SYDNEY – The Australian Government announced on Tuesday a package of legal reforms against foreign interference in order to counter espionage, counterintelligence and political donations.
The proposal follows the controversy over the influence exerted by China and donations to local politicians by Chinese agents, as well as the investigations in the United States over the possible Russian interference in the last presidential elections.
“Foreign powers are making unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process, both here and abroad,” Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters.
The bill seeks to create a new foreign influence transparency scheme which will require a person or entity participating in Australian politics on behalf of a foreign power to register.
“Both elements are required. The ties to the foreign player and the advocacy,” said Turnbull, who was accompanied by the Attorney-General George Brandis and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.
If links with foreign actors or interests are not disclosed to the authorities, the person or entity may be punished for criminal offences, he added.
The definitions of espionage and treason are also expected to be revised and a series of foreign interference offences added to the criminal code.
“If you act covertly on behalf of a foreign actor, in a way that harms Australia’s national security, to influence the political process, or a government decision, that conduct will be criminalized,” Brandis said.
Cormann said the government will present the bill on a foreign donations ban in the Senate later this week.
The finance minister said that only Australian firms and organizations should be able to influence the country’s elections through political donations.
He added that it does not prevent charitable organizations from receiving and using foreign donations for non-political activities in Australia.
Cormann also said these organizations can engage in the country’s political activities, as long as their funds are raised from Australians.