Australia to ban foreign interference in politics

Australia to ban foreign interference in politics

The announcement comes as a USA investigation into alleged election meddling by Russian Federation continues, and follows Obama administration concerns about Chinese money and influence in Australian politics.

Former President Obama's administration previous year 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.

The foreign influence and interference package will be complemented by another bill on electoral reform that will ban foreign political donations, Turnbull said.

"Being registered should not be seen as any kind of taint and certainly not as a crime", Mr Turnbull said.

"This will be the most significant overhaul of our espionage, counter intelligence, political donation legislative framework in decades", he told reporters in Canberra. Failing to disclose those ties will impose criminal penalties.

"A person who has been a cabinet minister within the previous three years must register if she or he acts on behalf of a foreign government, a foreign public enterprise, a foreign business or a foreign political organisation", Senator Brandis said.

The Attorney General George Brandis, speaking at the press conference, said the new legislation also "contemporizes" and expands the definitions of "treason" and "espionage" - the latter will now be defined as possessing or receiving information considered sensitive to national security, rather than simply transmitting it.

The legislation will also create a new offence of unlawful interference in Australia's political system, including behaviours that would harm the national interest.

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"If GetUp! were to change focus, if they were to stop involvement in political campaigning in the future and become a charity [and] only be involved in non-political activities, then they would be absolutely free to receive and use foreign donations", Senator Cormann said.

'That is why we are introducing, because of the gap in those laws, a new offence of unlawful foreign interference, ' he said.

GetUp! said in a statement only 0.5% of its donations come from overseas.

She said 97 per cent of donations last financial year were under $100 and were sourced from 57,149 individuals.

"We have no intention of interfering in Australia's internal affairs or exercising influence in its domestic politics through political donations, " Geng said. "This activity is being directed against a range of Australian interests, from our political systems, to our commercial interests, to expatriate communities who have made Australia their home".

But the particular change won't ban charities from engaging in political activities given that the political expenditure incurred to fund those activities is raised from Australians. The federal government is not going to tolerate foreign political donations.

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

The move - long overdue in the eye of most political scientists - is a direct response to revelations that a senior Labor senator has had untoward dealings with a Chinese businessman who has donated to Australian political parties.