Friday, 08 June 2018

Attorney-General focuses on next key national security legislation

Media release

Following the release yesterday of the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security, Attorney-General, Christian Porter said he was now focused on securing the passage of the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill.

"Given the successful conduct and conclusion of the process engaged on with the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill, the Government has determined to replicate the central feature of that process on the now remaining report into the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill (FITS); being the provision of tangible assistance to the committee in the form of submitting a range of drafted amendments that address the most substantive stakeholder issues," the Attorney-General said.

"Accordingly, the Government last night provided the PJCIS with a series of drafted amendments to the FITS Bill which effect the following changes addressing the major areas of concern from stakeholders:

  1. Limiting the foreign principals (where acting on behalf of the foreign principal would require registration) to foreign governments, foreign government related entities, foreign political organisations and foreign government-related individuals. This ensures that only organisations or individuals ultimately working at the direction of a foreign government or political party are required to register.

    Under these amendments the vast majority of private international companies would not be considered foreign principals unless it can be shown they are closely related to a foreign government or political organisation.

  2. The definition of 'communications activity' would be enhanced, so that broadcasters, carriage service providers and publishers would not be required to register under the scheme where they are undertaking their ordinary business—that is, where they are simply broadcasting, transmitting or publishing content overtly on behalf of the newly defined, narrower set of foreign principals.

  3. The definition of 'activity for the purpose of political or government influence' would also be amended so that a substantial purpose of the activity has to be political influence, rather than just 'a' purpose of it.

  4. In response to suggestions from the university sector and charities we would amend the definition of 'undertaking activity on behalf of a foreign principal' so that a person isn't deemed to be undertaking an activity merely because they are supervised by, receive funding from or collaborate with a foreign principal.

  5. A new power would be created that allows the Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department to issue transparency notices stating that a person or organisation is considered a foreign government related entity or individual for the purposes of the scheme. This would allow the Government to investigate and declare where it considers companies or individuals are hiding their connections to foreign governments.

Given the rapidly changing threat environment, and given that the EFI and FITS Bills are designed to operate in tandem as a full response to these threats, the Government considers that with the provision of these additional drafting changes and with the same bipartisan approach and effort recently evident on the EFI Bill, that the final Report on the FITS Bill can now also be produced to allow both Bills to be passed in the remaining Parliamentary sittings before the winter break.

Most critically this would allow for Australia's new legal framework designed to address espionage, interference and foreign influence in Australia's democratic processes to be passed before the conduct of five key Australian by-elections and be fully operational before the next scheduled general election.

"It's vital that our national security legislation and framework reflects the modern challenges that we face and this Bill and that framework remains dangerously incomplete while these two remaining and critical Bills remain unlegislated," the Attorney-General said.