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Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Page: 14494

Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsDeputy Manager of Opposition Business) (17:21): The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Amendment Bill 2019 makes amendments to the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018, commonly referred to as the FITS Act. The FITS Act created a registration scheme for persons undertaking certain activities on behalf of foreign government related entities, foreign political organisations and foreign government related individuals. This bill makes a number of changes to the existing law to close what are, in effect, loopholes in the existing Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.

First, the bill amends the definition of 'communications activity' in section 13 of the FITS Act to include people and companies who produce material on behalf of a foreign principal for the purpose of that information being communicated or distributed to the public. This addresses a gap in the current scheme. Under the existing definition, a foreign principal could pay an advertising agency to produce content and those ads could potentially run on national television without triggering registration or disclosure obligations under the FITS Act. The amendment to the definition of 'communications activity' addresses that gap. In the example I just gave, the advertising agency would be subject to registration and disclosure obligations under the FITS Act.

Second, the bill would make a minor drafting clarification to section 14 of the FITS Act. Currently, section 14 provides that the purpose of the activity must be determined having regard to, among other things, 'the intention or belief of the person undertaking the activity'. The amendment would make it clear that the relevant belief is the person's belief about the intention of any foreign principal on whose behalf an activity is undertaken. This will ensure that, even if a foreign principal does not explicitly state that a particular activity is intended to influence a political decision, it will be relevant if the person undertaking the activity believes that to be the foreign principal's intention.

Third, the bill amends sections 35, 37 and 38 of the FITS Act to address a number of gaps in the reporting obligations under the act. Currently, disclosure obligations only apply where a person is already registered under the scheme. These amendments will, among other things, align the act's registration and reporting time frames to capture people who are liable to register but who have not yet registered and ensure that the obligation to make disclosures in respect of relevant activities extends to all people who undertake such activities on behalf of a foreign principal and not just to people who are already registered.

Finally, the bill would amend the offence provision in section 57 of the FITS Act to align it with normal Commonwealth drafting practices for criminal offence provisions.

We will be supporting the changes in this bill to address the various drafting problems with the FITS Act that have come to light, despite the fact that the government worked on that piece of legislation for well over a year. This bill highlights, once again, the need to ensure all legislation—but especially national security legislation—is the subject of proper consultation, considered drafting and thorough preparation before it is brought to the parliament. It makes the job of all of us in this place easier and it makes our laws better. If we had spent less time during the 45th Parliament fixing the government's avoidable mistakes, we could have spent more time working on the solutions to the very real problems that continue to exist in the Australian community. I commend the bill to the House.