ABC RN Drive

Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill; Vanuatu


SUBJECT/S: Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill; Vanuatu
PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is a member of the committee. Welcome to RN Drive.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks for having me Patricia.
KARVELAS: Religious groups and charities have expressed concerns with the original drafting of the bill. What will these changes mean for them?
DREYFUS: The government has accepted that there was much too broad a reach of the bill when it was originally introduced by the Prime Minister on the 7th of December. The Attorney-General, some six months later, finally offered amendments which narrow the bill. We had a very short hearing in the Intelligence Committee, and we produced a report which recommends some 49 changes. But the effect of it will be that it will now focus very much more clearly on foreign government influence on Australian politics which is covert. The object of this scheme is to make that public.
KARVELAS: So does that mean individual charities that operate overseas won’t have to be individually listed anymore?
DREYFUS: Charities will be exempt under the bill, that’s the proposal of the Intelligence Committee as will arts and cultural organisations and trade unions, because it’s not the intention of this scheme to catch any of those bodies who are going about their ordinary activities which may well include lobbying, provided – if they have got some link with a foreign government source – that that’s made clear.
KARVELAS: Another change would introduce greater scrutiny on former politicians and even staffers when they leave office. What sort of measures are you looking at here?
DREYFUS: Again it’s a disclosure scheme, and it imposes an obligation on former cabinet ministers, former ministers, and former senior staff. And that’s simply a recognition of the fact that those people are in a particular influential position. They are often hired by corporations and they might be hired by foreign governments. And it’s very important that when they’re – if they are speaking out and their position is they are doing so at the request of a foreign government or a foreign government-related entity - that they disclose that. We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be influence from foreign governments. The question is is that going to be known, and that’s what this scheme is directed at.
KARVELAS: There are 50 recommendations all up – do all of them have bipartisan support?
DREYFUS: All of them. This is a bipartisan report by the government members and the opposition members on the committee, and I’ve got reason to believe that the government will be supportive of this report and will bring in amendments tomorrow when this bill is going to be further debated.
KARVELAS: And does it have to be done this week? Because these changes have not been scrutinised. This agreement has only come out today. Do you think it needs more time?
DREYFUS: We’re working to the government’s timetable here. It’s a demonstration of bipartisanship and the constructive attitude that the opposition takes to all national security matters. The government has insisted that it wanted the Intelligence Committee to report by today which we have, and has made clear its intention to bring the bill back in to the Parliament. The view that we took in Labor, which was that it was far better to work constructively with the government to get as many changes as we could, we think we have achieved a very considerable improvement to this bill. Of course it would be preferable if there were even more time for scrutiny but that’s not the view of the government and we’re prepared in this instance to cooperate with the government.
KARVELAS: The Labor Deputy Chair of the Committee Anthony Byrne has warned Beijing to be careful in how it responds to the legislation. What kind of reaction are you anticipating?
DREYFUS: You’d have to ask Anthony Byrne about the comments that he made…[interrupted]
KARVELAS: He’s one of your colleagues, so do you agree with him?
DREYFUS: He is one of my colleagues and I think it’s very important that no particular country be singled out. This is a bill that will become a law that is of general application, and calls on Australian individuals and Australian organisations which are acting at the behest, at the direction of, on the orders of a foreign government or foreign government-related entity to make that clear publicly by registering under this scheme. And it applies to all countries throughout the world – it’s not directed at any particular country and that’s important.
KARVELAS: So was Anthony Byrne wrong to single out Beijing?
DREYFUS: Anthony Byrne I think was – and I don’t want to put words into his mouth – he was responding to what has already been well publicised, which is that there are instances of Chinese government or Chinese government-related entities that have sought to influence Australian politics. But I’m making a more general point which is that the bill applies to foreign influence from all countries everywhere in the world. And I think it’s very important that it not be seen as directed at any particular country. Still less that it be directed at any particular community. It’s not – and certainly Labor will not be participating in this legislation and supporting this legislation if it were thought of as just that.
KARVELAS: Do you share the Deputy Chair Anthony Byrne’s concerns about Facebook handing over data on Australian users to Chinese technology giant Huawei?
DREYFUS: Well I’ve got a concern about Facebook handing over data without the consent of users generally. I have a very great concern about Cambridge Analytica for example, gaining access to millions and millions of Facebook accounts including some 380,000 Australian Facebook accounts without the users even becoming aware of it. I think there are very deep privacy issues around all social media platforms which we’re only just starting to come to grips with. The European Union has made an attempt with its new regulatory forms. And in Australia we are way, way behind in terms of privacy regulation.
KARVELAS: The Australian government is committing $400,000 to help Vanuatu develop a cyber-security policy. Is this aimed at countering the influence of China?
DREYFUS: I think it’s part of our longstanding commitment to the Pacific. Australia has, for very very many years, been interested in aid to the Pacific. I think there’s been a problem recently in that this government has cut $11 billion out of the foreign aid budget so it’s gotten a bit difficult for Australia to perform the traditional role that it has performed for all Pacific countries. And again, our aid is not directed at any particular other country that might be seeking to exert influence in the Pacific. It’s directed at our longstanding commitment to the Pacific countries, many of which are under-developed, many of which look to Australia as the big country in the Pacific. And it’s a role that historically Australia has performed, has been happy to perform, has performed well – but I say again in cutting $11 billion has made that a lot more difficult.
KARVELAS: Are you really suggesting that it has absolutely nothing to do with countering China?
DREYFUS: I’m not going to single out any particular country. You might ask me, has it got nothing to do with Russia or has it got nothing to do with other countries that have been identified – perhaps to take as an example, the American presidential election or the French presidential election or the Brexit campaign – Russian interests or entities associated with Russia have now been identified as having played a role directly in interfering with those election campaigns. So I think that all countries are entitled to be cyber secure. I think it’s a really good role for Australia to play in the Pacific to assist countries with their cyber security. And it’s directed not just at other countries which might have hostile intentions in the cyber security sphere. It’s also directed at corporations that might be engaged in cyber breaches against Vanuatu, which obviously is a much smaller and much less developed country than Australia. It doesn’t quite have the technological defences that Australia has, and it’s very good to see that an offer of assistance has been made to them.
KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus thank you so much for your time.
DREYFUS: Thank you so much Patricia.