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PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS: Crimes Against Humanity

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (1.11 p.m.) —The government shares the concern of the member for Sydney that Australia should not harbour serious international criminals.

As a government, we have committed to a number of measures to be put in place to ensure that appropriate action is taken to deal with any of those who may have committed genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity, which includes strong existing domestic legislation. Despite the objections and concerns of some in 2002, the Australian government demonstrated its commitment to tackling international crime by ratifying the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

We have introduced new and tough Commonwealth offences for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Each of these offences applies to conduct both within and outside Australia. These offences carry severe penalties. The penalty for genocide is life imprisonment, penalties for crimes against humanity range from 17 years to life, and war crimes offences attract penalties from 10 years to life imprisonment. That is the commitment of this government. These offences enable Australia to deal comprehensively with any alleged conduct which occurs on or after 16 September 2002.

Retrospective legislation is very difficult in this area. I know that all members of the House are reluctant to enter into the area of retrospective legislation but the member for Sydney proposes that. Successful prosecutions are hard enough if they are extraterritorial but to add the fact that the evidence may be retrospective doubles the difficulty. Some cases are decades old and it is really hard. We have had cases in Australia where, under the previous Labor government, we attempted to bring something to fruition and it did not occur; it just could not be done.

The proposal also fails to address the principle of international law that a person should not be found guilty of an offence if, at the time it was committed, the conduct was not recognised as a criminal act according to the general principles of law recognised by the community of nations. I think that is a generally accepted principle. The War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions Act created offences that were already recognised by the international community. However, the provisions agreed to by the international community and the Statute of the International Criminal Court are more extensive than offences that were previously recognised. So it covered what was previously in place but extended it. The concepts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity have developed gradually over the past century and it would not be appropriate to impose criminal liability for conduct that was not recognised as criminal at the time it was committed.

We are going to continue as a government to make strong practical approaches to combating serious international crimes. There are stringent procedures in place to prevent the entry of persons into Australia who are guilty of serious international crimes. In fact, even those granted citizenship can be removed from Australia if they are found to have committed a serious international crime. The Australian government takes allegations of somebody's involvement in this type of offence very seriously indeed. If anybody has a complaint or information about persons in Australia who have participated in war crimes, they should report their concerns to the AFP. That is the essential first step that must happen or there is no process in place to deal with the issue.

The government has also taken strong steps to encourage other countries to take actions under their own laws or to adopt laws that reflect ours. There is no doubt that, in cooperation with the Indonesian government, the Australian government's record in actively pursuing and dealing with issues such as those that took place in East Timor and Bali has been pretty successful. The Australian government's role of working with the international community in Afghanistan and no doubt in Iraq will also be significant. We have played a leading role there, as we have in Kosovo and in other similar circumstances,.

If prosecutions for war crimes are being conducted in another country, under current legislation Australia can consider a request for extradition or assistance to investigate. The Australian government also supports a number of international tribunals prosecuting serious crimes. (Time expired)

Author: Hon Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 29th March 2004
Release Date: 30 Mar 2004


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