Australian government vows to pass “foreign interference” bills


Australian government vows to pass “foreign interference” bills

Mike Head

2 June 2018

The Australian government this week reiterated its determination to push through unprecedented “foreign interference” bills, even if they affect a broad range of people and organisations involved in political activity.

Attorney-General Christian Porter told the Australian on Thursday he would not withdraw the bills, which will compel thousands of people to list themselves on a public register if they lobby for, or co-operate with, a “foreign” person or entity.

Porter dismissed the newspaper’s suggestion that one of the measures, the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme (FITS) Bill, could effectively defame people by portraying them as agents of foreign influence because they had to register.

“Whilst there can be significant improvements to the drafting to improve the regulatory impact, there is no overarching concern that mere registration paints a poor picture of anyone,” Porter said.

A key figure in the Liberal-National government, Porter rejected calls from Murdoch’s Australian and other corporate media outlets to scrap and redraft the FITS bill to target only “influence” exercised on behalf of foreign governments. Instead, he said the bill could be amended to provide a wider media exemption “without detracting from the overall intent and outcome.”

Porter’s comments underscore the far-reaching threat to freedom of speech and other fundamental legal and democratic rights contained in the package of five bills, which also criminalise any joint political activity with overseas or global organisations.

His remarks further demonstrate the intensifying pressure that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government is under. Washington and Australia’s…

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