Foreign agents to be forced to declare international links under new laws

Foreign agents to be forced to declare international links under new laws

Foreign agents to be forced to declare international links under new laws

Updated 14 November 2017, 18:20 AEDT

Individuals or groups who try to influence Australia's democracy on behalf of a foreign power will be forced to declare who they're working for under proposed new laws to be soon introduced to Parliament.

Individuals or groups who try to influence Australia's democracy on behalf of a foreign power will be forced to declare who they are working for under new laws to be introduced to Parliament soon.

Attorney-General George Brandis has revealed more details of proposed measures to counter the "insidious" threat of foreign influence on the nation's political systems, as concerns grow about the threat posed by Chinese Communist Party agents and other international actors.

"In these sittings, the Government will introduce legislation … which comprehensively revises our espionage, sabotage, treason, and secrecy offences, and introduces a new category of offences criminalising certain acts of covert foreign interference," Senator Brandis told Parliament.

"Espionage and covert foreign interference can cause immense harm to our national sovereignty, to the safety of our people, to our economic prosperity, and to the very integrity of Australian democracy.

"We are increasingly seeing public reports of the insidious effect of covert foreign influence being directed against other liberal democracies as well, whether it be through interference in democratic elections overseas, or the stifling of free and open debate within our community."

A new "Transparency Scheme", modelled in part on the United States' Foreign Agents Registration Act, would "require individuals or institutions to make a declaration if they are acting on behalf of a foreign power to influence the political processes of Australia", Senator Brandis said.

This week the ABC revealed a leading publisher had blamed fear of Chinese legal action for its decision not to print a book which further exposed Beijing's influence in Australia.

In recent months senior public officials have expressed warnings over the growing influence of China and the need to protect freedom of speech.

The Turnbull Government's proposed legislation will include banning foreign political donations and measures to enhance and reform the espionage and foreign interference-related offences in the Criminal Code.