Home / Top News / Ordinary citizen or foreign agent? Mundane activities fall under Coalition’s anti-interference laws

Ordinary citizen or foreign agent? Mundane activities fall under Coalition’s anti-interference laws


March 15, 2018 07:16:25

Indigenous rangers and migrant families could be among the Australians caught up in the Federal Government’s laws aimed at foreign agents.

Key points:

  • A peak body for charities described the bill as “incredibly confusing”
  • The Attorney-General said the Government would consider changes
  • Australians with foreign relatives may be affected

The Coalition’s proposal is designed to make foreign influence on domestic politics more transparent through a registration scheme.

A parliamentary committee has been looking at the details, where the legislation has been widely criticised for being so broad as to affect most charities and universities.

Now, the full reach of the legislation has been revealed in documents provided to the committee by the Attorney-General’s Department.

Family may have to report checking on relatives’ visa applications

The committee asked questions about how the registration scheme would work in practice, which the department answered in writing.

One question asked whether, for example, a grandmother asking her Australian-based grandson to write to the Immigration Minister about the progress of a cousin’s student visa application would fall under the proposed legislation.

The answer from the Attorney-General’s Department confirmed the grandson would indeed have to report his activities, just for helping his relatives.

“As the bill is currently drafted, the Australian permanent resident would be required to register under the Scheme. However … it may be desirable for an exemption for individual representations to be included in the bill.”

Another scenario put to the department asked if like-minded political parties (such as the Australian Labor Party and New Zealand Labour Party, or the Liberal Party of Australia and the UK Conservatives) were to meet and agree to pursue a particular policy issue in their own countries would constitute collaboration.

The answer? “Possibly. This will depend on the facts and circumstances.”

The Attorney-General’s Department said it was not clear as “the Australian citizens may have decided to try to influence their own party of their own volition, rather than due to the joint resolution.”

Bill ‘incredibly confusing’

Charities and universities have been raising concerns about the legislation and point to scenarios such as these as examples of the flaws with the bill.

David Crosbie from the Community Council for Australia — a peak body for charities and not-for-profit organisations — described the bill as “incredibly confusing” and “the most over-reach” he’s seen.

“It captures almost any kind of activity of any Australian individual or group who has some kind of relationship with someone overseas and is trying to seek any kind of policy improvement in Australia.”

He gives a real-life example he has come across of Indigenous rangers working in land management that are funded by an American charitable trust.

If there were attempts to expand the program, the Indigenous Australians could find themselves cast as foreign agents.

“If those Indigenous rangers actually advocate for their role, for more people to be employed in that role, then they become a foreign agent [of the American trust] as a consequence.”

Mr Crosbie wants the Federal Government to re-write the legislation in close consultation with charities and others potentially affected by the new laws.

Government may make changes

Attorney-General Christian Porter has indicated the Government is willing to make changes.

In a statement to the ABC, Mr Porter said, “As the department’s submission itself notes, there are areas where individual exemptions may be appropriate.

“The standard process is that the parliamentary committee will consider submissions and deliver a report.

“After the delivery of that report is when the Government considers a response to the issues raised and I will follow this standard process.

“As usually occurs, I would expect the committee to recommend sensible and appropriate drafting changes to improve the bill.”










First posted

March 15, 2018 05:47:48

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