he fears ultimate extradition from Sweden to the USA on the grounds of his involvement in Wikileaks.
This is obviously no small fear, given the sentencing and treatment of Chelsea Manning in the USA, and the decision of Edward Snowden to take up asylum in Russia. The Swedish authorities refuse to grant Assange any guarantee of non-refoulement to the US, and his right to asylum has also not been recognized by the UK or Sweden. ……..
Mr. Assange argues that he is not free to leave the Embassy; he would have to accept the conditions of his immediate arrest, his extradition to Sweden and his subsequent questioning there. He would have to undertake the risk that he would be extradited to the US, and the subsequent risks to his rights were that to happen.
The mandate of the UN WGAD and the test for ‘deprivation of liberty’ Continue reading
In a public statement, the expert panel called on the Swedish and British authorities to end Mr. Assange’s deprivation of liberty, respect his physical integrity and freedom of movement, and afford him the right to compensation (Check the statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17012&LangID=E) Continue reading
Assange also remains fearful of a potential future extradition to the US, where a secret grand jury has been looking into whether to prosecute him over WikiLeak’s publishing activities……..
the former chair of the UN working group, Mads Andenas, defended its finding, saying: “There is no doubt that the normal course of action for the Swedish authorities would have been to interview Assange in London. The extradition request was disproportionate
Julian Assange: ‘sweet’ victory soured by British and Swedish rejection
No release in sight despite UN panel deciding WikiLeaks founder is being arbitrarily detained at Ecuador embassy, Guardian, Esther Addley,Owen Bowcott,David Crouch in Gothenberg, and Jessica Elgot 5 Feb 16 A UN panel may have found that Julian Assange is subject to “arbitrary detention” and called for him to be allowed to walk free, but the WikiLeaks founder remains exactly where he has been for the past 44 months – inside Ecuador’s London embassy and locked in a three-nation war of words.
Britain and Sweden immediately rejected the UN report, which declared that Assange had been “arbitrarily detained” since his arrest in 2010 and during his lengthy stay in the embassy, where he sought asylum in June 2012. The British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, described the findings as “ridiculous” and the Australian as a “fugitive from justice”.
However, the panel’s findings, leaked on Thursday and published in full on Friday morning, were a welcome victory for Assange, and a moment he intended to savour fully. At 4.01pm he emerged on to the balcony of the west Londonembassy to greet a crowd of several hundred supporters and journalists, pausing first, just briefly, to glance at the sky he has rarely seen for more than three years.
“How sweet it is,” said Assange, holding aloft a copy of the UN report while supporters shouted: “We love you, Julian!” It had been, he said, “a victory of historical importance”, and a decision reached after a process to which both Britain and Sweden had made submissions. “They lost. UK lost; Sweden lost.”
The Swedish government, however, has insisted the report changes nothing, and that it cannot interfere in an independent prosecutor’s ongoing attempt to extradite Assange for questioning over an allegation of rape dating from 2010, which he denies.
Meanwhile, for Ecuador – the Australian’s (mostly) willing host – the findings meant it was time for the two countries to allow Assange to walk free, and to compensate both him and them for the lengthy period he has been holed up in one of its few rooms……
After exhausting all his legal options in the UK and Sweden some time ago, there is no question that the report represents a boost for Assange’s legal team. Continue reading
India barred activist from entry: Greenpeace , Arab News 9 June 15 NEW DELHI: Greenpeace said Monday an Australian staff member had been barred from entering India despite holding a valid visa, in what it said was the latest crackdown against the group.
Aaron Gray-Block was on his way to meetings in India when immigration officials stopped him at Bangalore airport on Saturday night and put him on a flight to Kuala Lumpur without explanation, the campaign group said.
His passport was seized and only returned to him once he had landed in the Malaysian capital, the environmental group said in a statement.
“Our colleague has a valid business visa, and yet he was prevented from entering India with no reason given,” Divya Raghunandan, program director of Greenpeace India, said.
“We are forced to wonder if all international staff of Greenpeace will now be prevented from entering the country?“
Local media reports cited unnamed home ministry sources saying Gray-Block was denied entry because his name figured in an official ‘black list’.
But the activist said he had “not received any communication” from the government of being placed on such a list, demanding “an explanation to this.”
“I arrived at Bangalore Airport with a valid business visa issued by the Indian embassy in Australia… Any suggestion of wrongdoing is a farce and a smear,” Gray-Block said in a statement late Monday.
“There is no reason for me to be included in any blacklist,” he added……
A court last month ordered authorities to unfreeze some of Greenpeace’s accounts, handing the group a lifeline after it faced closure of its local operations.
Greenpeace has accused the government of waging a “malicious campaign” against it. Authorities prevented one of its campaigners in January from leaving Delhi after she was placed on a suspicious persons list. According to Indian media, a secret report by the main intelligence agency recently warned that delays to key development projects being sought by Greenpeace and other activist groups could knock up to three percentage points off India’s annual growth rate.
Greenpeace has been at loggerheads with the government over claims of environmental damage caused by India’s heavy reliance on coal and the impact of deforestation and nuclear projects. http://www.arabnews.com/news/758971
given the urgency of the environmental crisis, an increasing number of Australians recognise that we need environmental groups who do more than plant trees.
In the run to this year’s Paris climate talks and next year’s federal election, we need laws that encourage full-blooded political participation.
Government inquiry takes aim at green charities that ‘get political’ The Conversation, Peter BurdonSenior lecturer at University of Adelaide 16 Apr 15 The almost 600 environmental groups that hold tax-deductibility status in Australia are being scrutinised by a federal government inquiry, with reports that more than 100 of them face being struck off the list.
Some, like the state and territory Conservation Councils and Environmental Defenders Offices, are still reeling from cuts to their programs and core funding. Others, such as Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society, and Friends of the Earth, could lose access to the tax-deductible donations that help sustain their work.
Encouraging donations Deductible gift-recipient status allows eligible organisations, such as those on the environmental register, to receive tax-deductible gifts and contributions. Consistent with similar schemes in the United States and Europe, the environmental register was established as an incentive for citizens and corporations to fund organisations that are active in the public sphere, while also feeding into the logic of small government and shifting the burden of catering for social needs back onto the community.
Importantly, however, in 2010 the High Court ruled that groups with tax-deductible status also have the right to engage in political debate and advocacy. The judgement described the freedom to speak out on political issues as “indispensable” for “representative and responsible government”.
Moreover, the court pointed out that there is no general rule that excludes “political objects” from charitable purposes. Instead, the key consideration is whether the organisation “contributes to the public welfare”. The ruling has been used as a precedent both in Australia and overseas, such as when Greenpeace won a favourable decision from the New Zealand Supreme Court last year.
Why is Australia holding the inquiry? Continue reading