Australian government defies criticism of sweeping “foreign interference” bills


Australian government defies criticism of sweeping “foreign interference” bills

Mike Head

3 February 2018

The Turnbull government this week rejected calls by a wide range of groups to narrow the scope of its draconian “foreign interference” bills or provide clearer exemptions for political, media, university and human rights activities.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said he was open to minor amendments to the laws, which would brand and criminalise many forms of political activity as treasonous. But he ruled out what he derided as “sweeping, blanket exemptions for a variety of professions,” including journalists, academics and lawyers.

Numerous submissions and testimonies given to a rushed two-day parliamentary committee hearing this week underscore how far the bills would eviscerate free speech, political dissent and media reporting.

Fuelling the virulent anti-China witch-hunting campaign in the media, Porter and others suggested that the critics are playing into the hands of enemies seeking to damage Australia’s “national interests.”

Porter defended the tenfold increase, to 20 years, in the potential penalties for breaches of official secrecy laws, and the extension of the laws to cover material deemed “harmful to Australia’s interests,” even if not classified as secret. “That is simply about having the proper and modern disincentives in place for people to deal with information in a way that’s contrary to our national interests,” he said.

Government MP and former SAS captain Andrew Hastie, who heads the parliamentary committee examining the bills—the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security—declared he was not convinced any changes to the proposed bills were needed.

Before any hearings were even held, Hastie told the…

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