Foreign spies, lobbyists and donations will be targeted under sweeping new laws that seek to fight interference with Australia's democratic institutions and influence on politicians.
Confirming on Tuesday the completion of a review into espionage and foreign interference laws, Attorney-General George Brandis on Tuesday said the new laws would include a long-awaited ban on foreign donations and a US-style foreign agents' register.
The tougher sanctions will tackle covert foreign interference, "a problem of the highest order [that] is getting worse" according to Senator Brandis.
"The Director-General of ASIO, the agency primarily responsible for investigating espionage, has advised that foreign intelligence activity against Australia continues to occur on an unprecedented scale.Espionage and covert foreign interference can cause immense harm to our economic prosperity and the very integrity of Australian democracy," he said, while also pointing to interference in the elections of other liberal democracies, such as by Russia in the 2016 US Presidential election.
The new laws will include "legislation to ban foreign political donations, legislation to enhance and reform the espionage and foreign interference related offences in the Criminal Code, and introducing a foreign influence transparency scheme, modelled in part on the United States's foreign agents registration act".
"The government will introduce legislation arising from that review, including legislation that comprehensively revises our espionage, sabotage, treason and secrecy offences, and introduces a new category of offences, criminalising certain acts of covert foreign interference."
The new "transparency scheme", or register for foreign agents, will mean that people or institutions will have to declare if they are acting on behalf of a foreign power to influence Australian politics.
"For the first time, the public and decision-makers in government will have visibility of the level and extent to which foreign sources may be seeking to influence Australia's government and political processes," he said.
The laws, in part, target the so-called "sub-espionage" level of foreign interference such as individuals covertly lobbying, infiltrating or donating to political parties on behalf of foreign governments.
Fairfax Media reported in September that Senator Brandis had flown to Washington in July for briefings from US national security officials on the operation of their foreign interference laws.
There are growing fears about Chinese Communist Party influence in Australia's political system. Fairfax Media has confirmed Senator Brandis has received detailed intelligence briefings that suggest Chinese Communist Party-affiliated lobbyists and business people have sought to exert influence in local, state and federal governments, and with ex-politicians in Australia.
The laws are expected to be referred to Parliament's powerful Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security for review after being introduced.
Further details about the laws are expected from Senator Brandis and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull as soon as next week.
Australian intelligence agencies have been frustrated about their inability to prosecute or deter those involved in such activities under laws designed to deal with traditional Cold War style espionage. Australian laws are also ill equipped to deal with foreign government-sponsored cyber crime.
A relationship banned under traditional law.
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