Australian government unveils sweeping anti-democratic “foreign interference” bills


Australian government unveils sweeping anti-democratic “foreign interference” bills

Part 2: Criminalising overseas links and donations

Mike Head

1 February 2018

This is the second part in a three-part series examining the wide-ranging implications for basic democratic rights of five bills tabled in the Australian parliament in December, which outlaw involvement in alleged foreign interference in Australian political and economic affairs. Part one was posted yesterday. In their sweeping language, the bills constitute an all-out assault on basic political and democratic rights.

The Australian government’s “security” bills target, first and foremost, anyone accused of links with China. In introducing them, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull accused the Chinese Communist Party of “covertly interfering” with “our media, our universities and even the decisions of elected representatives.”

More broadly, however, the bills outlaw any “collaboration” with overseas organisations. One bill contains severe criminal penalties for crimes related to “foreign interference.” Another imposes a new regime of registration and monitoring by authorities of political parties and other groups.

Foreign interference crimes

The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill creates unprecedented new offences for involvement in foreign interference.

The language is sweeping. Prison terms of up to 20 years could be imposed for conduct “on behalf of, or in collaboration with, a foreign principal,” that is intended to “influence a political or governmental process” or “influence the exercise” of an “Australian democratic or political right or duty.”

“In collaboration with” is not defined. It could cover…

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