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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 6640


Ms JULIE BISHOP (5:31 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Autonomous Sanctions Bill 2010, which, according to the government, is designed to:

… strengthen Australia’s autonomous sanctions regime by allowing greater flexibility in the range of measures Australia can implement, beyond those achievable under existing instruments, thus ensuring Australia’s autonomous sanctions can match the scope and extent of measures implemented by like-minded states.

This bill will enable Australia to implement autonomous sanctions without having to rely on legislation that is, in fact, intended for other purposes.

While the coalition support this bill in principle, we propose to refer it to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee because of our concerns about the domestic privacy implications of the bill. These concerns arise from this passage in the second reading speech of the Minister for Foreign Affairs:

… the bill will facilitate access to information for purposes associated with the administration of sanction laws by removing impediments for the sharing of such information within the Commonwealth, and allowing specially designated Commonwealth entities, responsible for the administration and enforcement of sanction laws, to require, by written notice, the production of documents and written information—including under oath—from persons outside of government in order to determine whether a sanction law is being complied with.

The opposition believes that the government should elaborate on this aspect of the bill to satisfy the privacy concerns arising from this passage in the second reading speech.

Sanctions are an alternative to military force whereby the behaviour of an offending country or regime is punished economically, politically or socially. Sanctions can be imposed through the United Nations system by way of targeted measures aimed at removing a threat or the circumstances that have led to a threat to international peace and security. Autonomous sanctions can be imposed by individual countries.

There is ongoing global debate about the role and effectiveness of sanctions and whether they can achieve their stated aims. Sanctions have been imposed by nations against other nations throughout recorded history. Security analysts have pointed to the trade sanctions imposed by the ancient Athenians against their rivals in Sparta in the 5th century BC, for example. But, as students of ancient history would be aware, that led to essentially a trade war—the Peloponnesian War—which lasted 30 years.

The use of sanctions has been prominent at various times in our history. Currently, we are experiencing a significant increase in the use of sanctions, particularly those imposed by international blocs of nations under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council. I note the Minister for Foreign Affairs argued that sanctions were not effective during the Cold War years because any attempt to impose sanctions by one of the superpowers—the United States or the Soviet Union—was strategically undermined by the other. There is little doubt that this policy of the two global giants at the time of gaining competitive advantage over the other made sanctions an ineffective tool. Throughout the Cold War the only United Nations imposed sanctions were essentially against Rhodesia and South Africa and that action was broadly supported by the international community. It has long been the challenge with sanctions to get all relevant nations to agree to impose and to act to enforce the sanctions.

The ultimate goal of sanctions is to force changes in behaviour from the target government or regime. They will suffer significant economic costs if they refuse to alter their behaviour. A United States publication in 2003 entitled Economic sanctions: examining their philosophy and efficacy pointed out that economic sanctions can be imposed in myriad forms and with vastly different impacts on the nations subject to sanctions. It makes the observation that the ability to ramp up the economic cost over time allows for progressively stronger messages to be sent about the behaviour causing concern.

However, the publication also points out that there is an inevitable cost to the nation imposing the sanctions, as its companies and citizens are often prevented from pursuing investment opportunities. It is vital that any nation imposing sanctions has the economic and political means to enforce them for the length of time that it can take to have the desired effect. The longer that sanctions are maintained the greater the pressure on the sanctioned nation. There can also be increasing tension from the commercial domestic interests lobbying for an easing of sanctions. This has led to some nations imposing strict sanctions but turning a blind eye to commercial links or failing to enforce the terms of the sanctions.

Increasingly, sanctions have been regarded as the alternative to military action and are therefore seen as a more palatable method of dealing with rogue regimes, for example. Many international security experts regard sanctions as one of the tools that should first be employed and as a precursor to military action only should that ultimately be required. They also argue that sanctions must be pursued to first convince the public that every possible avenue had been pursued before taking additional further steps, such as military action.

United States security analyst Dr M Shane Smith, now of the United States National Defence University, argued in an essay published in 2004 entitled ‘Sanctions: diplomatic tool or warfare by other means?’ for the imposition of what he described as ‘smart sanctions’, which are carefully targeted and which include an element of incentive as well as punishment—a carrot-and-stick approach. A United Nations report in 2000 entitled The sanctions decade: assessing UN strategies in the 1990s was critical of the approach to sanctions in that punitive measures are often not balanced against rewards for improved behaviour.

Incentives can range from the economic to the diplomatic, including the opportunity to participate in international forums, amongst other things. One of the conundrums regarding the effectiveness of economic sanctions is that, the more damaging the sanctions, the more likely they are to work in harming the sanctioned nation economically. This can often impact on the broader population more severely than on the target government or regime. Conversely, economic sanctions run the risk of hurting the most vulnerable in a nation to the point that that fatally undermines their effectiveness. And herein lies the diabolical dilemma: sanctions can inflict damage to the target country or target population to the point where there is capitulation to the demands of the sanctioning country or powers, yet the sanctioning country or powers are rightly concerned by the moral or humanitarian implications of the sanctions and need to devise ways to get supplies to those most in need.

A case in point is North Korea. While broad based sanctions are called for, a collapse of North Korea would cause a massive flood of refugees into the region. The desired result—the end to North Korea’s nuclear program and its provocative behaviour in pursuit of it—must be put in this context. There is a view that sanctions are more likely to work if there is an organised domestic political opposition force which can build political pressure on the government. However, in the absence of such opposition, sanctions can sometimes bolster domestic public support for a regime that blames an external enemy for all the woes of the nation.

Dr Shane Smith also warns that strong sanctions tend to create a political atmosphere of anxiety and paranoia, which greatly increases the possibility of armed conflict. International economic pressure could also create incentives for authoritarian regimes to be even more repressive toward the opposition forces in order to hold on to power. Burma is a prime example. The more pressure from the international community, the more determined the regime seems to be in its efforts to destroy the chances of the main opposition, the National League for Democracy, as it was, and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from taking any role in the country.

I met with Aung San Suu Kyi in 1995 and I think that any person who has spent any time in her presence could not fail to be overwhelmed by her inspiring and moral example of leadership. The Burma regime, having been humiliated in the 1989 election when Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won 89 per cent of the parliamentary seats, appears ever more determined not to concede to foreign pressure in the event that it weakened its claim, albeit spurious, to legitimacy and popular support.

Despite these risks and consequences, sanctions have proven to be an effective way of encouraging governments to adopt behaviour that is in line with the values of the international community. Historically it is fair to say that sanctions have played an important role in affecting the behaviour of many governments or regimes around the world. While they are far from perfect, I would argue they have helped avert military conflict in many instances. Sanctions can have a devastating impact on regimes in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and they did play an important role in preventing Saddam Hussein obtaining nuclear weapons, for example.

Currently, sanctions are imposed on a range of nations, with most attention focused on North Korea and Iran in relation to nuclear programs. There are existing United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea that are yet to be fully enforced. For there to be any change, there would need to be a united international front, particularly from the Security Council members. That is not a given. The same applies to Iran. Recently a Russian Foreign Ministry deputy said that he doubted the sanctions imposed on Iran would be effective in this situation.

Iran has been accused of pursuing nuclear weapons, an accusation denied by the regime, but its ongoing refusal to fully cooperate with international nuclear inspectors has raised international concerns. This is a critical issue for the world, as Israel has threatened military action against nuclear facilities in Iran—an action that would almost certainly trigger retaliation from Iran and its proxies, with a potentially devastating impact on the globe. There is an obvious need for sanctions against Iran to work effectively and for Iran to open up its nuclear program to inspectors who can certify that its program is for peaceful power generation purposes. The consequences of the alternative are too terrible to contemplate.

North Korea, in contrast, has detonated nuclear devices in breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions and remains a source of deep tension in the region. Punitive sanctions have impacted on the regime and the long-suffering people of North Korea but have had limited impact on the behaviour of the regime. Its recent provocative action in allegedly sinking a South Korean navy ship has raised tensions close to breaking point. We must continue to trust that targeted sanctions can work to bring about a change in the behaviour of rogue regimes around the world.

In the case of autonomous sanctions imposed by our country, they are in place against Burma, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Iraq, the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Fiji, and they range from financial sanctions to travel restrictions, the suspension of government-to-government links and the like.

Autonomous sanctions against Burma have been in place since October 2007 and against members of the Burmese regime, their associates and their supporters. In response to the regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists in 2007, the former, coalition government introduced bans on financial dealings in Australia on about 400 Burmese officials and associates. At the time, foreign minister Downer described them as ‘the strongest financial measures available under existing Australian legislation against countries or individuals that are not subject to United Nations Security Council sanctions’.

North Korea has been subject to Australian autonomous sanctions since 2006, and Zimbabwe since September 2002, targeting the Mugabe regime and its supporters. Autonomous sanctions from Australia were employed against Iran from October 2008 and against the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from June 1992, targeting those indicted or suspected of war crimes during the early 1990s. Autonomous sanctions have been in place against Fiji since December 2006.

The coalition believes that autonomous sanctions can in appropriate circumstances play an important role in sending clear messages to regimes or countries that their behaviour is unacceptable to the norms of our regions. That is why the coalition supports this bill; it streamlines and improves the ability of the government to impose sanctions against regimes whose behaviour is out of step with accepted international behaviour. Sanctions are not a solution to every international situation, nor are they generally able to provide rapid changes in aberrant behaviour—or abhorrent behaviour. They are one of the ways in which the international community can show solidarity with countries where some have adopted behaviour that threatens to undermine stability or threatens their neighbours and beyond.

I note that sanctions are considered by the Australian people to be a productive tool in foreign policy terms. The Lowy Institute for International Policy recently conducted a poll called ‘Australia and the world: public opinion and foreign policy’. One question related to Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. It is interesting to note that, after ‘diplomatic negotiations’ with 85 per cent support, 69 per cent of those surveyed supported ‘economic sanctions’ as a favoured response to Iran’s behaviour.

The Autonomous Sanctions Bill 2010 will provide added flexibility to Australia to implement autonomous sanctions that reflect our belief that a type of behaviour is unacceptable and must be changed to avert more serious action. Rather than having to rely on existing legislation to implement autonomous sanctions, Australia will have available to it a more flexible range of foreign policy options to demand a change of behaviour. Subject to the point about referring the passage on privacy considerations to the relevant Senate committee, I commend this bill to the House.