Australia shelves planned extradition treaty with China

Cheryl Sanders
March 30, 2017

Malcolm Turnbull has bowed to a backbench revolt and opposition from Labor and crossbenchers over ratifying an extradition treaty with China.

Some MPs have cited a lack of legal transparency on China's part, its human right record and potential bullying of Australian and dissidents by China as reasons to not support the treaty. "We hope the Australian side can bear in mind the long-term development of bilateral relations".

The China extradition treaty has been on hold since 2007, when it was signed under former prime minister John Howard.

Senator Bernardi, who defected from the Liberal Party to sit on the crossbench, said concerns about China's legal system and executions should scuttle the deal, while Labor and Senate forces including Nick Xenophon and the Greens are likely to vote to disallow the treaty, effectively killing it off.

The Prime Minister's decision to pull the treaty and avoid defeat in the Parliament is embarrassing for Ms Bishop, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Trade Minister Steve Ciobo, who all publicly defended the deal on Tuesday morning before the Prime Minister and his leadership group chose to reverse course.

Several Coalition MPs had discussed crossing the floor and conservative figures including Tony Abbott and Cory Bernardi have voiced opposition.

The meeting came just hours after China's Foreign Ministry called on Australia to approve the treaty.

Before the decision to drop the treaty, Ms Bishop said she disagreed with Mr Abbott's criticisms and spruiked the safeguards contained in the treaty.

A spokesman for Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the treaty would allow Australia to refuse extradition where a person could face the death penalty, torture, cruel treatment, or face political charges.

Mr Joyce conceded there were concerns among Coalition MPs but would not say explicitly why the longstanding deal required quick ratification by the current Parliament.

Australia will be the first member of the "five eyes" intelligence community to ratify an extradition treaty with China, and one of the few Western countries, alongside France and Spain, to do so. It is not clear how this could be the case, given the men are in China and being held by law enforcement officials.

"It is very much in Australia's national interests for us to have the highest level of co-operation with China and other countries with whom we have an extradition treaty", she said.

In 2015, a staggering 1.232 million people were found guilty by Chinese courts, while 1039 people accused were found to be innocent - a conviction rate of 99.92 per cent - a fact that Senator Bernardi said made him question the impartiality of the legal system.

It is also a blow for Mr Turnbull, who revived the long-dormant process of ratification a year ago, with Australia seeking closer cooperation with Chinese law enforcement to stem a rising tide of synthetic drugs trafficked from southern China.

The story Cory Bernardi and Amnesty share concerns over China extradition first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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