“The Coalition’s reckless arbitrary intervention and law and order agenda is burning bright” commented Greens MLC Sue Higginson, as the NSW Liberal Nationals rammed through what must have been a record number of police empowering bills in just two sitting days last week.
While it’s hard to guarantee this is a milestone over the NSW Coalition’s now more than a decade in office, it certainly is so for the Perrottet government, and let’s hope the current premier isn’t toying with our liberties in this manner just to overcompensate for a lack in any other department.
Over the course of a week, the NSW government passed six pieces of law enforcement legislation that don’t serve to protect the public, but rather empower NSW police to be more punitive in its approach, and it gifts them further abilities to pry into all our private lives.
“NSW is becoming a police state,” Higginson said this week, which is the disturbing truth, as if you have a quick perusal through the new laws, mainly the work of police minister Paul Toole, they follow distinct patterns in law enforcement that have been developing over the last decade.
One of the largest such organisations in the world, NSW police not only roam the streets with dogs, getting people to strip off over small amounts of what should be a legal drug but, like the feds, this state’s law enforcement agency is increasingly being empowered to surveil the general populace.NSW Greens MLC Sue Higginson
Sticking it to the people
“All NSW residents should be concerned about our eroding civil liberties and how the unintended consequences of poorly thought out and rushed legislation will impact people with no involvement in serious criminal conduct,” Higginson told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.
“The Coalition is rapidly expanding the powers of the police with little regard for the privacy and rights of people who are just living their life,” said the NSW Greens justice spokesperson, adding that the Liberals are now in the habit of spruiking their yet-to-be-released police laws on 2GB radio.
The bills passed last week include the Dedicated Encrypted Criminal Communication Device Prohibition Orders Bill, the Digital Evidence Access Orders Bill, and another piece of legislation that toughened money laundering laws.
There was also the No Body, No Parole Bill, which poses issues for the wrongly convicted. Another bill criminalised the scrap metal industry, while the last piece was the Assaults on Frontline Emergency and Health Workers Bill, which despite its title, has a greater focus on police than nurses.
As far as Higginson is concerned, it’s all about doubling down on law and order prior to an election the Coalition will likely lose, while the effects of the “more draconian police state” will be ongoing, which include a larger number of people not under investigation being subjected to police scrutiny.
Eroding digital rights
“The most concerning bills”, according to Higginson, are the cognate bills, those presented as a package and considered that way. These consisted of enhanced money laundering laws, a regime to harass people over encrypted device usage and a new means to access citizen’s computer data.
While the money laundering bill carries implications that could see the innocent or unaware hit with stiff penalties, without providing any defences, it’s the two digital rights-eroding regimes that Perrottet has provided NSW police, which Higginson says are the most draconian measures.
The new digital evidence access order regime permits police to grant such orders to accompany search and crime scene warrants, so officers can force people to provide access to digital devices and assistance in copying or converting data, via threat of up to five years inside for not complying.
“Accessing electronic devices should be special cases requiring a greater level of scrutiny and privacy safeguards than other search warrants,” Higginson said. And this is for three reasons: data relating to other matters being located, self-incrimination, and privileged information being discovered.
The other order regime relates to dedicated encrypted criminal communication devices, which are encrypted devices being used for criminal purposes. The relating legislation sets up two types of orders and refusal to comply with either is a gaolable offence.
DECCD access orders permit the inspection of a person’s mobile device with court approval based on suspicion, while a DECCD prohibition order empowers police to randomly search those convicted of a past serious offence, and this is based on whether an officer thinks they could be using a DECCD.
“This bill has the potential to be used against activists and protestors,” Higginson maintained.
“We’ve seen recent crackdowns on their activities, and the ambit of serious criminal offence would encompass some of the offences that they have been charged with.”
Stamping out dissent
In terms of the crackdowns, the Greens justice spokesperson stresses that Perrottet’s having gone ballistic with the bucketload of powers he tossed NSW police last week, have come on the back of his government having recently passed extreme anti-protest laws to shutdown climate defenders.
“These types of laws are a significant feature of a police state,” the lawyer added. “They also amount to an intimidation tactic by this government on behalf of the biggest climate criminals operating in NSW today.”
The laws that were passed in late March-early April have made it a crime to obstruct a road, bridge, tunnel or major facility without official approval, which is an offence that carries up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a $22,000 fine.
NSW roads minister Natalie Ward initially indicated that she was going to heighten the severity of penalties applying to protesters that take such action on 2GB during an interview with Ben Fordham.
And these laws have had a distinct chilling effect on demonstrations ever since, as well as bolstered police in using excessive force during them.
“Nonviolent direct action is a pillar of a healthy and mature participatory democracy and protest is a fundamental right that has been progressively stripped away by this government,” Higginson continued, noting that there is a significant constitutional court challenge of the laws on the horizon.
Criminalising the people
The recently passed laws see NSW police granted powers one might expect of intelligence agencies, the new order regimes are only the most recent in a large number that have been established, and there’s also a trend towards subjecting those convicted in the past to post-release harassment.
“The slow drip of draconian laws that have been creeping across our state over the last decade, has escaped the view of many residents, but there have also been many loud voices that are crying out for attention against this authoritarian trend,” Higginson outlined.
The unfortunate truth about seeing the Coalition finally voted out of office is Labor has simply waved most of these laws through. And this includes the antidemocratic protest laws, which the NSW Labor conference last week considered committing to revoking but changed its mind at the last minute.
“Peaceful activists that are exercising their rights in NSW are now directly threatened for their understanding of climate science,” Higginson said in conclusion.
“This is an intolerable situation that’s being perpetrated by the Liberal Nationals and supported by the Labor opposition, and it must be called out.”