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Thorpe Bill would end AG's power to block crimes against humanity cases from Australian courts

Giovanni Torre -

Senator Lidia Thorpe will introduce a Bill to strip Australia's Attorney-General of their power to prevent the prosecution of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Australian courts.

The Bill, to be introduced Wednesday, amends the federal Criminal Code Act 1995 by removing the requirement for the Attorney-General's consent for proceedings in relation to these crimes to commence.

The Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung senator noted on Wednesday that this veto power currently gives the Attorney-General "carte-blanche to block prosecution of these atrocious crimes, and is a barrier to justice for victims and survivors".

"No politician should get to say who can and can't be held accountable in our legal system, particularly in relation to the most heinous crimes like genocide," Senator Thorpe said.

"This bill helps get political interference out of our legal system, and gives victims and survivors of these most heinous crimes a better chance at justice.

"This bill will empower people to seek truth and justice. Whether you're a Palestinian Australian who has seen your family murdered in Gaza, or a Blak mother wanting to hold this government to account for the ongoing removal of First Nations children, my bill will give people in this country a better chance for justice."

Senator Thorpe cited the 2018 case of then Attorney-General Christian Porter blocking members of the Australian Rohinga community from pursuing justice against the government of Aung San Suu Kyi for crimes against humanity in relation to the Rohinga Genocide in Myanmar, and the 2011 case of then Attorney-General Robert McClelland rejecting an action initiated by Australian Tamil man, Jegan Waran, who had witnessed Sri Lankan forces commit crimes including the deliberate targetting of hospitals and ambulances.

"The government has a choice: they can support this bill and stand on the side of human rights, the rule of law, and everyday people, or vote against it to maintain their undue influence over our courts, and their ability to provide cover for war criminals," Senator Thorpe said.

"Australia has been avoiding its obligation to prevent and punish Genocide, and has failed to implement the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, despite being a signatory.

"This is a powerful step that will hold individuals and governments accountable for acts of genocide and to help prevent future atrocities, as the 1948 Convention intended."

The independent senator representing Victoria also noted that Attorney-General's veto power under the current law also allows the government to "avoid accountability in relation to Australia's defence and foreign policy, and their unjust treatment of First Peoples in this country".

Senator Thorpe said Foreign Minister Penny Wong came under fire last week for cutting aid to UNRWA in Gaza, with the chief of the agency describing the move as "collective punishment" - which is illegal under international law.

Senator Thorpe referred to racial discrimination class actions being pursued across the country against state governments for unjust removal of children into state care, with advocates calling to stop a "modern Stolen Generation", and noted that the 1997 Bringing Them Home report confirmed the policies that initiated the Stolen Generations were genocidal in intent.

Senator Thorpe's Bill aims to strengthen government accountability around these policies.

A spokesperson for the Attorney-General told National Indigenous Times that the government "is firmly committed to its obligations under the Genocide Convention, and we have implemented our obligations under it".

"Genocide offences are serious crimes under Australian law and attract significant penalties, including a maximum of imprisonment for life for certain offences," he said.

"Given the seriousness of these offences and in keeping with other offences that have international aspects the requirement for the Attorney-General to consent to prosecutions of genocide is appropriate."

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