Friday, 23 November 2018

 Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme to commence December 10

Media release

The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (FITS) will commence on 10 December, 2018.

The Attorney-General announced the start date today, saying FITS would enhance transparency across the Australian Government and safeguard the nation's democracy.

"FITS will provide visibility of the forms and sources of foreign influence in Australia's governmental and political processes," the Attorney-General said.

"Covert foreign influence can have serious implications for political sovereignty and national policy.  This can result in the interests of foreign principals being placed over Australian national interests without appropriate transparency.

"FITS, along with the Espionage and Foreign Interference Act, both of which passed Parliament with bipartisan support in June of this year, provide key protections to our national security and democratic institutions and processes and support our sovereignty, values and national interests.

"These new national security Acts were requested by our national security agencies and reflect the fact that, as we have heard time and time again from our most senior national security leaders, we live in a time of unprecedented foreign intelligence activity against Australia with more foreign agents, from more foreign powers, using more tradecraft to engage in espionage and foreign interference than at any time since the Cold War."

From Monday, 10 December 2018, any person who undertakes certain activities, on behalf of a foreign principal for the purpose of influencing a political or government process will be required to register under the scheme. 

A register of all those covered by the scheme and details about their activities as well as the nature of their arrangements with foreign principals will be publicly available.

The Attorney-General said since the passage of the legislation the Government has been finalising two sets of rules under the Foreign Influence Transparency Act 2018, which would underpin the operation of the FITS.

The first is a set of rules specifying the disclosures that must be made when undertaking communications activity.  This could include media broadcasts, articles or messages sent via applications such as WhatsApp.

The second set of rules will set out what information about registrants will be made public. This includes:

  • names the registrant and the foreign principal would be known by;
  • details of the arrangements with a foreign principal;
  • details of the activity being undertaken on behalf of the foreign principal; and
  • the date or period in which the activity is taking place

Together, these rules will ensure the FITS provides as much transparency in the Australian democratic system as possible," the Attorney-General said.

"This is the first scheme of its kind in Australia. As such, detailed guidance materials are being prepared to support those who will need to register.

"Foreign actors will remain free to promote their interests in Australia, provided this is done in a lawful, open and transparent way."

The IT platform to allow participants to register is almost complete with testing to be conducted later this month, ahead of its official launch on 10 December 2018.