Senator Claire Chandler – supporting the Autonomous Sanctions Amendment Bill and calling for more sanctions on Hamas

Photo of Senator Claire Chandler
March 25, 2024

In December last year, the coalition called on the government to impose more targeted sanctions against high-ranking Hamas officials that would have a real impact in supporting Israel’s campaign to disable Hamas and prevent it from committing such atrocities again.

Senator CHANDLER (Tasmania) (18:32): I rise to speak this evening on the Autonomous Sanctions Amendment Bill 2024. The coalition supports the passage of the Autonomous Sanctions Amendment Bill 2024. This bill seeks to amend the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 to confirm the validity of existing and future sanctions made under the Autonomous Sanctions Regulations 2011. More specifically, this bill confirms that individuals and entities can be validly sanctioned based on past conduct or status, regardless of the time which has occurred between conduct and application of the sanction, and clarifies that, in circumstances where it is not explicitly clear whether a minister considered their discretion to list or not list, the listing is nonetheless valid where the person or entity meets the criteria for imposing sanctions.

Australia’s sanctions regime—for example, imposing travel bans or financial sanctions or freezing assets held in Australia—is a key tool for Australia to enforce the values that our nation seeks to uphold. As the former coalition government made clear when we introduced Magnitsky style sanctions in 2021, we use sanctions to deny to those who do the wrong thing the benefit of accessing our economy and the freedoms that our democracy allows.

As has been highlighted since the sanctions imposed on the hundreds of supporters of Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, some of those individuals sanctioned have deep pockets and the desire and the resources to seek to exploit any technical avenue to continue to be able to access their ill-gotten gains that may exist in Australia. Recent court cases have shown the lengths to which some of these individuals will go to undermine Australia’s sanctions regime. While the Federal Court ruled in favour of the minister in these cases, at least one of these decisions is being appealed. So the action that the parliament is taking with this bill here today, an action which the coalition supports, is to reinforce this parliament’s unambiguous view that Australia’s sanctions regime is robust and that the decisions of all previous Australian government ministers to sanction an individual or entity were intentional and remain valid regardless of any attempt by others to seek to challenge them.

Australia has a strong history of promoting and protecting human rights globally, supporting the international rules based order and acting in the interests of international peace and security. Certainly in the coalition we are proud of our strong track record in this regard. Former coalition governments imposed sanctions on Mr Putin, Russian individuals and entities and supporters of the Russian regime. These included using sanctions in response to the downing of MH17 and the murder of 298 passengers and crew, including 28 who called Australia home, as well as Putin’s role in Russia’s annexation of Crimea. We also imposed over 800 sanctions on Russian interests and supporters, including in Belarus, within weeks of Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of the Ukraine in February 2022. In opposition, the coalition has continued to provide bipartisan support for the Albanese Labor government to increase support for Ukraine, including by imposing additional sanctions on Russian individuals, entities and supporters. In December 2021, under the coalition, Australia expanded its autonomous sanctions laws to enable the establishment of Magnitsky-style and other thematic sanctions. I know I speak on behalf of a number of my colleagues on this side of the chamber when I say that we are rightly proud of the work of the previous government in that regard.

While the coalition has welcomed the sanctions that the government has imposed on countries since coming to government in May 2022, in far too many cases Australia continues to lag behind our international partners and allies in using our sanctions regime to the greatest extent possible to hold to account those responsible for human rights abuses. This government has a penchant for being a follower and not a leader when it comes to imposing sanctions. Australia needs to act swiftly to send a clear and unequivocal message that the international community will not tolerate impunity for gross violations of human rights and the rule of law.

We welcome the latest announcement, on 24 February 2024, from the government imposing further targeted financial sanctions and travel bans on 55 persons and targeted financial sanctions on 37 entities, including sanctions targeting those involved in Russia’s deportation of Ukrainian children from regions under temporary Russian control. However, sanctions targeting those involved in that same Russian deportation of Ukrainian children could have been done months ago. The reason we know this is that the European Union imposed similar sanctions in June 2023, the United Kingdom imposed similar sanctions in July 2023, the United States imposed similar sanctions in August 2023 and Canada imposed similar sanctions in September 2023. Yet it took Australia until 24 February this year to impose those sanctions.

Missing in that announcement of 24 February 2024 were sanctions imposed on those responsible for the death of Alexei Navalny, sanctions that the coalition called for on 21 February 2024. These sanctions came two days later, when the government announced targeted sanctions on seven prison individuals who were involved in this mistreatment and death in custody of Mr Navalny. Mr Navalny’s death not only represents a profound loss for those who champion democracy and human rights around the world but also serves as a stark reminder of the criticality of taking all reasonable actions against the ongoing suppression of dissent and political opposition in Russia.

In December last year, the coalition called on the government to impose more targeted sanctions against high-ranking Hamas officials that would have a real impact in supporting Israel’s campaign to disable Hamas and prevent it from committing such atrocities again. Almost a month later, on 23 January 2024, the government finally acted, announcing further counter-terrorism-financing sanctions on 12 persons and three entities linked to Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The coalition welcomed this, but I think it’s important to look at the detail of what these sanctions were and when they were announced.

These sanctions were announced at the same time as the United States announced its fifth round of sanctions on Hamas since the 7 October terrorist attack. The latest US sanctions targeted:

… networks of Hamas-affiliated financial exchanges in Gaza, their owners, and associates, and particularly financial facilitators that have played key roles in funds transfers including cryptocurrency transfers, from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza.

However, none of the entities or the individuals sanctioned by the United States in their announcement of 22 January this year were included in the sanctions subsequently announced by this government. All 12 entities and three individuals that Australia sanctioned last month had been previously sanctioned by some of our allies. For example there’s Mahmoud Khaled Zahhar, who they described as:

… a senior member and co-founder of Hamas who has worked closely with Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Zahhar has spoken publicly on behalf of Hamas, including in formal interviews, to threaten violence against Jewish civilians and emphasize its commitment to the destruction of Israel.

This individual was sanctioned by the United States on 14 November 2023 and by the United Kingdom on 13 December 2023. Another example is Ali Morshed Shirazi, an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force official who trained and assisted the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hezbollah and was sanctioned by the US on 27 October 2023 and the United Kingdom on 13 December 2023.

Rather than playing catch-up when it comes to sanctioning individuals, Australia should be working in lockstep with our allies—particularly with our closest friend and ally, the United States, and the United Kingdom—to dismantle Hamas’s financial infrastructure, including from external sources, and block new funding channels that they seek to use to finance their heinous acts.

While the coalition, as I say, has welcomed the limited sanctions the government has imposed on countries since May 2022, when they came to power, in far too many cases Australia continues to lag behind our international partners and allies in using our sanctions regime to hold to account those responsible for human rights abuses.

I think it’s pertinent to remind the chamber this evening of some words said by our foreign minister, Senator Wong. Prior to the last election, in an address to the Australian Institute of International Affairs, Senator Wong called on the Morrison government to:

… consider targeted sanctions on foreign companies, officials and other entities known to be directly profiting from Uyghur forced labour and other human rights abuses.

At the halfway mark of their first term, no such action has been taken by the Albanese government.

On the August anniversary of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights report into the forced detention and treatment of Uyghurs, Human Rights Watch Australia highlighted the action of the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada in applying sanctions and said:

The Australian government should join other democracies in holding serious human rights abuses in China to account.

By not doing this, what message is Australia sending? We can all draw conclusions about why Australia may not have acted, even though the coalition has offered bipartisan support for actions as a result of the United Nations High Commissioner’s finding. By not acting, Australia weakens international efforts and the effectiveness of the efforts of others. As the Human Rights First coalition put it in their global review of Magnitsky at five years:

As powerful as it can be for one jurisdiction to impose Magnitsky sanctions against a human rights abuser or corrupt actor, the impact and legitimacy of those sanctions are multiplied as more jurisdictions join together to sanction the same persons.

In conclusion, as I said at the outset, the coalition do support this bill we are debating this evening, and we want to see its timely passage through the Senate. We reiterate our offer of bipartisan support for this government to impose targeted sanctions in line with those of our allies, whether that is in response to Russian abuses, to human rights abuses in Xinjiang or to numerous other instances of human rights violations.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard