Malcolm Turnbull calls for an overhaul of foreign interference laws

“China has very active foreign interference,” Turnbull said.

Meanwhile, the United States Studies Centre, a think tank at the University of Sydney that promotes the US-Australia alliance, is listed on the register.

Parliament passed the plan after revelations that then-Labour Senator Sam Dastyari had contradicted Labor Party policies in the South China Sea while trying to solicit donations from Chinese billionaire Huang Xiangmo.

The laws were welcomed by democratic countries like the US, but soured relations between Australia and China, which saw themselves as targets of the new regime.

Turnbull said the laws were designed “country-agnostically” but given the way they work, a different risk assessment may need to be applied to the activities of democratic and authoritarian countries.

Turnbull said the registry “seems to be absorbing a lot of information about marginal utility” while missing the more troubling forms of foreign influence it should be recognizing.


“The rules have been applied in a fairly mechanical way,” he said, adding that he thinks the biggest problems with the laws may be how they are enforced and administered.

Representatives from the Home Office, the Attorney General and the Australian Security Intelligence Organization will appear before the committee on Tuesday, along with university officials and academic experts.

In 2021, Rudd said he supported the program but found it “absurd” that the Attorney General’s Office had advised him he had to register his interviews with the BBC.

“National security officials have better things to do than hunt down former cabinet ministers to catch television appearances, which by their very nature are already public knowledge,” he said on Twitter.


Liberal Senator James Paterson, a former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said: “The foreign influence transparency regime is an essential part of Australia’s defense against the full spectrum of foreign interference threats, but in my view it has not achieved its intended goals.

“It was intended to make transparent the covert activities of foreign powers to influence Australia, but as things stand it has failed to capture some of the most prominent players.

“It is likely that the legislation will need to be changed to ensure that the behavior it should cover does in fact fall under the scheme. It will also need much better enforcement options and the resources to support it.”

Committee chair Peter Khalil said a number of submissions made to the committee pointed to areas where the program was not working as effectively as it could or should be.

“The committee will evaluate these submissions and the evidence at the public hearing and make appropriate recommendations to the government,” he said.

Break through the noise of federal politics with news, perspective and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up for our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here. Malcolm Turnbull calls for an overhaul of foreign interference laws

Callan Tansill

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