SYDNEY—Australia is expected to pass new legislation on June 27 aimed at preventing interference by foreign governments or agents, a move likely to further stoke tensions with major trading partner China.
Mirroring similar laws in the United States, Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme requires lobbyists working for foreign countries to register as foreign agents, who could also face criminal prosecution if they are deemed to be meddling in Canberra’s affairs.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last year referred to “disturbing reports about Chinese influence” as justification for the bill.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has denied allegations of meddling in Australian affairs and launched a rare diplomatic protest.
Ahead of the legislation’s expected passage, Chinese telecom firm Huawei Technologies Co Ltd mounted a lobbying campaign to secure its participation in a 5G telecommunications roll-out and to allay Australian fears that the company poses a security risk.
The telecommunications company was targeted by a U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report, which was released in April, that said the company has extensive ties with the Chinese regime. Ren Zhengfei, the founder of the company, was a former officer in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). He continues to run the company today.
Turnbull said on June 27 his government was still mulling Huawei’s role in the country’s nascent 5G network.
“We’ll continue to consider that and get the best advice on that from our national security agencies,” he said.
The foreign interference legislation was approved by the House of Representatives on June 26.
It is expected to pass in the Senate due to strong bipartisan support from the Labor Party following several revisions to the legislation in recent months.
Another law banning foreign political donations has yet to be introduced in the lower house.
Turnbull acknowledged in April that relations with China, which included two-way trade of A$170 billion (US$125.60 billion) last year, had soured because of the legislation.
“There’s clearly been some tension in the relationship following the introduction of our legislation about foreign interference,” Turnbull told radio 3AW back in April.
“But I am very confident that any misunderstandings will be resolved.
“We have a very strong and respectful relationship with China and like any nation we do everything we can to ensure that any foreign influence in our politics is open and declared.
“We don’t accept foreign interference in our political or governmental processes and that is not directed at any one nation.”
Minister for Social Services Christian Porter told the ABC on June 26 that the new legislation would ensure transparency surrounding activities that, more often than not, turn into valuable overseas relationships, and that the laws will give the media or any member of the public the ability to scrutinise agents acting in Australia’s political landscape.
By Colin Packham. Additional reporting by NTD Reporter Janita Kan.