August 05, 2018

Australia: Espionage, foreign interference and foreign influence

On 28 June 2018, the Australian Parliament passed a comprehensive package of legislative reforms, including legislation to:

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

Espionage and foreign interference laws

The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018:

strengthens existing espionage offencesintroduces 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 Australiareforms the Commonwealth's secrecy offences, ensuring they appropriately criminalise leaks of harmful information while also protecting freedom of speechintroduces comprehensive new sabotage offences that effectively protect critical infrastructure in the modern environmentmodernises and reforms offences against government, including treason, to better protect Australia's defence and democracyintroduces a new theft of trade secrets offence to protect Australia from economic espionage by foreign government principalsintroduces a new aggravated offence for providing false and misleading information in the context of security clearance processesensures law enforcement agencies have access to telecommunications interception powers to investigate these serious offences.

Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme

The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018provides the public and government decision-makers visibility of the nature, level and extent of foreign influence on Australia's government and political process. 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.

The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme will commence within 12 months of the Bill receiving the Royal Assent (on 29 June 2018) unless proclaimed earlier. Rules will be made under the Act to set the form and manner in which registrants must apply. The government will publicise further details of the scheme and its commencement in due course.

A foreign principal includes:

a foreign governmenta foreign government related entitya foreign political organisationa foreign government related individual.

Categories of registrable activities include:

parliamentary lobbying on behalf of a foreign governmentparliamentary lobbying on behalf of other kinds of foreign principals for the purpose of political or governmental influencegeneral political lobbying for the purpose of political or governmental influencecommunications activities for the purpose of political or government influencedisbursement activities for the purpose of political or governmental influenceemployment 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:

establishes exemptions, including for diplomatic and consular activities, activities related to the provision of legal advice or representation, religious activities, a ctivities of registered charities, activities related to the arts and activities for the purposes of providing humanitarian aidestablishes a process for the Secretary of the department to issue a transparency notice if the Secretary is satisfied that a person is a foreign government related entity or a foreign government related individualcontains 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 soprovides that some information will be made publicly available to achieve the transparency objectives of the scheme.​​​

Espionage, foreign interference and foreign influence

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Media releases

Australia’s national security greatly enhanced with new laws - 28 June 2018


National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018

Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018

Related websites

Review of the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill 2017

Review of the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017




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