The federal government has begun the process of ratifying a long-stalled and controversial extradition treaty with China.
The treaty has been on hold since 2007, when it was signed under former Prime Minister John Howard but never ratified.
The government introduced regulations on Thursday to enable the treaty’s ratification in to the lower house. The regulations will have to pass both houses of parliament before the treaty can come into force.
If ratified, Australia will become the third Western country to enter into an extradition agreement with China, joining Spain and France.
Australia would be the first of the so-called ‘five-eyes’ alliance, which also includes the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, to ratify an extradition treaty with China.
The move comes as the Chinese government continues its anti-corruption campaign and its so-called “fox-hunt” operation of returning corruption suspects overseas.
The Chinese Public Security Ministry says more than 850 fugitives were returned to China last year, mostly from South-East Asian countries.
The Chinese government has previously released lists of fugitives they believe to be hiding in Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Canada.
Professor of International Law at the University of New South Wales, Andrew Byrnes told SBS News many people in the legal community were concerned about the treaty.
“The Chinese legal system in many respects falls a long way short of the accepted international fair trial standards,” Professor Byrnes said.
“Normally when we deal with those sorts of situations we don’t enter in to extradition treaties with countries where we have real concerns.”
The treaty had clauses allowing for extradition to be denied on the basis of the death penalty or concerns of political persecution.
However, Professor Byrnes said the Australian government wasn’t able to deny extradition based on concerns for a fair trial, a clause that is in 10 of Australia’s other extradition treaties.
He also said the Australian authorities may find it difficult to deny Chinese extradition requests due to diplomatic pressure from Beijing.
In a statement the Attorney-General’s Department told SBS News each extradition request would be considered on a case-by-case basis, in line with the human rights safeguards in the treaty and the Extradition Act.
“The treaty contains a range of human rights safeguards which must be satisfied before a person can be extradited,” the statement said.
“Successive Australian governments have given effect to international crime cooperation arrangements, including extradition treaties, to ensure criminals cannot evade justice by simply crossing borders.”
It isn’t clear whether the regulations to enable the treaty will get through parliament.
The shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told SBS News the Labor Party was yet to finalise its position on the treaty.
But Labor members of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties raised several concerns around the treaty’s human rights and fair trial safeguards in a report in December.
“Taken together, the deficiencies in the treaty with China and in Australia’s legislative framework for extradition raise concerns for Labor members,” the ‘Dissenting Report’ read.
The committee made recommendations to the government to strengthen safeguards in the treaty. The government accepted some, but not all of the recommendations.