Australia’s Autonomous Sanctions Framework – Changes on the Horizon

Posted on October 25, 2021

The Australian Government has committed to amending the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 (Cth) to introduce a worldwide sanctions regime by the end of the year. This regime, which will impose sanctions on serious international offenders regardless of where in the world their conduct occurred, will target both human rights abuses and wider ‘thematic’ international issues, including grand corruption.

The commitment comes alongside the Government’s acceptance of certain recommendations of the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade’s Magnitsky Report. The Magnitsky Report was published in December 2020 and examines whether Australia should introduce legislation authorising the Government to impose sanctions against gross international human rights abusers. The Federal Government’s response to the Report was tabled in Parliament on 9 August 2021 and can be found here.

The Australian Government has also indicated it will introduce major changes to existing sanctions laws that extend far beyond the recommendations in the Magnitsky Report. The changes will be introduced by amending the existing Autonomous Sanctions Act. In particular, the Government has forecast the introduction of ‘thematic’ sanctions programs which will target transnational issues such as grand corruption, malicious cyber-crime and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Other conceivable ‘thematic’ targets may include foreign interference, transnational drug trafficking, and other forms of transnational crime, given these are already targets of US sanctions programs.

Under the Autonomous Sanctions Act, companies and individuals have strict criminal liability for contravening sanctions, however companies have a defence if they took reasonable precautions and exercised due diligence to avoid the contravention.

These foreshadowed changes to the Autonomous Sanctions Act are likely to significantly affect Australia’s compliance landscape and will add to the importance of having robust compliance arrangements. Organisations that have not adopted sanctions compliance systems on the basis that they do not operate in sanctioned jurisdictions may now need to do so, and organisations that only screen counterparties and transactions with connections to sanctioned jurisdictions may need to apply screening measures in a broader set of circumstances. These measures are frequently integrated with anti-bribery compliance.

To learn more about adequate procedures to prevent bribery and corruption, see the Bribery Prevention Network’s resource collections.