Tough new laws to crack down on for­eign in­flu­ence

BRAN­DIS LAWS FORCE ME­DIA FIRMS AND LOB­BY­ISTS TO REGIS­TER AS AGENTS

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - PRIM­ROSE RIOR­DAN

For­eign state me­dia out­lets and lob­by­ists for over­seas com­pa­nies could be forced to regis­ter as for­eign agents un­der tough new laws that will crim­i­nalise covert for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in Aus­tralia.

At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Ge­orge Bran­dis said for­eign in­flu­ence was “a prob­lem of the high­est or­der” and “get­ting worse”. The crack­down comes as

The Aus­tralian can re­veal 18year-old Chi­nese stu­dent Bao Zhuox­uan, plan­ning to study in Mel­bourne, has been barred from leav­ing China be­cause his mother is a hu­man rights lawyer.

For­eign state me­dia out­lets and lob­by­ists for over­seas com­pa­nies could be forced to regis­ter as for­eign agents un­der tough new laws that will crim­i­nalise covert for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in Aus­tralia.

At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Ge­orge Bran­dis said it was clear that for­eign in­flu­ence was “a prob­lem of the high­est or­der” and warned “it is get­ting worse”.

The move by the Turn­bull govern­ment comes amid con­cerns about China-backed groups nom­i­nat­ing as can­di­dates in Aus­tralian elec­tions, and do­na­tions made to po­lit­i­cal par­ties and uni­ver­si­ties.

“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 own com­mu­nity,” Sen­a­tor Bran­dis said.

“We be­lieve that only Aus­tralian in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions should be able to par­tic­i­pate in Aus­tralian elec­tions.”

There have also been con­cerns about the in­volve­ment of em­bassies in stu­dent groups at uni­ver­si­ties af­ter the Chi­nese con­sulates in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne were in­volved in cases in which stu­dents tar­geted lec­tur­ers ac­cused of teach­ing “of­fen­sive” course ma­te­rial.

“The di­rec­tor-gen­eral of ASIO, which is of course the agency pri­mar­ily re­spon­si­ble for in­ves­ti­gat­ing es­pi­onage and for­eign in­ter­fer­ence, has ad­vised that for­eign in­tel­li­gence ac­tiv­ity against Aus­tralia con­tin­ues to oc­cur on an un­prece­dented scale,” the At­tor­ney-Gen­eral said.

The US govern­ment has al­ready launched a crack­down on for­eign lob­by­ists and their regis­tra­tion as for­eign agents fol­low­ing al­le­ga­tions the Krem­lin at­tempted to in­flu­ence the US elec­tion.

The Aus­tralian laws will in­clude a scheme mod­elled on the US’s For­eign Agents Regis­tra­tion Act, which au­thor­i­ties used on Mon­day to regis­ter Rus­sia’s RT news chan­nel. Some Chi­nese state me­dia al­ready have to regis­ter as for­eign agents in the US.

The laws, to be in­tro­duced in this round of par­lia­men­tary sit­tings, will in­clude long-awaited changes to ban for­eign do­na­tions and will re­form the es­pi­onage and for­eign in­ter­fer­ence-re­lated of­fences in the Crim­i­nal Code.

Sen­a­tor Bran­dis said: “That regime will re­quire in­di­vid­u­als or in­sti­tu­tions to make a dec­la­ra­tion if they are act­ing on be­half of a for- eign power to in­flu­ence the po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses of Aus­tralia.”

The US in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a for­eign agent is wide, ac­cord­ing to brief­ing note from Wash­ing­ton DC law firm Wi­ley Rein.

“The scope of FARA is far­reach­ing, ren­der­ing many un­sus­pect­ing po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tants, lob­by­ists, pub­lic re­la­tions coun­sel, etc sub­ject to regis­tra­tion,” the firm said. “The statute de­fines a “for­eign prin­ci­pal” to in­clude not only for­eign gov­ern­ments and for­eign po­lit­i­cal par­ties, but also for­eign per­sons and cor­po­ra­tions.”

“For­eign prin­ci­pals” un­der the US laws in­clude gov­ern­ments, as­so­ci­a­tions, and com­pa­nies who are or­gan­ised un­der the laws of a for­eign coun­try or who have their prin­ci­pal place of busi­ness as a for­eign coun­try.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s for­mer cam­paign man­ager, Paul Manafort, was re­cently forced to file ret­ro­spec­tively as a for­eign agent af­ter his pre­vi­ous con­sult­ing work for a pro-Rus­sia po­lit­i­cal party in Ukraine came un­der the spot­light.

Sen­a­tor Bran­dis is yet to re­lease the leg­is­la­tion, so it re­mains un­clear how the Aus­tralian laws would op­er­ate. Par­lia­ment’s Joint Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity will re­view the leg­is­la­tion once it is in­tro­duced.

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