House debates

Monday, 7 December 2020


Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Joint Committee; Report

12:03 pm

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I present the committee's report Criminality, corruption and impunity: Should Australia join the global Magnitsky movement? An inquiry into targeted sanctions to address human rights abuses.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

by leave—It is my pleasure, as chair of the subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to present the committee's report for the inquiry into the use of targeted sanctions to address human rights abuse.

In 1948 Australia, in concert with the international community, boldly proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As Mary Ann Glendon indicates in her history of the declaration A World Made New, it was an Australian, William Hodgson, together with Eleanor Roosevelt, Rene Cassin, Charles Malik, Peng-chun Chang and others, who drafted the statement upon which human rights have been founded for the past 70 years. Although aspirational, the declaration became the cornerstone of conventions, treaties and other legal instruments aimed at the protection of the dignity and liberty of the individual, the commitment to the rule of law and the determination to seek justice for victims of human rights abuses.

Australians are proud global citizens. We are committed to our democracy and the importance of upholding human rights, both within Australia and abroad. Through my long involvement with the human rights subcommittee, I've watched an increase in community awareness and engagement with human rights matters. This is reflected in our contribution to international efforts to uphold human rights, our international treaties, our own diplomatic missions, our support for aid and development programs and our collaboration with allies.

Despite these efforts, we are mindful that freedoms have been jeopardised by persons and entities who have engaged in and profited from grave human rights abuses and from acts of serious corruption and who are not likely to be punished or otherwise sanctioned for their crimes. There has also been a growing awareness that country- or sector-wide sanctions such as Australia currently has enacted often impact on innocent parties disproportionately and a new way to instigate consequences for unacceptable behaviour is required.

It has long been the case that kleptocrats and other perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption have transferred assets to enjoy in Western countries with safe, stable democracies and secure financial systems such as Australia. While it would be preferable for the perpetrators of human rights abuse and corruption to face penalties in their own home countries and reparations made to victims this is often not what happens. Several jurisdictions, including the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, have recognised this problem. Inspired by the compelling experience of Mr Sergei Magnitsky and by advocacy for justice on the global stage by Mr Bill Browder, the efforts of international human rights experts and frontline organisations have focused on advocating for targeted sanctions regimes with the effect of introducing tangible consequences for perpetrators and beneficiaries of serious human rights abuse and corruption.

The subcommittee has heard evidence of Australians and their families being threatened and instances of human rights abusers investing the proceeds of their crimes in Australia, gaining access to the Australian education and healthcare systems. This is simply unacceptable. We have heard that in other countries targeted sanctions legislation has allowed governments to tackle this issue. Travel bans and seizing assets has prevented perpetrators from enjoying with impunity the proceeds of their crimes and most likely deterred other would-be perpetrators from attempting to do the same. Implementation of this report's recommendations will give Australia the option to impose travel bans and freeze assets. Working in concert with other countries, we will close the gap of opportunity for perpetrators and ensure that there are consequences in cases where they were otherwise lacking.

The subcommittee has recommended the enactment of a standalone Magnitsky targeted sanctions act during this 46th Parliament. It proposes that the legislation provide for the sanctioning of individuals for serious human rights abuses and serious corruption. It recommends that sanctions be applicable to immediate family and direct beneficiaries of human rights abusers and applicable to all entities, including natural persons, corporate entities and both state and non-state organisations.

The report also proposes that a preamble to the legislation state that systematic extrajudicial actions that intend to limit media freedom can be considered human rights abuses. Further it proposes a watch list of people being considered for sanctioning.

Members agree that taking swift and decisive action will allow Australia not only to play our part in the global Magnitsky movement but to take a lead in developing a best-practice targeted sanctions regime. I would like to extend my thanks to Mr Geoffrey Robertson AO, QC for his contribution to the inquiry—not only for his evidence in a submission but for his appearance as a witness and his document in the form of a draft bill which could be used to guide the development of an Australian targeted sanctions act.

The inquiry was conducted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges presented by stay-at-home orders and ongoing health concerns did not deter witnesses or the subcommittee. The level of commitment to this inquiry, despite those challenges, clearly demonstrated the significance of the issues under consideration and a determination of all involved to see these matters addressed.

This inquiry received evidence from a diverse range of sources, including thoughtful and informed contributions from concerned Australian citizens, Australian diaspora groups, human rights advocacy groups, international parliamentary colleagues and internationally renowned human rights legal practitioners. This diversity of perspectives greatly strengthened the subcommittee's appreciation of the subject matter. I thank the deputy chair, the Chief Opposition Whip—who can't be here today—and members of the Human Rights Subcommittee for their full and collaborative engagement, their thoughtful consideration of the issues and contributions throughout the inquiry. I thank the inquiry secretariat, including Lynley Ducker, Sonya Fladun, Emma Knezevic, Tegan Scott and Kate Goodfruit—who was seconded for a period—for their considerable efforts over the past year.

It's my hope that the implementation of this report's recommendations will send a strong and clear signal to perpetrators of human rights abuse and corruption about the values of Australians. Implementation of the report's recommendations will play a significant role in reducing the incentives for engaging in human rights abuse and corruption. I also hope that this report is received as a message of solidarity by Australia's allies and support to victims of human rights abuse and corruption everywhere. I commend the report to the House.

12:11 pm

Photo of Peter KhalilPeter Khalil (Wills, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I make this statement on behalf of the member for Fowler: 'I believe that a country like Australia, which values genuine democracy and respect for human rights, does share a responsibility to uphold and promote fundamental human rights across the globe, particularly in areas that fall within our influence. Where we see flagrant abuses of human rights occurring, we must be willing to call out such behaviour and take such measures necessary to isolate and dissuade further occurrences. Hence the support for targeted sanctions, as recommended in this report, makes eminent sense. It should be noted that if we adopt these measures, we will be joining with other significant jurisdictions in implementing Magnitsky-style legislation and ensuring an appropriate deterrent is present to address gross violations of human rights and corruption.

I also note that the Human Rights Subcommittee consisted of a very broad spectrum of members but it is significant there was a unanimous position adopted in support of a targeted sanctions regime. I would also like to acknowledge the extraordinary work of the committee chair—the member for Menzies, the honourable Kevin Andrews—and the commitment and participation of all members, which includes me. I also take this opportunity to lend my support for the chair's words about the committee secretariat. I commend the committee secretary, Ms Lynley Ducker, and her team—Ms Sonya Fladun, Ms Emma Knezevic and Ms Tegan Scott—for the professionalism they have shown throughout this inquiry and in meeting the challenges posed by the COVID-19 restrictions.

In the 15 years that I have served in this parliament, this is definitely one of the most significant committee recommendations that I have been associated with, and its adoption by the government would, in my opinion, only enhance the standing of our country as a defender of human rights.'

12:13 pm

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the House take note of the report.

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.