House of Representatives, Canberra.
This bill is an amendment to the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018, the FITS Act, and the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018, the EFI Act, which both passed through the parliament in June 2018. The FITS Act creates a registration scheme for persons undertaking certain activities on behalf of foreign government related entities, foreign political organisations and foreign government related individuals. The EFI Act, which deals with related and overlapping subject matter, stipulates that persons who have existing arrangements once the registration scheme commences have a six-month grace period until they are expected to comply. The government has announced that the registration scheme is due to come into effect on 10 December 2018 in six days.
The Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018 makes two major changes to these existing arrangements. First, it amends the EFI Act to shorten the grace period for compliance for those parties with existing arrangements from six months to three months. It also stipulates that, if writs for a federal election are issued within that three-month period, parties will have only 14 days to comply. Secondly, the bill amends the FITS Act to stipulate that past registrations will still be available publicly and searchable on the internet, not just current registrations. Without this change, past affiliations or arrangements with foreign political organisations or foreign government related individuals would disappear from public view once they expired.
The first change is designed to account for the expected timing of the upcoming federal election, whenever that may be. With the scheme coming into effect on 10 December 2018, if the six-month grace period were not shortened, registration obligations would not come into effect until June 2019 after the next election. With the change proposed, they would come into effect in March 2019. The second change appears to be an oversight by the government in the original bill, which is regrettable. It is clearly in the public interest for past associations with foreign political organisations or foreign government related entities to be on the public record. These amendments should perhaps be a sign to the government that taking the time to make good law when it comes to national security is a good thing, a lesson that they have apparently not learned. Although not ideal, the committee process for both the Foreign Interference Transparency Scheme Act 2018 and the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018 were cooperative and productive. The committee report on the latter bill contained more than 60 recommendations, the most for any bill that had ever been before the committee. It shows, perhaps, the magnitude and difficulty of the work that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security does on a regular basis.
Labor supports this bill as this is an extension of our support for the original bill. We supported the original Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act 2018 and the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018 on the basis that foreign interference in our political system, if it is malign, is unacceptable and, even if it is benign, should nevertheless be transparent. Both the changes in this short bill are technical rather than substantive. While we regret that these matters were not dealt with in the original legislation, we support these amendments.