New foreign interference laws will compound risks to whistleblowers and journalists


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Increasingly, the language of ‘national security’ is invoked to protect a government’s broader interests.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Keiran Hardy, Griffith University

The Turnbull government has announced a crackdown on foreign interference in Australian politics and national security. Proposed laws include a ban on foreign political donations, new criminal offences, and a transparency register for those acting on behalf of foreign governments or organisations.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull carefully emphasised that the proposals are not focused on China’s influence in Australia. But, as the Lowy Institute’s Euan Graham put it, there’s an “800-pound panda” in the room.

The proposed criminal offences will significantly expand the scope of existing laws against espionage and treason. This will make it easier to prosecute spies and other foreign nationals who seek undue influence over Australian business or politics.

However, the new laws pose risks to whistleblowers and journalists. They suggest the concept of “national security” is continually expanding.


Further reading: Ban on foreign political donations is both too broad and too narrow, and won’t fix our system


Espionage

The Criminal Code currently sets out an offence of espionage that is punishable by 25 years’ imprisonment.

The main offence applies where someone communicates or makes available information that concerns Australia’s security or defence. The person must intend to prejudice Australia’s security or defence, or advantage another country’s security or defence. Under the proposed changes, this offence will attract a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Where a person recklessly endangers Australia’s security or defence, this will be punishable by the current penalty.

The new espionage offences will apply to possessing or receiving information, in addition to communicating it. They will protect a broader range of information, including unclassified material.

Other new offences, punishable by 15 years’ imprisonment, will target preparation for espionage and the theft of trade secrets.

Foreign interference

Proposed offences for foreign interference will target conduct not ordinarily considered to be espionage or treason.

Currently, the federal offence of treason describes very rare and serious conduct, such as assassinating or capturing the Queen or prime minister.

These new offences will target covert, deceptive or undisclosed conduct that is directed, funded, supervised or undertaken on behalf of a foreign interest. The penalties will range between ten and 20 years’ imprisonment.

To constitute foreign interference, the conduct must be intended to:

  • serve the intelligence purposes of a foreign actor

  • harm Australia’s national security

  • influence the exercise or performance of a democratic or political right, or

  • influence a government or political process.

Other new offences will target the support or funding of foreign intelligence agencies. These will be similar to existing crimes for supporting or funding terrorist organisations.

Are the new offences needed?

The changes will make it easier to prosecute foreign nationals who intentionally interfere with Australia’s business, political or foreign policy interests.

Where such influence cannot strictly be described as impacting on security or defence, successful prosecution under the existing espionage or treason offences is very difficult.

The government’s other justifications are much weaker. The current espionage offences already extend beyond the communication of information to making, obtaining or copying sensitive records. The Crimes Act includes offences that are triggered when an Australian public official discloses official secrets or other information obtained in the course of their employment.

What are the risks?

The proposed offences will target some conduct that should clearly be a serious criminal offence, such as intentionally supporting a foreign intelligence agency.

However, the proposed laws go well beyond such clear cases to target a broad and vague range of conduct affecting Australian interests. This includes possessing unclassified information and any deceptive or undisclosed conduct that influences government processes.

Most importantly, the proposed changes pose risks to whistleblowers and Australian media organisations. These risks were compounded in 2014 by changes to national security legislation in response to the threat of foreign fighters.


Further reading: National security bills compound existing threats to media freedom


A journalist could face serious penalties under the proposed espionage offences for receiving information leaked by a government official or intelligence whistleblower, before they even decide to publish that information.

It seems the information need not even be classified for the penalties to apply, provided making the information available would benefit a foreign country or organisation.

The government needs to ensure that journalists publishing sensitive information in the public interest will not face criminal prosecution for espionage or other federal criminal offences. This should be done by drafting legal protections for journalists who act in a professional capacity in the public interest.

Assurances from Attorney-General George Brandis that journalists will not be prosecuted for doing their job are not enough.

The proposed laws should be viewed not only as a response to increasing Chinese influence in Australia, but also as symptomatic of a post-Snowden crackdown, in which all potentially embarrassing information about government is closely protected.

Similar debates about expanded espionage offences and press freedom have already taken place in the UK. These debates confirm that “national security” is no longer simply about physical threats like terrorism or traditional forms of spying.

The ConversationIncreasingly, the language of national security is invoked to protect a government’s broader interests – political, business and economic.

Keiran Hardy, Lecturer, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Member, Griffith Criminology Institute, Griffith University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Ban on foreign political donations is both too broad and too narrow, and won’t fix our system



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Australia is among the one-third of countries that allow foreign political donations.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Yee-Fui Ng, RMIT University

The government has announced a suite of reforms targeting foreign interference and espionage in Australia’s political process. This will include a bill imposing a ban on political donations from foreign bank accounts, non-citizens and foreign entities.

The ban will apply broadly – not just to political parties and parliamentary candidates, but also to trade unions and advocacy groups such as GetUp!.

These proposed reforms follow revelations that Labor senator Sam Dastyari had warned Chinese Communist Party-linked donor Huang Xiangmo that his phone might be tapped by intelligence agencies. Both the Labor and Liberal parties have benefited from donations by Huang to the tune of almost A$3 million since 2012.

But it’s not just foreign donations that can skew the system. If the government is serious about restoring faith in our politics and politicians, there’s much more to be done.


Further reading: Green groups and charities could be collateral damage in government’s foreign donation ban


Why ban foreign donations?

The rationale for banning foreign donations is to stop the threat of foreign interests undermining Australian democracy. The concern is that foreign people or entities could exercise an unduly large influence on our politicians through generous donations.

Internationally, Australia is among the one-third of countries that allow foreign political donations. This is in contrast to comparable liberal democracies that ban foreign donations, such as the UK, US and Canada. New Zealand caps them at NZ$1,500.


Further reading: FactCheck Q&A: Is Australia one of the few countries worldwide to accept foreign political donations?


Banning foreign donations will certainly reduce the ability of foreign people and entities to influence Australian policy and decision-making. In turn, this will reduce both actual corruption and the perception of corruption in politics. Ultimately, this may improve public confidence in the Australian political system.

But is this ban too broad?

The proposed reforms follow the recommendations of a Senate committee majority that foreign citizens and entities be banned from making donations to political parties, associated entities (such as trade unions and dedicated fundraising bodies), and third parties (such as GetUp! and other campaign groups).

Labor and the Greens supported a ban on foreign political donations to political parties and their associated entities, but rejected extending it to third parties. They argued that banning foreign donations to third parties would restrict the capacity of NGOs to draw attention to their causes, and endanger robust public discourse by civil society.

There may be constitutional issues with such a broad ban on foreign political donations. For instance, banning donations to advocacy groups may be found to stifle the implied freedom of political communication protected by the Australian Constitution.


Further reading: Banning foreign political donations won’t fix all that ails our system


Advocacy groups are one step removed from being able to directly change government policies and decision-making. It may be disproportionate to ban these groups from raising funds to robustly debate controversial policies.

And will this fix the system?

If ruled constitutional, a ban will certainly reduce the impact of overseas interests on domestic policy.

But the proposed ban is both too broad and too narrow. It is too broad because it may stifle legitimate public debate by targeting activist groups. It is too narrow because it does not capture all donations that might corrupt our political system.

Foreign donations are but one element of influence in our political system. The rhetoric on donations to date has focused on the fear of foreigners – the Chinese, in this case – exercising undue influence on Australian politics.

Yet, in 2015-16, foreign donations were a paltry 2.6% of total donations to political parties. In the last seven election periods from 1998-99 to 2016, foreign donations have amounted to between 0.03% and 6.13% of all donations.

Donations from rich Australians, unions or corporations can also influence our politicians to behave in corrupt ways. There have been concerns over donations by big business influencing mining, alcohol or gambling policy. Large donations have been followed by government decision-making that benefited these industries.

Caps on political donations of, say, A$1,000 that apply to all individuals, unions and corporations would better level the playing field. New South Wales already has caps on political donations of A$5,800 per party and A$2,500 for candidates. The state also bans donations from property developers and those in the tobacco, liquor and gambling industries.

Victoria has announced that it will implement a cap on donations by individuals, unions and corporations of $4,000 over a four-year parliamentary term.


Further reading: Victoria gets serious on its political donations rules – now it’s the federal government’s turn


The ConversationThe Australian government has started to take action to reduce the pernicious influence of money on our democracy. But more needs to be done to restore faith in our political system.

Yee-Fui Ng, Lecturer, Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull government must find a way to rid Australia of foreign donations



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Attorney-General George Brandis (left) and Special Minister of State Scott Ryan need to work together to reform foreign donations laws.
AAP/Dan Peled

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

Let’s start at the beginning on the vexed issue of foreign donations for political parties and candidates in an environment in which globalisation is adding to challenges in combating foreign interference in electoral processes.

Back in 1918, when the Commonwealth Electoral Act was drafted, no distinction was made between donors from Australia or overseas, or (effectively) between donors who were Australian citizens, non-citizens, or organisations.

In the last year of the 1914-18 war not much thought, if any, was given to the possibility that foreign interests would interfere with the Australian electoral process, or would have an interest in doing so.

But now, in an environment in which commercial and political interests leapfrog national boundaries in ways that must have seemed a remote possibility when the 1918 Commonwealth Electoral Act was drafted, it is time to subject the act to a comprehensive revision.

The aim of this exercise should be to exclude foreign donations. Those bans should extend to organisations engaged in the political process as lobby groups for one side or the other.

It would make little sense for bans to be applied to political parties themselves without also extending such bans to unions and business lobbyists.

As much as anything, such a provision would act as a deterrent to those who might seek to utilise foreign funds improperly.

Government ministers tell you it will be difficult to frame legislation that would stop all foreign funding.

What about grey areas, they ask, such as contributions by companies whose main business is in Australia, but whose headquarters is located elsewhere?

The London-headquartered Rio Tinto is one such example.

These are difficult issues and need to be worked through. There is no simple remedy.

Of course, one option would be to make political campaigns fully publicly-funded, thus obviating the need for private fundraising. But that arrangement potentially discriminates against new entrants who may not qualify for such public funding.

The Australian model in which funding is made available on the basis of past performance has merit. But its weakness is that it advantages the major parties disproportionately.

Then there is the whole murky area of funding for organisations like the conservative Institute of Public Affairs, or groups on the left, like GetUp, which supports progressive causes.

Under present circumstances, organisations like the IPA are not obliged to disclose their sources of funding. Since they are involved in the political process, these lobby groups should be required to open their books.

In the United States, funding for similar organisations is transparent, for the very good reason that just as sunlight is the best disinfectant so is transparency in ascertaining what might motivate groups to adopt certain positions.

The IPA, for example, opposed plain packaging for tobacco products on what it insisted were libertarian grounds. It would have been useful, however, to be apprised of whether the tobacco industry contributes funds to that organisation.

Lobby groups should be obliged to place sources of funding on the public register, especially since many of these organisations derive tax benefits from their status as not-for-profit organisations.

The whole question of “money talks” politics has come into focus in the past week or so with revelations in a Fairfax Media/ABC investigation of money being splashed around political parties by Chinese-born billionaires, one of whom is not an Australian citizen.

Clearly, the aim of these contributions has been to influence Australian politicians in a way that would make them more sympathetic to China’s aspirations.

Indeed, in one case, funding that had been promised to Labor was withheld after one of its spokesmen advanced a point of view contrary to China’s interests.

This was a clear example of money being used – or the threat of funds being withheld – for political purposes. It should be regarded as distasteful, and, potentially intimidatory.

If there is a rule of thumb in politics, it is that money does not bring purity, rather the reverse.

Special Minister of State Scott Ryan, who has responsibility for an overhaul of the Commonwealth Electoral Act as it relates to political donations, acknowledges that grey areas exist that will be difficult to legislate.

In framing the required legislation, Ryan might refer to the Political Finance Database of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, an intergovernmental organisation that supports sustainable democracy worldwide.

The IDEA has a formula that would be helpful in establishing exactly what constitutes a “foreign interest”.

It defines such interests as entities that:

contribute directly or indirectly [and who are] governments, corporations, organisations or individuals who are not citizens; that do not reside in the country or have a large share of foreign ownership.

In the case of the latter provision, framing regulations to stop foreign donations would present challenges. Rio Tinto is just one example of companies with large stakes in Australia, but domiciled overseas.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for an Australian ban on political donations is that, apart from New Zealand, Australia is the only English-speaking democracy to permit such donations.

In New Zealand, overseas donations are capped at $NZ1,500.

In Australia no such cap applies.

However, donations to parties and candidates above $13,200 require the name and address of donor to be supplied. This information must be made available at the end of each financial year.

One reform Ryan might consider is to oblige disclosure more quickly. In last year’s federal election, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a very significant personal financial contribution to the Liberal Party campaign. But under law, this donation did not need to be disclosed in a timely manner.

Turnbull did reveal his contribution – after the election and only under media pressure.

In the case of that contribution it could be argued that wealth in Turnbull’s case enabled him to fund a campaign that gave him an advantage over his opponents.

On the other hand, the conservative side of politics would say that Labor has an inbuilt funding advantage because it can rely on the support of the union movement.

In recent years, several attempts have been made to clean up what is clearly an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

In 2010, the Labor government introduced the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures Bill) that would have banned donations of “foreign property”.

The bill passed the House of Representatives, but was not proceeded with in the Senate and lapsed at the end of the 43rd parliament.

Labor and the Coalition toyed with the introduction of a donation and disclosure reform bill in 2013, but nothing came of these efforts.

In this latest 45th parliament the Greens have restored their own Commonwealth Electoral Amendment Bill that bans donations of foreign property. This version lapsed at the dissolution of the 44th Parliament.

Now is the time for this whole issue to be re-visited.

The ConversationRyan, in conjunction with Attorney-General George Brandis, needs to come up with a bill that seeks to forestall the possibility of candidates and parties being bought and sold in a monied environment that is infinitely more susceptible to influence peddling by foreign interests than it was a century ago.

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Turnbull talks tough on foreign workers – deer farmers and historians off welcome list


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Whatever the arguments for the changes governing foreign skilled workers announced by Malcolm Turnbull, make no mistake – this is about an embattled government wanting to send a strong political message. The Conversation

One clue was Turnbull’s reference to placing first not just Australian jobs, but “Australian values”. He made mention of “Australian values” both in his Facebook video and his news conference, when announcing the replacement of the 457 visa.

In this context, “Australian values” is itself a value-laden term.

For Turnbull, it was something of a rhetorical juggle, as he acknowledged Australia as an “immigration nation” and noted the many workers “from war-shattered Europe” who helped build the Snowy scheme, while declaring Australian jobs must be filled by Australians wherever possible.

The government has been under pressure over foreign workers from left and right – from Labor (Bill Shorten introduced a private member’s bill to tighten the 457 scheme), as well as from One Nation.

Pauline Hanson was – of course – quick to claim credit for Turnbull’s move.

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A few years ago another federal government on the defensive went to a like place. In 2013, Julia Gillard pledged to “stop foreign workers being put at the front of the queue with Australian workers at the back”.

Labor sources at the time said she was tapping into what they described as the “economic patriotism” embedded in the “battler” view of the world; Labor research had found a strong view among voters that there were available jobs Australians couldn’t get. Attitudes are unlikely to have changed, and the Turnbull government knows it.

For the record, in response to Gillard then-opposition leader Tony Abbott defended the 457 entrants and accused her of “trying to divide Australians”.

It’s unclear precisely how much difference the Turnbull government’s change – cast to sound dramatic but seen by some as mainly a rebadging – will make.

It is scrapping the 457 visa, under which foreign workers are brought in on four-year visas. It will be replaced by a new Temporary Skill Shortage Visa program with two streams. One will provide a two-year visa; the other, a visa for up to four years.

The list of requirements will include applicants having at least two years work experience in their skilled occupation; mandatory criminal history checks; and the capacity for just one on-shore renewal under the short-term stream. The short-term stream won’t provide a path to permanent residency. There will be tightened English language requirements for the medium-term stream.

The government has given no estimate of the expected outcome of the change.

Turnbull said that at present there were about 95,000 457 visa holders. But he could not quantify the likely impact of the new system beyond saying: “Because we are narrowing significantly the number of occupations and we are increasing the qualifications that visa applicants need to have, it is our expectation that all other things being equal you will see a material reduction over time of people working on these temporary visas.”

But “it depends upon all other things being equal … which they are not. It depends on the demands of the economy, emerging skill gaps, changes in the economy.”

It’s worth remembering that 457 visa workers are less than 1% of the workforce.

The present list of 651 eligible occupations has been cut by 216, to 435. Some 268 occupations will be available under the new two-year visa, and only 167 will be eligible for the four-year visa.

The occupations chopped range widely, including jobs as diverse as deer farmer, project builder, betting agency manager, chemical engineer, horse trainer, singer, antique dealer, and bed and breakfast operator.

It’s not clear precisely how judgements were made on some of them, such as commissioned police officer, policy analyst, television presenter, and archivist.

Some of the deletions – such as “historian” and “archaeologist” – are hardly jobs to which an “Australians first” rule should apply. Nor will their exclusion from the list have much impact on the Aussie labour market.

Then again, much of this is definitional. Quite a lot of the deleted occupations could be re-classified to come within the revised lists.

Indeed, Jenny Lambert, from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, pointed out that the 457s were “rarely if ever” applied to many of the deleted occupations. She suggested that the problem with 457s has been one of public perception rather than the scheme’s operation. “The perception of the program is the biggest issue and we need to reset it,” she told Sky.

The Australian Industry Group’s Innes Willox said that “the 457 visa system was a highly valued program but misunderstandings of its use and exaggerations of its misuse led it to become a lightning rod for anti-migration sentiments”.

Supporting the reforms, Willox said: “The temporary skilled visa program should now be considered as settled without the need for further reviews and disruptive policy change”.

In other words, business’ main preoccupation is that the importation of foreign skilled workers should be taken off the political football field.

That may be wishful thinking. Meanwhile, eyes will be on whether the government puts any squeeze in the budget on the general immigration program, which has been coming under attack from some critics in a housing affordability debate that’s run increasingly out of the government’s control.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/VfPCm/2/

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/ffwdg-69b163?from=yiiadmin

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 28 July 2013


Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made a surprise visit to Australian troops in Afghanistan.

For more visit:
http://www.skynews.com.au/topstories/article.aspx?id=891398

The link below is to an article from a foreign news site that reports on Australia’s current asylum seeker policy and that of the opposition – it would appear to have some Coalition influence concerning some aspects of the report.

For more visit:
http://www.wnd.com/2013/07/australia-illegals-not-welcome/

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has stated that the Papua New Guinea asylum seeker policy may take months before becoming an effective deterrent for illegal arrivals.

For more visit:
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/png-solution-could-take-many-months-to-work-kevin-rudd/story-fn9hm1gu-1226686998109

For more on the asylum seeker debate in Australia visit:
http://www.themonthly.com.au/blog/richard-cooke/2013/07/25/1374721635/bogans-and-boat-people-pt1

The link below is to an interesting piece on Tony Abbott:
http://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/july/1372600800/waleed-aly/inside-tony-abbotts-mind

Can the ALP win the upcoming election – the polls suggest it is a possibility.

For more visit the link below:
http://www.themonthly.com.au/blog/roy-morgan-research/2013/07/23/1374538622/morgan-poll-alp-would-win-federal-election

Nigeria: Ansaru – Execution of Foreign Hostages


The link below is to an article reporting on the execution of foreign hostages by Islamist group Ansaru and the situation facing Christians from both Ansaru and Boko Haram in Nigeria.

For more visit:
http://www.wnd.com/2013/03/muslim-jihadists-execute-foreign-hostages/

Nigeria: Latest Persecution News


The link below is to an article that reports on the murder of foreign Christians in Nigeria by Ansaru, a splinter group of Boko Haram.

For more visit:
http://www.persecution.org/2013/03/10/boko-haram-executes-foreign-christians-in-nigeria/