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On 7 December 2017, the Government introduced the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill 2017 (the Bill). Its purpose is to introduce a scheme that will impose registration obligations for people or organisations who have arrangements with, or undertake certain activities on behalf of “foreign principals”.
We have more detailed information on the Bill (which explains how it might work) here.
On 8 December 2017 the Bill was referred to the PARLIAMENTARY JOINT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY for report. It was initially due to report in March. Latest advice is that "The Committee intends to present its report in April 2018."
We said that while we are support the broad policy aim of the Bill we did not support the scope of the Bill as drafted. We said that very wide definitions used with the Bill coupled with the limited and narrow exemptions, means many NFPs that receive support from an entity or person outside of Australia (who are not Australian citizens or permanent residents) and who engage (directly or indirectly) with public officials or parliamentarians would be captured by the scheme.
We raise significant concerns with the significant administrative burden placed on organisations caught by the Bill, from registration (for a fee) to detailing all of their communications (its content, when and how it is communicated along with the form and manner) along with the severity of enforcement provisions, some of which are strict liability with imprisonment for up to seven years, while others impose significant monetary fines.
We stated it was our view the Bill may have a negative impact on the ability of charities and other public-serving NFP organisations to undertake and fund their work, including advocacy activities (for registered charities this is work that is both allowed by law and acknowledged to be of public benefit), which would in turn negatively impact their ability to provide important, and necessary contributions to public debate and public policy development.
- That clause 11 (‘on behalf of a foreign principal’) be amended as per the Law Council of Australia proposal, to cover only activities that are: undertaken as an agent, representative, or employee of a foreign principal, or in any other capacity at the order, request, or under the direction or control of a foreign principal; or directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed or subsidised in whole or in major part by a foreign principal.
- Exemption from the proposed scheme for charities registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.
- That registered charities be exempt from any fees charged under this scheme (if they are not otherwise excluded by extending the exemptions in the Bill, per recommendation 2 above).
We also urged the Committee to:
- Carefully consider how this Bill may affect public debate and Government policy development.
- Consider how our recommended exemption from the proposed scheme for charities registered with the ACNC (above), could also extended to all NFPs with purposes that are of public benefit.