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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6122

Mr HASTIE (Canning) (11:46): On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, I present the committee's advisory report on the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017.

Document made a parliamentary paper in accordance with the resolution agreed to on 28 March 2018.

Mr HASTIE: by leave—I am pleased to present the committee's report for its review of the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017.

The Prime Minister introduced the bill into the House on 7 December 2017 and referred it to the committee for inquiry and report.

This bill works on the premise that transparent, lawful foreign influence is a good thing and an important part of Australian democracy.

However, we cannot tolerate foreign influence activities that are in any way covert, coercive or corrupt.

When foreign influence is advanced through an intermediary, the source of the influence is disguised. In such circumstances, decision-makers and the public alike may be unaware of the influences being brought to bear on Australian government decision-making.

That is the line that separates legitimate influence from unacceptable interference.

The bill seeks to address that problem by establishing the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. The scheme will involve a public register. That register is intended to provide visibility of the level and extent of covert or obscured foreign influence in the course of political and governmental decision-making in this country.

Under the bill, a person will be liable to register if they undertake certain activities that seek to influence Australian political or government decisions, on behalf of individuals and entities that are closely linked to a foreign government.

During the committee's review of the bill, a large number of stakeholders supported its objective: to provide transparency of the level and extent of covert foreign influence in Australia.

However, as the committee's report notes, stakeholders did express concern over the implementation of that objective in the text of the bill. A central concern was the breadth of key definitions that establish a person's liability to register under the scheme.

To address many of those concerns, the Attorney-General wrote to the committee proposing a number of significant amendments. The committee welcomed those proposed amendments as a substantial contribution to narrowing the bill.

The committee's report addresses both the bill as introduced and the Attorney-General's proposed amendments.

Like many in this place, members of the committee have been concerned about the possibility of foreign parties influencing elections and government decisions in other liberal democracies.

This committee supports the establishment of the scheme as part of a suite of responses to address that challenge.

In its report, the committee has made 52 recommendations. Broadly, these recommendations address the following matters: (1) they further refine the scheme's scope, and the actors and activities that would be captured; (2) the activities that should be exempt from the scheme; (3) registrants' obligations for reporting and registering; (4) recalibrating the offences that will underpin the enforcement of the scheme; and (5) establishing appropriate oversight, review and implementation measures to ensure the scheme's effective operation.

On the recommendations that address the scope of the scheme, the committee has recommended further tightening of the definition of foreign entities that will enliven a person's liability to register. These recommendations will provide greater clarity to the scheme's purpose, and to members of the Australian public when assessing their liability to register.

The committee has also recommended that former cabinet ministers, ministers, members of parliament, and former senior public servants should carry additional obligations and for a longer period of time.

This is appropriate as these former office holders continue to occupy positions of influence, after leaving office, in the Australian polity. The committee has also recommended that these obligations extend to senior staff working for ministers.

To ensure that the scheme is only capturing the activities of identified concern, the committee has recommended that a range of appropriately targeted exemptions be established in the bill. This includes an exemption for charities, arts organisations and for certain professions such as tax agents engaged in their ordinary representations to government.

The committee has also recommended a suite of measures to ensure that the obligations on registrants are appropriately framed. This includes amending the bill to provide clarity about ongoing disclosure requirements and reducing the time period for which records must be kept.

Noting the broad powers of the secretary, the committee recommends some refinement to the processes and matters to be considered by the secretary before exercising those powers. This includes the power to issue provision transparency notices to provide the subject of those notices adequate procedural fairness.

The committee further recommends that the government give some consideration to the development of an independent administrator after an initial period of operation.

The committee has also considered the oversight and reporting architecture that will underpin the effective operation of the scheme. To that end, the committee recommends that various reviews and reports be provided to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.

Lastly, the committee has recommended that a new scheme be developed for members of parliament to register their representations on behalf of foreign governments and related entities. The committee is of the view that it would be inappropriate for members of parliament to register and report to a departmental secretary. However, it is essential that visibility and transparency is also brought to bear on decision-makers in the parliament. Accordingly a parallel, transparency influence scheme for the parliament should be developed and apply to sitting members of this House and members of the other place.

Following implementation of the recommendations in the report, the committee has recommended that the bill be passed.

Before I close, I'd like to thank the deputy chair, the member for Holt, a true patriot in the fullest sense of the word; and also the member for Isaacs, who has brought his considerable legal experience to bear in the improvement of this bill.

I thank the House and I commend the report to the House.