Senator Janet Rice – supporting the Autonomous Sanctions Amendment Bill but calling for more to be done, including sanctions on the Israel war cabinet

March 25, 2024

In the case of Israel, the US has sanctioned illegal settlers in the West Bank. The Greens’ position is that the entire Israel war cabinet should be sanctioned because of the genocide that is going on in Gaza.

Senator RICE (Victoria) (18:49): The Greens support the intent of the Autonomous Sanctions Amendment Bill 2024. As my colleague Senator Steele-John has just said, this bill is designed to close loopholes, so we are in support of the bill. But as Senator Steele-John also said, there are deficiencies in this bill. There are things that this bill could do which we think are critical.

I was really proud to have worked with the former coalition government in 2021 on the Autonomous Sanctions Amendment (Magnitsky-style and Other Thematic Sanctions) Act 2021 which set up our autonomous sanctions framework and gave the government power to impose autonomous sanctions to address particular issues. While our autonomous sanctions framework wasn’t explicitly called a Magnitsky bill, it essentially enacted the Magnitsky framework and bought Australia into line with countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and others who have created legislative frameworks to impose targeted sanctions against human rights abusers.

Since that legislation was put into place, it has been encouraging to see the government use these Magnitsky-style sanctions on entities responsible for human rights abuses in Iran and Russia. But it has been disappointing to see the government fail to use our sanctions framework to the extent that it could be used, because it is a very powerful tool. Some of the committee recommendations that were made when we first set up this framework were that there needs to be more transparency and more independence. In particular, we wanted to see a framework that allowed for a more independent process to determine who should be sanctioned so it wouldn’t just be the black box of the foreign minister getting to decide with no transparency at all and no accountability when choosing whose human rights were going to be protected. If there’s one thing that we know, it’s that we cannot afford to pick and choose whose human rights we protect. People’s human rights everywhere across the world should be protected, and we should be standing up in this place advocating for human rights. Where those human rights are being abused, without fear or favour, we should be able to have a process that says, ‘Here are serious human rights abuses going on, and there is a very strong case to apply sanctions to discourage those human rights abuses.’ The amendments that Senator Steele-John is going to move on behalf of the Greens go somewhere towards supporting the integrity of this bill, and I urge everyone to support them.

One country we have not moved on applying sanctions, as Senator Chandler has spoken about, is China, but the other one in particular, given the genocide that is currently going on in Gaza, is Israel. We need to have a process so that these appalling human rights abuses can be independently assessed with the recommendations to go to the minister to have the evidence compiled and be made public as to why particular people should be sanctioned. In the case of China, we know of the oppression and persecution of people in Tibet and in East Turkestan. We know that the Chinese government is absolutely putting democracy defenders in Hong Kong under serious threat at the moment. There is such a case for Chinese officials who are responsible for these attacks on people to be sanctioned. We run the risk that, if we don’t sanction them and the other countries that have Magnitsky-style sanctions do, we become the place of last resort where, if these officials can’t get a visa to visit other Western countries or can’t invest their money where they want to or can’t send their children off to school or university in those countries, they end up in Australia. So we need to look very clearly and carefully at the other people who have been sanctioned by our allies and by the other countries that have got Magnitsky sanctions and consider very seriously if we want to sanction those people too.

In the case of Israel, the US has sanctioned illegal settlers in the West Bank. The Greens’ position is that the entire Israel war cabinet should be sanctioned because of the genocide that is going on in Gaza.

Clearly, there needs to be a process to determine whether these sanctions are appropriate. We absolutely believe they are. The evidence is there in front of our eyes, and the International Court of Justice is saying that there is a genocide going on. But there needs to be a process and, at the moment, we do not have that process. All we have is a black box. All we have is a framework where the minister somehow decides who is going to be sanctioned. It’s not good enough. We have to apply this framework and our concern about human rights without fear or favour for all people across the world.

In conclusion, this bill is a good start. It’s good to make sure that the autonomous sanctions regime actually can work in the way it’s been envisaged. But we need to be doing a lot more. So, while commending this bill, I urge all parties to support the amendments that the Greens have put up and I urge us to go further in order to protect human rights across the world and expanding who we apply sanctions on to make sure that our voice in support of human rights is heard in all situations, not just where it is politically expedient to do so.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard