Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade – Report Committees

I present two reports of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade: Criminality, corruption and impunity: should Australia join the global Magnitsky movement? and Inquiry into the implication of the COVID-19 pandemic for Australia’s foreign affairs, defence and trade. I move:
That the Senate take note of the reports.

I first wish to make some comments on the inquiry into the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Australia’s foreign affairs, defence and trade policies. It’s my duty as the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to present the committee’s report. COVID-19, as everyone knows, has been one of the most significant threats to global human health since the pandemic of 1918. In addition to the number of cases and deaths directly attributable to the environment, the pandemic will have a wide range of implications for global health and health systems.

But the committee inquiry concluded that the strategic lessons from COVID-19 are not predominantly about health. One of the key findings of the committee was that the behaviour of nation states in response to COVID-19 has called into question some assumptions about the extent of adherence to the global rules based order by nations when they are facing a crisis or they’re under stress. These assumptions have underpinned many aspects of Australia’s foreign affairs, defence and trade policy in recent decades.

Australia also has found that COVID-19 has exposed structural vulnerabilities in some of our critical national systems. Those are the systems that enable us to function as a secure, prosperous First World nation. Many of these vulnerabilities are caused by supply chains that rely on just-in-time supply from the global market. In some cases this is exacerbated by supply coming in part or in whole from companies that are subject to extra judicial or coercive direction from some foreign governments. Any decrease in the support for the norms of the rules based order negatively affects the collaboration and conflict resolution between nation states as well as the efficacy of commercial relationships between companies throughout the supply chains. So a key lesson from COVID-19, given the behaviour of nation states, given the importance of supply chains, is that returning to business as usual is not an option if Australia is to be resilient, remaining secure and prosperous in the face of future crises.

The strategic update of 2020 makes it clear that another zoonotic pandemic like COVID-19 is only one of the potential crises facing Australia and our region that would disrupt business as usual. Unexpected or sustained disruption due to grey zone, coercive or military actions are likely to substantially degrade, if not disable, one or more of Australia’s critical national systems. Critical national systems are things like our health system, our transport system, our defence system, communications, finance—all the things that help us operate as a First World nation.

Australia must identify the supply chains that underpin these critical national systems and work with industry to reduce, if not eliminate, the vulnerabilities in those supply chains so that we increase our resilience. This will require changes to the Commonwealth’s procurement rules to specifically recognise the value for money that is inherent by partnering with those industries that create or expand sovereign capabilities to provide the priority enablers for those critical national systems. It will also require more whole-of-government strategic assessments, investments and diplomatic efforts to increase our resilience through trusted and transparent partnerships with like-minded nations.

Australia, like much of the Indo-Pacific region, has benefited from the global rules based order, which has underpinned the increase in security and prosperity in recent decades. Poor outcomes, though, from some of the key multilateral institutions have caused the decrease in engagement by some nations, and there is evidence of some authoritarian nation states seeking to influence the global rules and standards away from the transparent, plural and democratic values that have informed global norms in recent decades. Therefore, it is clearly in Australia’s interest to work with like-minded nations to ensure that reforms to key multilateral institutions are effective but also consistent with the democratic values and the rule of law.

COVID-19 has seen Australia respond effectively, including with novel approaches to governance with things such as the national cabinet and partnerships with industry that placed strategic, timely outcomes over rigid adherence to established process. Therefore, responding to the lessons of COVID-19 that have been identified in this report will require a similar commitment to whole-of-government, outcomes focused leadership and timely, funded implementation of novel solutions which will challenge the status quo.

Before concluding my remarks, I would like to note that there are some human rights implications, which I believe Senator Sheldon will speak to, that affected our mariners, who are part our of transport system—whether they be on foreign ships—and security implications in the small number of Australian flagged ships. I will leave Senator Sheldon to talk through some of those implications.

Finally, I would like to thank people who submitted to the committee. I’d like to thank the committee secretariat for their work throughout a year that’s been disrupted by the pandemic in making sure that the inquiry could still continue, that evidence could be gained. I would particularly like to thank Stephen Sherlock for his work in drafting the report, and for working with me and the committee on the recommendations. I commend this report to the Senate.

Given the time remaining, I seek leave to incorporate the statement on the other report from the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, conducted by the Human Rights Subcommittee: Criminality, corruption and impunity: should Australia join the Global Magnitsky movement?

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows—

Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

Targeted Sanctions inquiry

Report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s inquiry into the use of targeted sanctions to address human rights abuse



CANBERRA 8 December 2020

Mr President, it is my pleasure as the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to present the Committee’s report, led by the Human Rights Sub-Committee for the inquiry into the use of targeted sanctions to address human rights abuse.

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 Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, I have watched an increase in community awareness and engagement with Human Rights matters. This is reflected in our government’s contribution to international efforts to uphold human rights, through international treaties, our own diplomatic missions, our support for aid and development programs and collaboration with our allies.

There has also been a growing awareness that country- or sector-wide sanctions often impact 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 home countries, and reparations made to victims, this is often not what happens.

A number of jurisdictions have recognised this problem. Inspired by the compelling experience of Mr Sergei Magnitsky, and 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 Human Rights Sub-committee 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 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 there are consequences in cases where they were otherwise lacking.

The Committee has recommended the enactment of a standalone, Magnitsky-style targeted sanctions Act, during the 46th Parliament. Members agreed that taking swift and decisive action will allow Australia to not only play our part in the Global Magnitsky movement, but to take the lead in developing a best practice targeted sanctions regime.

This 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 Sub-committee. The level of commitment to this inquiry, despite those challenges, clearly demonstrated the significance of the issues under consideration, and determination of all involved to see 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 Committee’s appreciation of the subject matter.

I thank the Chair, Hon Kevin Andrews MP and members of the Human Rights Sub-committee for their full and collaborative engagement, their thoughtful consideration of the issues and contributions throughout the inquiry. I also thank the staff of the Committee Secretariat for their diligent work to support the inquiry and report. I particularly want to thank Inquiry Secretary, Sonya Fladun.

It is 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 of support to victims of human rights abuse and corruption everywhere.

Mr President, I commend the report to the Senate.