Time To End Foreign Influence Transparency Exemption For MPs

18 November 2019

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick is pushing to enact a Parliamentary Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme to end the exemption that allows MPs and their staff to not disclose their connections with foreign governments. 

“Members of Parliament enjoy special status as elected representatives of the Australian people,” Senator Patrick said. “With that status comes an equally important obligation to ensure that all our activities, inside and outside the Parliament, are conducted with maximum transparency and without any undeclared conflict with the interests of our constituents and our nation as a whole.” 

“Federal parliamentarians are arguably the ultimate targets of political influence and interference activities conducted by foreign governments, yet MPs and Senators are exempt from the disclosure and reporting requirements that apply to all other Australians.”

“A Parliamentary foreign influence transparency law is vital to safeguard national security and the integrity of our democratic processes.” 

In June 2018 the Parliament passed the Foreign Influence Transparency Act 2018 (the FITS Act) which established a reporting and public disclosure regime for people who are acting on behalf of foreign governments or foreign political organisations to influence Australian government and political processes.

At that time the Coalition Government insisted, and the Labor Opposition agreed, that the legislation was urgently required. Administered by the Attorney­-General's Department, the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme came into effect on 11 December 2018.

Federal, state and territory parliamentarians are excluded from the disclosure requirements of the FITS Act. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security recommended that Parliament should establish its own transparency scheme with appropriate penalties for non-compliance. Some seventeen months later the Parliament has not acted on this recommendation. Instead the only action that has taken place has been the proclamation of a regulation to extend the exemption to all staff of Federal MPs and Senators. 

“What was declared an urgent security issue in relation to all other Australians appears to be much less of a priority for Federal MPs when the question relates to their own activities,” Senator Patrick said. “The Coalition and Labor clearly need encouragement to move forward on this.” 

“Accordingly, I have given instructions for a Bill to be drafted to enact a stand-alone Parliamentary Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.”

“This will impose mandatory disclosure and reporting requirements for activities undertaken of behalf of any foreign principal by Members of the House of Representatives, Senators, their staff, and/or officers of the Australian Parliamentary Service.”  

“The disclosure and reporting requirements for MPs and Senators will be greater than those currently applying to other Australians under the FITS Act. MPs and Senators will also be required to disclose any activity undertaken on behalf of a foreign principal in the decade prior to their election to Parliament.” 

“The legislation will also impose significant criminal penalties for non-compliance so that any MP or Senator convicted of breaking the rules would no longer be qualified to sit in Parliament.” 

“The higher level of disclosure and transparency proposed by Centre Alliance is essential to give the Australian public confidence in the integrity of the Australian Parliament and to safeguard national security.”  

The attached paper has been prepared to inform drafting of a Private Senator’s Bill for introduction into the Parliament in the first week of Parliamentary sitting in February next year. 

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