Foreign interference scheme targets just one potential agent of influence

Following reports in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age detailing claims of a plot to install a Chinese spy in Federal Parliament, Mr Turnbull on Wednesday warned there was “not much point in having these laws and not enforcing them”.

“I think it’s very important for the government to demonstrate they’re doing it. The government has to demonstrate all the time that it is doing everything it can to keep Australians safe and to preserve the integrity of our democracy,” the former PM said.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull says he hopes the government enforces the foreign interference laws.Credit:AAP

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Fergus Hanson, who is undertaking a review into the scheme, said it was disappointing the laws had not captured any groups linked to United Front, the Chinese government agency which organises Chinese populations overseas to serve its strategic interests.

Mr Hanson said Australian universities with Confucius Institutes should also have to register, but the legislation was “too complex” and there were too many loopholes including one allowing some charities to be exempt.

“On the ground you’ve got the practical problem of law firms offering completely different advice. Every one has different opinions,” he said.

“Broadly, I would say the people who have registered are not the people it was designed to capture, so you don’t have universities that have Confucius Institutes, you don’t have United Front organisations.

“It is important to emphasise that there is nothing wrong with being on the list, the point of the list is to show where people may have conflicts of interest.”

Former federal MPs Peter Hendy, Brendan Nelson, Richard Alston and Nick Bolkus have registered under the scheme for their financial or consulting links to Chinese government-owned companies.

Australia’s former ambassador to China Geoff Raby has also registered over his directorship of a company with a majority shareholding by Chinese company Yancoal Ltd.

A spokesman for the department said it had sent out more than 1500 letters to a “wide variety of stakeholders”.

“Additionally, where the department becomes aware of circumstances which might be relevant to the scheme, the department will engage with those affected to bring the scheme to their attention and to ask them to give further consideration to the possible application of that scheme to their activities,” a spokesman for the department said.

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