Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Page: 9860

Foreign Donations


Senator BUSHBY (TasmaniaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (14:05): My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. Can the Attorney-General provide the Senate with further information regarding the new foreign interference legislation being introduced this week?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:05): I can, thank you, Senator Bushby. It, really, in a sense, follows from my responses to Senator Carr. As I said a moment ago to Senator Carr, this is very much a package. It is designed to ensure that, in relation to non-harmful, legitimate, lawful conduct, there is transparency. That's the transparency scheme piece of the legislation. In relation to malicious and harmful conduct, there are new offences, in particular the new offence of unlawful foreign interference, which will make it a criminal offence to act on behalf of a foreign principal so as to seek to affect the governmental and political processes of Australia in a covert manner—we can all think of a recent instance of that in this chamber, Mr President—and which will also, and this is Senator Cormann's piece of the package, prohibit foreign political donations and donations from foreign sources to try and influence the Australian political process or Australian political or electoral outcomes or activities.

Senator Bushby, we have, of course, heard the Labor Party bleating, for months and months, about foreign donations. Well, here we have the coalition government actually doing something about it—introducing a measure, which Senator Cormann will be introducing either today or tomorrow, that actually takes real and decisive action against foreign political donations. We hear the Labor Party and, even more, the Greens bleat about transparency. Here we've introduced a transparency scheme to ensure that the relationship between foreign principals and those who may engage on their behalf in Australia is a matter of transparent public record. And, of course, we have the shameful example of Senator Dastyari's conduct. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Bushby, a supplementary question.



Senator BUSHBY (TasmaniaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (14:07): Can the Attorney-General explain why these reforms are so important?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:07): They are so important because, as I said a moment ago, we need to protect Australia's democracy, our democratic system and, in particular, our political processes and our electoral system from undisclosed foreign influence. Foreign influence, as I said a moment ago, can be completely benign, as in the case of people who undertake a commission, for example, or a retainer for a foreign interest. But people who do that should be subject to a similar regime as lobbyists. That's the value of transparency.

But, of course, there can be malign influences too. If, for example, a foreign government, through an agent of influence, seeks to suborn or seduce an Australian politician—an Australian senator, for example—and behaves in a covert manner to get that person to change their party's policy to a policy more congenial to the foreign government, then there's something wrong with that, and we ought to do something about it—and we have. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Bushby, a final supplementary question.



Senator BUSHBY (TasmaniaChief Government Whip in the Senate) (14:09): Can the Attorney-General advise the Senate of any risks to these historic reforms?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:09): I think the risks, Senator Bushby, lie in those who engage in the very kind of conduct in this legislation. In particular, I'm speaking now of the foreign interference legislation and the new crime of unlawful foreign interference—the people who engage in that sort of conduct and those who protect them. We have the example of Senator Dastyari, who was given every opportunity last Thursday by this chamber to explain or deny the very serious allegations that had been made against him by credible journalists in the Fairfax press and the ABC and, in the course of a 20-minute speech, neither explained nor denied anything and, therefore, by his failure to deny the allegations, must be taken to have admitted them. The question arises: why does Mr Shorten continue to protect Senator Sam Dastyari?