The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT), led by the Australian Sanctions Office (ASO), is undertaking a review of Australia’s Autonomous Sanctions Framework (Review), ahead of the expiry on 1 April 2024 of the Regulations. The Review will assess whether the Framework remains fit for purpose. The Review will be informed by responses to an Issues Paper and by consultations with key stakeholders. The closing date for submissions is 26 February 2023, with the Review to be completed by 30 June 2023.
The Review provides an opportunity for interested parties to make proposals on how the autonomous sanctions regime might be improved. This is against the background of substantial expansion during the past 12 months to Australia’s autonomous sanctions regime due to many new measures imposed targeting Russia and also the imposition of designated party sanctions under the still relatively new Magnitsky measures.
The Issues Paper identified the following key issues and potential improvements:
- Issue 1: Streamlining the legal framework. The current Framework requires navigation of three tiers of legislative instruments to determine Australian sanctions law. The Framework could be streamlined, by either establishing a two-tiered structure; or consolidating the multiple legislative instruments on a particular country or theme into one instrument.
- Issue 2: Scope of sanctions measures. Certain sanction measures (such as in relation to ‘targeted financial sanctions’ and ‘sanctioned commercial activities’) could be better defined by providing clearer parameters and guidance material to assist the public in understanding its sanctions obligations.
- Issue 3: Permit powers. Detailing the Minister’s general permit granting powers in the Regulations could help increase regulatory transparency and better inform the public about their permit options.
- Issue 4: Humanitarian exemption. Sanctions may unintentionally impact the delivery of humanitarian assistance, for example, humanitarian actors may need to engage with sanctioned designated parties entities to distribute aid, which without a permit would be prohibited under Australian sanctions law. There may be merit in developing a specific humanitarian exemption, with appropriate safeguards to ensure only legitimate humanitarian activities are captured by the exemption (e.g. limiting the exemption to a set group of ‘humanitarian actors’).
- Issue 5: Sanctions offences and enforcement. There are currently limited steps DFAT can take between education and prosecution to address non-compliance. There may be merit in providing more flexible enforcement options by introducing a system of civil pecuniary penalties in situations where the circumstances do not warrant a criminal conviction.
- Issue 6: Review mechanism for designations and declarations. The current Framework enables the Minister to designate a person or entity as a designated party for targeted financial sanctions, and declare a person for a travel ban, if the Minister is satisfied that the person or entity meets certain criteria. Listings expire after 3 years, and require the Minister to conduct a resource intensive renewal process. Some solutions that would streamline this process include removing the expiry date altogether or increasing the expiry period to five years.
- Issue 7: Regulatory functions of the ASO. The injunction power in the Act is limited in that it enables a superior court to grant an injunction to restrain a person from engaging in sanctioned conduct only on the application by the Attorney-General. One solution could be to expand the injunction power to allow an authorised person within DFAT to seek injunctive relief.
The Review will also consider any other matters that are relevant to the efficiency and effectiveness of the Framework.
 The framework includes the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 (the Act), Autonomous Sanctions Regulations 2011 (Cth) (Regulations) and 18 legislative instruments made pursuant to the Act and Regulations (the Framework).