Wednesday, 17 February 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Payne. Can the minister outline to the Senate the importance of Australia standing with other countries to oppose the practice of arbitrary detention in state-to-state relations?
I thank Senator Paterson for his very important question. One of the most powerful tools that we have to discourage countries from breaching their international obligations is speaking and working together to demonstrate a shared commitment to values and to goals.
Early yesterday morning, very early Australian time, I joined colleagues from across the globe to endorse the Declaration Against the Use of Arbitrary Detention in State-to-State Relations, which has now been supported by more than 55 countries. The Australian government resolutely opposes the use of arbitrary detention, arrest and sentencing, including to influence state-to-state relations and exercise leverage over foreign governments. This is a malicious practice against international law. States' international human rights obligations include express obligations to foreign and dual nationals. In the declaration, we have highlighted the international rules, norms and institutions that underpin stability, prosperity and human rights and that enable global cooperation.
I want to acknowledge the particularly strong leadership of Canada as well on these issues. In the past year I've been working very closely with former foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and more recently with his successor, foreign minister Marc Garneau, including to gather international support for speaking collectively against these practices and protecting the interests of our citizens. We'll continue to discuss areas of future cooperation with counterparts, as I did this morning in my conversation with US Foreign Secretary Raab.
Australia's support for the declaration builds on a joint statement on politically motivated arbitrary detention delivered on behalf of 35 countries at the 45th session of the Human Rights Council in October. We will continue to advocate strongly for our citizens and others who are subject to arbitrary detention.
At any time, as parliamentarians know as part of their daily work, Australian officials are dealing with many complex consular matters around the world, and every single case is different. Australia observes rules that apply to foreign nationals here within our jurisdiction and extends appropriate domestic protections. We expect all other countries to do the same.
We'll always call for our citizens to be accorded justice and procedural fairness in line with international norms, and Australia will hold countries to account for their international commitments and their obligations to comply with international law and practices. There must be a cost imposed for states who subject the citizens of other nations to arbitrary arrest and detention. Noting that international travel is restricted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we do strongly urge all Australians to monitor advice in relation to these matters on the Smartraveller website.
I thank Senator Paterson for that supplementary question. Australia's been consistently maintaining that the COVID-19 pandemic should not be used as a pretext for reducing or removing access to either justice or consular assistance for people in detention. Indeed, on 24 March last year, I made a statement expressing particular concern for the health, the safety and the wellbeing of Australians detained overseas in a number of countries during the pandemic. Further, as we said in our contribution to the UN Human Rights Council last June, we have condemned the abuse of emergency measures or the imposition of rule by decree to undermine human rights, to subvert democratic or judicial processes, to contribute to disinformation and to target opponents. I know these issues are of significant concern to the Australian community. I want to thank my colleagues from across this chamber for their ongoing engagement.