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Espionage, foreign interference and foreign influence

On 7 December 2017, the Government introduced a comprehensive package of legislative reforms in the Australian Parliament, including legislation to:

  • enhance existing espionage, secrecy, treason, sabotage and related offences
  • introduce new offences targeting foreign interference and economic espionage
  • establish a Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.

Espionage and foreign interference laws

The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017 will:

  • strengthen existing espionage offences
  • introduce new foreign interference offences targeting covert, deceptive or threatening actions by foreign actors who intend to influence Australia’s democratic or government processes or to harm Australia
  • reform the Commonwealth’s secrecy offences, ensuring they appropriately criminalise leaks of harmful information while also protecting freedom of speech
  • introduce comprehensive new sabotage offences that effectively protect critical infrastructure in the modern environment
  • modernise and reform offences against government, including treason, to better protect Australia’s defence and democracy
  • introduce a new theft of trade secrets offence to protect Australia from economic espionage by foreign government principals
  • introduce a new aggravated offence for providing false and misleading information in the context of security clearance processes
  • ensure law enforcement agencies have access to telecommunications interception powers to investigate these serious offences.

For more information on these offences see the following facts sheets:

Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme

The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017 will establish the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. The scheme will introduce registration obligations for persons and entities who have certain arrangements with, or undertake certain activities on behalf of, foreign principals. The scheme provides visibility of the nature and extent of foreign influence over Australia’s government and political processes.

Whether a person or entity is required to register will depend on who the foreign principal is, the nature of the activities undertaken, the purpose for which the activities are undertaken, and in some cases, whether the person has recently held a senior public position in Australia.

A foreign principal includes:

  • a foreign government
  • a foreign public enterprise
  • a foreign political organisation
  • a foreign business, and
  • an individual who is neither an Australian citizen nor a permanent Australian resident.

Categories of registrable activities include:

  • parliamentary lobbying on behalf of a foreign government
  • parliamentary lobbying on behalf of other kinds of foreign principals for the purpose of political or governmental influence
  • general political lobbying for the purpose of political or governmental influence
  • communications activities for the purpose of political or government influence
  • donor activities for the purpose of political or governmental influence, and
  • employment or activities of recent Cabinet ministers, recent ministers, recent members of Parliament or recent senior Commonwealth public officials in the period immediately following their public role.

Under the scheme, registrants will be required to disclose information about the nature of their relationship with a foreign principal, and activities undertaken pursuant to that relationship (both at the initial point of registration and on an ongoing basis for the duration of the relationship).

The scheme also:

  • contains charges for registration and renewal of registration
  • establishes exemptions, including for diplomatic and consular activities and activities for the purposes of providing humanitarian aid
  • contains criminal offences ranging from failing to comply with obligations under the scheme, through to failing to register in circumstances where a person is required to do so, and
  • provides that some information will be made publicly available to achieve the transparency objectives of the scheme.

For more information on the scheme see the following fact sheet and overview:

The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (Charges Imposition) Bill 2017 will provide legislative authority for the Government to impose charges for applications for registration and renewal of registration under the scheme. Charges are intended to partially offset the costs involved in establishing, administering and maintaining the scheme.