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Thursday, 14 February 2019
Page: 10273

National Security


Senator BURSTON (New South Wales) (14:30): My question is to the Minister representing the Attorney-General, Senator Cash. King & Wood Mallesons are a top-tier multinational legal firm. They are a Chinese owned firm with their headquarters based in Hong Kong, their global chairman based in Beijing and their global chief executive based in Hong Kong, with many partners being Chinese citizens. This firm is a major supplier to the Commonwealth government, and it is concerning that, pursuant to China's national intelligence law, their citizens have an obligation to provide information to their communist government. This firm has access to very sensitive information that is relevant to this country's interests, which the Chinese communist government has access to through its citizens. They in turn have access to this information within the firm, pursuant to their obligations under their laws. My question is: what does this government intend to do about it?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education) (14:31): I thank Senator Burston for the question and for giving me some prior notice. Senator Burston, I've managed to obtain the following information from the Attorney-General. The government is well aware of the risk of foreign influence and foreign interference in Australia. Our intelligence and security agencies have advised that it is occurring on an unprecedented scale. Under the Attorney-General's Legal Services Directions, sensitive Australian government legal work, including national security work, must only be undertaken by Australian government lawyers. Foreign ownership of companies operating in Australia, and the nature of any foreign laws or obligations that are applicable to that company, is something that the government takes account of when making relevant decisions. Foreign owned companies operating in Australia are required to abide by Australian law. If there is evidence that Australian laws are being flouted, this is obviously something that should be referred to the appropriate investigatory or regulatory bodies for consideration and appropriate action.

The government, Senator Burston, has taken a number of important steps to address the risk of foreign interference in Australia. In June 2018, you would be aware, Senator Burston, the government passed laws to strengthen Australia's espionage and foreign interference laws and to establish the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme commenced on 10 December 2018. The scheme will provide the public and government decision-makers visibility of the nature, level and extent of foreign influence on Australia's government and political processes.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Cash, the time for the answer has expired. Senator Burston, a supplementary question.



Senator BURSTON (New South Wales) (14:33): Have the King & Wood Mallesons lawyers breached the laws and rules for lawyers operating in Australian courts, and, if so, how can Australians be sure their confidential information is not being accessed by Chinese partners of King & Wood Mallesons?


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education) (14:33): I would refer to the information that I gave to you in answer to your primary question, but I can add: foreign owned companies operating in Australia, again, are required to abide by Australian laws. Legal firms and the legal profession must comply with Commonwealth, state and territory privacy and secrecy laws. State and territory regulatory regimes that govern law firms and legal practitioners include rules regarding use and disclosure of confidential information.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Burston, you haven't a supplementary question? Senator Duniam.