Australia, citing concerns over China cracks down on foreign political influence

Pauline Gross
December 6, 2017

Australia expressed deep concern last month over a crackdown on pro-democracy groups in Cambodia.

The federal government will ban foreign political donations, require lobbyists for foreign powers to register and impose offences for acts of foreign interference in sweeping new laws to be introduced to parliament.

"Foreign powers are making unprecedented and increasingly sophisticated attempts to influence the political process, both here and overseas", Turnbull told reporters in Canberra, Australia's capital. That Beijing would use seduction, corruption and coercion to promote its interests is neither surprising nor unique.

The sharp comments from a foreign ministry spokesman come in response to the Turnbull government's decision to press ahead with a crackdown on foreign interference, with the introduction of legislation aiming to counter incidences of espionage and improper foreign influence within Australia's political system.

Americans well understand the potency of concerns about foreign influence in elections given the allegations about Russian interference in the US Presidential election.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has used powerful rhetoric to announce the laws, describing them as being created to protect Australia's "way of life".

Under the new laws, it will be a crime for a person to engage in conduct on behalf of a foreign principal that will influence a political or governmental process, including opposition party policy, and is either covert or involves deception. He was also revealed to have advised a Chinese businessman with alleged government connections he may have been surveilled by Australian intelligence services.

The definitions of treason and espionage would also be broadened under the new laws to include possessing or receiving sensitive information, rather than just transmitting it.

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Attorney-General George Brandis said the conduct alleged against Senator Dastyari, who has been banished to the opposition backbenches over his dealings with a Chinese businessman, did not reach the threshold of current treason and espionage laws.

There will also be a new offence that will criminalize soliciting or procuring a person to engage in espionage, and a new "preparation and planning" offence.

Labor asked the question during Parliamentary Question Time on Tuesday, and the Prime Minister's answers quickly turned to the untoward actions of Labor Senator Sam Dastyari.

Espionage will carry a penalty of up to life in jail.

Dastyari was revealed past year to have accepted money from a Chinese businessman. It criticised the proposed laws as an attempt to avoid scrutiny of government policies and for failing to curtail donations from multinational corporations. They need to concentrate on matters truly in the national interest, ' he said.

Former President Obama's administration a year ago called for the Australian system to be reformed to remove the influence of political donations from China - Australia's largest trading partner and its biggest source of foreign political funds.

Unlike the US and many other countries that ban foreign donations, Australian law has never distinguished between donors from Australia and overseas.

Other reports by GizPress

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