Cyber hackers, human rights abusers and corrupt officials will be banned from visiting Australia or investing their ill-gotten gains here, under historic legislation set to sail through the lower house of federal parliament today.
- The laws will allow the government to sanction individuals in foreign countries who commit human rights abuses
- It is partly based on the United States’ Magnitsky Act, with similar laws in place in the UK, Canada and European Union
- Campaigner Bill Browder said the individual sanctions can effectively deter cyber crime
The proposed laws, which passed the Senate with unanimous support late on Wednesday will allow the Australian government to sanction individuals and entities responsible for “egregious conduct”, like threatening international peace and serious human rights violations.
Targets could include cronies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, corrupt generals who undermine the rule of law in countries in our region, hackers who target Australia’s interests or Chinese officials involved in placing minority groups into detention.
The legislation is partly based on the United States’ Magnitsky Act, and similar laws are already in place in the UK, Canada and the European Union.
However, by allowing “malicious” hackers to be sanctioned as well, Australia’s laws go further than any other.
They’ve been scrutinised by federal parliament since 2019, after being referred to a parliamentary committee for investigation by the Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
“It’s a historic moment for Australia,” said Bill Browder, the British-American hedge fund manager who has campaigned relentlessly for wealthy countries to introduce the laws.
“I feel overwhelmed with happiness – I’ve been working on this for five or six years. There’s a lot of people who didn’t want this to happen, a lot of bad guys intervening.”
But he claims the “anger from the autocrats and dictators of the world” is a sign of how effective the legislation can be.
“If you get magnitsk-ied, it ruins your life,” he said.
“No bank will open an account, no country will give you a visa. Your family has trouble. You basically become a non-person in the financial world.”
He argues it can cause an army officer to think twice about carrying out an atrocity or make a corrupt official question their choices.
Mr Browder has long seen Australia as a “hole” in the global network of “Magnitsky countries” but he is particularly pleased by the additional focus on cyber hackers.
“Cyber is such a crucial part of the malign arsenal of countries like China, like Russia, like Iran,” he added.
“This puts Australia at the cutting edge of these laws.”
Bipartisanship on display during parliament’s final days for the year
The Federal Opposition has been critical of how long it has taken for the Magnitsky-style legislation to be passed.
“The Morrison government’s delays in introducing Magnitsky-style sanctions have sent a regrettable message,” Labor Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong told the Senate.
But during a fairly fractious sitting period of parliament, the unanimous passage of the legislation was a notable example of bipartisanship and compromise, which led to a substantial development in foreign affairs policy.
“Denying the perpetrators and beneficiaries of egregious acts from accessing our economy, is essential and ensures they cannot benefit from the freedoms our democracy and rules-based order society allows,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne told senators.
Human rights groups have welcomed the passage of the legislation.
Advocacy group Save the Children said it was particularly pleased to see an amendment that covers violations against children during war.
Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, have moved swiftly to sanction dozens of individuals after passing similar laws.
When asked, the Morrison government declined to comment on whether it had specific foreign entities and people in its sights.