Turnbull’s crackdown on foreign political donations

The new espionage laws follow local and international scandals regarding political interference from other countries.

Canberra crackdown donations
The government in Canberra has announced a crackdown on foreign political donations in domestic politics. Photo: Helen35, Pixabay

The Turnbull government in Canberra has announced new laws that aim to put an end to foreign investment that may jeopardise the integrity of the Australian political system.

Prime Minister Turnbull has stated that the reasons for this legislation were to ensure the strength of the Australian political system against foreign schemes to influence it. The legislation will make sure that only Australians will have an effect on the course of domestic politics.

The timing of this announcement follows concerns regarding recent scandals about foreign donations reaching Australian MP’s, the most recent example being that of Sam Dastyari who was caught making a pro-China speech following donations from a Chinese property investor.

An audio file of Mr Dastyari affirming a pro-Chinese view regarding disputes in the South China Sea was uncovered recently. Mr Dastyari made this speech in the presence of a Chinese donator to the Labor party who is said to have connections to China’s communist party.

To add to the controversy, it is alleged that Mr Dastyari visited the Sydney home of the Chinese donator to warn him that his phones may be tapped by Australian espionage agencies. Mr Turnbull has since alluded to Mr Dastyari being an effective traitor to Australia amidst calls to have the MP sacked or jailed.

The new laws will come into effect this week and will mean that lobbyists and former MP’s will need to state if they are acting on behalf of a foreign country. The legislation will also create criminal classifications directed at foreign entities who attempt to influence domestic Australian politics.

As the laws were announced in Canberra Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull stated he was worried about the alleged meddling by China in Australia’s domestic politics. He also pointed out the recent reports of Russian assistance given to now US President Donald Trump in the lead up to last year’s US election.

A spokesperson from the Australian Chinese embassy has told news media that China had never officially attempted to meddle in the domestic politics of other countries. The spokesperson expressed that China wanted to maintain its positive relationship with Australia in the hopes of deepening cooperation.

Under the new laws political donations will also be forbidden from overseas bank accounts, non-Australian citizens and any overseas organisations. Anyone who takes part in Australian politics on behalf of an overseas interest must disclose their ties. If they do not they will incur severe criminal penalties.

The Australian definition of an espionage offence will be changed from just passing information to possessing or receiving information. Planning, preparing and soliciting of someone to take part in acts on behalf of foreign interests will be counted as espionage.

The laws will also effect any political campaigning organisations and charities that are proven to have an effect on Australian political discourse.