Topics: Proposed Navalny Act sanctions; Calls for Labor to apply more sanctions on Russia; Julian Assange;

09:15AM AEDT
23 February 2024


Laura Jayes:  The Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Birmingham, joins us now. Are you convinced?


Simon Birmingham: LJ, I think there are real merits in terms of what Bill Browder has been proposing, and certainly worth exploring and looking at. I know that others internationally, such as former UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, have indicated that it is also an idea worth looking at, that the reality is, as William Hague has written, we’ve passed a point in time where it’s conceivable that the types of assets that Putin and his cronies hold around the world are ever likely to be returned or unfrozen. So, how you free up some of the resources from those assets and so that it can be used for good and particularly for good in terms of the rebuilding of Ukraine and the provision of essential services in Ukraine, and, of course, the funding of Ukraine’s war and defence to defeat Russia. These are all very important considerations and well worth international like-minded democracies working together, and to consider how we might be able to take these types of ideas and drive them forward in a way that is consistent with our legal systems and consistent with financial systems, but actually also achieves the right good moral and proper outcome.


Laura Jayes: Bill Browder was also, as you know, behind the Magnitsky Act. This is something Australia has adopted, and it has proven to be useful in some circumstances. Could you see us adopting the Navalny Act like we did the Magnitsky Act, or you’ve just articulated it might not have a huge effect?


Speaker4: Well, no, no. As I said before, I think it is worth considering. It’s got to be done to have weight, particularly from a country of Australia’s perspective. It would have to be done in concert with others. I think when it comes to our Magnitsky sanctions framework, I’m currently consulting with a number of international organisations about how we might look at better cooperating with like-minded countries around the application of those sanctions. We see too often that we lag too long, too late, too slow in relation to the application of sanctions. Even in response to Alexei Navalny’s murder by Putin and his cronies. What I want to see is the Australian government move as quickly as possible to work with the US, the UK, the EU and others to apply the types of sanctions that can put maximum pressure on. And if we can go further when it comes to asset freezing, asset seizure, provision of those funds back to Ukraine or to other causes, that hit Putin hard and also help worthy and good moral causes, then we should absolutely be looking at that too.


Laura Jayes: Yeah. It also means the aid bill from Western nations like the US and ourselves that perhaps wouldn’t be required to be that large and ongoing. But if I could change tack for a moment here, Stella Assange has made the connection between Navalny and her husband, Julian Assange. Is there a parallel here?


Simon Birmingham: No, there’s not. Julian Assange’s case has gone on a terribly long time as is widely acknowledged. Let’s also remember that much of that time was of his choice to sit it out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, refusing to appear in court and refusing to deal with the justice system. The rest of it is, of course, the complex process of appeals and the like of which he is perfectly legally entitled to do so. But Julian Assange is facing the justice system in the United Kingdom at present. That’s the justice system that we built our own justice system in Australia off of, and it is one of the most widely respected systems of justice in the whole wide world. Alexei Navalny was put in the Russian system with cooked up charges to prevent him from having a political view in the Russian system, and ultimately murdered in a Russian prison. So, it is chalk and cheese.


Laura Jayes: Indeed. But you say, you know, he refused to face the justice system, perhaps after five years in Belmarsh prison and going through the appeals process, some might say he was right to do that or he had a reason to do that. Do you think his only hope now is some kind of pardon? Diplomatic immunity? Does Australia have the wherewithal, the political pressure to be pushing Joe Biden to do this? Would you encourage him?


Simon Birmingham: Well, you saw in terms of, of the US that as they dealt with related cases that that there were ultimately, reductions in sentences or the like given. But of course, that was after those cases had been resolved. In the case of Julian Assange, we’re nowhere near that point, yet he is still fighting extradition in the UK courts. That’s a matter that is really one for the UK courts. Of course, he’s held on remand, in large part because judges in the UK have presumably assessed the past behaviour. The time spent in the Ecuadorian embassy as meaning he poses a risk of not presenting to court. These are complexities that are in part of his own making through that time. So yes, we would all wish, frankly, I’d wish that we didn’t see as much time spent on Mr. Assange’s case. And for he and his family and his loved ones, I’d wish it had been resolved many years ago. But let’s not pretend that that is some failure of the justice systems in the resolution of those cases. It is in large part because of actions he’s taken throughout the duration of those cases.


Laura Jayes: Yeah. And this is talked about as his last appeal. We wait to see the result of that in the next couple of weeks. It could be days but more likely weeks. Simon Birmingham. Thanks so much for your time.


Simon Birmingham: Thanks, LJ. My pleasure.