08 Jul Labor calls for an Australian Magnitsky Act to target human rights abusers
Anthony Galloway – The Sydney Morning Herald – Wednesday 08 July 2020
Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong is calling for Australia to introduce its own Magnitsky Act to target human rights abusers after the United Kingdom unveiled its much-anticipated laws.
The adoption of the new sanctions regime in the UK has also sparked one Liberal MP to warn that Australia now risked becoming a safe haven for bad actors unless it passed its own laws.
The UK is imposing sanctions on 49 people and organisations behind some of the most “notorious” human rights abuses in recent years, including individuals in Saudi Arabia, Russia, Myanmar and North Korea.
The new laws, based on the United States Magnitsky Act that targets individuals rather than whole countries, will include asset freezes and travel bans.
The Morrison government initiated an inquiry in December into whether Australia should enact Magnitsky-style laws that would give it the power to seize the assets of human rights offenders and ban them from entering the country.
Senator Wong has confirmed Labor’s position is to have an Australian Magnitsky Act “to send a strong signal to those committing human rights abuses abroad and to defend our democratic institutions”.
“While the world is rightly focused on managing the pandemic, we’ve continued to see human rights abuses,” she said.
“This is why the UK has flagged targeted sanctions under its recently passed Magnitsky laws. Australia has existing sanctions mechanisms, and an Australian Magnitsky Act would allow for more explicit targeting of human rights and corruption abuses.”
While the Morrison government has not ruled out introducing Magnitsky-style laws, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been pushing for the introduction of a new sanctions regime through an amendment to the existing Autonomous Sanctions Regulations 2011 – meaning it would not have to be legislated in parliament.
In a hearing of the parliamentary inquiry last month, DFAT first assistant secretary Simon Newnham said his department believed the existing Act “provides the necessary positions and rules” for the new sanctions regime.
Senior government sources said a definitive position has not yet settled on and the government is awaiting the joint standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade’s final report.
Three countries will now have Magnitsky-style laws with Canada and the US already having a sanctions regimes in place, while the European Union is also working on developing a similar scheme.
Liberal senator James Paterson, who has been pushing for Magnitsky-style laws in Australia, said the UK’s embrace of the sanctions regime is further evidence Australia should do the same.
“More and more liberal democracies are strengthening their defences against human rights abuses and corruption in an age of rising authoritarianism,” Senator Paterson said.
“If Australia does so we will make sure we don’t inadvertently become a safe haven for the ill-gotten gains of bad actors who have been sanctioned elsewhere.”
The British government will come under pressure to include names of human rights abusers from China under the new sanctions regime.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab did rule out hitting Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam with sanctions.
The US laws, passed in 2012, were initially designed to sanction Russian officials involved in the prison death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Moscow lawyer investigating wide-scale tax fraud.
Instead of targeting an entire country, the sanctions single out select members of a regime, preventing them from travelling and accessing bank accounts in signatory countries.
Labor senator Kimberley Kitching last year introduced a private senator’s bill to parliament which largely mirrors the US laws.