Anti-espionage laws head to parliament

New laws to deal with espionage and foreign interference will be brought to parliament by the end of the year.


Attorney-General George Brandis is putting the finishing touches to the laws, which were initiated in May just before media reports of Chinese Communist Party influence over the Liberal and Labor parties.

“It’s the government’s expectation to introduce a bill before the end of this year,” Senator Brandis told Sky News on Friday.

A Four Corners-Fairfax investigation in June named two billionaires that domestic intelligence agency ASIO identified as having links to the Chinese Communist Party.

Between them, Chau Chak Wing and Huang Xiangmo donated $6.7 million to the major parties.

Senator Brandis is understood to have been briefed by US security officials on the operation of America’s Foreign Agents Registration Act, which could provide a model for the Australian laws.

The US laws, which began in 1938, require people acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to disclose on a website their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as their activities, receipts and spending.

Penalties for breaching the US laws range from $5000 to five years in jail.

Intelligence agency ASIO’s last annual report said Australia was a target of espionage and foreign interference because of its alliance with the US and the desire by foreign interests to gain insights into the country’s positions on international diplomatic, economic and military issues.

There was also foreign interest in Australia’s energy and mineral resources, innovations in science and technology and “a desire to shape the actions of decision-makers and public opinion”.

As well, ASIO has warned of “malicious insiders” – both self-motivated and recruited – who threaten to sabotage computer systems, use information to facilitate attacks or leak information to harm Australia’s national security.

The government is also considering laws to ban donations from foreign citizens and entities to political parties, associated entities and third parties.