POLITICS

China-Australia Extradition Treaty Collapses Amid Human Rights Concerns

It fell apart not long after Barnaby Joyce insisted it was a "pretty safe deal".

28/03/2017 9:53 AM AEDT | Updated 28/03/2017 11:50 AM AEDT
Alex/Ellinghausen/Fairfax
Labor, Greens, NXT, Cory Bernardi and some government backbench opposition to the China-Australia extradition treaty has left it dead in the water.

CANBERRA – The Turnbull Government has shelved plans to enact an extradition treaty with China, under the combined opposition of Labor, the Greens, Nick Xenophon Team, former Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, and a significant cohort of the Government's own backbench.

The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull phoned Opposition Leader Bill Shorten earlier on Tuesday morning to say he was withdrawing the resolution to ratify the treaty.

The government was dealing with a backbench revolt, but Labor had earlier flagged it was not going to support the treaty and that was enough to sink the treaty, for now.

In a statement, the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop confirmed the government wants to keep the treaty alive, but is beholden to Labor.

"The Leader of the Opposition has now advised the Prime Minister that the Opposition will not support the ratification of the Treaty at this time.

Under these circumstances, and given the importance of this Treaty to Australia's national interest, rather than have the ratification defeated in the Senate we will repeal the ratification instrument and continue our discussions with the Opposition."

Minister of Foreign Affairs statement

There was to have been an attempt in the Senate, led by Bernardi to disallow the treaty, thus killing it off.

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce described the agreement with China as a "pretty safe deal" even as serious concerns remained -- including on the government backbench and from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott -- about its human rights safeguards.

Human rights group, Amnesty International and former Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi had formed a surprising combination to remind and warn that China routinely applies the death penalty and uses torture and other ill treatment against criminals and suspects.

There is still no complete explanation for the hurry on with the treaty, which was first signed by then Prime Minister John Howard in 2007 and left idle since. But the Herald Sun reports the treaty, if passed, will have a bearing on the fate of detained Crown employees in China.

Joyce told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday that Australian ministers "at any point in time" could have rejected a Chinese extradition order.

"I think that is a pretty safe deal and that is the way it should work," he declared.

"It is the legal system which protects the basic rights of people in China and people in Australia.

"They have a legal system and it is in our remit that is we have serious concerns about a case we have the capacity already with this extradition treaty to say no."

Bernardi cited China's 99.9 per cent conviction rate and concern that Australia would be the first of the "five eyes" intelligence alliance with the U.S, Britain, Canada and New Zealand to sign such a treaty with China.

He told RN Breakfast that Australia had been under political pressure.

"Clearly, there is a lot of pressure put on it and the Prime Minister has said himself that failure to ratify will jeopardise joint law enforcement activities," he told host Fran Kelly.

"I think that is nonsense.

"I think what we should be doing is acting in the best interests of our country to do what we think is right from a moral point of view and to sustain human rights.

"To me, not withstanding how good a friend China would be, we should not be kow-towing or bowing to pressure from any external parties in how we are going to deal with our international diplomacy."

Fairfax Media had reported the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Justice Minister Michael Keenan moved on Monday to quell the backbench revolt after threats to cross the floor on the issue.

That includes former minister Eric Abetz and Tony Abbott, who has told The Australian on Tuesday, "I'd be very, very cautious about ratifying this treaty at this time".

"In my judgment, China's legal system has to evolve further before the Australian government and people could be confident that those before it would receive justice according to law."

The Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader has the same message for backbenchers as he does for opposition parties.

"There is a concern, but I have not heard about those concerns until very recently, in fact in the last day or so," Joyce said.

"I hope nothing harms our relationship with China. We have got extradition treaties with countries in the Gulf States. This is how it works."

"I think the world step, by step, by step is becoming a better and fairer place and we should be doing our part to do that."

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