House debates

Monday, 18 February 2019


Human Rights

7:48 pm

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

Government officials connected with authoritarian governments have gotten away with their abuses of power without sanction. 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 private schools and hiding their ill-gotten gains in offshore bank accounts for the benefit of themselves, their families and their cronies.

In the late 1980s, the US Senate passed the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which pressured the then Soviet Union on the issue of human rights. Jackson-Vanik was emblematic of our Western willingness to use foreign policy to free the great Andrei Sakharov or Anatoly Sharansky. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the apparent end of communism, Russia and China were admitted to the World Trade Organization. Francis Fukuyama, in his End of History and the Last Man, said that this would 'inevitably lead to democratisation'. With China and Russia's admittance to the World Trade Organization, we lost most of our human rights leverage over these authoritarian states. Last year, Beijing contemptuously and unilaterally cancelled our already ineffectual human rights dialogue with them.

The International Human Rights and Corruption (Magnitsky Sanctions) Bill 2018, which I introduced to the House the week before parliament rose last year, attempts to rebalance and reinvigorate democratic pushback, to give us, again, some instrument that will enable democracies to respond to authoritarian outrages without going to war. The Russian Federation general in the 53rd anti-aircraft brigade who shot down MH17 and the official in Khartoum who sent the Janjaweed militia to murder the Muslim people of Western Sahara won't like this legislation. At Labor's national conference in Adelaide I named Beijing's viceroy in Xinjiang, or East Turkestan, Chen Quanguo, who set up concentration camps for millions of Uygurs in East Turkestan. He won't like this legislation.

Legislation has already passed in other democratic countries, like the United States, the UK and Canada. The aims of the Magnitsky legislation in Australia are threefold. Firstly, it aims to prevent prescribed foreign persons engaged in gross violations of human rights and corruption from visiting Australia and spending or investing their money here. It enables the Governor-General, on the advice of the minister, to target individuals with immigration, financial and trade sanctions. Secondly, by imposing sanctions on these individuals they are exposed to the world and the people in their countries as pariahs in the international community. Thirdly, it is hoped that such sanctions and exposure will deter individuals in these authoritarian regimes from engaging in further gross human rights violations or corruption. As we know, sunlight can be one of the best disinfectants of political or corporate malfeasance.

As I recently told the Sydney Institute, it's now time that Australia joined this growing international movement and adopted a global Magnitsky law. The more countries that adopt such laws, the more jurisdictions that can be made potentially out of bounds to individuals such as those involved in the shooting down of planes over Ukraine; the expelling or killing of tens of thousands of Rohingya; or the starving, incarcerating, torturing and executing of the poor citizens of North Korea. Vladimir Putin hates these laws. Observers were astounded that Putin gave these laws such salience at the Helsinki summit with President Trump. If authoritarians are so antagonistic to such an approach, surely that is crucial proof that these laws are potentially very effective.

This legislation received a great deal of publicity all over Australia. It has support across all of the political parties, including the crossbenches. I plead with the Prime Minister: give us some time in the little time that remains of this parliament to pass such important legislation; to join the sister democracies of the United States, the UK and Canada; and to match our fierce rhetoric about MH17 with action. Let's show those arrogant, insolent dictators like Vladimir Putin that they can't kill our countrymen, our citizens, and get away with it. The global Magnitsky legislation should be passed by this House because if we take ourselves seriously we cannot let 38 Australians be murdered by the Russian Federation, as was proved by the internationally respected investigation into this shoot down. The global Magnitsky legislation should be passed by this House before parliament rises.