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What You Need to Know

What are sanctions?

Sanctions are measures not involving the use of armed force that are imposed in situations of international concern. They may be designed to bring a situation of international concern to an end by influencing those responsible; to limit the adverse impacts of a situation; or to penalise those responsible. 

Australia implements two types of sanctions:

  • United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions, which Australia must impose as a member of the UN.
  • Australian autonomous sanctions, which are imposed as a matter of Australian foreign policy.

In response to a situation of international concern, Australia and/or the UNSC may impose what is referred to as a sanctions ‘regime’. Each regime is usually described by reference to a country or group. Changes are regularly made to sanctions regimes. Australia currently implements the sanctions regimes shown below.

You can find a list and details of Australia’s sanctions regimes under Sanctions Regimes.

What are sanctions measures?

Each sanctions regime imposes sanctions measures, depending on the individual circumstances and objectives of the regime. The most common sanctions measures are:

  • Restrictions on trade in goods and services
  • Restrictions on engaging in commercial activities
  • Targeted financial sanctions (including asset freezes) on designated persons and entities
  • Travel bans on certain persons.

This website details the sanctions measures for each regime under Sanctions Regimes.  

Restrictions on trade in goods and services generally prohibit the export and/or import of certain goods and the provision of certain services. These measures typically prohibit the provision of certain goods and/or services to the country (or region) subject to the sanctions measure. However, trade restrictions may also apply to specific individuals, groups or entities. For example, counter-terrorism sanctions prohibit the export of goods or the provision of services to members of designated (named) terrorist groups, wherever they may be.

Restrictions on commercial activities are imposed by some sanctions regimes. The prohibited activities may include purchasing or selling shares in entities operating in certain industries or providing credit to certain entities.

Targeted financial sanctions prohibit:

  • directly or indirectly making an asset available to (or for the benefit of) a designated person or entity
  • an asset-holder using or dealing with an asset that is owned or controlled by a designated person or entity. As these assets cannot be used or dealt with, they are referred to as ‘frozen’.

Unlike trade restrictions which usually apply to specific goods and services, targeted financial sanctions prohibit the supply of any asset whatsoever to designated persons or entities.

The persons and entities on which targeted financial sanctions have been imposed are identified on the Consolidated List.

Travel bans prohibit the entry into or transit through Australia of designated persons. A person subject to a travel ban may be a citizen or resident of any country. 

The Department of Home Affairs is responsible for implementing all visa restrictions in respect of travel bans listed under Australian sanctions law.

What laws apply?

UNSC sanctions regimes are implemented under the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 and its regulations. There are separate regulations for each UNSC sanctions regime. These are administered by ASO.

Australian autonomous sanctions are implemented under the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011 and the Autonomous Sanctions Regulations 2011. These are also administered by ASO.

Travel bans imposed by autonomous sanctions regimes are given effect under the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011. Travel bans imposed by UNSC sanctions regimes are given effect under the Migration (United Nations Security Resolutions) Regulations 2007, which is administered by the Department of Home Affairs.

You will find a list of relevant legislation under each Sanctions Regime.

Who must comply with sanctions?

Australian sanctions laws apply to activities in Australia and to activities undertaken overseas by Australian citizens and Australian-registered bodies corporate (see section 7 of the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 and section 11 of the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011).

In some circumstances, it may be possible to obtain a permit from the Minister for Foreign Affairs to engage in an activity that would otherwise be prohibited by a sanctions measure. Different sanctions regimes impose different criteria for the grant of a permit. Conditions may also be attached to a sanctions permit. Go to Sanction Permits for more information. Information on the criteria for the grant of a permit is provided under each Sanctions Regime.

What penalties apply?

It is a serious criminal offence to contravene a sanctions measure (or a condition of a sanctions permit). The penalties include up to ten years in prison and substantial fines.

Serious penalties also apply for providing false or misleading information in relation to a sanctions activity (ten years in prison or a substantial fine), or failing to give information or documents requested in a notice from the ASO (12 months in prison).

Notice to give information or documents

In some circumstances ASO may issue a notice requiring you to give information or documents, including sworn evidence, for the purpose of determining whether a sanctions law has been complied with. Failure to comply with a notice is an offence punishable by 12 months in prison.


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