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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19814


Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) (9:02 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of the Crimes (Overseas) Amendment Bill 2003 is to protect Australians who are sent overseas by or in connection with the Commonwealth, by extending Australian criminal jurisdiction over Australians in certain situations. These situations would generally be humanitarian or security operations.

The bill aims to close the criminal law jurisdictional gap that currently exists for certain Australians with diplomatic or consular immunities or with immunities that arise from a person's relationship with an international organisation.

The Crimes (Overseas) Act 1964 currently provides that certain Australian criminal laws apply to conduct committed by Australians, other than Australian Defence Force members, who are serving overseas under an arrangement between the Commonwealth and the United Nations and who have immunity from prosecution in the country in which the particular conduct in question occurred.

Over recent years, the Australian government has deployed increasing numbers of Australian civilians on overseas operations.

The changing nature of these deployments means that the terms of the Crimes (Overseas) Act 1964 are no longer broad enough to protect many Australian civilians on overseas deployments, nor does it adequately address the jurisdictional gap that has been created by the granting of various immunities to Australians in foreign countries. At the moment there may be situations where Australians have been granted immunity from prosecution in the foreign country in which they are deployed, and there is no applicable Australian criminal jurisdiction. In this situation, Australians would be unable to be prosecuted for crimes which were committed in that foreign country.

The bill extends the operation of the act so that Australian criminal jurisdiction will apply to Australian citizens and permanent residents in four situations.

Firstly, the bill will extend the act to cover the jurisdictional gap that currently applies to Australians who have been granted diplomatic and consular immunities or who have been granted immunities due to their relationship with an international organisation.

In situations where an Australian commits an offence for which he or she is immune in a foreign country, Australia may choose to waive the person's immunity to allow the foreign country to prosecute.

However, in situations where Australia does not waive the person's immunity, Australia is currently unable to exercise broad criminal jurisdiction over that person and prosecute most offences.

Secondly, the bill will extend the operation of the act over Australians who are in a foreign country under an agreement or arrangement between Australia and the United Nations (or an organ of the United Nations) or between Australia and a foreign country where Australians who may have committed an offence are immune from prosecution in the foreign country for that offence.

Thirdly, the bill will extend the operation of the act to Australians who are in a foreign country under an agreement or arrangement between Australia and the United Nations or an organ of the United Nations or between Australia and a foreign country which has been declared by regulation to be a `declared agreement or arrangement' for the purposes of the act.

Fourthly, the bill will extend the operation of the act to Australians who are in a foreign country in connection with Commonwealth activities, where that foreign country has been prescribed by regulation to be a `declared foreign country'.

Australia is involved with a number of overseas operations at this time. These deployments involve a large number of civilians.

While Australian jurisdiction over members of the Defence Force is addressed in other legislation, Australian civilian personnel, including members of the Australian Federal Police, who are deployed by the Commonwealth may be vulnerable to prosecution by criminal justice systems that fall short of Australian standards.

The bill ensures that Australian civilian personnel deployed by the Commonwealth will be protected by the guarantees of the Australian judicial system.

The bill also resolves a technical problem with the current application of Australian criminal jurisdiction to persons to whom the act applies.

The bill applies the substantive criminal law of the Jervis Bay Territory extraterritorially, which is the same approach as that adopted by the Crimes at Sea Act 2000.

The bill also allows regulations to be made with retrospective application to 1 July 2003 for three months following royal assent where those regulations prescribe a country to be a declared foreign country for the purposes of the act.

This is to enable regulations to be made declaring Iraq and the Solomon Islands to be declared foreign countries for the purposes of the act with retrospective effect to 1 July 2003.

The extension of Australian criminal jurisdiction retrospectively to 1 July 2003 over Australian civilians deployed to Iraq and the Solomon Islands ensures that those civilians will be protected by the extension of Australian criminal jurisdiction over offences com-mitted since 1 July 2003.

On 26 June 2003, I released a joint media statement with the Minister for Justice and Customs and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, stating that Australian criminal jurisdiction would be extended to Australian civilians serving in Iraq from 1 July 2003. The extension of Australian criminal jurisdiction, particularly to those personnel in Iraq and the Solomon Islands, will ensure that Australia is in the best position to protect Australians deployed to these countries. These amendments aim to ensure that, in situations where Australian civilians may face prosecution for acts committed while they were on operations overseas, they face prosecution in Australian courts, under Australian criminal jurisdiction. I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum for the bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Swan) adjourned.