Coalition and Labor Fail on Proposed Parliamentary Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme

11 September 2019

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick will today move to reactivate the Senate’s lapsed inquiry into the establishment of a parliamentary foreign influence transparency scheme. 

"Media reporting yesterday about the claimed connections of a Coalition MP with China's foreign political influence operations highlights a very significant failure of the Coalition Government and the Labor Opposition," Senator Patrick said. 

"Amidst much debate about foreign interference in Australian politics, the Coalition and Labor have conspicuously failed to advance a key measure that would help protect the integrity of our democracy."

More than a year ago, on 28 June 2018, the Federal Parliament passed the Foreign Influence Transparency Act 2018 which established a public disclosure regime for persons and organisations who are acting on behalf of foreign governments or foreign political organisations to influence Australian government and political processes. At the time the Government insisted, and the Opposition agreed, that the legislation was urgently required to protect against covert foreign interference. 

In accordance with recommendations by the Parliamentary Joint Committee of Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), federal parliamentarians were excluded from the operation of the new transparency scheme. The PJCIS instead recommended that the Houses of Representatives and the Senate jointly establish a parallel foreign influence transparency scheme for MPs and Senators. This recommendation reflected the special position of parliamentarians as democratically elected representatives and the importance of parliamentary privilege in protecting MPs and Senators engaged in parliamentary business. 

The PJCIS further recommended that in developing a parallel scheme, consideration should be given to all conduct undertaken by Members and Senators in the course of their duties as parliamentarians, including conduct not directly related to proceedings in the Parliament. It was proposed that the parliamentary transparency scheme should be administered independently within the Parliament, should include an obligation to report registrable activities undertaken on behalf of a foreign principal, or registrable arrangements with a foreign principal, be appropriately adapted for the parliamentary environment; include power for an administrator to obtain information and documents, and appropriate sanctions for non-compliance. 

In October 2018 the Senate Standing Committee of Privileges and the House of Representatives Standing Committee of Privileges and Members’ Interests were directed to undertake parallel inquiries into the proposed parliamentarians foreign influence transparency scheme. However, these inquiries were not progressed, and both lapsed with the dissolution of the 45th Parliament in April 2019. 

Senator Patrick noted that neither inquiry has recommenced.

"After more than a year, the Coalition and Labor have completely failed to advance this important political transparency measure," Senator Patrick said. 

"There is no doubt that the Federal Parliament is the ultimate target of covert influence and interference activities pursued in Australia by foreign governments and political organisations." 

"The Government and Opposition have dropped the ball on this, and one must ask why?"

"Having argued that a Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme should as a matter of urgency apply to all Australians other than parliamentarians, why have the major parties been dragging the chain when it comes to themselves?"

"A Parliamentary Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme should be established without delay, and in applying disclosure requirements to serving MPs and Senators it should be as rigorous as the provisions applying to former Cabinet Ministers under the Foreign Influence Transparency Act."

"This is absolutely necessary to give the Australian public confidence that our political and government processes have not been compromised at the highest levels."

"Accordingly Centre Alliance is moving to re-establish the Senate inquiry as a matter of urgency with a view to report by the end of the year." 

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