House debates

Monday, 3 December 2018


International Human Rights and Corruption (Magnitsky Sanctions) Bill 2018; Second Reading

10:04 am

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

If you're the general who sent the military hooligans to shoot down MH17 or you're the official in Khartoum who sends the Janjaweed militia to murder the Muslim people of Western Sudan or you're the Beijing official who has set up concentration camps for a million Uygur people in East Kazakhstan, you will not like this bill.

For too long, government officials and others connected with authoritarian governments and kleptocracies around the world have gotten away with their abuses of power without sanction. Rubbing salt into the wounds of those they exploit—the ordinary law-abiding citizens of their countries—these abusers use their ill-gotten gains and status to travel abroad and bask in the affluence of the West, purchasing and investing in assets overseas, sending their children to expensive overseas private schools, hiding their ill-gotten gains in offshore bank accounts, and generally using such money offshore for the benefit of themselves, their families and their cronies.

The aims of this bill—the International Human Rights and Corruption (Magnitsky Sanctions) Bill 2018—are threefold:

        Sergei Magnitsky, whose name appears in the title of this bill, was a Russian lawyer who acted for Mr Bill Browder and his Hermitage Capital in Russia. Magnitsky discovered that some $230 million paid by Browder's company in taxes to the Russian government had been fraudulently misappropriated by officials working together with organised criminals.

        Magnitsky, naively, testified against these Russian officials. What happened then was an outrage. In testimony before the US House of Representatives, it was explained that Magnitsky:

        … thought that the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, was someone who was acting in the national interest, and if this $230 million theft—

        of Russian people's money—

        was exposed … the good guys would get the bad guys and that would be the end of the story.

        Instead, after Sergei—


        testified against these officials, the same officials … arrested him, put him in pretrial detention, tortured him in the most horrific way for 358 days—

        and he was killed in Russia on 16 November 2009. We thought the days of the Lubyanka were over in Stalin's time, but they weren't.

        The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have already responded to Russia's increasing international aggression with democratic legislation called the Magnitsky legislation. These laws link Russia and other authoritarian countries' corruption and human rights abuses with bars on entry, the moving of funds and receiving family education. Partially as a response to Russia's insolent indifference to the murder of 220 people and 38 Australians, I have moved this legislation. Let's remember that the joint investigation team, in which Australia participated, reported that the Russians sent a Buk 7 missile launcher from the 53rd brigade of the Russian Federation army across into disputed Ukraine. It then shot down the MH17.

        Both then and now, Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin, have displayed a cruel indifference to their role in causing the tragic and unnecessary death of citizens from around the world, including the 38 Australians, and I speak today on their behalf. Australians are still outraged, Mr Putin, and the Duma of the Russian Federation should act to respond to this.

        The Magnitsky acts are becoming, around the world, a weapon for democratic push-back by Western governments against officials connected with authoritarian governments who engage in serious human rights abuses and corruption in their own countries. It's great to see, all round the world, democratic push-back, legislation by parliaments like ours in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

        As the international lawyer Geoffrey Robertson argues, Magnitsky laws are national laws that allow governments:

        … to apply targeted sanctions on any individual involved in a human rights violation, from senior officials to lowlevel officers, from judges to policemen, and even non-government actors such as CEOs and contractors—

        as we know them in Russia, oligarchs. They:

        … take the form of asset freezes for funds held in banks and other financial institutions, as well as bans on visas for entering the country.

        It was a very interesting article of his in Australian Quarterly.

        The idea of pushing back on authoritarian regimes is best explained in testimony before the US Congress:

        Criminal justice is based on jurisdiction: One cannot prosecute someone in New York for a murder committed in Moscow.

        The murder of Sergei Magnitsky, for instance, was done under the cover of theft of the $230 million from the Russian Treasury. The money that was stolen wouldn't be kept in Russia. They easily stole it there. But they keep their ill-gotten gains in the West, where property rights and the rule of law exists. This led to the idea of freezing their assets and banning their visa travel to Western democratic countries. Following democratic pressure to extend the Magnitsky laws, the United States, for instance, in 2016, passed the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which this proposed bill of mine partially replicates. It deals with corrupt abusers of human rights and corruption all around the world, not just in Russia.

        In addition to the direct effects it has on individuals, the mere threat of exposure of corrupt human rights abuse is likely to have a significant deterrent effect on anyone contemplating such conduct around the world. For instance, the human rights activist and president of the World Uyghur Congress, my friend ‎Rebiya Kadeer, in a statement before the US House of Representatives subcommittee, said:

        If this act becomes law, it will have a profound ripple effect, because mere listing some of the most well-known human rights violators in authoritarian states like China will send a powerful message to low-ranking officials that their criminal actions will not be immune to international scrutiny, condemnation, and consequences.

        I think we are all outraged—and I, particularly with my background, find it incredible—that, in these days, a million Uyghur people could be sent to concentration camps. Xinjiang—or East Kazakhstan—Communist Party viceroy, Chen Quanguo, with his monstrous plan to incarcerate a million Uyghurs in concentration camps, will not be forgotten by legislation like this if it is passed and a future federal government has a chance to name him—just as the Christian people are being persecuted in China at the moment, with their churches blown up and crosses blown off the roofs.

        The Global Magnitsky Act will protect the fundamental human rights of the oppressed and save the lives of people in Burma, Darfur, North Korea and Syria. According to Browder:

        The global Magnitsky sanctions will issue a stark warning to human rights abusers and kleptocrats around the world that no longer will they be able to commit atrocities with complete impunity. Targeted sanctions against those involved in corruption and human rights abuse will provide an immediate, tangible consequence which directly affects an individual where it hurts them the most—in their pocket. Leaders of corrupt regimes will know they are no longer able to protect their ill-gotten gains abroad, or flee to their lavish properties in foreign countries. Totalitarian dictatorships ultimately fall, and when they do, the Global Magnitsky Act will prevent those who have committed human rights abuses from claiming asylum almost anywhere in the world.

        It's time that Australia joined this growing international movement and adopted its own global Magnitsky law. The more countries that adopt such laws, the more jurisdictions can potentially be made out of bounds to individuals involved in the shooting down of planes over Ukraine; murdering journalists inside embassies; interning and abusing millions of Uyghurs in concentration camps; expelling or killing Rohingyas; starving, incarcerating, torturing and executing 300,000 citizens in concentration camps in North Korea; or ethnic cleansing of people in places like Darfur, Rwanda and Srebrenica—and so on and so on. Vladimir Putin hates these laws not so much because they could potentially target him directly—something that is probably unlikely, given international relations—but because they could be used to target and expose his cronies and thus make them less amenable to doing his bidding.

        Geoffrey Robertson, in his fine article in Australian Quarterly, concluded by saying:

        If all advanced democracies … adopted such laws and pooled information and target lists, the pleasures available to the cruel and corrupt would be considerably diminished.

        I think democratic countries around the world need to be involved in more push-back against these authoritarian regimes. This is something that should attract the support of both sides of politics. The great Australian actor Peter Finch, in the film Network, advised people to open their windows and shout, 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore'. That should be the attitude that informs democratic citizens right across the world. I urge them to support this Magnitsky bill. People who want to speak to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Payne, the opposition shadow minister for foreign affairs, Senator Wong, the Attorney-General, Mr Porter, or the shadow Attorney-General, Mr Dreyfus, should do it. Email them. (Time expired)

        Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

        Is the motion seconded?

        10:14 am

        Photo of Gai BrodtmannGai Brodtmann (Canberra, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security and Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

        I second the motion and reserve my speak.

        Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

        The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.