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Wednesday, 28 June 2000
Page: 18407

Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) (10:46 AM) —I move:

That the bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce this bill which will enable Australia to ratify the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. The object of the convention is to give greater protection to the men and women who under the auspices of the United Nations put themselves at risk while serving the international community. Recent events overseas have unfortunately once again demonstrated the significant dangers which can face the men and women associated with UN operations.

While violent attacks against UN personnel in Australia are unlikely, the bill is clearly a desirable measure. Domestic laws of this kind underline the determination by a significant part of the international community to deter such attacks and to do everything possible to bring offenders to justice. The bill assists the attainment of these ends by strengthening the ability of Australian authorities to take action against alleged offenders.

This bill deals with the individual criminal responsibility of persons who attack United Nations and associated personnel. It adds a new division, division 71, to the Commonwealth Criminal Code which makes the crimes set out in the convention offences in Australian domestic law.

Proposed section 71.16 describes the circumstances in which Australia will be able to exercise jurisdiction in respect of the offences established by the bill. The offences will apply to attacks against UN and associated persons occurring outside Australia where there is an Australian connection, for example, if the victim or the alleged offender is an Australian. Subject to a provision which prevents division 71 overlapping with state and territory criminal laws, the bill will also apply to attacks committed in Australia.

I might point out that, in accordance with provisions of the convention, the proposed offences will not apply where the UN or associated persons are connected with authorised enforcement operations in which UN personnel are engaged in combat against organised armed forces and to which the law of international armed conflict applies.

I am pleased to say that the governments of the states and territories have been consulted about the convention and that there is general support for Australia becoming a party. The bill reflects this cooperative approach by expressly preserving state and territory criminal laws. In addition, it will not be possible to convict a person in a state or territory court for an offence under division 71 if the relevant conduct is the subject of a criminal penalty under a law of that state or territory. This means, in effect, that the offences created by this law will not operate in relation to conduct that occurs in Australia where the relevant state and territory law implements Australia's convention obligations. The Commonwealth law will operate primarily in relation to conduct outside Australia, as well as being available to cover any gap in local criminal laws.

I hope that the proposed legislation will receive broad support. The convention was signed for Australia under the former government. I am pleased that the present government is able to complete the steps necessary for Australia to become a party to the convention. I commend the bill to the House and table the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Bevis) adjourned.