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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4097

Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (11:56): I rise to speak on the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2018. Labor believes in transparency. We have seen in the 2016 US presidential elections, in Brexit and in the French presidential election attempts by foreign powers to interfere with and influence the democratic processes in those countries. Labor is determined to shine a light on any covert or deceptive foreign influence that has the potential to corrode the governmental and political processes of our nation. We take the safeguarding of our free and fair elections very, very seriously.

It was with these fundamental beliefs in mind that Labor approached the PJCIS inquiry into the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill. We welcome the fact that the government has recognised the need for significant fixes to its earlier bill, and there has certainly been a significant narrowing of the cohort of people in organisations that would be caught by this bill. In particular, Labor has worked constructively to ensure that charities, arts organisations, unions and religious organisations will generally be exempt from the operation of the scheme. The work of Australian charities here and abroad has had a tremendous impact on the lives of millions of people. Labor has always wanted this to work to continue without burdening our charities with unnecessary red tape. Labor also welcomes amendments that would create an exemption for arts organisations. Fostering cross-cultural artistic exchange is an essential part of maintaining and enhancing a vibrant multicultural Australia.

This bill in its original form was far too broad in its definitions. For example, the original provisions could have gone so far as to impact the work of Indigenous rangers. Indigenous rangers' work in Indigenous protected areas is an incredible public benefit to Australia. But it is more than that. It has profoundly significant impacts on the lives of First Nations people. We talk in this House about closing the gap. We talk in this House about the importance of employment opportunities. Indigenous rangers across the coastlines of our country are doing tremendous work. They need far more support and certainly not red tape. They are tackling feral animal impacts and invasive weeds. They are ensuring fire is well managed. They are protecting cultural sites and managing tourism impacts. They are leaders in their communities under the guidance of their elders.

In my own home community of Borroloola in the Gulf of Carpentaria, we have four language groups: the Yanyuwa, the Garrwa, the Marra and the Gudanji peoples. We have the li-Anthawirriyarra Rangers, whose name means 'our spiritual origin comes from the sea country'. And it is the sea country that the li-Anthawirriyarra Rangers look after. They protect the coastlines, they monitor the dugongs and sea turtles and they look at the harvesting that takes place. And they keep an eye out for any illegal activity. They certainly do Australia proud and they certainly do our communities proud.

Labor supports this critical work, not only to create jobs where they are desperately needed but to ensure that our beautiful country retains its natural and cultural heritage. We will seek change in any legislation that unreasonably inhibits or limits this kind of work, or, indeed, those advocating for it, whether they be Indigenous rangers and traditional owners themselves—many of whom I meet with regularly across the Northern Territory and certainly here in Canberra—whether they be the non-profit charities they work with, or, indeed, their own charities which they are forming to take control of their own circumstances. The recent FITS legislation, as proposed, significantly threatens the ability of Indigenous rangers and their partners to advocate freely for positive policy in Australia with regard to remote Indigenous jobs and for a healthy environment and cultural heritage.

Indigenous rangers are also incredibly significant because of the work of our women rangers—our strong women rangers—who have an opportunity to stand on par as carers for country. That's just one of the reasons my colleagues and I, particularly Mark Dreyfus, Andrew Leigh and Senator McAllister, were adamant that the bill had to go through the committee process. I'm pleased to say that our work was accepted by the committee members opposite, including Senator Abetz, who I understand presented detailed questioning to ensure that the feral camel issue was not somehow being used for ill intent by other countries through the rangers' work. This is quite a unique concern, but, nonetheless, I do congratulate the senator for his diligence and look forward to his further insights on the feral camel issue. I know that many rangers, especially in our desert regions across Central Australia—along the Arrarnta and the Anangu country—are working to address this.

But, more seriously, we must protect our democracy and we must protect our environment and culture. Part of that means being able to speak up freely—every Australian—for those things we do hold dear. Our rangers and Indigenous Protected Areas are doing wonderful work. Our country needs people; that's an important theme of First Nations rangers, particularly the many First Australians who have always cared for it. I will always fight for the expansion and security of that work in this place, and I hope that every senator here will see why and will stand strong in that too. We have a huge nation and we have much to care for. Let's work to extend and secure these jobs and that work more broadly, not threaten them inadvertently or otherwise through legislation that is badly drafted, rushed and ill considered.

While we're on the subject of foreign influence, I also just wanted to make a few brief comments surrounding the cuts to the ABC, and this government's efforts to discredit and, certainly, to dilute Australians' perceptions of our public broadcaster. I am passionate about this issue, because it does impact. One of those impacts was the ABC having to make the decision to discontinue ABC short-wave radio services in both rural Australia as well as the Pacific. Again, where short-wave radio was in northern Australia is now just silence. Our farmers and cattle stations, our Indigenous rangers and our fishermen and women out on the seas would use the short-wave radio of the ABC, and now there is no communication.

It's interesting, and I have to note, that a government which claims to want to tackle foreign influence also wants to diminish Australian content and create a void for other agents of influence to fill. I am talking, of course, about the recent news reports that suggest that Radio Australia's former short-wave frequencies are now being used by China Radio International, that country's state owned overseas broadcaster. If we really want to counter foreign influence, it's hugely important that we have a properly funded public broadcaster that Australians can rely upon both at home and overseas.